Race and Ethnicity

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Race and Ethnicity:

Race and Ethnicity Sociology Project

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Humans have a profound tendency to define, classify and categorize. Among the way they apply this tendency is to sort themselves and their fellow humans into groups. Every human society- from the simplest to the most complex- has a means by which members differentiate themselves from one another (Newman, pg.11) As humans it is within our nature to judge ourselves and others based on upon similarities and differences. Identities are definitional categories we use to specify both to ourselves and to others, who we are (Newman, pg.33). Most people don’t think about how they got their identify but rather it is just who they are.

Even from a young age our race and ethnicity begin to shape our identity.:

Even from a young age our race and ethnicity begin to shape our identity.

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Race is a category of individuals who share common inborn biological traits, such as skin color, color and texture of hair, shape of eyes and nose or head (Newman, pg.40). The concept of race is neither as natural or straightforward as this definition implies (Newman, pg.40). Sociologists typically use the term Ethnicity to refer to the non biological traits- such as shared ancestry, culture, history, language, patterns of behavior and beliefs- that provide members of a group with a sense of common identify (Newman, pg.40) It is widely assumed that people who are placed in the same category share behavioral, psychological and personality traits that are linked to their physical similarities (Newman, pg.40).

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Ascribed status is a social identity or position that we obtain at birth or develop into involuntarily as we get older. Race, sex, ethnicity, and family status are all usually considered ascribed status (Newman, pg.40).

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Symbols and Slurs are one way in which inequality is maintained. For example the confederate flag is a symbol that has different meaning to different people. To some this is a proud symbol of southern heritage and to others it is a painful reminder of slavery and segregation (Newman, pg. 73). This symbol has been appropriated by racist hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. According to the Southern poverty law center, more than 500 extremist groups use the confederate flag as one of their symbols (Brunner, 2004). This is one of ways that a cloth with a simply symbol can mean so much more to so many people. A cloth that promotes hate and pain.

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Perhaps the most important symbol is language. Words whether written or spoken- form the basis for virtually all of our experiences. The most obvious way is that words create and enforce social inequalities in through verbal slurs (Newman, pg. 75). Every conceivable racial, ethnic, national, religious, disability, body type, gender, or sexual group has at one time or another been subject to its own set of derogatory terms (Newman, pg.75).

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Words may become more derogatory or less derogatory as the status of a particular group changes. For example the words Negro and colored were once common references used for and by African Americans (Newman, pg. 76-77). Consider the connotations of the words black and white. Among definitions in the dictionary for the word black are “Soiled and dirty”, “thoroughly evil”, “wicked”, “gloomy”, “hopeless”, “marked by disaster”, “hostile and disgraceful” (Newman, pg.79). The definition for the word white however includes “innocent”, “fortunate”, “pure”, and “spotless” (Newman, pg.79).

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One of our chief sources of information is the media. Boundaries between “us” and “them” are often constructed and reinforced through literature, television, film and video games (Newman, pg. 88. Television viewership remains segregated along racial lines also. Studies show that African American viewers tend to prefer shows with predominately black casts. White viewers tend to prefer shows with white casts (Newman, pg.95.) Stereotypical depictions are not limited to the entertainment media. For instance an analysis of a random sample of television news shows in California revealed that whites are more likely to be depicted as victims of crime and African American and Latinos were more likely to be depicted as the law breakers (Newman, pg. 96).

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Is this really a part of our culture that you’re proud of? We need to think about the implications of this type of media on our children, and the future of this world. Imagine the effects of something like this on a 8 year old who thinks he wants to be a doctor.

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According to some child developmental experts, racial identity doesn’t fully emerge until adolescence. But some research shows that children as young as three- no matter what their racial background- recognize skin color differences and hold a wide array of racial attitudes, assumptions and behaviors (Van Ausdale and Feagin, 2001). At this stage in life it is fair to assume that the attitudes of the parents- about their own and others- races and ethnic backgrounds form the child’s attitudes and behaviors. Children are said to be like sponges, absorbing information around them. This is not untrue when speaking about children and prejudice.

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The early 20 th century political commentator Walter Lippman (1922) defined a stereotype is an oversimplified picture of the world, one that satisfies our need to see our social environment as a more understandable and manageable place than it really is. Stereotypes are often quite resistant to change. They set expectations even in the absence of any confirmatory evidence and persist even in the face of contradictory evidence (Newman, pg.152). While stereotypes can be both positive, negative or neutral when they become the basis for a set of rigidly held, unfavorable judgments, beliefs and feelings about the members of another ethno racial, gender, class or sexual group they become prejudice.

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Historically, white people didn’t really doubt the truth in racial ranking. Many of the leaders in society were strong believers in “natural inferiority”. They believed that some races and genders were just naturally inferior to them. Despite historical and contemporary efforts to find a link between “inferior” race based genes and intelligence, creativity, or other valued ability, none has been found (Hacker, 1992). People use these theories about racial inferiority to further privilege dominate groups. Historically this has gone as far as slavery. Enslavement of people who were believed to be inferior based upon skin color alone. This is a painful and embarrassing part of our history as Americans but we need to learn about it, talk about it and remember it. This is how we can learn to be different than our ancestors.

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Slavery in America: From the beginnings of slavery in British North America around 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 enslaved Africans to the Virginia colony at Jamestown, nearly 240 years passed until the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery in 1865. During the time of the Civil War approximately 4 million enslaved African Americans lived in the southern region of the United States of America. The vast majority worked as plantation slaves in the production of cotton, sugar, tobacco, and rice (Slavery in America, 2005). Slavery in China: Slavery in China has taken various forms throughout history. Never as absolute as the European model, Chinese slavery still often viewed its objects as "half-man, half-thing”. A law was passed in 1909 to abolish it but it continued until 1949. Slavery in Russia: Slavery was outlawed in 1723, but reports of human trafficking continue today. Slavery in Mexico: it was not until 1824 that a Constitution was adopted that actually freed them. Even so, it was not until 1829 that the last slaves were freed. Slavery did survive in the part of Mexico that is now Texas (Mexconnect, 2001).

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Discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of bases upon some identifiable social characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality. From forced enslavement to segregation and interpersonal violence discrimination has historically been one of the most defining Characteristics of American society (Newman, pg.171). Although a lot of progress has been made since the Civil rights act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex and national origin, discrimination still happens. Institutional discrimination occurs when established laws, customs, policies, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequalities in society whether or not these individuals have discriminatory intentions (Newman, pg.181).

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We are all responsible for the success or failure of our world… and we can change this! We can educate ourselves about the inequalities and fair/equal treatment of all people.

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While the world we live in today may be a far better one than the one of the past we still have a lot of work today. We continue to live in a world where hard work and perseverance may not be enough.

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References: Newman, D. M. (2006). Identities & inequalities exploring the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill . http:// www.publicagenda.org/charts/majorities-say-there-least-some-discrimination-against-blacks-and-hispanic-americans (2005) http:// www.slaveryinamerica.org/history/overview.htm http:// www.mexconnect.com/articles/666-slavery-in-mexico (2001)