Sociology Chapter 3 – Racism and Ethnic Inequality
Racism in Canada continues unabated in both subtle and overt ways. Non-white Canadians, regardless of
their social status, experience prejudice and discrimination everyday in what is supposed to be a
multicultural society. In Canada, socialization teaches us that prejudicial and racist issues are for the
indigenous or non-white.
Discrimination: the actions or practices of dominant group members that have a harmful impact on
members of subordinate groups.
Racism and Ethnic Inequality as a Social Problem
• Racism is among the most divisive problem facing Canada
• William J. Wilson (1996): “we all- regardless of racialized or ethnic background- share certain
common interests and concerns that cross race and class boundaries”
• Some of the problems include
o Unemployment and job insecurity
o Declining real wages
o Escalating medical and housing costs
o Ascarcity of child care programs
o Quality of education
o Violence in neighbourhoods
• All people can be allies in working toward the elimination of racism
o Who better than white people to press for necessary changes?
What are Ethnicity, “Race”, and Racialization?
In this Canada, we talk mainly of ethnicity and Statistics Canada collects data based on ethnic groups.
Ethnic Group: Acategory of people who are distinguished, by others or by themselves, on the basis of
cultural or nationality characteristics. These characteristics can include;
• Country of origin
• Adherences to a culture
Members of an ethnic group include;
1. Unique cultural traits
2. Sense of community
3. Feelings that one’s own group is distinct
4. Membership from birth
5. Tendency to occupy a distinct geographic area
White ethnics, such as Jewish Canadians are also examples of ethnic groups. Ethnicity is often used as a
basis to judge an individual or group as inferior or superior.
J. Milton Yinger (1994) had a more narrow definition of ethnicity based on the following three criteria;
1. Members of a croup must view themselves as distinct
2. Others must view the group as distinct
3. Group members must participate in collective “activities that have the intent or the effect of
affirming their distinctiveness” Augie Fleras and Jean Elliot (1999) believe that this criteria however does not include White Canadians.
This presents White Canadians as a neutral standard to which others (Non-White ethnics) are measured.
• “To ignore white ethnicity is to redouble its hegemony by naturalizing whiteness”
Race: Race is viewed as a social construct- the classification of people based on social and political values-
rather than as a biological given.
• Many people believe that race stems from genetic differences as opposed to subjective
perceptions of differnces
• As humans genetic differences do not occur- we come from the same gene pool (we are
the human race)
• However, the sociocultural concept as race has become the most important
• In the 15 century Europeans became the first to use race as a classification system
o The popular concept of race stemmed from the need to justify slavery and
• Grace Galabuzie suggests that the use of “race” as a means to differentiate between
people dates back to ancient times
Racialized Group: Acategory of people who have been singled out, by others or themselves, as inferior or
superior on the basis of subjectively selected physical characteristics such as skin colour, hair texture, and
(e.g. blacks, whites,Asians and aboriginals)
• Racilization is a process that happens to a group (group comes to be seen as having specific traits)
• Definitions of traits are arbitrary- vary across cultures and change over time
• “The process of racialization therefor involves the construction of racial categories as real, but also
as unequal for composition of a society…and has led to the differential treatment and outcomes in
Historical and Political Roots of Race
“Race is the classification of people into categories on the basis of preconceived attributes; each group is
defined as different by virtue of predetermined properties that are seen as fixed and permanent because of
real of alleged characteristics” (Fleras and Elliot 1999)
There are several classifications schemes that were developed from the 1700’s on. The one that are most
commonly used today are;
1. Mongoloid (yellow people)
2. Caucasoid (white people)
3. Negroid (black people)
There are several flaws in the system;
• Where do we place Brown or Red people?
• Boundaries between races are indefinable
• Why skin colour and not eye colour or hair length?
• There are more variations within a race than there are between races
Race has been a way to justify illegitimate ways of treating people.
“Race matters because people perceive others to be different and rely on these perceptions to justify
unequal treatment and condone indifference”
The Meaning of Majority and Minority Groups
The terms “majority” and “minority” are used in reference to power differentials, not a difference in
numbers. Majority Group: one that is advantaged and has superior access to resources and rights in a society.
• Often determined on the basis of racialized factors or ethnicity
o Can also be determined by gender, sexual orientation, age, class, or physical ability
Minority Group: one whose members, because of supposed physical or cultural characteristics, are
disadvantaged and subjected to negative discriminatory treatment by the majority group and regard
themselves as objects of collective discrimination.
• Minorities in Canada include
o People of colour
o Gay men or lesbians
• The minority label implies inferior status
• Often implies incompetence or abnormality
• Majority groups use the term minority to distance themselves
White Privilege and Internalized Dominance
• Privilege that accrues to the people who have “white” skin, trace their ancestry back to Europe,
and think of themselves as European Canadians or WASPS
• “ In Canada ‘whiteness’holds political, economic, and moral power” (Gabriel Bedard
“Deconstructing Whiteness”, 2000)
• Whiteness is a condition that White people every day can count on to ease their lives
• Most White Canadians are unaware of the benefits that they derive from White Privilege
• White people may suffer from a clear lack of privilege, but there is also a place where they are not
discriminated on…because they are white in a White-dominant society
Normalization of Privilege;
• This is manifested when all members of a society are judged against the characteristics or
attributes of those who are privileged
Internalized Dominance: All the ways that White people learn they are normal, feel included, and do not
think of themselves as “others” or “different”
• White people carry a privilege around with them and are generally unaware of it
• Sawyer (1989) “In any way we are in a dominant group, we have been taught to internalize our
own dominance. This is not our fault. It does not mean we are bad people. It does mean that our
learned values, assumptions and behaviors are actively hurting other people. IT does mean that it
is our responsibility to change”
• White people have the choice about whether to work against oppression
Racism, Prejudice and Discrimination
Racism: Aset of attitudes, beliefs, and practices used to justify the superior treatment of one racialized or
ethnic group and the inferior treatment of others.
• White Racism: Refers to socially organizes attitudes, ideas, and practices that deny indigenous
people and people “of colour” the dignity, opportunities, freedoms, and rewards that are typically
available to White Canadians
• People of colour pay a direct, heavy and immediately painful price for racism Prejudice: Anegative attitude about people based on such characteristics as racialization, gender, age,
religion, or sexual orientation.
Ethnocentrism: Prejudice is rooted in this. This is the assumption that one’s own group and way of life are
superior to all others.
• Positive ethnocentrism- e.g. singing the national anthem
• Negative ethnocentrism- e.g. individuals who come to believe, because of constant emphasis on
the superiority of their own group or nation, that other groups or nations are inferior
Stereotypes: Fixed and distorted generalization about the appearance, behaviour, or other characteristics of
all members of a particular group.
• Rigid perceptions that are believed to be true for all members of a group
• They ignore individual differences and specific situations
Generalization: Ideas held about a group of people that are open to revision or change and that can be
rejected entirely at any time
• EVERYONE generalizes
• Efficient way to organize our experiences
• Useful method of applying information from situation to situation without having to relearn
• Generalization does not lead to discrimination
Individual Discrimination: Consists of one-on-one acts by members of the dominant group that harm
members of the subordinate group or their property.
• E.g. the taxi driver who choses not to pick up Indigenous people
• People who embody mixed racialized or ethnic backgrounds and who look visibly Non-White are
often asked, “Where are you from?”
o “The more that mixed-race identities challenge the norms of what is understood as
“Canadian”, the more mixed-race people will be positioned as doubly different, double
strange, and doubly foreign” (Leanne Taylor, 2008)
Institutional Discrimination: Consists of the day-to-day practices of organizations and institutions that
have a harmful impact on members of subordinate groups.
• E.g. many mortgage companies are more likely to make loans to White people than to people of
• Carried out by individuals who implement policies and procedures that result in negative and
differential treatment of subordinate group members.
Anti-Semitism Behaviour: Prejudice and discriminatory beha