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Chapter 8
Racial & Ethnic Inequality

Summary by Russ Long
October 23, 2017

I.     How to Think about Racial and Ethnic Inequality

A.     Minority and Majority Groups

Different racial and ethnic groups are unequal in power, resources, prestige, and presumed worth. The basic reason is power -- power derived from superior numbers, technology, weapons, property, or economic resources.

1.     Majority Groups

Those holding superior power in a society -- the majority group -- establish a system of inequality by dominating less-powerful groups. This system of inequality is then maintained and perpetuated through social forces.

2.     Minority Groups

Various social characteristics denote minority status.  They include race, ethnicity, religious preferences, and age.

Ultimately, however, the terms majority and minority describe power differences. The critical feature of the minority group's status is its inferior social position, in which its interests are not effectively represented in the political, economic, and social institutions of the society (Eitzen et al., 2011:209).

B.     Racial stratification

Racial privilege reaches far back into America's past. The racial hierarchy, with White groups of European origin at the top and people of color at the bottom, serves important functions for society and for certain categories of people. It ensures, for example, that some people are available to do society's dirty work at low wages. The racial hierarchy has positive consequences for the status quo: It enables the powerful to retain their control and their advantages. Racial stratification also offers better occupational opportunities, income, and education to White people. These advantages constitute racial privilege (Eitzen et al., 2011:209).

C.     Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Because majority-minority relations operate basically as a power relationship, conflict (or at least the potential for conflict) is always present. Overt conflict is most likely when subordinate groups attempt to alter the distribution of power. Size is not crucial in determining whether a group is the most powerful. A numerical minority may in fact have more political representation than the majority, as was the case in South Africa (Eitzen et al., 2011:210).

Determining who is a minority is largely a matter of history, politics, and judgment -- both social and political. Population characteristics other than race and ethnicity such as age, gender, or religious preference are sometimes used to designate minority status. However, race and ethnicity are the characteristics used most often to define the minority and majority populations in contemporary U.S. society (Eitzen et al., 2011:210).

The different experiences of racial groups are structurally embedded in society even though races, per se, do not exist. What does exist is the idea that races are distinct biological categories. Most scientists reject race as a valid way to divide human groups. Although there is no such thing as biological race, races are real insofar as they are socially defined (Eitzen et al., 2011:210).

D.     Racial Categories

1.     Racial Formation

Racial formation refers to how society continually creates and transforms its definitions of racial categories.

Groups that were previously self-defined in terms of specific ethnic background (such as Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans) have become racialized as "Hispanics" and "Asian Americans."

2.     The Census and Multi-race Identification

Even the U.S. Census Bureau, which measures race on the basis of self-identification, has revised the way racial and ethnic statistics will be collected in the 2000 census. For the first time, people will now be able to identify themselves as members of more than one racial group on census and other federal forms (Eitzen, 2000:215).

3.     Ethnicity

Whereas race is used for socially marking groups based on physical differences, ethnicity allows for a broader range of affiliation. Ethnic groups are distinctive on the basis of national origin, language, religion, and cultureEthnic groups experience a high degree of interaction among its members.  They see themselves as a cultural unit.

The contemporary world is replete with examples of newly constructed ethnicities. In the United States, people started to affiliate along ethnic lines such as Italian American or German American much more frequently after the civil rights movement. In Europe, as the Western countries move toward economic and political integration, there is a proliferation of regional identification -- people may no longer identify as Italian, but as Lombardians, Sicilians, or Romans, as these regions lose economic resources to a larger entity: the European community (Eitzen, 2000:217).

E.     Racism

Racism refers to attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that favor one group over another. The minority group might be seen as biologically (innately) inferior and, therefore, practices involving their domination and exploitation are justified.

II.     Patterns of Race and Ethnic Relations

A.     Assimilation

Assimilation is the process of being absorbed into the mainstream of the dominate culture.  The assimilation model demands that other groups conform to the dominant culture. New comers are to be socialized into the dominant culture that is already present.

B.     Pluralism (multiculturalism)

In a pluralist society unique groups coexist side by side. The uniqueness of each group is considered a trait worth having in the dominant culture.

C.     Segregation

Segregation is the physical and social separation of categories of people.

D.     Genocide

Genocide is the systematic killing of one category of people by another.

III.     General Observations Concerning Prejudice

The following material explores prejudice. Theories that explain prejudice focus on:

A.     Prejudice and Discrimination

1.     Prejudice

Prejudice refers to a positive or a negative attitude or belief directed toward certain people based on their membership in a particular group. The root word of prejudice is "pre-judge." It is "a set of attitudes which causes, supports, or justifies discrimination. Prejudice refers to a tendency to "over categorize." Prejudiced people respond to others in a more or less fixed way (Farley, 2012:20).

2.     Discrimination

Discrimination refers to actions (behaviors) against a group of people.

B.     Forms of Prejudice

Farley (2012:21) calls attention to three kinds of prejudice.

1.     Cognitive Prejudice

Cognitive prejudice refers to what people believe is true

2.     Affective Prejudice

Affective prejudice points to peoples likes and dislikes

3.     Conative Prejudice

Conative prejudice refers to how people are inclined to behave. Note that this is still an attitude because people don't actually act on their feelings. An example of conative prejudice might be found in the statement "If I were in charge I'd send all the Wallonians back to where ever they came from."

While these three types of prejudice are correlated, they don't have to all be present in a particular individual. Someone, for example, might believe a particular group possesses low levels of intelligence, but harbor no ill feelings toward that group. On the other hand, one might not like a group because of intense competition for jobs, but still recognize no inherent differences between groups.

IV.     Theories about Personality and Prejudice

A.     Is Prejudice Generalized?

Prejudice probably resides within the individual. Sometimes, prejudiced people (i.e., those with antagonistic attitudes toward different groups) tend to be antagonistic toward any out-group.

The Hartley Study

In a study by Hartley (1946) respondents were asked about their attitudes concerning a variety of ethnic groups, including "Danireans," "Pirraneans," and "Wallonians." The study found that those people who were antagonistic towards blacks and Jews were also antagonistic toward these other three groups. The catch is that none of the three groups exist! This suggests that causes of prejudice can be found in the characteristics of those who are prejudiced.

Adorno contends that people are prejudice because their prejudice meets certain needs associated with their personality. People do not become prejudiced simply based on negative encounters with members of different groups. Further, prejudiced people tend to be prejudiced towards a wide variety of groups.   Adorno contends that the tendencies to be prejudice is associated with the authoritarian personality.

If prejudice is associated with a personality pattern then a prejudice person should be prejudiced regardless of who or what the group is (Farley, 2012:23-24).

Farley (2012:23-24) notes that prejudice is not associated with conservatism. While conservatives show slightly higher rates of prejudice than do liberals, there are many examples of conservatives who are not prejudice and many liberals who are prejudiced.

B.     Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism refers to a tendency to view one's own group as the norm.  Other groups are not only viewed as different, but they are seen as strange and sometimes inferior.

C.     Stereotyping

A stereotype us a mental image, or an exaggerated belief, which assumes that whatever is believed about a group is typical for the entire group. Stereotypical thinking is unavoidable in social life and it is not automatically bad. "The essence of prejudicial thinking, however, is that the stereotype is not checked against reality. It is not modified by experiences that counter the rigid image (Farley, 2000:19).

One might note that even positive stereotypes are a mixed blessing.   On one hand, positive stereotypes justify the use of more negative stereotypes.   On the other hand, they provide unrealistic attributes that the individual has to try to live up to.

D.     Authoritarian Personalities

Theodore Adorno contends that many prejudiced people have a distinct set of personality traits.

The authoritarian personality results from family environment. Parents are "cold, aloof, disciplinarian, and themselves bigots" (see Farley, 2012:25).  People who have an authoritarian personality are prone to prejudice because prejudice meets certain personality needs.

F.     Scapegoating and Projection

Adorno, borrowing from Freud, argues that people with authoritarian personalities have an unusually strong need to scapegoat and to project (Farley, 2012:26-27). These behaviors are the result of unique childhood experiences.

1.     Scapegoating (Displaced Aggression)

Scapegoating occurs when one blames one's troubles on someone else who is relatively powerless. This may occur when one group feels threatened, but are themselves powerless to act against the actual source of the threat (Farley, 2012:26-27). 

Example:  A fellow has a low level of education and can't find a job.  Rather than acknowledging that his lack of education is the problem, he blames his inability to find a job on minorities and immigrants.

2.     Projection

Projection is a concept where the individual denies particular characteristics in him/her self but notices them in others (2012:27).

Example:  Continuing with the example above, the fellow with little education will not acknowledge his own educational deficiencies.  Instead, he will call attention to others who do not have sufficient education.

V.     Social Learning and Conformity as a Cause of Prejudice

The above discussion of prejudice is rather psychological. There is also the social context to consider when one attempts to understand prejudice. Social scientists who study social learning and conformity as causes of prejudice focus on the social environment within which people live

People learn to be prejudice through socialization processes like internalization, modeling, and reward and punishment.

A.     Agents of Socialization

Values are internalized as people encounter various agents of socialization.  Attitudes and behaviors are learned within a social context where agents of socialization are important (Farley, 2012:30-31).

1.    The Family

The family is probably the most important of the agents of socialization. Family is responsible for, among other things, determining one's attitudes toward religion and establishing career goals.

2.    The School

This agency is responsible for socializing groups of young people in particular skills and values in our society.

3.    Peer Groups

Peers refer to people who are roughly the same age and/or who share other social characteristics (e.g., students in a college class).

4.     Media

The effect on prejudice of television and the movies is substantial.   The media's portrayal of racial and ethnic groups may be a person's principal source of information. Therefore, since the media communicates primarily in stereotypes and if the viewer has little opportunity for personal contact with members of that minority, the probability of the stereotype becoming the reality for the viewer is high.

Hollywood movies have thoroughly dehumanized the nonwhite world. The whites, who are the exploiters, consistently show up as the "good guys."   Whites are portrayed as the bearers of civilization and all that is just and humane. Their superiority is taken as the natural order of things, and their "justified" extermination of the nonwhites provides a "happy" ending (Kitano, 1985:52).

B.     Selective Exposure and Modeling

Farley (2012:33) notes that "if a child is exposed to one set of values over time, the child will eventually come to view that set of values as the "natural way." This is especially true when the models are someone whom the child is especially close to like parents or close relatives.

C.     Reward and Punishment

All agents of socialization reward behavior and expression of attitude that conform to their norms and punish those that do not. These rewards and punishments are sometime very formal. Other types of rewards and sanctions are informal and impromptu (Farley, 2012:33).

The ASCH Line Experiment

The fact that people are perfectly willing to deny objective reality in lieu of conforming to group pressure is demonstrated by the Asch experiment.

During the Asch experiment, seven confederates are asked to state that a short line is longer than a long line.  About a third of the subjects agreed with the confederates.

People will conform to prejudice attitudes as well as to a variety of other attitudes (Farley, 2012:34).  People conform in order to gain group acceptance.

VI.     Reducing Prejudice:
Some Principles and Approaches

Given that there are many causes of prejudice: personality, social, and structural, the solutions are going to be varied also. If, for example, prejudice is related to a personality trait, then education might not eliminate prejudice. On the other hand, if prejudice is due to social learning, education and personal contact may reduce prejudice (Farley, 2012:43-44).

A.     Persuasive Communication

1.     Description

Persuasive communication refers to any form of communication (written, verbal, visual) specifically intended to influence attitudes. A couple of considerations are in order (Farley, 2012:44-47).

2.     Drawbacks

It appears that people who receive and understand antiprejudiced messages tend to be people who are already antiprejudiced (Farley, 2012:44-47).

B.     Education

1.     Description

Intergroup education is similar to persuasive communication. The big difference is that education's purpose is not to change attitudes, but rather to impart information, although the latent goal of changing minds might be there. Education is most successful when it causes the least amount of stress. I.e., education should not put people on the defensive. One way to facilitate a positive environment is to make students feel that they are participants in the process (Farley, 2012:47-50).

2.     Drawbacks

Education has difficulties reducing prejudice, in part, because there is some self-selecting taking place in that the most prejudiced people probably do not take the courses designed to increase the understanding of majority/minority issues.  On the other hand, required courses in inter-group relations might avoid the problem of self-selection.

Teachers, like other people, are some times prejudiced.  If the teacher is prejudiced against minorities, then it would be difficult to promote a non-prejudiced environment.

In general, education appears to be most beneficial in reducing prejudice when prejudice is not very intense and when personality disorders are not dominant (Farley, 2012:47-50).

If a person is prejudiced as a result of social learning, then education (combined with change of environment) may be successful in reducing prejudice.

C.     Intergroup Contact:  The Contact Hypothesis

1.     Description

Intergroup contact appears more effective in reducing prejudice than communication and education. This "contact hypothesis" receives support in public housing projects where people have to live in close proximity to each another. It also receives support in the military. It appears, for example, that school desegregation is associated with decreasing levels of prejudice (Farley, 2012:50-56). This is the philosophy behind school-busing.

For intergroup contact to be successful in reducing prejudice, the contact has to be more than superficial.  Casual contact will have little impact on reducing prejudice.

2.     Drawbacks

a.     A primary problem here is that the lessening of prejudice appears to only take place in the environment where the contact takes place (e.g., the school or work place)

b.     The contact hypothesis does not always receive support. Examples are the school desegregation problems found in Boston and Pontiac, MI. It appears that a precondition for intergroup contact to work in reducing prejudice is that the two groups be of similar social status. For example, prejudice is reduced when the two groups are working on the same job for the same pay or living in a housing project where each pays the same rent. If people are not of equal status, contact may foster resentment (Farley, 2012:50-56).

D.     Simulation Exercises

The simulation exercise devises a situation where people, who don't normally experience prejudice and discrimination, experience discrimination.  They learn about the feelings that result from being discriminated against.  They see in a direct way the irrationality of prejudice and discrimination (Farley, 2012:56-57).

E.     Therapy

1.     Description

Communication, education, and intergroup contact are not effective when a prejudiced person suffers from personality disorders. Many argue that personality problems are best dealt with through therapy (either individual or group therapy). The goal of therapy is to:

2.     Drawbacks

The authoritarian personality is an example of prejudice that results from personality disorders.  Unfortunately, a characteristic of the authoritarian personality is Anti-Intraception, or a rejection of self analysis.  If one doesn't acknowledge they have a problem requiring therapy, then they won't see a need to seek therapy.

VII.     How Important is Prejudice?

A.     LaPiere Study

There is substantial evidence which suggests that the prejudice and discrimination are not always linked.

The LaPiere Study

The 1936 experiment by LaPiere demonstrates this. LaPiere noted that as he and his Chinese traveling-partner attempted to stay at hotels, only one hotel refused them service, but when he contacted the hotels by mail asking if they would serve Chinese, many hotels indicated that they would not provide service to Chinese. The moral of this story is that people with prejudiced attitudes do not always display discriminatory behavior (Farley, 2012:60-61)

B.     Cognitive Dissonance Theory: Can Behavior Determine Attitudes?

The general answer is yes.  Behavior can determine attitudes.  Farley (2012:62-63) calls upon Cognitive Dissonance Theory for an explanation of why this can be true. He argues that people prefer to have their attitudes and behavior in sync. The theory argues that if behavior does not match attitudes then people will slowly, unconsciously, change their attitudes.

The Carlsmith (1959) Experiment

The Carlsmith Experiment lends support to the theory that behaviors influence attitudes.

Subject were divided into two groups. Each group is asked to perform dull boring tasks. One group is paid money. The other receives nothing substantial.

Those who receive money acknowledge that the work was boring, but they could rationalize doing the boring work because they were paid to do the work.  That alone made the project worthwhile.

The group receiving no money, on the other hand, had no way to justify their experience. That groups slowly changed their attitudes about the worth of their work.  Many in the group who received nothing came to see the tasks as enjoyable (Farley, 2012:62).

2.     The Deep South Today

Farley (2012:62-63) contends that cognitive dissonance theory explains why the South desegregation was so successful. He argues that Southerners, not being able to discriminate any longer, changed their attitudes toward discrimination.

VIII.     Explanations of Racial and Ethnic Inequality

A.     Bias Theories

Bias theories blame the members of the majority.  In particular, bias theories blame individuals who are prejudiced or racist (Eitzen, 2000:223).

B.     Structural-Discrimination Theories

The alternative view is that racial inequality is not fundamentally a matter of what is in people's heads, not a matter of their private individual intentions, but rather a matter of public institutions and practices that create or perpetuate discrimination (Eitzen, 2000:225).

1.     Individual Discrimination

Individual discrimination consists of overt acts by individuals that harm other individuals or their property. This type of action is usually publicly decried.


Institutional racism is more injurious than individual racism to more minority-group members, but it is not recognized by the dominant-group members as racism.

Integration comes to Del Mar College in 1952

According to Crisp (1996) Del Mar College was integrated 20 months before the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in the United States.

At the time Blacks in Corpus Christi were barred from movie theaters and most restaurants.  There were forced to ride in the back of public busses and water fountains were “white’s only” (Crisp, 1996).

Despite the overt racism of the time, the DMC regents voted unanimously to allow black students to enter DMC.  The first 7 entered DMC in the fall of 1952 (Crisp, 1996).

There were no protests and the college experienced little if any disruption. The black students were quickly accepts by the white students and sat where they pleased in the classes.  They used the same wash rooms as the white students (Crisp, 1996).

There was some negativity.  According to Crisp (1996) the black students were encouraged by President Harvin to not attend a college sponsored dance.  His fear was that it might anger some of the visitors from the community and might ultimately undermine the efforts at pursuing integration at DMC. 

2.     Institutional Discrimination

Institutional discrimination refers to those "processes which, intentionally, or not, result in the continued exclusion of a subordinate group [and... activities and practices which are intended to protect the advantages of the dominant group and/or maintain or widen the unequal position of a subordinate group."

Some times individuals and groups discriminate whether they are bigots or not. These individuals and groups operate within a social milieu that ensures racial dominance. The social milieu includes laws, customs, religious beliefs, and the stable arrangements and practices through which things get done in society. The major sectors of society -- the system of law and the administration of justice, the economic system, the formal educational structure, and health care are all possible discriminators. Thus, the term institutional discrimination is a useful one.

The institutions of society:

have great power to reward and penalize. They reward by providing career opportunities for some people and foreclosing them for others. They reward as well by the way social goods and services are distributed by deciding who receives training and skills, medical care, formal education, political influence, moral support and self-respect, productive employment, fair treatment by the law, decent housing, self-confidence, and the promise of a secure future for self and children (see Eitzen, 2000:226).

C.     Four Basic Themes of Institutional Discrimination

1.     The Importance of History

Historically, institutions defined and enforced norms and roles that were racially distinct. The United States was founded and its institutions established when Blacks were slaves, uneducated, and differed culturally from the dominant Whites.

From the beginning, Blacks were considered inferior (the original Constitution, for example, counted a slave as three-fifths of a person).

Religious beliefs buttressed this notion of the inferiority of Blacks and justified the differential allocation of privileges and sanctions in society.

Laws, customs, and traditions usually continue to reinforce current thinking. Institutions have an inertial quality: Once set in motion, they tend to continue on the same course. Thus, institutional discrimination is extremely difficult to change without a complete overhaul of society's institutions (Eitzen, 2000:226).

2.     Discrimination Without Conscious Bigotry

With or without malicious intent, racial discrimination is the "normal" outcome of the system. Even if "racism-in-the-head" disappeared, then "racism-in-the-world" would not, because it is the system that disadvantages.

  1. Minorities suffer if the law continues to favor the owners of property over renters and debtors.
  2. Job opportunities remain unequal if employers hire people with the most conventional training and experience.
  3. Poor children get an inferior education if
  • we continue tracking,
  • using class-biased tests,
  • making education irrelevant in their work,
  • rewarding children who conform to the teachers' middle-class concepts of the good student,
  • paying disproportionately less for their education (buildings, supplies, teachers, counselors).
  1. In other words, all that is needed to perpetuate discrimination in the United States is to pursue a policy of business as usual (Eitzen, 2000:227).

3.     Institutional Discrimination Is More Invisible

Institutional discrimination is more subtle and less intentional than individual acts of discrimination. As a result, establishing blame for this kind of discrimination is extremely difficult (Eitzen, 2000:227).

4.     Institutional Discrimination Is Reinforced Because Institutions Are Interrelated

The exclusion of minorities from the upper levels of education, for example, is likely to affect their opportunities in other institutions (type of job, level of remuneration). Similarly, poor children will probably receive an inferior education, be propertyless, suffer from bad health, and be treated unjustly by the criminal justice system. These inequities are cumulative (Eitzen, 2000:227).

IX.     Contemporary Trends and Issues
in U.S. Racial and Ethnic Relations

A.     Nativism

Social scientists use the term nativism to denote hostility toward immigrants. Here, and in other countries, racial diversity is marked by growing conflicts (Eitzen, 2000:237).

Racial violence is often associated with uncertain economic conditions. Lack of jobs, housing, and other resources can add to fear. It can also lead to minority scapegoating on the part of Whites. Despite evidence that immigrants actually strengthen the social fabric, immigrants are becoming a scapegoat for social problems. In Florida and many parts of the West and Southwest, perceptions that Cubans, Mexicans, and other Hispanics are taking jobs from Anglos have touched off racial tensions (Eitzen, 2000:238):

1.     More Racially Based Groups and Atrocities

The Southern Poverty Law Center documented an increase in U.S. hate groups. Their research found 474 hate groups involved in racist behavior in 1997, a 20 percent rise over the previous year. The jump reflects continued growth of racially-based separatism, religion, and hate, along with the fervor produced by the approaching millennium. Groups include White supremacist groups with such diverse elements as the Ku Klux Klan, Nazi-identified parties, and skinheads. With many hate sites on the Internet and increasing popularity of White power rock, racist organizers are reaching more young people.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Tolerance.Org -- Tracking Hate Groups


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