Declining significance of race

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Introduction to
Ethnic Studies

Socio 14

No More Racism?

Are we witnessing a “declining significance of race” (Wilson) ?

Can we argue that racism has ended?
If not, what are the processes of racism?

How do we reconcile words and action about ending discrimination?

Why So Many Emotions?

In general, politically and emotionally charged:

Sparks emotions (personalize, guilt, shame, embarrassment, resentment)

Personal experience

Some feel attacked

Some feel oppressed
Political agenda

Ideologies differ

What is the role of society?

Who represents the problem?

What’s Going On?

Student Reluctance to dialogue about Race-Related Material


Racial groups have different interpretations

Race is NOT always understood socially

Biological arguments still prevail in some minds
Race as a Taboo Topic

Fear of hurting one’s feeling

Dialogue remains difficult b/c of different experiences

Overview of concepts (1)

Wirth (1945) defined...
A minority groups as people who are singled out for unequal treatment, and who view themselves as objects of collective discrimination
A dominant group not as a majority but group with power, privileges and social status

Overview of concepts (2)


Mathematical definition vs. Social Disadvantage

Large groups do NOT mean advantage
Four Characteristics of Minority Status:

Social and historical disadvantage

Visible” characteristics

Self-Conscious social group

Ascribed status

Cannot change this status. Status is determined by physical characteristics

Overview of concepts (3)

Ethnicity, Nationality, and Race
Ethnic Minority Group

Cultural characteristics and origin

Political status and rights as citizens.

Does not take into account culture
Racial Minority Group

Overview of concepts (4)

Group socially distinguished or set apart, by others or by itself, primarily on the basis of cultural or national-origin characteristics.” (Feagin)

Overview of concepts (5)

Race is a social construct which means that race helps us understand the reasons for stratification and for other societal issues
While race takes into account the physical characteristics of certain groups, race should be understood as something that is has socially constructed historically and remains an important concept to analyze society
While certain groups were deemed inferior because of certain physical characteristics, such as Italians and Irish, it is no longer the case as they are now part of the dominant white group. We refer to them as mainly ethnic groups

Overview of concepts (6)

Racial Minority Group

Social construct:
A social group that persons inside or outside the group have decided is important to single out as inferior or superior, typically on the basis of real or alleged physical characteristics subjectively selected.” (Feagin)
Any people who are distinguished, or consider themselves distinguished, in social relations with other peoples, by their physical characteristics.” (Cox)

Overview of concepts (7)

Racial Minority Group
A doctrine that involves political and economic interests, that tells us more about the history of relations among peoples.
Social categorization based on supposed biological differences.
Physical characteristics are in themselves meaningless. They become important when they become a way of classifying groups as inferior or superior.

Overview of concepts (8)


If race is NOT biologically real, then why should we study it?
Race is a reality in the sense that people experience it as real and base much of their behavior on it.
Race is also real because certain social institutions and practices make it real.
Race is real in the same way that a building or a religion or a political ideology is real. Thus, the concept of race can have little or no foundation, yet it can still be the force that makes or breaks someone’s life, or the life of a people or a nation.

What Prevents Dialogue?

The Myth of Meritocracy

Individuals are driven by this ideology

Does everybody regardless of race, class, gender, religion, disability have the same opportunity?
Personal Detachment

Cannot relate to the issues in a personal manner

Whose voice is more important to understand race relations?

Minorities or dominant group?

Social Stratification/ Inequality

Social Inequality

Members of society have differing amounts of wealth, prestige, or power

This is universal…some in every society
Social stratification

Structured ranking of entire groups of people that perpetuates unequal economic rewards and power in society

This is based on hierarchies of groups

Overview of concepts (9)

Slavery and Castes


Most extreme form of legalized inequality. Individuals are owned by others, and treated as property

This is an ascribed status

Hereditary systems of rank, usually religiously dictated, which tend to be fixed and immobile.

India: Priests & scholars, warriors, artisans, servants and untouchables

Caste determines occupation and religious function

No mobility between castes

South Africa (Apartheid)

Overview of concepts (10)

Social Class

Social ranking based on economic position where achieved status can affect mobility
Boundaries between classes aren’t precisely defined
Most people tend to believe that they belong to the middle-class.
Differences between wealth, power and status/prestige

Differences between income and wealth

Overview of concepts (11)


de jure:

Separation or spatial exclusion of minorities sanctioned/authorized by law
de facto:

Separation or spatial exclusion of minorities, not by law but created by external social factors such as class

This is reinforced by historical housing patterns.

School segregation is a reflection of school district boundaries and housing patterns

Overview of concepts (12)


Unreliable generalizations about all members of a group that don’t recognize individual differences within the group

Creation of false images or stereotypes that are real in their consequences

W I Thomas’s “definition of a situation”
Internalized racism

Result of self-fulfilling prophecy

People or groups that are ascribed as having certain characteristics begin to display those traits

Self-hatred images

Overview of concepts (13)

Attitudes held by individuals toward an entire category of people

You can be prejudiced and act upon it and engage in individual discrimination
Can you engage in discrimination without being prejudiced?

Institutional & structural discrimination

Overview of concepts (14)

Overview of concepts (15)

Individual Discrimination
Behavior of individual members of one race/ethnic/gender group that is intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on the members of another race/ethnic/gender group.” (Pincus)
Example: Refusing to rent to certain groups because of prejudice feelings

Overview of concepts (16)

Institutional Discrimination
Policies of the dominant race/ethnic/gender institutions and the behavior of individuals who control these institutions and implement policies that are intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on minority race/ethnic/gender groups.” (Pincus)
Example: Jim Crow segregation

Overview of concepts (17)

Structural Discrimination
Policies of dominant race/ethnic/gender institutions and the behavior of the individuals who implement these policies and control these institutions, which are race/ethnic/gender neutral in intent but which have a differential and/or harmful effect on minority.” (Pincus)
Example: Cutting certain budgets. Intersection of race and class will show that those policies will negatively impact people of color

Structural Discrimination? (1)

Federal mandatory sentencing for drug offenses since 1986
Five-year minimum sentence for individuals convicted of trafficking 5 grams of crack cocaine or 500 grams of cocaine powder in 2009

Ten-year minimum sentence for individuals convicted of trafficking 50 grams of crack cocaine or 5,000 grams (5 kgs) of cocaine powder in 2009
It was reduced in 2010 to 18:1 ratio in 2010

Structural Discrimination? (2)

Structural Discrimination? (3)

Structural Discrimination? (4)

The US Sentencing Commission found in its 1997 report that “nearly 90 percent of the offenders convicted in federal court for crack cocaine distribution are African-American while the majority of crack cocaine users is white. Thus, sentences appear to be harsher and more severe for racial minorities than others as a result of this law. The current penalty structure results in a perception of unfairness and inconsistency.”
In 2006, the crack sentencing policies have resulted in more than 80 percent of crack cocaine defendants being African American despite the fact that a majority of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic.
For crack cocaine, two-thirds of users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic

Furthermore, research on drug market patterns demonstrates that drug users generally purchase drugs from sellers of the same racial or ethnic background
Despite these facts, people of color are disproportionately subject to the penalties for both types of cocaine

Institutional / Structural Discrimination

Omi & Winants Racial Formation (1)

Du Bois’ famous quote “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” illustrates how race still matters in terms of the distribution of resources, power, and privilege
Racism is embedded in a hegemonic racial project, in which white racial privilege is defended
Race and racism have changed over time but they are NOT the same

Race has NO fixed meanings but is constructed and transformed socio-historically through competing political projects

Race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies

Omi & Winant’s Racial Formation (2)

The meaning of race is defined and contested throughout society, in both collective action and personal practice. In the process, racial categories themselves are formed, transformed, destroyed and re-formed. We use the term racial formation to refer to the process by which social, economic and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings. Crucial to this formulation is the treatment of race as a central axis of social relations which cannot be subsumed under or reduced to some broader category or conception” (Omi & Winant, 1994)
The sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (Omi & Winant, 1994)

Omi & Winant’s Racial Formation (3)

Racial projects

A representation and organization of human bodies and social structures

Socially and historically located

Needs to be contextually understood
A racial project can be defined as racist if it creates or reproduces hierarchical social structures based on fixed essential racial categories (or does not include some individual differences within a group)

A racial project is simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation or racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines”

Omi & Winant’s Racial Formation (4)

Racial projects

An essentialist approach to race is one based on stereotypes and generalizations
For example, slavery was justified by assertions that Africans were an inferior race

Asians were restricted from immigrating to the United States because it was Congress's and the Supreme Court's view that Asians could not assimilate

Modern essentialist approaches to race are found in the stereotype of a violent, young African American male and the perception that Asian Americans will always be foreigners

The Far Right Racial Project

White identity is biologically grounded

Superiority of whites over nonwhites

Some are base in religious doctrine in which Blacks and Jews are defined as “mud” people

They are against the state because they argue that it has been captured by “race mixers”

They admire Nazi thinking

No real power but they represent racial terrorism


Aryan Nation

The New Right Racial Project

The contemporary new right has its origins in resistance to the black movement of the 1950s and 1960s

Felt that racial equality was a threat to the organization of the U.S. as a nation-state

Anticommunism, racism, nativism, America First isolationism

White supremacy is a fundamental component of U.S. society
Destroying it would mean to include a massive economic redistribution and compensatory programs like affirmative action

They argue that it would be unfair to disenfranchised whites
Want to reform the “underclass” who is supposedly NOT:

Productive, law-abiding, sexually “under-control” …

Will try to use anti-racist messages to appear legitimate and inclusive

The Neoconservative Racial Project

Neoconservative discourse seeks to preserve white advantages through denial of racial difference with the argument of color-blindness argument that led to “reverse discrimination”

Used to mobilize working and middle-class whites
Racial difference is something to be overcome politically and culturally through the end of racial significance which means “racial thinking”

racial thinking” is seen as bad which means not talking about it means racial status quo and systematic racial inequality remains
It is based in the doctrine of natural rights in which the “American creed” would sweep away irrational racial prejudice because of universal and individual values

It tends to rationalize racial injustice as a supposedly natural outcome of group attributes in competition

The state can only exacerbate instead of ameliorating racial problems

Ideas of laissez-faire policies

The Liberal Racial Project

Liberal discourse seeks to limit white advantages through denial of racial difference

Some overlap with neo-conservatism (more cultural)

The liberal racial project focuses on social structure and tends to focus more on class than race (Wilson’s the declining significance of race)

They do not dismiss historical racial discrimination but believe that capital is “color-blind”

Call for government to implement a high-wage economy that could end up in a transracial social justice

They do not challenge whites to denounce artificially low unemployment rates, and material benefits that whites received in virtue of their whiteness

They want to build a transracial political agenda, with visions of whites and racial/ethnic minority groups included

The New Abolitionist Racial Project

They stress the “invention of whiteness” as a pivotal development in the rise of U.S. Capitalism
Radical historians and critical legal theorists argue that set race as the center of white supremacy and U.S. politics and culture
The lie behind “whiteness” needs to be exposed

Rejection of whiteness is the precondition for racial equality

Whites must become “race traitors” by rejecting their privilege, by refusing to conspire with white supremacy

If enough whites denounce their whiteness, then the “white’s club” to enforce its supremacy is compromised
They criticize the liberal racial project for not going far enough

Intergroup Relations

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