Race and Ethnicity
C hapter 9
Race and Ethnicity
I. Why Focus on Brazil?
A. Like the United Sates, Brazil is considered a melting pot of culturally and
racially diverse peoples. Brazil’s ideas about race, however, are very different
from those of the United States.
1. Since 1600, the United States has worked hard to make everyone who
has lived in and immigrated to the country fit into one of its official
and ever-changing categories.
2. For most of its history, the United States was a country that
discouraged sexual relationships and marriage between whites and
nonwhites, but especially between whites and blacks.
3. In contrast, the Brazilian government did not present race as
categorical. Most Brazilians do not see themselves as a particular race;
rather they see themselves on a continuum of color with black and
white as endpoints.
4. From the beginning, the Portuguese colonizers were officially
encouraged to “marry” the conquered indigenous and enslaved African
a. Interracial mixing was driving by the broader purpose of
‘whitening’ the population.
A. Core Concept 1Sociologists define race as human-constructed categories
that assume great social importance.
B. When sociologists study race, they study its social importance—the meanings
assigned to physical traits, the rules for placing people into racial categories,
and the effect race has on opportunities in life.
C. Although it may seem natural to divide people into racial categories, upon
close analysis, it is illogical.
1. There are no sharp lines to mark the physical boundaries that
distinguish one race from another.
2. Millions of people in the world are products of sexual unions between
people of different races.
3. The diversity of people within any one racial category is so great that
knowing someone’s race or color tells us little about him or her.
4. Racial categories are problematic because they vary across time and
III. Racial Formation Theory
A. Anyone who lives in the United States (or elsewhere for that matter) must
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learn to “see” its racial categories—that is, they must learn to see arbitrary
physical traits, such as skin color and hair texture, as meaningful and
1. Racial common sense - shared ideas about each race believed to be
so obvious or natural they need not be questioned.
a. Involves seeing racial categories as natural ways to divide
humanity and involves unquestioned assumptions held about
those with a specific racial category.
B. Racial Categories in the United States and Brazil
1. Core Concept 2: Most societies, if not all, have created racial
categories and rules for placing people into those categories. Keep in
mind that, when subjected to scrutiny, category schemes rarely, if ever,
2. The U.S. government recognizes five minimum racial categories, plus
a sixth category labeled as “Some Other Race”—a catch-all used as a
last resort when people resist identifying with one of the five racial
a. American Indian or Alaska Native - A person having origins in
any of the original peoples of North and South America (including
Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or
b. Asian - A person having origins in any of the original peoples of
the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent
c. Black or African American - A person having origins in any of
the Black racial groups of Africa
d. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander - A person having
origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or
other Pacific Islands
e. White - A person having origins in any of the original peoples of
Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa
f. It is significant that the definition for “Black” or “African
American” omits the words “original peoples” and substitutes
“Black racial groups of Africa.”
g. The 2000 Census represented the first time in U.S. history that the
federal government allowed people to identify themselves as
belonging to more than one racial category.
3. The Brazilian view of race includes three category schemes.
a. The official categories used by the Brazilian Census Bureau
i. White (branco); brown (pardo); black (preto); yellow
(amarelo), and indigenous (indigena).
b. The popular language used to refer to race or color.
i. When presented with an open-ended question asking people
their race, Brazilian’s answered with 135 distinct terms.
c. Brazil’s black consciousness movement uses a two-category
scheme—negro or blanco.
A. Core Concept 3: Like race, when sociologists study ethnicity, they are
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interested in studying the processes by which people make ethnicity important
1. Ethnic group—people within a larger society (such as a country) who
possess a group consciousness because they share or believe they share
a common ancestry, place of birth, a history, a key experience, or some
other distinctive social traits they have defined as the “essence of their
a. Selective forgetting—A process by which people forget, dismiss,
or fail to pass on a connection to one or more ethnicities.
b. Ethnic renewal—occurs when someone discovers an ethnic
identity, as when an adopted child learns about and identifies with
newly found biological relatives or a person learns about and
revives lost traditions.
B. Involuntary ethnicity – occurs when a government or other dominant group
creates an umbrella ethnic category and assigns people from many different
cultures and countries to it.
1. Everyone in the U.S. is assigned to one of two ethnic categories:
“Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino.”
a. The term Hispanic, created in 1970, applies to people from, or
with ancestors from, 21 Central and South American countries
that were once former colonies of Spain.
2. The Brazilian government seeks to identify only the ethnicity of the 1
million or so indigenous peoples who live within its borders.
C. Dominant ethnic groups are the most advantaged ethnic group in a society
1. Hidden ethnicity—a sense of self that is based on little to no awareness
of an ethnic identity because its culture is considered normative, or
D. The Roles of Chance, Context, and Choice
1. Core Concept 4: The racial and ethnic categories to which people
belong are a product of three interrelated factors: chance, context, and
a. Chance - something not subject to human will, choice, or effort.
We do not choose our biological parents nor can we control the
physical characteristics we inherit from them.
b. Context - the social setting in which racial and ethnic categories
are recognized, created, and challenged
c. Choice - the act of choosing from a range of possible behaviors or
V. The Foreign-Born Population
A. Core Concept 5: Every country in the world has people living within its political
boundaries who are immigrants and were born elsewhere. Often
considerations of race and ethnicity figure into immigration policies.
1. Race and ethnicity considerations have played a major role in U.S.
2. Legislation that focused on race and ethnicity was designed to curb the
numbers and types of immigrants entering the U.S.
a. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited the entry of
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Chinese laborers into the U.S. for 10 years.
b. The Immigration Act of 1924 established a quota system that set
numerical limits on immigration. These limits were based on
c. The Bracero Program, which began in 1942, allowed Mexicans to
legally work in the U.S. in order to relieve labor shortages in rural
areas and to bolster the American workforce during World War II.
d. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 permitted
illegal workers in the U.S. to apply for amnesty if they could
prove they had worked here for at least 90 days between May 1,
1985, and May 1, 1986.
e. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S.
government made many changes to immigration laws and
B. Until 1808, Portuguese colonizers in Brazil prohibited other Europeans from
immigrating for fear they would try to claim territory within Brazil.
1. Between 1550 and 1850, the Portuguese “imported” an estimated 4
million enslaved peoples out of Africa to work on sugar cane and
2. After slavery was abolished, immigration policies were enacted to
recruit European immigrants to populate their land, work in coffee
plantations, and to “whiten” the Brazilian gene pool.
VI. The Consequences of Racial and Ethnic Classification
A. In the U.S. and Brazil there are dramatic differences between racial groups in
regard to life chances.
B. Minority Groups
1. Core Concept 6: Minority groups are subpopulations within a society
that are systematically excluded (whether consciously or
unconsciously) from full participation in society and denied equal
opportunities to access power, prestige, and wealth.
2. Sociologist Louis Wirth (1945) made a classic statement on minority
groups, identifying a number of essential traits that are characteristic
of all minority groups.
a. Membership is involuntary.
b. A minority may be the numerical majority in a society.
c. Minority groups are excluded from full participation in the larger
d. Social and spatial isolation.
e. Minority status overshadows any accomplishments.
3. Involuntary minorities--Ethnic or racial groups that were forced
to become part of a country by slavery, conquest, or colonization.
1. Core Concept 7: Assimilation is a process by which ethnic and racial
distinctions between groups disappear because one group is absorbed
into another group’s culture or because two cultures blend to form a
2. Absorption Assimilation - A process by which members of a minority