This article defines race and ethnicity and discusses instances in which these factors have played a role in situations of prejudice and institutional prejudice. Both race and ethnicity are defined as socially constructed categories, with race focusing on biological and societal characteristics and ethnicity focusing on those who share the same religion, language or dialect, or customs, norms, practices, and history. Institutional prejudice involves preconceived thoughts and emotions about an outgroup regarding social policies like hiring and firing, police and legal policies, and housing. These occurrences are discussed.
Keywords Allport's Intergroup Contact Theory; Discrimination; Ethnic Identity; Ethnicity; Ingroups; Institutional Prejudice; Intergroup; Minority Group Threat; Outgroups; Prejudice; Race; Socially Constructed; Stereotype
The Social Construction of Race
Race is best described as a socially constructed category. Groups that are treated as distinct within society based on various characteristics, including biological characteristics, are considered races. Assumed culturally or biologically inferior characteristics, as noted by powerful social groups, generally cause races to be singled out as being different. This thinking brings on great distress to the individual members of a race due to being treated differently and unfairly. Consequently, the manner in which groups have been treated both historically and socially defines the racial groups rather than individual biological characteristics (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Racial categories like 'Black' and 'White' are assigned to people by society, rather than by science, fact, or even logic. These decisions are generally based on opinion and social experience and explain what is meant by race being a "socially constructed" term. Though perceived biological differences like skin color, lip form, and hair texture typically define the meaning of race between groups, the social categories used to divide racial groups are not exactly fixed and vary from society to society. Laws defining who is African American, for example, have varied historically based on the laws of the state in which one resides. This suggests that racial differences are not merely biological (Andersen & Taylor, 2006; Washington, 2004).
For example, for years Tennessee and North Carolina law defined people as Black if they had at least one great-grandparent who was Black. Having any Black ancestors (even one great-great-great-grandparent) satisfied the conditions for other Southern states, which were based on the so-called "one drop" rule (Taylor, 2006; Malcomson, 2000). More complexity comes into play when the meaning of race is considered in other countries, as race is defined more so by one's social class. For example, a dark brown-skinned Black person in Brazil could be considered White, particularly if he or she has a high economic status. Brazilians are considered Black only if they are descendants of Africans and have no apparent White ancestry. Under the Brazilian rule, the majority of African Americans would not be considered Black in Brazil (Surratt & Inciardi, 1998; Omi & Winant, 1994; Sowell, 1983; Blalock, 1982). To add, the social constructionist view argues that a classification system based only on skin color, body shape, hair style, and the like does not fully justify meaningful and biological evidence, but has been used to justify the unequal treatment of diverse groups (Machery & Faucher, 2005).
Like race, ethnicity is considered a social category of people who share various characteristics. For example, an ethnic group may share a common religion, a common language or dialect, or common customs, norms, practices, and history. Examples of ethnic groups that reside in the United States include Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, Arab Americans, Polish Americans, Greek Americans, and Irish Americans. However, ethnic groups are found in other societies as well. The Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, whose ethnic classifications are based on their religious differences, serve as one example (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Unique historical and social experiences cause the development of ethnic groups, and these experiences make up the group's ethnic identity. An example of ethnic identity is the way Italian immigrants came to identify themselves as a group. Before immigration, Italian immigrants did not consider themselves an ethnic group with similar experiences and interests, as they came from different villages and cities. Instead, their family backgrounds and communities of origin were the identifiers of the groups they belonged to. The immigration process, however, and the experiences Italians underwent in the United States, influenced the creation of a new identity for Italians as they now shared similar experiences in a foreign land (Waters, 1990; Alba, 1990).
The intensity level of ethnic development and identification can vary. If ethnic groups face prejudice or some type of hostility from other groups, they tend to unite around common interests politically and economically. In addition, voluntary or involuntary development of ethnic unity may occur as a result of ethnic group exclusion by ingroups with more power in various residential areas, social clubs, or occupations. These instances typically cause ethnic identity to strengthen (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Before we can discuss institutional prejudice, we must first define prejudice. It is, however, important to differentiate prejudice from other related terms. Terms like discrimination and stereotypes are similar to prejudice, but they each have different meanings. For example, discrimination is a matter of action, whereas prejudice is about one's attitude. Stereotypes, on the other hand, are sets of beliefs about social group members that have been overly simplified. They are normally intended to describe a typical member in the group, but they typically provide inaccurate descriptions (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Steele, Choi, and Ambady (2004) define prejudice as a preconceived negative attitude or feeling toward an outgroup (group from a different racial, ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic group from one's own). Prejudice is driven by emotion (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick, & Dupuis, 2004), and it is further described as an evaluation of a social group based on misjudgments that are believed, even if facts have proven the believer wrong (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1971; Jones, 1997). For example, having negative thoughts about people solely because they belong to a certain group is considered prejudice. Though negative predispositions usually define prejudices, prejudices can sometimes be positive. For example, a negative feeling about someone in a different group from one's own is often associated with a positive disposition for someone who is in one's own group (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Though most people fail to own up to racial and ethnic prejudices, the majority of citizens hold some form of prejudice against other groups different from them. Whether it is on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, or sexual orientation, almost everyone holds a prejudice against another in some way (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Prejudice based on race or ethnicity, in particular, is referred to as racial-ethnic prejudice. An example that would constitute prejudice in this case is if a Latino person dislikes an Anglo person, only because he or she is White. The Latino person would be considered a member of the ingroup and the White person would be part of the outgroup. Statements from the Latino like, "all Whites behave badly," indicate that the Latino is using a stereotype to justify his or her prejudice. It is a negative prejudgment based solely on race and ethnicity (Andersen & Taylor, 2006).
Some forms of prejudice can lead to intergroup hostility and violence, the dehumanization of others different from oneself, and can even lead to mass murders and group destruction. The Holocaust, the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda, the conflict that continues between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are all examples of what intergroup hatred can cause (Steele, Choi, & Ambady, 2004).
In the United States, the most physically violent forms of prejudices that continue to persist tend to involve African Americans, Hispanics, and homosexuals. Each of these groups has suffered instances of beating or even murder as a result of their group membership. The fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, is an example of the prejudices the homosexual community has experienced. Shepard was brutally beaten and left in freezing temperatures to die, just because of his sexual orientation. The incident that happened to Rodney King, an African American, is another example of how prejudicial attitudes have caused harm to an outgroup member. In this case, several White Los Angeles police...
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