Chapter 3: Racial and Ethnic Inequality
3.1 Racial and Ethnic Inequality: A Historical Prelude
US history is ﬁlled with violence and other maltreatment against Native Americans,
blacks, and immigrants.
• Social scientists warn that the status of people of color has been worsening.
• Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal published, An American Dilemma: The Negro
Problem and Modern Democracy. The "dilemma" referred to by the book's title was the
conﬂict between the American democratic ideals of egalitarianism and liberty and
justice for all and the harsh reality of prejudice, discrimination, and lack of equal
3.2 The Meaning of Race and Ethnicity
• Race - a category of people who share certain inherited physical characteristics,
such as skin color, facial features, and stature.
• A key question about race is whether it is more of a biological category or a social
• Using physical differences like skin color, hair type, height, etc., scientists at one point
identiﬁed as many as nine races: African, Native American, Asian, Australian,
Aborigine, European (white), Indian, Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian.
• Anthropologists, sociologists, and many biologists question the value of these
categories and thus the value of the biological concept of race. For one thing, we often
see more physical differences within a race than between races.
• Another reason to question the biological concept of race is that an individual or a
group of individuals is often assigned to a race arbitrarily. A century ago, Irish, Italians,
and Eastern European Jews who left their homelands were not regarded as white
once they reached the U.S. but rather as a different, inferior (if unnamed) race. The
belief in their inferiority helped justify the harsh treatment they suffered in their new
country. Today, we call people from all three backgrounds white or European.
• One-drop rule: Traditional rule in the U.S. that deﬁnes someone as black if she or he
has at least one drop of black blood
• In many Latin American nations, a person that was 75% white and 25% black would
be considered white, whereas they would be black in the U.S. With such arbitrary
designations, race is more of a social category than a biological one.
Lessons from Other Societies:
• In Brazil, anyone who is solely African is called a preto and anyone whose ancestry is
both African and European is a branco. The fact that someone can count on being
considered "black" in one society and not "black" in another society underscores the
idea that race is best considered a social construction rather than a biological
category. In terms of DNA, people with different racial backgrounds are much more similar than
• According to evolutionary theory, the human race began thousands and thousands of
years ago in sub-Saharan Africa. As people migrated around the world, natural
selection took over. It favored dark skin for people living in hot, sunny climates and
favored light skin people in cooler, less sunny climates. Evolutionary evidence thus
reinforces the common humanity of people who differ in the rather superﬁcial ways
associated with their appearances.
Race as a Social Construction:
• Social construction - A concept that has no objective reality but rather is what
people decide it is.
• In the view of social construction, race has no real existence other than what and how
people think of it.
• Ethnicity - The shared social, cultural, and historical experiences, stemming
from common national or regional backgrounds, that make subgroups of a
population different from one another.
• Ethnic group - A subgroup of a population with a set of shared social, cultural,
and historical experiences; with relatively distinctive beliefs, values, and
behaviors; and with some sense of identity of belonging to the subgroup.
• Because of the problems in the meaning of race, many social scientists prefer the
term ethnicity in speaking of people of color and others with distinctive cultural
heritages. The terms ethnicity and ethnic group avoid the biological connotations of
the terms race and racial group.
• Difference between prejudice and discrimination: Prejudice is the attitude, while
discrimination is the behavior.
• Prejudice - A set of negative attitudes, beliefs, and judgements about whole
categories of people, and about individual members of those categories,
because of their perceived race and/or ethnicity.
• Racism - The belief that certain racial or ethnic groups are inferior to one's own.
• Stereotypes - Simpliﬁed, mistaken generalizations about people because of
their race and/or ethnicity.
• Theories of prejudice fall into two camps, social-psychological and sociological.
• Authoritarian personality - A personality emphasizing such things as obedience
to authority, a rigid adherence to rules, and low acceptance of people not like
oneself and said to help account for racial and ethnic prejudice. According to the social-psychological view, authoritarian personalities develop in
childhood in response to parents who practice harsh discipline.
• Whether their prejudice stems from their authoritarian personalities or instead from the
fact that their parents were probably prejudiced themselves remains an important
• Frustration theory (or scapegoat theory) - As an explanation of racial and ethnic
prejudice, the view that individuals blame the problems they experience on
racial and ethnic minorities and thus scapegoat them instead of recognizing the
real sources of their own misfortunes.
• Several psychology experiments ﬁnd that when people are frustrated, they indeed
become more prejudiced.
• Social learning theory is a popular sociological explanation that emphasizes
conformity and socialization.
• In this view, people who are prejudiced are merely conforming to the culture in which
they grow up, and prejudice is the result of socialization from parents, peers, the news
media, and other various aspects of their culture.
• Supporting this view, studies have found that people tend to become more prejudiced
when they move to areas where people are very prejudiced and less prejudiced when
they move to locations where people are less prejudiced.
• Group threat theory is a second sociological explanation that emphasizes economic
and political competition.
• In this view, prejudice arises from competition over jobs and other resources and from
disagreement over various political issues.
• Ethnic competition theory - Ethnic prejudice and conﬂict increase when two or more
ethnic groups ﬁnd themselves competing for jobs, housing, and other goals.
• When railroad construction employment slowed in the 1870's, white mobs attacked
the Chinese because they feared that the Chinese would look for work elsewhere and
take away white people's jobs because the Chinese would accept less pay. They killed
several Chinese and Congress had to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 that
prohibited Chinese immigration.
Correlates of Prejudice:
• Although women are usually thought to be more empathetic than men and thus to be
less likely to be racially prejudiced, recent research indicates that the racial views of
(white) women and men are in fact very similar and that the two genders are about
• This similarity supports group threat theory, in that it indicates that white women and
men are responding more as whites than as women or men in formulating their racial
• Less educated people are usually more racially prejudiced than better-educated
people, and Southerners are usually more prejudiced than non-Southerners. The Changing Nature of Prejudice:
• The Nazi experience and then the civil rights movement led whites to reassess their
views, and Jim Crow racism gradually waned.
• Many scholars say that Jim Crow racism has been replaced by a more subtle form of
racial prejudice: stereotypes about African Americans, a belief that their poverty is due
to their cultural inferiority, opposition to government policies to help them.
• This new form of prejudice blames African Americans and Latinos themselves for their
low socioeconomic standing and involves such beliefs that they simply do not want to
Prejudice and Public Policy Preferences:
• Whites who hold racial stereotypes or hostile feelings toward African Americans are
more likely to be afraid of crime, to think that the courts are not harsh enough, to
support the death penalty, to want more money spent to ﬁght crime, and to favor
excessive use of force by police.
Social-psychological explanations of prejudice emphasize authoritarian personalities
and frustration, while sociological explanations emphasize social learning and group
• Discrimination - With regard to racial and ethnic inequality, the arbitrary denial of
rights, privileges, and opportunities to members of subordinate racial and ethnic
• The use of the word arbi