Introduction to Sociology
Professor Sharon Preves
Due by December 9th
Turned in by December 16th (7 days late)
The U.S. banned the discrimination based on race, sex or ethnicity, through the Civil Rights Act, almost 40 years ago in 1964. However, more subtle, permeating forms of racism are prevalent in today’s U.S. society according to sociologists. Newman argues that to end racism it is necessary to recognize first the artificial nature of race as concept and then to differentiate between the various types of racism in society.
The relativistic meaning of the word “Race”
Various sociologists throughout the world have proven that the same color is recognized as different races in different societies. For instance, what in the U.S. might be classified as simply “black” can be divided up as “zambos” and “mulatos” in Chile. To group them together as “black” would make no sense since the term “negro” is reserved for a particular tone of black skin and facial shape. In England or Ireland, any skin color that is not white is considered black. And white in Ireland does not signify the skin color, but rather to be of Irish descent. These kinds of multifaceted terminology around the world prove that race is not a given biological fact.
Recently, as people with markedly different facial and skin characteristics began marrying each other, to define race has become even more complicated. In the church I go to, the pastor has a Korean mother and a U.S. father – what race does he belong to? He has brown hair and non-epicanthic eyes, but his cheek bones and cranium shape belong to those of the Ural-Altaic people.
Personal racism, stereotypes, and Prejudice
Personal racism is manifested through individual contact of a person to another person, in such acts as threats, avoidance, or verbal or physical insult. The use of stereotypes gives an easy solution when justifying personal racism. Stereotyping involves exaggerating certain features in a given group of people from the same race and assuming that a particular feature applies to everybody. For example, since the Los Angeles riot in 1993, during which a large number of stores in the city were destroyed and ransacked by a mob which was, rumors say, mostly black, Korean communities in the west coast assume black people will be violent by nature. I had some uncles in Los Angeles, who kept saying that it was all very evident that black people are poor and hence prone to vandalism and violence. Common reactions are moving to the opposite side of the sidewalk when one sees a black person coming on the other side, or moving to another table (or getting out of the restaurant, to “protect the kids”) if large groups of black people enter a restaurant.
Stereotypes are hard to break because both the agent and victim of stereotyping are active, not passive, agents of the process. Furthermore, proofs against stereotypes are often refuted with arguments that claim the proof to be an isolated exception, but that the majority of the population keeps being “violent” or “greedy” or “lazy”, etc. In this is the self-fulfilling prophecy theory again applied.
As seen in an article of past chapters from Newman, victims of stereotyping actively use the stereotype to their purposes. Thus, a group of black kids in ghettos pretend to be more violent that what they are, just to keep people away from them.
Newman presents the research of Steele, who obtained more biased results when he explicitly told his subjects -black students- that he was testing something related to their stereotyped image – something like intelligence, the students performed in accordance to their expected social stereotyped images. Thus, it seems like there is an unconscious component to the self-fulfilling prophecy in race, because the black students didn’t meant to score lower than when they were not told that it was about intelligence, but rather their societal selves reacted to the suggestion of Steele which reminded them of the pre-existing stereotypes.
The ghost of “Race”
On the other hand, it seems like “race” is not a concept that can be easily deconstructed just out of realizing that it was originally a social construct. In some communities, the whole identity of the group falls back on the idea of race. Koreans for example, pride themselves in being a mono-racial country [unlike China, Russia or the U.S., towards which they look down on because they’re “mixed”, and thus “less pure”] For example, the current presidential candidate representing a party that matches the Republicans in the U.S. politics, often recurs to the great mono-raciality of Korea when arguing for the need to defend national interests by increasing military funding.
But even when “race” does not involve a sense of ethnic belonging, de-framing race seems a challenging task. Movements that counter the discrimination racial minorities suffer in the U.S., carry on the assumption that race exists, because if there was no race there could be no movement to protect a particular race. I wonder if the dilemma of Affirmative Action, which so far I understand is an attempt of the dominant race to purge itself of injustices of the past, is precisely the paradox of solidifying the notion that race exists, while at the same time combating the discrimination arising from the existence of race as a notion. This problem seems directly related to the fact that proponents of civil rights movements were opposed to the integration of the “multiracial” category in the U.S. census form (Mathews), because such blunder would not benefit the traditionally groups protected by such measurements.
Newman points out that as people from different races mix, the distinguishing features across races are fading, and takes the optimistic prospect that a gradual fusion of races will end the problem of racial discrimination. I should agree with him, even though this idea is again brought from the Melting Pot theory, which happens to be a rhetoric of the dominant class in the U.S.