Chat with us, powered by LiveChat DIVERSITY WEEK 6 | The Best Academic Writing Website



In this discussion, we’ll examine the concepts of race and ethnicity and consider the relationship between ethnic stratification and privilege.

Please answer the following questions in your initial discussion post using concepts and examples from at least two of the required resources this week:

· In the introduction to their book Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race,  Halley, Eshleman & Vijaya (2010) argue that “Often whites simply perceive themselves as ‘normal’ or ‘just human’ and fail to notice their own race” (p. 4). What do you interpret this statement? How does this relate to the idea that race is socially and culturally constructed?

· Review the Pew Research Center’s (2020) report Amid National Reckoning, Americans Divided on Whether Increased Focus on Race Will Lead to Major Policy Change. Why do you think the different groups discussed in the article have different views of the progress that has been made on equality? Which group do you most closely agree with? Why? How do the groups that you’re part of influence your perspective here? Is this an area where you might have a single story?



A white boy who is very close with one of the authors of this text has been
raised in a predominantly white, small town in the Midwest. On a family
trip to the big city in 2008, the boy, then eight years old, enjoyed playing in
an interactive water room at a children’s museum. Always a gregarious and
friendly child, the white adults who accompanied the boy—including one
of the authors of this text—enjoyed watching him play with other children
as he enjoyed the activities of the museum. Upon exiting the exhibit, in a
crowded hallway filled with a racially diverse collection of individuals, the
white boy announced proudly and loudly, “I just made an African American

The white adults accompanying the white boy were surprised by the boy’s
exclamation and by their own reactions to it. They wondered why the boy
had been so cognizant of the race of his new playmate, questioning what his
understanding of race—his own and that of others—might be. They consid-
ered where the boy had picked up the term he chose to describe the race of
the playmate, pondering how race might be addressed in the boy’s school or
in media he viewed. They wondered how often they themselves addressed
race with the boy and how they might have shaped—or failed to shape—his
understanding of race. They were also disquieted by their own sense of em-
barrassment at the loud announcement by this white boy, especially because
the bystanders who were likely to have overheard included many individuals
of color. How might the bystanders interpret the boy’s words? How did the
announcement reflect on the boy and his adult companions? How might


The Invisibility of Whiteness

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AN: 373157 ; Jean Halley, Amy Eshleman, Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya.; Seeing White : An Introduction to White Privilege and Race
Account: s4264928.main.edsebook

2 � Chapter One

the new friend have felt if he had overheard himself being referred to as an
“African American friend”?

The boy regularly makes friends whenever the opportunity is available,
but he had never before announced that he “just made a white friend.” He
clearly noticed and categorized this playmate based on race. We will explore
what incidents like this reveal about whiteness and about the visibility of

How Do We Come to Know Things?

In thinking about race, it is interesting to ask, how have we come to know
what we know about race? Indeed, how have we come to know anything
about anything? What does it mean to “know” something? How can we be
sure that what we “know” really is true? People in different cultures and times
sometimes understand the world in very different ways. Who is wrong and
who is right?

People also learn about the world in different ways. Diverse cultures have
different authorities that they trust and different processes to access knowl-
edge. Are they all valid?

As an example, we might consider feudal times in Europe. Most people
in feudal Europe were very poor (extremely poor by middle-class standards
in the United States today). Most people lived as farmers. They farmed land
that belonged to someone else, to the aristocracy, the kings, queens, lords,
and other nobility that ruled over the various geographic areas of Europe.
The Catholic Church existed in close connection with and strongly sup-
portive of the aristocracy. In exchange for being allowed to use the land,
peasants paid a tithe (or rent) in the food that they produced to the aristoc-
racy. Historians Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen note, “There was a vast
chasm between the material abundance of the Church and aristocracy and
the scarcity experienced by the peasantry, and this system was represented as
the immutable order of things.”1

How did the aristocracy come to own all of that land? Well, today we
know that they took it, by force. Yet in feudal times, most people believed
that the aristocracy owned everything and ruled over everyone because God
wanted it that way. People thought that “social inequality was the way of
God.”2 They believed God had chosen the aristocracy and that the aristoc-
racy was a distinct group of humans, almost a species. In this thinking, called
the “Great Chain of Being,” the peasants were also like a distinct species.
People accepted as “truth” that humans were born into the group where they
belonged according to God’s will. Sharply distinct from the pull-yourself-

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 3

up-by-your-bootstraps and change-your-lot-in-life thinking common in the
United States today, people’s thinking in feudal times held that one should
not, indeed one could not, change one’s position in life. One was born a peas-
ant much like a cow was born a cow. As far as we know, cows do not dream
of being horses someday; and in feudal times, peasants did not dream of being
kings and queens.

So how did people in feudal times come to “know” all of these “truths”—
that the poor were meant to be poor and the aristocracy was in control
because God wanted it that way? How did people come to “know” that this
was God’s will? Who expressed God’s will in feudal times?

As you might guess, the aristocracy and the feudal Catholic Church
(supported by the aristocracy) dictated God’s will, claiming that God had
appointed them to voice His wishes. (During this time period in Europe,
the Catholic Church understood God to be decidedly male.) Who benefited
from these dictates? The aristocracy and the Church. Ewen and Ewen write
about this political and economic system:

The Bible was the Word of God, the universal law, but its interpretation was
kept in the hands of the privileged few who were sanctioned to read it. Biblical
interpretation tended to uphold the immense social and political landholding
power of the nobility and the Church. . . . Although feudal power was often
held and defended by the sword, it was justified by the Word. The monopoly
over the Word, over literacy, and over the ability to interpret what was read,
was a fundamental aspect of rule.3

So in terms of the issue of knowledge and how we come to “know”
something, we can see from the example of feudalism that different cultures
believe in different authorities. Feudal society believed in the authority of
God expressed through the aristocracy and the Church. Today, in many
places in the world, including Europe, the United States, and most western4
industrialized nations, we tend to turn to science for knowledge, instead of
religion. Instead of the aristocracy and the Church translating God’s wishes
for us, scientists using the scientific method work to gain what we understand
to be truths about our world and ourselves.

It is interesting to note that, in the above example, someone benefited
from the “knowledge,” the “truth” that everyone believed in. The way of
thinking in feudal Europe worked to reinforce the economic and social power
of the aristocracy and the Church. Social psychologists Don Operario and
Susan T. Fiske define power as “the disproportionate ability of some individu-
als or groups to control other people’s outcomes.”5 Economic power entails

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4 � Chapter One

control over resources such as land or water, or even symbolic resources (like
money today). In this book, we use the term social power to mean economic
power as well as the amorphous capacity of dominant groups—groups who
control economic resources—to control cultural production; in other words,
to establish their cultures and norms as the dominant ones. In this book,
because the term social power comes up repeatedly, we use the terms social
power and power interchangeably.

In reading our book, we ask that you keep the story of inequality in feudal
Europe in mind. Ideologies like the Great Chain of Being—ways of thinking
and commonly held beliefs—in feudal Europe benefited some over others.
How might our ways of thinking about race in the contemporary United
States, and in our history, also benefit some over others?

In this book, we argue that critically examining the common ways of
thinking in the United States teaches us more about social power than about
“objective facts.” (In chapter 2, we question race as an objective fact and
challenge you to consider the potential bias in science.)

(In)Visibility of Whiteness

The authors of this text challenge you to consider why the white eight-year-
old boy announced that he had made an “African American friend” when
the boy had never announced the race of a white friend. Legal scholar Bar-
bara J. Flagg argues that white people are often not conscious of being white.6
Often whites simply perceive themselves as “normal” or “just human” and
fail to notice their own race.7 While whiteness may be invisible to whites,
whites tend to be aware of the races of people of color.8

In this text, we seek to challenge readers to consider what it means for
a white person to perceive of himself or herself as “normal” while seeing
others as having a race. We challenge you to consider the extent to which
whiteness is invisible and the implications of this. We invite you to critically
examine what it means to perceive oneself as normal. In the social sciences, a
norm is a social expectation9—a description of how one is expected to act or
what one is expected to believe within a given social setting.10 Scholars who
study the experience of being white in the United States and the concept of
whiteness regularly note that whiteness is often perceived by whites, who as
a group hold more social and economic power than people of color, as norma-
tive—ordinary, typical, what is expected. To be normative is not the same
thing as being “right” or “correct.” Normative aspects of a society typically
reflect the culture and values of the groups in power.

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 5

An Indian American woman well known to the authors of this text
shared a story that revealed normative assumptions of her white friends.11
The woman’s romantic partner, a white man, delights in eating pickled lime,
a common relish in Indian food. The woman has teased her partner about
his love of pickle because he eats it with an unusual array of foods. While
people in India would commonly eat a little bit of pickle as an accompani-
ment with some foods, her partner has paired larger than normal servings of
pickle with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack foods. When this couple was
having dinner with another couple, the Indian woman playfully teased her
partner about his use of pickle. The white man from the other couple joined
the friendly teasing, making an analogy that eating pickle with so many
foods was like putting catsup on almost everything. The white woman from
the other couple then asked, “How do you use normal pickles in India?” By
“normal pickles” the white woman was suggesting that pickled cucumbers
are “normal” and that pickled limes are not. In India, “normal pickles” are
pickled limes. The comment revealed the white woman’s expectation that
what is common in the United States is normal; here she reflected normative
white U.S. culture.

To perceive whiteness as normative is to see being white as normal.12 If
whiteness is normal, what does that communicate about the experience of
other races? Sociologist Ron Nerio, the son of a Mexican American father,
details a story that reveals the normativity of whiteness. A white woman
who was a friend of Nerio’s family once tried to compliment Nerio’s father
by telling him that she did not perceive him as Mexican, but rather saw
him as a Spaniard. For this friend, the concept of Mexican was embroiled
with racial and class stereotypes that she did not think applied to her friend,
whom she saw as being like a European, like a white person. When Nerio’s
father rejected her identification of him as like a white man, she assumed
he was being humble and continued to insist that he really “seemed white.”
She thought she was complimenting him and never realized how deeply she
had offended him.13 We invite readers to explore why a white woman would
consider “seeming European” to be a compliment for a Mexican American
man. What did she reveal about her beliefs about whiteness and about be-
ing Mexican? We encourage you to think about why the white woman did
not realize that her “compliment” was actually offensive. We argue that her
obtuse reaction revealed a lack of critical thinking about whiteness.

Social scientific research suggests that when a person gets to know an-
other individual, one stops seeing that person as a member of a category—
such as seeing a person as Mexican American or as male—and starts to see

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6 � Chapter One

the person as an individual.14 The white family friend seemed to conflate
seeing Nerio’s father as an individual with seeing him as white. Rather than
basing a compliment on his individual character, she attempted to compli-
ment him based on being similar to her concept of whiteness. This suggests
that the woman perceived whiteness as normal, as normative and as better,
and preferable to being of color.

Historically within the United States those who are considered white
rarely have been challenged to think about their own race. College cam-
puses today are places where whites are more likely to be asked to think
critically about whiteness. Sociologist Charles A. Gallagher notes that being
prompted by college courses to think about whiteness can be disconcerting
for whites because whiteness is so often invisible.15 Throughout this book, we
challenge readers to think critically about race, especially whiteness. Making
whiteness visible is a critical step in thinking critically about race and ad-
dressing systematic inequality in the United States.

This text will reveal that whiteness is a shifting category that has been
created by historical, political, social, and economic events. Within the
United States, the first people considered white were Anglo-Saxon Prot-
estants (an ethnic group with ties to England) and individuals from north-
western Europe. In chapter 3, we explore specifically how Irish Catholics
were once considered non-white and how they became white. The history
of Italians and Ashkenazi Jews also reveal whiteness as a changing category.
These groups, similar to the Irish, became white based on historical, political,
social, and economic shifts.

What Is Race?

Before you continue to read, we invite you to consider this question: What
is race? How have you understood race? If asked to define race, how would
you put the concept into words?

Using evidence from anthropology and biology, we will explain that
human physical traits such as skin color and facial features vary on a con-
tinuum—slight gradations from one individual to another—rather than
differing in distinctly separate groups. As we explore in chapter 2, from a
biological standpoint, one cannot definitively group individuals into distinct
races that clearly differ from each other.

If race does not exist as biological category, you might be wondering why
we have dedicated an entire book to the subject. Although race is not an
aspect of our genes, race is critically important in the United States. Race
exists as a social and political understanding of humans that attempts to

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 7

assign individuals into distinct groups in a way that systematically benefits
some—whites—while limiting opportunities for others—people of color.

Historian Nell Irvin Painter argues, “Race is an idea, not a fact.”16
Throughout this book, we explore how powerful this idea has been in shap-
ing human lives. Following influential physical anthropologists such as
George J. Armelagos and Alan H. Goodman, we argue that while race is not
a biological category, the important social implications of race and of racism
make this socially constructed concept a vital issue for careful study.17 Oper-
ario and Fiske argue, “Racial categories exist because people and societies be-
lieve them to be true; they derive from psychological and societal processes,
rather than from biological or evolutionary processes.”18

Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has distinguished race from ethnicity.
As we will see in chapter 2, race has traditionally been a category assigned
to a group in a way that justifies the subordination of groups of color by the
group in power. Alternatively, ethnicity is a social and cultural category.19
Ethnicity tends to be viewed as a subgroup of race; all members of a given
ethnicity will be viewed as belonging to the same race. As sociologists
Michael Omi and Howard Winant identify, social and cultural aspects of
ethnicity encompass “such diverse factors as religion, language, ‘customs,’
nationality, and political identification.”20 We will explore ethnicities that
have been included in whiteness, have moved into whiteness, and have been
excluded from whiteness.

The Modern World System

One of the authors of this text, Jean Halley, grew up in rural Wyoming in the
1970s believing that there was something biologically distinct about differ-
ent racial groups. This was why, it was commonly “known,” Black and white
people should not intermarry. In her childhood, this was a basic, accepted
“truth” that people around Halley believed much like they believed women
were naturally better, more loving parents than men; men were naturally
more rational than women; and the “Reds,” as one of her social science
teachers called people living in communist nations, were going to march on
the United States at any moment.

Where did this idea about race come from? Why did people believe that
different racial groups are actually biologically different from one another?
Was this thinking merely because the different groups do seem to look dif-
ferent, at least somewhat different, some of the time?

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8 � Chapter One

For a moment let us move back in time to the period when feudalism
slowly came undone and a new system began to replace it. This new system,
the “Modern World System,” came into being in the mid-fifteenth century as
people from different geographic locations increasingly began to encounter
one another. Africa, Asia, and the Americas had been “discovered” by Eu-
ropeans.21 These “new” worlds held new (to Europeans) resources as well as
human beings who looked and behaved in strikingly different ways.

Imagine being one of the first of your racial group to see another racial
group. How might you have made sense of the visual differences you wit-
nessed? How might you have explained cultures seemingly completely dis-
tinct from your own?

In Europe at this time, the beginnings of a system that we live with today
called capitalism began taking hold with a new class of people, the merchant
class, who traded in increasingly available luxury goods supplied by the new
lands, including “gold, silver, precious gems, silk, sugar, coffee, tea, spices,
and tobacco.”22 As trade grew, “the merchant class, whose wealth was built
on such exchanges, followed the social lead of aristocrats and emerged as a
prime consumer of luxury items.”23 In Europe, being a peasant, a priest, or a
king were no longer the only options. Slowly, the various parts of the world
became interconnected as never before. The story of race is inextricably
bound with this newly interconnected world.

In this interconnection, Europe began to develop as a powerful region
by making use of the labor and resources of other places. Not all global lo-
cations and peoples fared as well as Europe in the Modern World System.
Indeed, as sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein notes, the development of this
new and global community was deeply and fundamentally unequal. Today,
springing from this history, we continue to live in a deeply unequal global
system. While some places gained great power and wealth in the Modern
World System, others lost power over their land, labor, and other resources.
Through brutally imposed structures of slavery and forced labor, some even
lost claim to their own persons. Indeed, the development of Western Europe
depended on the oppression, labor, and resources of peoples in Africa, Asia,
and the Americas. As Ewen and Ewen make clear,

For West Europe to triumph as a global center of commerce and industry, it
was necessary for other regions of the world to be maintained in a subservient
position, their economies stunted to serve the needs of others. Even within
Europe, for certain sectors to emerge as masters of the universe, it was neces-
sary that others live in varying states of immiseration. For “progress” to come
into being, it was also seen as necessary for certain indigenous populations to

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 9

be subjugated or extinguished. Others were systematically dislocated, enlisted
into slavery, governed by the lash.24

Much like in feudal times in Europe, people worked to explain this in-
equality. Yet now, Europeans had a new “religion” from which they claimed
to study, understand, and know the world; that is, science.

A Brief Introduction to Cultural Materialism

This text offers a criticism of science and challenges readers to consider other
perspectives as well. Cultural materialism is a way of thinking about the world
often used by both anthropologists and sociologists.25 Cultural materialists
believe that the ways we think about things—and what we “know” about
the world—spring from the ways we produce our lives.26 What does it mean
to produce our lives? Well, it can happen in a variety of ways. We humans
need food and shelter and to reproduce, bringing new humans into the world
as the older ones die. We can get and do these things in many different
ways. Some people in some time periods have lived, and many still do live,
by farming. Others live by fishing for their food. Some people build tempo-
rary shelters because they live nomadic lives, moving from place to place as
seasons change or as the animals they herd need new land to graze. Others
build permanent structures that last for hundreds of years. Cultural material-
ists believe that the way a given people lives births, so to speak, the ways that
people think about the world and themselves. The culture, knowledge, and
beliefs these people develop and refer to spring from their ways of producing
and reproducing, their ways of surviving, in life.

We have already seen an example of cultural materialism in our brief ex-
ploration of feudalism. In feudal times, peasants farmed to make their living,
and they gave a portion of their produce to the aristocracy in exchange for
being allowed to live on the land. As best we can tell, most people did not
explain this as we might today; that is, that a brutal and violent ruling class
suppressed the poor majority. Instead, people understood that situation as
one desired by God. People believed in the “Great Chain of Being,” where
the powerful ruled because God wanted it this way.

Cultural materialism helps us to understand our own, more recent history
in terms of race. In the United States, our historical thinking about race
springs from our ways of living—during slavery and during other important
periods in the United States, such as reconstruction after the Civil War, the
early twentieth century when enormous numbers of people immigrated from
eastern and southern Europe, Jim Crow27 and legalized segregation, and the

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10 � Chapter One

civil rights movement. How might our contemporary thinking about race in
the United States and Europe spring from the ways we build our lives and
survive—our material reality—today?

Whiteness and White Privilege

In chapter 3 we investigate the social construction of whiteness. The very
concept of whiteness was developed to include people from different ethnic
backgrounds in a common category that excluded other ethnicities. As we
will see in our exploration of Irish Catholics becoming white in chapter 3,
ethnic groups who were accepted into whiteness were granted higher status
and privileges. As we examine in chapter 8, U.S. law such as the Immigration
Act of 1924 systematically privileged whites. This immigration law specified
that only white immigrants were eligible to apply for citizenship. Before the
concept of white as a race was created, certain ethnic groups held greater
social power than others—the most powerful of these ethnic groups were the
first to be perceived as white when the concept of white as a race developed.
Teutonic peoples (descendants of Germanic tribes), especially the Anglo-
Saxons (composed of two Teutonic tribes who invaded Britain during the
Roman Empire and became the English), were the first to be categorized as
white. As we explore in chapter 3, working-class and impoverished peoples
of European descent joined Anglo-Saxons with strong economic resources
and social power. Across socioeconomic class, a common identity as white
emerged, creating a powerful ingroup—a shared identity with a feeling of
belongingness to the group and connection to other members of the group.28
The concept of whiteness helped to solidify the social power of the economic
elite by encouraging poor and working-class people who became white to see
themselves as part of an ingroup with the elite, a group that excluded and
subordinated people of color.29

Education scholar Zeus Leonardo identified that the concept of whiteness
“depends on the racial other for its own identity.”30 Whiteness only exists
as an ingroup because it is contrasted with outgroups—groups with which
members of the ingroup do not identify, do not feel a sense of connection,
and might classify as “the other.”31

Often when one thinks in terms of “us” compared to “them,” one en-
gages in binary thinking—perceiving a matter as having two opposing sides.
Whiteness is often perceived in contrast to groups of color, as though people
come in one of two distinct forms—white or of color. Whiteness is one side
of a false binary. In other words, today in the mainstream United States, we
tend to think about white people in contrast to the other position on this

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 11

false binary, people of color. Our book focuses on this binary way of thinking
about race because it is so powerful in our society, not because it is real in
any biological sense.

Dualism is another term for a binary—suggesting there are two distinct,
and only two, positions on an issue. Historically and today in the United
States, being white is juxtaposed with being not white. This juxtaposition
means that whiteness, as a frame for understanding human beings, dictates
and necessitates a dualism, a false dualism. As we explain in chapter 2, careful
analysis of race reveals that humans cannot be clearly separated into whites
or any other distinct group based on race. Human genetic diversity varies on
a continuum, not as a binary. Further, while we will use “people of color”
throughout this book to reveal the false dualism often used to think about
race, we encourage you to think critically about the great diversity among
individuals classified as “of color.”

We, the authors of this text, do not support the false dualism of race. In-
deed, we mean to challenge it as a way of thinking that is both wrongheaded
and deeply damaging. However, to some extent in our challenge, we will seek
to reveal the binary framework by contrasting whites with people of color
because that is the racial framework we live with in the mainstream United
States today.

Through critical analysis of the false dualism and insight into whiteness as
it relates to social power, scholars such as Peggy McIntosh, who was inspired
by her work in feminist studies, have identified ways that whites are system-
atically privileged over people of color. McIntosh notes that some of these
white privileges—such as not having to fear that one’s race may contribute
to one being stopped and frisked by police—are advantages that would be
ideal to share across all people. We challenge you to consider how social ac-
tion might widen the number of people who can share such privileges. Other
white privileges—such as assuming that whites are more deserving of admis-
sion to colleges and universities than students of color—are unfair and biased
against people of color. We further explore college admission as it relates to
white privilege in chapter 8.32

White antiracist activist Tim Wise argues that being white in the United
States means “defining ourselves by a negative, providing ourselves with an
identity that [is] rooted in the external—rooted in the relative oppression of
others. . . . Inequality and privilege [are] the only real components of white-
ness. . . . Without racial privilege there is no whiteness, and without white-
ness, there is no racial privilege. Being white only means to be advantaged.”33
Revealing white privilege challenges the myth of meritocracy, the belief that
people who work hard in the United States will succeed and that success is

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12 � Chapter One

the result of hard work.34 Critically examining white privilege exposes unfair
advantages that make success easier for whites while disadvantaging people
of color.35 Chapter 7 explores the myth of meritocracy.


A common misconception equates racism with individual acts of intentional
bigotry.36 As we further discuss in chapter 5, racism can be perpetuated by
white individuals who fail to realize that they are acting in racially biased
ways. Moreover, as we discuss throughout the text, institutional racism is
often propagated by social systems such as the criminal courts (see chapters
4 and 7) and immigration law (see chapter 8). Institutional, or systemic, rac-
ism consists of policies and practices that systematically favor powerful racial
groups—usually whites in the United States—while discriminating against
others—groups of color.37 For example, in chapter 6 we further explore insti-
tutional racism in public schools, including unequal funding for education in
different neighborhoods and biased expectations that may influence which
students are tested for gifted and talented programs.

Sociologists Joe R. Feagin, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur note, “Being
white in this society almost by definition means rarely having to think about
it. Whites must make a special effort to become deeply aware of their own and
others’ racism.”38 Critical examinations of racism often lead people to move
from perceiving racism as a matter of intentional, individual acts to seeing
racism in the United States as including subtle and potentially unintentional
behaviors by individuals as well as systemic issues.39 Well-meaning white peo-
ple may inadvertently support racism by failing to challenge a racist system.40

Psychologist Raphael S. Ezekiel argues that it is essential for all whites in
America to examine race and racism:

If you visited South Africa and spoke with older White South Africans, you
would expect to find their minds affected by having grown up in a society that
was intensely racist. White Americans grow up in a society in which race has
been and is profoundly important.

. . . If I am White and grow up in a society in which race matters, I inhale
racism, and racism becomes part of my mind and spirit. . . . There will always
be layers of myself that harbor racist thoughts and racist attitudes. This is not
to say that those must remain the dominant parts of my mind and spirit. It
is to say that it is mistaken to presume that I have no traces of racism in me.

The task is to get acquainted with those layers of oneself—to learn to recog-
nize them and not be frightened by them. It is not a disgrace to have absorbed
some racism. It is a disgrace not to know it and to let those parts of ourselves
go unchecked.41

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 13

To better understand racism, one must critically examine the relation-
ships of race, especially whiteness, with social, economic, and political
power.42 Prejudice is a matter of favoring one’s ingroup over outgroups,43 of
disliking groups or individuals based on group membership.44 Social theorist
Oliver Cromwell Cox identified that not all forms of racial prejudice carry
the same potential to “subjugate a people”; the racial prejudice of whites is
potentially more damaging because of social and political power.45 In 1970,
Patricia Bidol, then school superintendent in Baldwin, Michigan, worked
to raise awareness of the special role of whiteness in racism. Because whites
hold important power in the United States, she argued that only whites
can be racist.46 Consistent with Cox and Bidol, clinical psychologist Bev-
erly Daniel Tatum argues that racial bigotry is open to everyone but that
the term racism should be reserved for “prejudice plus power.” Because of
the disproportionate power held by whites in the United States, we follow
Tatum in arguing that anyone can be a racial bigot but that only whites
can be racist.47

We consider it important for readers to understand how we conceptualize
racism—as systemic as well as individual, sometimes unintentional, racial
prejudice coupled with power. Like Tatum, we invite readers to develop their
own understanding of racism based on critical reflection.

While it may be an interesting intellectual exercise to think of specific
situations in which whites are less likely to have power than people of color,
we challenge you to consider how frequently whites have greater power than
people of color. Journalist Robert Jensen expresses a concern that individuals
who focus on the few situations in which whites have less power than people
of color may be trying to end a critical discussion of race before the discussion
can truly happen.48

Similarly, when white racism is raised, some individuals try to change
the subject to focus on how certain groups of color are prejudiced against
other groups of color. Such discussions have their place, but we encourage
you to have them only if you truly want to understand the social problems
involved, not if you are simply trying to avoid focusing on whiteness and
white privilege.

We invite you to consider how having an African American president of
the United States may influence understandings of race and racism. We are
heartened that many more opportunities are open to people of color today
than historically, but we continue to see strong evidence that whites remain
much more powerful as a group than any other.

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14 � Chapter One

In an occasional misconception of racism we have observed in our teach-
ing, some students have confused having a critical discussion regarding race
with being racist. While we invite disagreement about how to define racism,
this particular misunderstanding of the concept perplexes us. We have won-
dered whether strong discomfort regarding the discussion of race could lead
some individuals to have avoided thinking critically about race or racism, so
much so that they have equated discussions of race with racism.


We three authors of this text have been trained in distinctly different dis-
ciplines within the social sciences—sociology, psychology, and economics.
Throughout this text, we draw on the theories and evidence within our
respective fields while also critiquing these fields. We use theories and evi-
dence from biology, history, and anthropology. (We assume readers have a
working knowledge of biology and history but may be less familiar with an-
thropology, a social science that examines the impact of culture, biology, and
evolution on human groups.49 Anthropology has been an important field in
challenging racist ideologies.)

Drawing on her expertise in sociology, Jean Halley infuses this text with a
critical examination of social history and cultural studies. As famously noted
by C. Wright Mills, sociology is the study of both social institutions and of
the embeddedness of individual lives in such institutions. Mills called on
sociologists to explore the connections between seemingly “private troubles”
and “public issues.”50 Race is clearly a matter of both. In studying race, soci-
ologists commonly use theories to be discussed at length in this book, such
as that of cultural materialism (defined above) and the social construction of
race (to be discussed in chapter 3).

Amy Eshleman contributes her empirical approach to psychology, “the
scientific study of behavior and mental processes.”51 As a social psychologist,
Eshleman focuses on how individuals are influenced by their perceptions of
social expectations. Social psychologists seek to understand racism by care-
fully examining factors that seem to reduce or exacerbate this social problem.
We explore the empirical method in chapter 2 and applications of social
psychological work in educational settings in chapters 6 and 9.

Ramya Vijaya brings an expertise on economics to this text. Through
economic analysis, we explore the vast inequalities related to race and caused
by racism. Chapters 5 through 8 provide critical economic concepts and
evidence that serve as a foundation for our argument.

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 15

When Eshleman communicated to a recent college graduate that she was
writing a textbook, she was dismayed when this strong alumna admitted
that she had never considered that real people write textbooks. Although
the student had read many textbooks throughout her undergraduate career,
she treated textbooks as truth rather than as a perspective created by hu-
mans. While we authors have been careful to present information as clearly
and accurately as possible, we acknowledge that our work—like that of all
thinkers—will be influenced by our cultural understandings and ideologies.
Political scientist Michael Freeden defines ideology as “thought-patterns of
individuals and groups in a society which relate to the way they comprehend
and shape their political worlds.”52

Ideologies tend to be taken-for-granted beliefs that both come from and
work to reinforce systems of social power. Because they are social, rather than
individual, we share ideological ways of thinking with others in our culture,
and we usually assume these ways of thinking to be correct without question-
ing them. In other words, we are born into our ideological frameworks as we
are born into communities. We tend to take on the ideological frameworks
of our communities, like the air we breathe, without questioning or even
thinking consciously about it.

Ideologies play an important role in the production and reproduction of
social power. These are ways of thinking that justify social realities; we do not
merely take for granted the thinking, we take for granted the system it sup-
ports. The now-known-to-be-false belief that race is a biological reality has
been at the core of our shared ideologies of race. Much like the ideological
framework of the Great Chain of Being underlying feudalism, race as biology
is a way of thinking that is more than incorrect. This way of thinking supports
and reproduces social power, the power of white people over people of color.

Ideology influences all academic endeavors. Throughout the textbook, we
authors refer to our perspective and to how our personal experiences have
helped us to see whiteness. We invite you to critically reflect as you read
and to formulate any disagreements you have. As you will see in chapter 2,
research is advanced by scholars challenging each other’s ideas and evidence.

Like all authors of textbooks (or writing of any form), we present a par-
ticular perspective and have selected specific issues on which to focus. For
example, this text briefly explores intersectionality—how important social
categories such as race, gender, socioeconomic class, and sexuality intersect
and interact with each other in ways that influence human experiences (see
chapter 4). We then invest chapter 5 in exploring how race and socioeco-
nomic class intersect. To keep our focus on how sociology, psychology, and

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16 � Chapter One

economics can be used to think critically about whiteness, we have chosen
not to explore gender and sexuality as deeply as we might have explored
these important intersections. We encourage readers to seek further ex-
amples of how gender and sexuality interact with race, socioeconomic class,
and other important social categories.

Because of our focus on interdisciplinary perspectives on whiteness, we
elected not to cover the excellent work of Janet E. Helms on racial identity
development.53 We encourage readers with a particular interest in psycho-
logical approaches to studying individual experiences of race to read Helms
as well as Beverly Daniel Tatum’s review of Helms’s theory.54

As a genre, textbooks have a tendency to present material as though
it is simple, objective fact. We take issue with this tendency. Indeed, we
argue there is no way out of opinion in argument. Everyone’s arguments,
ideas, and claims—including ours in this book—are just that, arguments.
We work to offer you the clearest argument possible with strong evidence
to back it up as we seek to problematize issues of race and racism, particularly
whiteness. Our goal is to challenge readers to consider how issues that might
have seemed straightforward are actually quite complex when one examines
them critically. Given that these issues are complex, we acknowledge that
your perspective may differ from ours. We invite you to carefully consider
our perspective and to use this material to inform your own perspective. We
recognize that some will disagree with us, and we look forward to an ongoing

What Is in a Name?

Throughout our writing, we have carefully selected the terms we use to
identify racial groups, down to the details of capitalization and hyphenation.
Here we highlight just a few of our choices, which are driven by respect for
these racial groups and their expressed preferences regarding appropriate
terms to identify them. We follow convention in capitalizing names for racial
and ethnic groups of color such as Latino, Asian, African American, and Na-
tive American. Even if these terms were not routinely capitalized, we would
have chosen to capitalize them as a way of offering respect to these groups
that have been traditionally underrepresented in positions of power. In this
line of thinking, we capitalize “Blacks.” While other authors who critically
reflect on whiteness may choose to capitalize both “Whites” and “Blacks,”
our intentional choice not to capitalize “whites” is a conscious decision to
distinguish the critical examination of whiteness in this text from how white
supremacists may refer to whites.

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 17

The terms African American, Black, and Black American are currently
preferred terms for a wide range of individuals who have lived in the United
States for generations or emigrated from places as diverse as the many coun-
tries of Africa and areas of the Caribbean. While we recognize that individu-
als classified within this group may have strong preferences for one of these
labels, we use these terms interchangeably with the goal of esteeming all
individuals who may be classified by these terms.

When referring to individuals with cultural or family heritage ties to
Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the countries of
Central America and South America, we choose to use Latina or Latino. The
term Hispanic was created for the 1970 U.S. Census to classify individuals
with ethnic ties to Spanish-speaking cultures. Our preference for Latina/o
over Hispanic is based on the connection of Hispanic “to internalized colo-
nization because it is strongly supported by politically conservative groups
who regard their European ancestry as superior to the conquered indigenous
peoples of the Americas.”55 Further, “Many millions of Spanish-speaking
people—such as Native Americans—are not of true Spanish descent, and
millions of Latin Americans do not speak Spanish or claim Spanish heritage
(e.g., Brazilians), therefore, they are not Hispanics.”56 Latina/o is perceived
by many, including the authors of this text, as a more inclusive term that
does not glorify or require European ancestry. For clarity, we use Hispanic
only when referring to research and public policy that has used that term to
classify individuals.57

We caution readers to think critically about the power of words that have
been used to derogate racial and ethnic groups. While there are multiple
powerful epithets on which we might focus, we briefly explore nigger because
we believe it can be one of the most powerful words spoken in the United
States. Legal scholar Randall Kennedy shares the history and complexity of
this slur in Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. As a Black man,
Kennedy notes that his own relationship with the slur is complicated and nu-
anced but that it was important to him to communicate clearly to whites that
the word is “ugly, evil, irredeemable.”58 Scholars of African American studies
have explored the multiple ways the word has been used in the Black com-
munity, and influential leaders have disagreed regarding the possible utility
of reclaiming the term in certain contexts within the community. While we
encourage all readers to learn more about social history and contemporary
debates about the power of words, we challenge non-Black readers to focus
on the likelihood that use of the word outside the Black community conveys
“racial hatred or contempt for all blacks.”59 We acknowledge that some read-
ers from outside the Black community may be confused by the many uses of

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18 � Chapter One

this word within the Black community. Like Kennedy, we encourage read-
ers to consider the words of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell
Holmes Jr.: “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin
of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to
the circumstances and time in which it is used.” We argue that there are no
circumstances or times in which whites can use this word in an inoffensive
manner. While we encourage all readers to delve into explorations of matters
of race, we doubt that individuals who would not be targeted with this slur
will ever fully understand it (including the authors of this text). Therefore,
we argue that people who are not Black cannot use this powerful word from
within a place of understanding or connection to it.

Did you notice our use of “non-Black” in the previous paragraph? If so,
did you have any reaction when reading it? Journalist Robert Jensen has
chosen to use the term non-white because he wants to make whiteness visible
in discussions about race.60 While many scholars prefer the term people of
color, Jensen argues that what makes a group “of color” is that the group has
been excluded from the category of whiteness. Alternatively, one may argue
that people of color is a more respectful label than to focus on what a group
is not. Choosing either option consciously can be a political decision that
conveys information about one’s thoughts on race, especially if one notes
why that choice has been made. (While person of color and people of color are
commonly used today as respectful terms, these terms are distinct from the
outdated use of describing a person as colored. While the outdated term was
once considered respectful, use of it today to refer to a person or groups of
people reveals a lack of sensitivity to language.)

We invite you to pay attention to the terms used to describe racial groups
and to consider what information is conveyed by these choices. In quotes
used throughout the text, you will see different ways that scholars have
presented group names. We also encourage you to note the choices made by
media, peers, family members, and others. Consider what terms and form of
capitalization you want to use.

Throughout this text (including earlier in this chapter), we note key
vocabulary terms from the social sciences in italics. We invite you to reflect
on these terms and to try to use them in your discussions and writing about

Discussion Questions

1. Did reading chapter 1 arouse any emotions for you? Common emotions
during critical explorations of race include anger, frustration, guilt,

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 19

discomfort, and confusion. If you had a strong emotional response
to a certain aspect of the chapter, identify the part of the chapter,
describe the emotion that was aroused, and evaluate this experience.
If you did not have any emotional responses to any material in the
chapter, explore that.

2. Describe several issues considered to be “truths” in feudal times and
in the 1970s that are now understood to be false. Explore possible
“truths” today that you predict will be demonstrated to be false in
the future.

3. What are social and economic power? Who held power in feudal
Europe, and how did they hold on to that power? Who holds power
in the United States today, and how do those in power hold on to
that power? What is meant by the terms norm and normative? What
has been a common relationship between whiteness and these terms?
How might this relate to power?

4. What does it mean to claim that whiteness tends to be invisible to
whites? When have you been aware of whiteness? What might that
reveal about whiteness?

5. Describe cultural materialism. How does it relate to race, particularly
whiteness? Evaluate Tim Wise’s argument (quoted within the chap-
ter) that inequality and privilege are essential aspects of whiteness.

6. What are ingroups and outgroups? What is the relationship of these
terms to inclusion and exclusion? Who is part of the white ingroup?
Who is excluded from this group?

7. Have you ever had an experience when you were keenly aware of
yourself as privileged? If so, how did this awareness affect you? How
did the privilege affect how others treated you? If you have never been
aware of privilege, reflect on why that might be.

8. Racism is described in this chapter as ranging from unintentional
individual behavior by whites to policies at an institutional level. It
is also argued that racism is “prejudice plus power,” such that only
whites can be racist. How would you have defined racism before read-
ing this chapter? What are your reactions to the definition of racism
in this chapter?

9. What do you think has been the effect of having a president of the
United States who is African American? Has this changed understand-
ings of race or racism in the United States? If so, how? If not, why not?

10. What is ideology? How does ideology shape understanding of impor-
tant issues such as race? Do individuals tend to be conscious of the
influence of ideology?

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20 � Chapter One

11. Do you consider words, such as racial slurs, to be powerful? Why or
why not?


1. Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Hu-
man Inequality (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 19.

2. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting, 19.
3. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting, 19.
4. We follow intellectuals such as Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider: Essays and

Speeches, Freedom, Calif.: The Crossing Press, 1984) in consciously choosing not to
capitalize “western.”

5. Don Operario and Susan T. Fiske, “Racism Equals Power Plus Prejudice: A
Social Psychological Equation for Racial Oppression,” in Confronting Racism: The
Problem and the Response, eds. Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt and Susan T. Fiske (Thousand
Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, Inc., 1998): 49.

6. Barbara J. Flagg, “‘Was Blind But Now I See’: White Race Consciousness and
the Requirement of Discriminatory Intent,” Michigan Law Review 91 (March 1993):

7. Jessica T. Decuir-Gunby, “‘Proving Your Skin Is White, You Can Have Ev-
erything’: Race, Racial Identity, and Property Rights in Whiteness in the Supreme
Court Case of Josephine DeCuir,” in Critical Race Theory in Education: All God’s
Children Got a Song, eds. Adrienne D. Dixson and Celia K. Rousseau (New York:
Routledge, 2006), 89–111, 93–94.

8. Tanya Kateri Hernandez, “‘Multiracial’ Discourse: Racial Classifications in an
Era of Color-Blind Jurisprudence,” Maryland Law Review 57 (1998): 97.

9. See Thomas F. Pettigrew, “Normative Theory in Intergroup Relations: Ex-
plaining Both Harmony and Conflict,” Psychology & Developing Societies 3, no. 1
(March 1991): 3–16.

10. Robert B. Cialdini, “Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environ-
ment,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 12, no. 4 (August 2003): 105–9.

11. Indian American refers to people with ancestry connected to the country
of India. We distinguish this term from American Indian, which refers to Native

12. Catherine Myser, “Differences from Somewhere: The Normativity of White-
ness in Bioethics in the United States,” American Journal of Bioethics 3, no. 2 (Spring
2003): 1–11.

13. Ron Nerio, unpublished memoir, 2009.
14. Ziva Kunda, Paul G. Davies, Barbara D. Adams, and Steven J. Spencer,

“The Dynamic Time Course of Stereotype Activation: Activation, Dissipation,
and Resurrection,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82, no. 3 (March
2002): 283–99.

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 21

15. Charles A. Gallagher, “White Reconstruction in the University,” in Privilege:
A Reader, eds. Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber (Boulder, Colo.: Westview
Press, 2003), 299–318.

16. Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, 2010), ix.

17. George J. Armelagos and Alan H. Goodman, “Race, Racism, and Anthropol-
ogy,” in Building a New Biocultural Synthesis: Political-Economic Perspectives on Human
Biology, eds. Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman (Ann Arbor: The Uni-
versity of Michigan Press, 1998), 371.

18. Operario and Fiske, “Racism Equals Power Plus Prejudice,” 35.
19. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpreta-

tion,” American Sociological Review 62, no. 3 (June 1997): 465–80.
20. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From

the 1960s to the 1990s, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1994), 15.
21. Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agri-

culture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New
York: Academic Press, 1974).

22. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting, 12–13.
23. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting, 13.
24. Ewen and Ewen, Typecasting, 16–17.
25. Drawing from Karl Marx, Raymond Williams is commonly credited with

developing the idea of cultural materialism. For further information on cultural
materialism, please do see Williams’s seminal book, Marxism and Literature (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1977).

26. Maxine L. Margolis, True to Her Nature: Changing Advice to American Women
(Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000).

27. “Beginning in the late 19th century, southern states codify a system of laws
and practices to subordinate African Americans to whites. The ‘new’ social order,
reinforced through violence and intimidation, affects schools, public transportation,
jobs, housing, private life and voting rights. Cutting across class boundaries, Jim
Crow unites poor and wealthy whites, while denying African Americans equality
in the courts, freedom of assembly and movement, and full participation as citizens.
The federal government adopts segregation under President Wilson in 1913, and is
not integrated until the 1960s.” Public Broadcasting Corporation, “1887: Jim Crow
Segregation Begins,” Race: The Power of an Illusion 2003,
RaceTimeline/003_01-timeline.htm (June 30, 2010).

28. William Graham Sumner, Folkways (New York: Ginn, 1906).
29. See Nyla R. Branscombe, Michael T. Schmitt, and Kristin Schiffhauer,

“Racial Attitudes in Response to Thoughts of White Privilege,” European Journal of
Social Psychology 37, no. 2 (March–April 2007): 203–15.

30. Zeus Leonardo, “The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the Discourse of ‘White
Privilege,’” in Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education, eds. Edward Taylor,
David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings (New York: Routledge, 2009), 261–76.

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22 � Chapter One

31. Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Engle-
wood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963).

32. Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” in
Race, Class, & Gender: An Anthology, 6th ed., eds. Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia
Hill Collins (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2007), 98–102.

33. Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (Brooklyn,
N.Y.: Soft Skull Press, 2005), 170.

34. Laurie T. O’Brien, Alison Blodorn, AnGelica Alsbrooks, Reesa Dube, Glenn
Adams, and Jessica C. Nelson, “Understanding White Americans’ Perceptions of
Racism in Hurricane Katrina-Related Events,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
12, no. 4 (July 2009): 431–44.

35. McIntosh, “White Privilege.”
36. Laurie T. O’Brien, Christian S. Crandall, April Horstman-Reser, Ruth War-

ner, AnGelica Alsbrooks, and Alison Blodorn, “But I’m No Bigot: How Prejudiced
White Americans Maintain Unprejudiced Self-Images,” Journal of Applied Social
Psychology 40, no. 4 (April 2010): 917–46.

37. O’Brien et al., “Understanding White.”
38. Joe R. Feagin, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur, White Racism, 2nd ed. (New

York: Routledge, 2001), 238.
39. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “Rethinking Racism.”
40. Glenn Adams, Laurie T. O’Brien, and Jessica C. Nelson, “Perceptions of

Racism in Hurricane Katrina: A Liberation Psychology Analysis,” Analyses of Social
Issues and Public Policy 6, no. 1 (December 2006): 215–35.

41. Raphael S. Ezekiel, “An Ethnographer Looks at Neo-Nazi and Klan Groups,”
American Behavioral Scientist 46, no. 1 (September 2002): 51–71.

42. Jane Dickie, “The Unconscious Devil Within,” Church Herald: The Magazine
of the Reformed Church in America 46, no. 3 (March 1989): 12–15, 51.

43. Operario and Fiske, “Racism Equals Power Plus Prejudice,” 49.
44. Christian S. Crandall and Amy Eshleman, “A Justification-Suppression

Model of the Expression and Experience of Prejudice,” Psychological Bulletin 129, no.
3 (May 2003), 414–46.

45. Oliver Cromwell Cox, Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics
(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1948), 531.

46. Pat A. Bidol and Richard C. Weber, Developing New Perspectives on Race: An
Innovative Multi-Media Social Studies Curriculum in Race Relations for the Secondary
Level (Detroit, Mich.: New Detroit, 1970).

47. Beverly Daniel Tatum, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Caf-
eteria?”: And Other Conversations about Race (New York: Basic, 2003).

48. Robert Jensen, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White
Privilege (San Francisco, Calif.: City Lights, 2005), 9–10.

49. George J. Armelagos and Alan H. Goodman, “Race, Racism, and Anthropol-
ogy,” in Building a New Biocultural Synthesis: Political-Economic Perspectives on Human

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The Invisibility of Whiteness � 23

Biology, ed. Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman (Ann Arbor: The Uni-
versity of Michigan Press, 1998), 359–77, 372.

50. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1959).

51. Douglas A. Bernstein, Louis A. Penner, Alison Clarke-Stewart, and Edward J.
Roy, Psychology, 6th ed. (Stamford, Conn.: Cengage, 2008).

52. Michael Freeden, “Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?,” Political Studies 46, no.
4 (September 1998): 748–65.

53. See Janet E. Helms, “An Update of Helms’s White and People of Color Racial
Identity Models,” in Handbook of Multicultural Counseling, eds. Joseph G. Ponterotto,
J. Manuel Casas, Lisa A. Suzuki, and Charlene M. Alexander (Thousand Oaks,
Calif.: Sage Publications, Inc., 1995): 181–98; and also Janet E. Helms, “Racial Iden-
tity and Racial Socialization as Aspects of Adolescents’ Identity Development,” in
Handbook of Applied Developmental Science: Promoting Positive Child, Adolescent, and
Family Development through Research, Policies, and Programs, Volume 1, eds. Richard
M. Lerner, Francine Jacobs, and Donald Wertlieb (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage
Publications, Inc., 2003): 143–63.

54. Tatum, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
55. Lillian Comas-Díaz, “Hispanics, Latinos, or Americanos: The Evolution of

Identity,” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 7, no. 2 (May 2001):

56. Comas-Díaz, “Hispanics, Latinos, or Americanos,” 116.
57. The term Hispanic was created in 1977 as a U.S. Census category. “In re-

sponse to civil rights legislation, the federal Office of Management and Budget issues
Directive 15, creating standard government race and ethnic categories for the first
time. The categories are meant to aid agencies, but they are arbitrary, inconsistent,
and based on varying assumptions. . . . ‘Hispanic’ reflects Spanish colonization and
excludes non-Spanish parts of Central and South America. . . .” Public Broadcast-
ing Corporation, “1977: Government Defines Race/Ethnic Categories,” Race: The
Power of an Illusion, 2003,
htm (June 30, 2010).

58. Randall Kennedy, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (New
York: Vintage Books, 2003), xv.

59. Kennedy, Nigger, xiii.
60. Robert Jensen, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White

Privilege (San Francisco, Calif.: City Lights, 2005), 2–4.

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Shown here is a multicultural box of Crayola crayons that depict skin color ranging from black to white with six other

shades in between.






























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AN: 1099295 ; Tim Delaney.; Connecting Sociology to Our Lives : An Introduction to Sociology
Account: s4264928.main.edsebook


Chapter 8
Introductory Story

The Social Construction of Race and

Racial and Ethnic Stratification in the
United States

The We-They Character of Race and

Causes and Effects of Prejudice and

Patterns of Interracial and Interethnic

Summary, Glossary, Discussion
Questions, and Web Links


Finally, it was Friday. A great buzz filled the halls of Ridgemont High School.
The Ridgemont Panthers were hosting the visiting Alcorn High School Indians
in the annual contest between these two bitter crosstown rivals. Players, coaches,
students, faculty and staff, and most of the Ridgemont community were looking
forward to the big game. As was customary at Ridgemont High, a huge pep rally
was scheduled for the last period of the school day. Pep rallies are designed to
inspire young players to play hard and to remind them that the community backs
them. Pep rallies also ignite fans into a near frenzy of anticipation as the student

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body is encouraged to yell and scream in support of the team. Yes, everyone was
stoked for the pep rally.

Well, not everyone. A couple of students, Naomi and Kevin, were feeling
uneasy. Having attended many pep rallies in the past, they knew what to expect.
The marching band and cheerleaders did not make them feel uneasy; nor did the
players. It was the bonfire and burning effigy of an “Indian,” as well as the posters
around campus that sported such slogans as “Scalp the Indians” and “Redmen
Are Deadmen,” that bothered Naomi and Kevin. For you see, these two students
were Native Americans. To them it was deeply offensive to reduce the Alcorn
High Indians to caricatures and celebrate acts of violence against indigenous

The use of so-called Indian imagery in sports has come under criticism
throughout the United States during the past few decades. Native American advo-
cacy groups point out that Indian imagery (team nicknames, mascots, and logos)
is based on negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. As this chap-
ter shows, the use of such imagery exemplifies some of the issues that sociology
addresses when examining the subject of race and ethnicity.


As people interact with one another, especially strangers, they tend to examine
each other based initially on physical characteristics. They may wonder, for exam-
ple, Does the person who is approaching me pose a bodily threat? Or is this per-
son a potential friend or maybe a future dating partner? If I were in trouble, would
this stranger help me or take advantage of me?

Why do people judge others based on their outward appearance? Well, quite
simply, it is the first thing we see, and we generally do not learn what is “inside”
the vast majority of people we see in a given day. How, then, do we ascertain
whether a stranger is a threat, a potential friend and ally, or something else? Most
people rely on past experiences, trial and error, and stereotypes that accompany
certain characteristics of people. For example, a stranger to a “tough” neighbor-
hood may fear that a group of young adolescent males hanging out in front of the
convenience store is a threat because the youths look like gang members. But how
does the stranger reach the conclusion that the young people are gang members?
What if they happen to be members of a local volunteer group meeting to do char-
ity work and are simply cooling off by having a soda or sports drink?

When people make judgments about others based on limited information, they
are generally using mental shortcuts rooted in stereotypes—and stereotypes are

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sometimes dead wrong (i.e., all groups of juveniles hanging out are not delin-
quents or gang members). However, at times individuals make judgments about
strangers based solely on their visible behavior and appearance, and they are cor-
rect (e.g., law enforcement officers are trained to identify behavioral characteristics
common to drunk drivers).

Among the many physical characteristics by which people judge one another
is skin color. Indeed, races have traditionally been classified solely on the basis
of their most easily observable anatomical trait: skin color (Marger 2006). Many
Americans are described as white or black. But most humans are neither very fair
nor very dark but some shade of brown (M. Harris 2004). A simple test can illus-
trate this point. If a “white” person holds a sheet of white paper next to her skin,
and a “black” person holds a sheet of black paper next to hers, they are both likely
to find that their skin color is some shade in between white and black. It is worth
noting that Crayola, the manufacturer of crayons and other markers, has a line
of “multicultural” crayons described as an assortment of realistic skin tones that
range from white to black with six other shades in between. These crayons will
reveal that most “white” people’s skin is closer in color to peach than to white.

Skin color itself—in most animals, not just humans—results from the presence
of an amino acid derivative known as melanin. While melanin protects the upper
levels of the skin from being damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays (M. Harris
2004), it also decreases the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D in response to
sun exposure. In general, the closer to the equator ancestral groups are from, the
darker their skin, and the farther from the equator, the lighter the skin. However,
there are significant individual differences in skin color; moreover, a genetic varia-
tion known as albinism, in which the person has very little melanin, can and does
occur in all racial groups.

Typically, a race is defined as a group of people who share some socially rec-
ognized physical characteristic (such as skin color or shared hereditary traits) that
distinguishes them from other groups of people. This definition uses a biological
aspect to determine racial categories but acknowledges that such a classification
scheme is socially constructed. Increasingly, the social sciences, including sociol-

ogy, have come to reject biological notions of race in favor of
an approach that regards race as a social concept (Omi and
Winant 2004).


Although, as we have seen, race is largely a social construct,
that is not to say it is not a scientifically valid way of dis-

What Do You Think?

Why is skin color used to determine races

of people? Why not use some other physical

characteristic, such as eye color, hair color,

or height? What do you think?

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tinguishing people. A number of academic disciplines utilize classification sys-
tems for race. In biology, race refers to a population of humans based on certain
hereditary characteristics that differentiate them from other human groups (Mar-
ger 2006). Physical anthropologists distinguish racial groups either by pheno-
type—visible anatomical features such as skin color, hair texture, and body and
facial shape—or by genotype—genetic specifications inherited from one’s parents
(Marger 2006).

The sociological origin of socially constructing the concept of race dates
back (at least) to the nineteenth century, when Max Weber discounted bio-
logical explanations for racial conflict and pointed instead to the social and
political factors that helped to foster it (Omi and Winant 2004; Ernst 1947).
During his 1904 visit to the United States, Weber correctly observed that
African Americans were not fully assimilated socially and politically, and he
predicted a rise in racial tensions between white and black America (Delaney
2004; Weber [1926] 1975). Considering that African Americans had not been
fully assimilated in the United States prior to Weber’s visit, such a prediction
was not an example of foresight out of the clear blue. After all, blacks were
subjected to slavery in the South and generally unequal status in the rest of
society, even during the post–Civil War decades, which consisted of the for-
mation of the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, and the Jim Crow era. The discussion
of Weber’s view of race in the United States is interesting from a sociological
perspective because it reveals how sociologists from different nations became
aware of race relations as a sociological area of interest. Weber’s views on race
relations were developed in Germany and reinforced during his only trip to the
United States in 1904.

And just a few years after Weber’s visit, on the night of July 4, 1910, the ten-
sions between blacks and whites erupted in massive race riots around the country
as a reaction to the heavyweight championship fight in which the African Ameri-
can boxer Jack Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries (popularly known as the “Great
White Hope”) (New York Tribune, 7/5/10).

Racial riots continued sporadically throughout the twentieth century. African
Americans, however, were not the only racial group to experience discrimina-
tion by the white majority in the United States. As we see in the next section of
this chapter, discrimination has also been practiced against European immigrants
(especially those from non-English-speaking countries), Hispanic and Latino
Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.

As the twenty-first century progresses, sociologists have increasingly placed
the concept of race in a sociohistorical context (Omi and Winant 2004). Further-
more, a number of sociologists, along with a growing number of citizens, have

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attempted to downplay classifying people by race altogether. Nonetheless, and
despite the limitations of doing so, most social institutions (e.g., the media, poli-
tics, and economics) and people themselves acknowledge racial categories based
on skin color.


An ethnicity is a category of people recognized as distinct based on social or
cultural factors. An ethnic group shares cultural characteristics: nationality, reli-
gion, language, geographic residence, values, and so on. Ethnic groups have a
shared sense of history and fate that connects members together in a meaningful
manner, and many ethnic groups take great pride in their cultural history. Ethnic
groups have traditionally been described as subgroups of racial groups (Marger
2006). For example, the French, Irish, English, and Germans are ethnic groups
under the Caucasian racial umbrella, while the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipi-
nos are examples of ethnic groups found within the Asian race. The classifica-
tion in recent U.S. censuses of Hispanics/Latinos as an ethnic rather than a racial
group (consisting of such ancestral groups such as Mexicans, Cubans, and Puerto
Ricans) has clouded this idea of an ethnic group as a subgroup of a larger racial
group. Ethnic groupings further illustrate the socially constructed aspect of race—
albeit on a smaller level.

Racism and Other Terms

When an individual is judged solely on the basis of his or her race, that individual
may fall victim to racism. The most commonly described form of racism is interra-
cism, which occurs between different categories of races. When describing inter-
racism, most people simply use the term “racism.” Racism involves any attitude,
belief, behavior, or social arrangement that has the intent, or the ultimate effect,
of favoring one racial category of people over another. Racism involves denying
equal access to goods and services to all racial groups in society. A racist perspec-
tive denies the idea of equality among all people and promotes an ideology that
one racial group is superior to another (Doob 1999). Marger (2006) concurs and
states that racism is “the belief that humans are subdivided into distinct hereditary
groups that are innately different in their social behavior and mental capacities
and that can therefore be ranked as superior or inferior. The presumed superi-
ority of some groups and inferiority of others is subsequently used to legitimate
the unequal distribution of the society’s resources, specifically, various forms of
wealth, prestige, and power” (p. 25).

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The sociological perspective dictates that racism, in any form, is the result of
learned behavior; that is, no one is born a racist. People become racist because
they are exposed to significant others who display racist attitudes, beliefs, and
behaviors and thereby pass them on to others. The sociological perspective of rac-
ism as learned behavior is further exhibited by the realization that a less described
from of racism, known as intraracism, also exists. Intraracism (sometimes referred
to as colorism) occurs between members of the same race who condemn those
with darker or lighter skin tones than their own. For example, very dark-skinned
African Americans may be discriminated against by lighter-skinned blacks for
being so dark; conversely, darker-skinned blacks may view lighter-skinned blacks
as not “black-looking” enough. In its acknowledgment of the existence of intra-
racism, the National Association for the Advancement of Black People (2011),
founded in 2003, proclaims on its home page that “Black/African Americans w/
Negroid features are welcome to join” but that “intraracism . . . will not be toler-
ated, practiced, or allowed.”

As shown below in this chapter’s section titled “The We-They Character of
Race and Ethnicity,” racism can be further distinguished via analysis of racism at
the institutional versus the individual level. For now, we turn to a discussion of

The word “prejudice” literally means a judgment formed without knowledge.
Prejudice involves a mind-set whereby an individual or group accepts negative
social definitions of others (LeMay 2005). Thus, prejudice can be defined as
negative beliefs and overgeneralizations concerning a group of people involving
a judgment against an individual based on a rigid and fixed mental image applied
to all individuals of that group. Ethnic and racial prejudices are characterized by
several features, including categorical or generalized thoughts, negative assump-
tions about an individual based on group membership, and inflexible thinking.
The ideas that all Polish people are stupid and all French people are arrogant are
examples of prejudicial thinking.

A common type of prejudice is the stereotype. Stereotypes are oversimplified
and exaggerated beliefs about a group of people. A stereotype presumes that any
one person within a group possesses specific characteristics regarded as embody-
ing that group. The beliefs that all black people make good athletes and all Japa-
nese people make good scientists are examples of stereotypes. As Marger (2006)
explains, “Once we learn the stereotypes attached to particular groups, we tend
to subsequently perceive individual members according to those generalized
images” (p. 63).

Bigots often employ stereotypes with their flawed reasoning. A bigot is a per-
son who identifies strongly with his or her own group, religion, race, or political

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view and is intolerant of those who are different. Bigotry refers to a person’s use of
a set of interrelated attitudes and beliefs to define an entire group of people in an
inferior way. Archie Bunker, the main character of the 1970s television show All
in the Family, expertly portrayed a bigot. (Note: All in the Family is still on the air
via television syndication and YouTube.)

Another key term related to the analysis of racism is discrimination. Discrimi-
nation refers to behavior that treats people unequally on the basis of an ascribed
status, such as race or gender. Discrimination can be viewed as applied prejudice
(LeMay 2005). That is, while prejudice refers to a negative belief about someone,
discrimination refers to actual behavior that involves treating someone unequally.
Thus, someone may be guilty of prejudice but not discrimination, whereas some-
one who discriminates is by definition also prejudicial.

Racial profiling is connected to discrimination. As defined by the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (2005), racial profiling refers to “the discrimina-
tory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of
crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.” In this
context, law enforcement officials include all those “acting in a policing capacity
in public or private settings, such as security guards at department stores, air-
port security agents, police officers, and, more recently, airline pilots who have
ordered passengers to disembark from flights because the passengers’ ethnicity
aroused the pilots’ suspicions” (ACLU 2005). Racial profiling examples include
using race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (com-
monly referred to as “driving while black or brown”) and the use of race to deter-
mine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband. It is important to note,
however, that “racial profiling does not refer to the act of a law enforcement agent
pursuing a suspect in which the specific description of the suspect includes race
or ethnicity in combination with other identifying factors” (ACLU 2005).

Proving instances of racial profiling by law enforcement is often problematic.
Law enforcement agencies defend the inclusion of race as one of several factors in
suspect profiling, arguing that criminal profiling based on any characteristic is a
time-tested and universal police tool and that excluding race as a variable is illogi-
cal. Thus, if a call goes out to patrol cars that a suspected burglary is in progress,
police officers will benefit if they are given information about the suspected bur-
glars. Information would include the number of suspects, gender, race, height and
weight, age, clothing worn, and so on. The responding officers certainly cannot
interrogate all citizens in the area of the burglary in their attempt to protect and
serve the community. On the other hand, critics of racial profiling argue that all
too often, responding officers are more likely to view minorities as suspects for the
crime in question (see “Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture” Box 8.1 for a
highly publicized incident that involved an allegation of racial profiling).

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Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture

Box 8.1 The Beer Summit: Deconstructing Racial Profiling

An allegation of racial profiling from July 2009 became

such a huge part of popular and academic discourse

that it gained a pop-culture reference as “The Beer

Summit.” The summit came about after an incident

near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Based on a Cambridge Police Department incident

report (#9005127), an African American man named

Henry Louis Gates was placed under arrest at a

Ware Street residential location “after being observed

exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public

place, directed at a uniformed police officer who was

present investigating a report of a crime in progress.

These actions on the behalf of Gates served no legiti-

mate purpose and caused citizens by this location to

stop and take notice while appearing surprised and

alarmed.” Sergeant James Crowley and Officer James

Figueroa were responding to a report by Gates’s neigh-

bor Lucia Whalen that two

men were forcing their way

into the home. When the 911

dispatcher asked Whalen

whether the two men were

black, white, or Hispanic,

she replied, “One looked

kind of Hispanic, but I’m not

really sure” (Goodnough


As it turned out, the fif-

ty-eight-year-old Gates—a

highly renowned scholar

and Harvard professor—was

returning home from a trip to

China and had simply been

trying, with the help of his driver, to enter his own

house, whose front door was stuck. Unaware that a

neighbor suspected foul play, the two eventually suc-

ceeded in pushing their way into Gates’s home. When

Crowley arrived at the residence, he asked Gates

to come outside and speak with him and show his

identification. Gates yelled at Crowley, “Why, because

I’m a black man in America?” Gates reportedly contin-

ued, “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside!” Gates’s

agitated state, apparently caused by the belief that he

was a victim of racial profiling, led Crowley to arrest,

handcuff, and transport him to police headquarters,

where he was held for hours (Goodnough 2009b).

A short time later, when asked about the incident,

President Barack Obama replied that the police had act-

ed “stupidly.” This upset many folks in law enforcement,

including Crowley. Crowley, a police academy expert on

racial profiling, insisted that he had “acted appropriately.”

While conducting an interview with WBZTV, Crowley

claimed, “Mr. Gates was given plenty of opportunities

to stop what he was doing. He didn’t. He acted very ir-

rational, he controlled the outcome of that event. . . . There

was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother,

something you wouldn’t expect from anybody that should

be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a

crime in progress, let alone a Harvard professor” (WBZTV

.com 2009). Gates accused Crowley of entering his home

without permission. He also asked for the sergeant’s

name and badge number

because he was unhappy

about his treatment (WBZTV

.com 2009).

Although the charges

against Gates were sub-

sequently dropped, news

programs and outlets of all

sorts, including blogs, of-

fered emotionally charged

opinions about the incident.

In an attempt to defuse the

situation, President Obama

invited both Gates and

Crowley to join him at the

White House to sit down,

have a beer, and discuss things. On July 30, 2009,

Gates, Crowley, and Obama met and shared a beer.

(Vice President Joe Biden joined the group but did not

have a beer as he does not drink alcohol.) When Obama

learned that both Gates and Crowley had already spent

time talking to each other, he praised them for doing so.

In the end, Gates and Crowley “agreed to disagree”

about the confrontation that had led to Gates’s arrest.

Obama reported that the Beer Summit conversation

centered on moving forward and not reliving the events

of the previous two weeks.

What Do You Think?

Was Gates’s arrest the result of racial

profiling? Did Crowley act appropriately or

inappropriately? How might events have been

different if Gates had been white? Should race

be taken out of the criminal profiling formula

used by law enforcement? A 911 dispatcher’s

asking for a description that entailed race

might be considered profiling on the part of

the public, but it may also reveal that this is

standard police procedure What do you think?

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As “Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture”
Box 8.1 concludes, Gates, Crowley, and Obama felt
it best to move on and “agree to disagree” about past
events. In essence, the Gates-Crowley incident may
have been defused, but the greater issue of racial profil-
ing remained unresolved. This prompts us to ask, What
can be done to lessen the animosity that exists between
many members of diverse racial and ethnic groups?
After all, it would appear that many people in society
are intent on focusing on the differences rather than
the similarities among people. This is problematic, to
say the least. Perhaps if people focused on similarities,
we would all come to see each other as members of the
same race: the human race.

After all, we are all much more closely related than
we might think. For example, genealogists have docu-

mented links between otherwise dissimilar individuals. President Barack Obama is
a distant cousin of former vice president Dick Cheney, British prime minister Win-
ston Churchill, and Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Obama is also a distant cousin
of actor Brad Pitt. Pitt’s girlfriend, Angelina Jolie, is a distant cousin of Hillary Clin-
ton (Lavoie 2008). As for First Lady Michelle Obama, genealogical research pub-
lished in 2009 indicates that she had at least one great-great-great-grandfather who
was white and another ancestor believed to be Native American (Swarns and Kantor
2009). Indeed, genetic studies indicate that many people who look like they may
belong to one particular race might actually have a significant proportion of genes of
another race. Furthermore, DNA evidence reveals a genetic link between Jews and
Palestinians, two groups who have been locked in a bitter struggle for more than a
century yet share a common ancestry dating back 4,000 years (Kraft 2000).

You may be asking yourself, Why do diverse people not concentrate more on
their social and genetic similarities than on their cultural differences? Part of the
answer lies with our discussion in Chapter 4 of the power of culture. It is also
partly explained by the “we-they” mentality that most people possess. (Note: The
“we-they” distinction is discussed later in this chapter.)


Chapter 7 explored stratification primarily from a social class perspective. Stratifi-
cation also exists among racial and ethnic groups. Nearly all multiethnic societies

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden

meet with Sgt. James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates

to discuss racial profiling while drinking a beer in the Rose

Garden outside of the Oval Office.

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have a hierarchical arrangement of ethnic groups wherein one establishes itself as
the dominant group with the power to shape the course of ethnic relations. Other,
subordinate ethnic groups possess less power and take a correspondingly subor-
dinate position in the hierarchy, with the least powerful groups finding themselves
at the bottom of this ranking system (Marger 2006). In this fashion, a system of
ethnic stratification takes hold in society. Ethnic stratification, then, is a system
of ranking ethnic groups with the dominant group on top and the less power-
ful groups taking positions lower in the hierarchy. Using this system of ethnic
stratification, sociologists are able to distinguish majority-minority and dominant-
subordinate social systems.

In order to best understand the ethnic-stratification system in the United
States, it is necessary to identify the major racial and ethnic groups that popu-
late the nation. Typically, the following categories of people are recognized in the
United States: white non-Hispanic, Hispanic, African American, Asian, American
Indian, and “other” (e.g., Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander). The U.S. govern-
ment modified these categories slightly on its Census 2010 form. Question 8 of the
census asked respondents, “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?”
Respondents indicating yes to this question were given four suboptions: Mexican,

Angelina Jolie and Hilary Clinton are distant cousins.

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Mexican American, Chicano; Puerto Rican; Cuban; and “Other,” with directions
to specify, for example Argentinean, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salva-
doran, and so on. Census respondents were asked in Question 9, “What is Per-
son 1’s race?” Respondents could check one or more boxes. The first option was
“white” with no elaboration; that is, no suboptions were made available for ances-
try. The other options for Question 9 were black, African American, or Negro;
American Indian or Alaska Native (identify tribe); Asian Indian; Chinese; Fili-
pino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Other Asian (with multiple options); Native
American; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; and Other Pacific Islander (with
multiple options provided).

Five hundred years ago, the geographical area that is now the United States was
populated almost entirely by indigenous peoples. As more and more people emi-
grated from Europe, the population shifted toward a white majority, displacing
the Native Americans. The Europeans also brought with them slaves from Africa,
making blacks the largest minority group. Because of slavery, African Americans
had consistently represented the largest minority group, until the early 2000s,
when Hispanics became the largest minority group.

As the majority and dominant group throughout U.S. history, white non-His-
panics have represented the power group among Americans. Demographic data
from the 2005 census reveals that whites represent 68 percent of the population;
Hispanics (a term used for people with ethnic backgrounds in Spanish-speaking
countries), 14.5 percent; African Americans, 12.8 percent; Asians and others, 4
percent; and Native Americans, 1 percent. The demographics of the United States
are changing quickly, and according to projections, by 2050 minorities will make
up 49 percent of the total U.S. population (compared to 25 percent in 1990).
Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and by
2050 there will be more Hispanics than all other minorities combined (Ginsberg
2003). The two primary causes of the rapid Hispanic population growth are mas-
sive immigration and a high birthrate. The Asian population is also growing quite
quickly, and the U.S. census estimates Asians will represent 8 percent of the total
U.S. population by 2050 (Ohlemacher 2006b).

The following pages give a brief synopsis of each major racial and ethnic cate-
gory in the United States. Clearly, such a review is succinct by design, as it would
be impossible to provide full coverage of the diversity of each of these categories of
people. However, the coverage provides a glimpse of the sociological perspective
of each category. (Note: Most sociology departments offer a wide range of courses
on race and ethnicity. Students interested in learning more about the topic are
encouraged to take such courses.)

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White Non-Hispanic Americans

Based on 2005 census data, white non-Hispanic Americans (sometimes referred
to as European Americans) represent the largest racial group in the United States.
At 68 percent, whites make up more than two-thirds of the total population. Dur-
ing the seventeenth century, English immigrants colonized Massachusetts and
Virginia. Along with the English, other immigrants from Western Europe, espe-
cially from Wales, Scotland, and Germany, settled in North America. Since the
earliest days of the United States, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or WASPs,
have dominated the socioeconomic and political landscape. They established
their political power in 1790 with the passage of the Naturalization Act, legislation
declaring that only white immigrants could apply for citizenship.

Between 1820 and 1992, nearly 60 million immigrants entered the United
States legally. Most of them were white Europeans; however, despite being
racially similar to the dominant race in the United States, they came from a vari-
ety of countries, spoke many different languages, belonged to many different reli-
gious, political, and ethnic categories, and were often victims of intraracism. As
immigrants, they generally lacked the skills necessary to compete in the job mar-
ket, struggled with learning English, and experienced prejudice and discrimina-
tion. Some changed their names and denied their ethnic heritages to gain social
and economic mobility in their pursuit of the “American dream.” These non-
Anglo-Saxon immigrants resided in concentrated urban areas that became known
as ethnic ghettos. Multiple-dwelling units became a source of profit for slum own-
ers. Sanitation conditions were poor, and high-density living fueled crime. These
early immigrants looked forward to moving out of the ghettos as quickly as possi-
ble; as a result, they embraced assimilation. As one ethnic immigrant group, such
as Irish Catholics, moved out of the ghetto, other, new immigrant groups, such as
Eastern European Jews, moved in and replaced them. Each time this happened,
the immigrant neighborhoods in the ghettos fell into further decay.

Although all white people, as a racial group, certainly do not enjoy a high socio-
economic status, they fare much better financially today than most other groups in
the United States. White Americans are very diverse and consist of a number of
ethnic, or ancestral, groups (see Table 8.1 for a listing of the largest European
ancestries in the United States in 2000).

Hispanic (Latino) Americans

There is debate among scholars—and, more importantly, among Hispanic or
Latino people themselves—as to which term is more acceptable: “Hispanic” or

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“Latino.” In some regions of the United States, especially Southern California,
the term “Chicano” is preferred. Chicanos identify with their indigenous ances-
tors (Mayans or Aztecs) and are slightly militant in their insistence on usage of the
term “Chicano.” Those who prefer the term “Hispanic” generally do so because
they trace their roots to Spanish and indigenous ancestors who resided in Mexico
and the Southwest (before it became a part of the United States). People who pre-
fer the term “Latino” generally identify with ancestors from Puerto Rico, Ecua-
dor, the Dominican Republic, and other areas of Central America. (Note: This
text uses both “Hispanic” and “Latino,” and no disrespect is intended to those
who prefer one term over the other.)

Until fairly recently, Hispanics were categorized as a racial group with many
subcategories of ethnic groups. Today, because of their great diversity, Latinos
are viewed as an ethnic group made up of distinct people of different geographic
ancestry. As stated earlier in the text, Hispanics collectively constitute 14.5 per-
cent of the total U.S. population and are the largest minority group. Marger (2006)
puts the total number of Latinos in the United States in perspective by stating,
“There are more people of Mexican origin in Los Angeles than in all but one city
in Mexico; in New York City, there are more Puerto Ricans than in San Juan; and
only in Havana are there more Cubans than in Miami” (p. 303). The three larg-

TABLE 8.1 Largest Reported European Ancestries in the United States
in 2000


German 42.8 15.2

Irish 30.5 10.8

English 24.5 8.7

Italian 15.6 5.6

Polish 9.0 3.2

French 8.3 3.0

Scottish 4.9 1.7

Dutch 4.5 1.6

Norwegian 4.5 1.6

Scotch-Irish 4.3 1.5

Swedish 4.0 1.4

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2000.

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est categories of Hispanics are Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban

Hispanic people are very diverse; as a result, it is difficult to describe a stereo-
typical Hispanic. Still, most Hispanic ethnic groups have been influenced sig-
nificantly by Spain and the Spanish language and culture. This heritage continues
today. Most Mexican Americans are mestizos (meaning “mixed blood” and refer-
ring to their blended Spanish and indigenous ancestry), whereas many other Lati-
nos (e.g., Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Brazilians) have African heritage as well. “If
a common theme runs through the unique histories and experiences of the several
Hispanic groups in the United States, it is their intermediate ethnic status between
Euro-American groups, on one hand, and African Americans, on the other. In
several important respects, Hispanics are an ethnic minority ‘in between’” (Mar-
ger 2006, p. 304). As an “in-between” group, Hispanics have not suffered from
prejudice and discrimination to the same degree as African Americans; yet, nor
have they historically enjoyed full participation in the American power structure.

African Americans

Based on our current knowledge of the origins of humanity, all our ancestors can
be traced back to Africa. The migration patterns of our earliest ancestors led to the
spread of the human race across the globe. Despite Africa’s legacy as the “cradle
of humanity,” Africans have often faced prejudice and discrimination. No truer
example of this reality can be found elsewhere than in the United States. The Afri-
can American experience in the United States has been (and remains, for many)
drastically different from that preached by American idealism.

Africans have had a unique experience in the Americas. They came with the
earliest Europeans, usually as indentured servants; however, by the late 1600s,
more and more Africans were transported to the colonies as slaves. The history
of slavery in world civilization has often been told, but a quick recap is in order.
Ancient cultures such as the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans held slaves,
and the practice continued in Europe and Asia throughout the Middle Ages. Any-
one, regardless of race or ethnicity, could be enslaved as a result of military con-
quest, piracy, or an inability to pay his or her debts. As Islamic culture flourished
in the ninth and tenth centuries, Arabs began to invade the sub-Saharan regions
of the continent and enslave black Africans. Portugal and eventually other Euro-
pean nations became involved in the African slave trade in the 1400s. When the
Europeans started settling in the Americas and developed large plantations (e.g.,
tobacco, sugar, indigo, and cotton), they increasingly brought African slaves with
them. The slave trade became highly lucrative for Europeans.

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For more than two hundred years, Africans suffered as slaves. In an attempt to
justify their behavior, slave owners developed a racist ideology that included view-
ing Africans as less than human. Even after slavery was abolished in 1865 (by vir-
tue of the Thirteenth Amendment) and Africans were granted citizenship by the
Civil Rights Act of 1866, they still suffered from extreme prejudice and discrimi-
nation. The Reconstruction period that immediately followed the end of the Civil
War ushered in the Jim Crow era—typified by efforts to deny African Americans
equal access to goods and services, the right to vote, and so forth. Segregation also
characterized this period. The Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision
established a “separate-but-equal” philosophy designed to continue the unfair
treatment of blacks. After World War II, the effects of Jim Crow were diminishing
but had not disappeared. During the 1950s and 1960s, blacks stood up for their
rights and challenged the dominant power structure of the United States. In 1954,
for example, the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka invalidated the
Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

Because so many Africans were brought to the United States as slaves, they
have historically been the largest minority group. However, as previously
stated, Hispanics now occupy that status. Still, African Americans make up
12.8 percent of the total U.S. population. The largest percentage of blacks can
trace their ancestral roots to the African slave trade, but a number of ethnically
diverse U.S. blacks trace their heritage to the West Indies and such Caribbean
nations as Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, and the Dominican Republic. Although a
number of African Americans have gained great success in the United States,
many still suffer from prejudice, discrimination, low education levels, and high
rates of incarceration.

Asian Americans

As with every other category of Americans, Asian Americans
are also quite diverse. Generally looked upon as members
of a single racial category, Asian Americans consist of many
ethnic groups (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese,
and Filipino American). Asian Americans share a number
of characteristics with other immigrant groups; specifically,
they were victims of prejudice and discrimination upon their
earliest arrival in the United States.

The Asian experience in the United States can be divided into two distinct
eras of immigration: the first wave and the second (and current) wave. The first
wave occurred roughly from the middle of the nineteenth to the early twentieth

What Do You Think?

African Americans have long been the

largest minority in the United States. Now

that Hispanics outnumber them, what will the

socioeconomic effect, if any, be on blacks as

the second-largest minority group? What do

you think?

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century. The Chinese were the first to arrive, followed by the Japanese, and then
smaller numbers of Koreans and Filipinos. These early Asian immigrants were
employed mostly as unskilled laborers for construction and agricultural work
(Marger 2006). Asian immigration was quite limited during this first wave because
of strict U.S. laws limiting it. For example, the Page Act of 1875 (Sect. 141, 18
Stat. 477) was designed to limit the immigration of Chinese men who would serve
as a cheap source of labor and “immoral” Chinese women (who would engage in
prostitution) (Peffer 1986; Museum of Learning 2010). From 1882 to 1943, the
U.S. government severely curtailed immigration from China to the United States
via Chinese Exclusion Laws. In 1882 an act (22 Stat. 58) suspended immigra-
tion of Chinese laborers for ten years and prohibited the naturalization of Chinese
already in the United States (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
2010). In 1892, passage of the Act to Prohibit the Coming of Chinese Persons
into the United States (27 Stat. 25), referred to as the Geary Act, also severely
restricted Chinese immigration (U.S. National Archives and Records Administra-
tion 2010). When China and the United States became allies in World War II,
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Act to Repeal the Chinese Exclusion
Acts, to Establish Quotas, and for Other Purposes (57 Stat. 600-1). Nonetheless,
until the Immigration Act of October 1965 (79 Stat. 911), numerous laws contin-
ued to restrict Chinese immigration (U.S. National Archives and Records Admin-
istration 2010).

The second (and current) wave of Asian immigration began with the shift in
U.S. immigration policy brought about by the Immigration and Nationality Act of
1965. The new Asian immigrants are far more diverse. Some are highly educated
and trained for skilled jobs, while others come from such war-torn areas as Viet-
nam, Laos, and Cambodia. This second wave of Asian immigration has contrib-
uted to this group’s comprising 4 percent of the total U.S. population. In many
areas, Asian Americans equal or exceed white Americans in income, educational
attainment, life expectancy, and so on. Conversely, poorer Asian Americans suffer
the same plight as other people of lower socioeconomic status: they are victims of
prejudice and discrimination.

Native Americans

When the European explorers first arrived in 1492, the Western Hemisphere was
populated by many diverse cultures and tribes of indigenous people who became
known collectively as “Indians” to Europeans. Christopher Columbus thought
that he had arrived in India, when he actually landed in San Salvador, and he
mistakenly labeled the native people he encountered “Indians.” The misnaming

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of the indigenous people of the Americas by the Europeans foreshadowed the
misunderstandings, distrust, and hostility that later developed between the two
races of people.

The great diversity of native peoples is illustrated by the estimated 260 dif-
ferent nations (or tribes) that inhabited the Americas (Winik 1999). They were
differentiated by, among other things, great differences in geography and climate
in the United States. The Indian way of life in the forested Northeast was not the
same as that in the muggy, near-tropical jungles of Florida and Louisiana or on the
grassy plains of the Dakotas or in the arid Southwest. Thus, any collective gener-
alization about Native Americans is difficult, to say the least.

However, at least one major characteristic is shared by all native people: the
harsh treatment they were subjected to by the Europeans and, later, white Ameri-
cans. The indigenous peoples of the North and South American continents were
decimated by European explorers and settlers between the sixteenth and eigh-
teenth centuries, then by North American westward expansion in the nineteenth
century. The Europeans did not simply exterminate millions of people; they con-
ducted a sustained population reduction over hundreds of years through mass
eradication campaigns, starvation, and the introduction of diseases (Marsico
2010). Such policies are an example of genocide, the intentional attempt to exter-
minate a race of people by a more dominant population.

After facing near extinction, Native Americans, once described as the “van-
ishing Americans,” have made modest gains in their population (see “Connect-
ing Sociology and Popular Culture” Box 8.2 for a discussion of the use of Indian
imagery in sports). Today, they represent over 1 percent of the total U.S. popula-
tion. Unfortunately, Native Americans as a group suffer from many social prob-
lems, including the highest rate of poverty and the shortest life expectancy of any
category of Americans. The extreme poverty Native Americans suffer from has led
to many other problems, including high rates of alcoholism, poor health, and high
rates of depression and suicide (Winik 1999). A 2009 Centers for Disease Con-
trol and Prevention report revealed that 11.7 percent of Native American deaths
between 2001 and 2005 were due to alcohol; the national rate is 3.3 percent (Post-
Standard, 8/22/09). In brief, despite the positive increase in population growth,
Native Americans suffer disproportionately (when compared to all other racial
and ethnic groups) when it comes to any number of social problems.

The feud between Native Americans and the U.S. government is not limited to
the past. On occasion, the U.S. government has had direct conflicts with Native
American organizations or tribes. For example, in 1973 followers of the American
Indian Movement (AIM) staged a seventy-one-day occupation of Wounded Knee,
South Dakota. In response, the U.S. Marshals Service was called in to assist in

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a resolution. The AIM surrendered on May 8, 1973.
Two Indians were killed, and one marshal was seri-
ously wounded (U.S. Marshals Service 2010). Among
the biggest contemporary concerns of native peoples
is the Indian Trust Fund lawsuit. Congress first estab-
lished the Indian Trust in 1887 to hold proceeds from
government-arranged leases of Indian lands (Belczyk
2010). The Indian Trust consists of about 56 million
acres of land; 10 million of those belong to individual
Indians, and the other 46 million acres are held in trust
for various tribes (Streshinsky 2009). In 2009, the
U.S. government announced that a settlement agree-
ment worth more than $3.4 billion had been reached
in a thirteen-year class-action lawsuit claiming misman-
agement of trust funds against the U.S. Department of
the Interior. For those who brought the suit, the settlement agreement was about
more than money; it was about anger and frustration stemming from years of pov-
erty and victimization, decades of unfunded mandates, and a piecemeal web of
legacy laws (Streshinsky 2009).

It is somewhat amazing that so many people have forgotten, or choose not to
accept, that Native Americans (Indians) were settled in the Americas long before
European settlers arrived. Perhaps one of the most ignorant things a racist can
say to an Indian is, “Why don’t you go back to your own country” (see “A Closer
Look” Box 8.3 for a story of a Native American professor who was told by a stu-
dent to do that).

Is the Term “Minority” Outdated?

The demographic changes in the United States increasingly mean that whites are
no longer the majority (defined as comprising at least 51 percent of the popula-
tion): as of 2006, this was the case in four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico,
and Texas). In other states (Maryland, Georgia, and Nevada), the share of white
people fell below 60 percent in 2006. Most likely, by 2060 there will be no clear
majority racial or ethnic group in the United States. Thus, from a statistical stand-
point, it becomes increasingly pointless to speak in terms of a majority-minority
relationship. However, as sociologists point out, the term “minority” extends
beyond a numbers game; it also refers to a differential in power. In this manner, a
minority group is a group of disadvantaged citizens—specifically, the underprivi-
leged at the lower end of the stratification hierarchy.

This sign “No Sovereign Nation, No Reservation” depicts the

ill will shown by many non-Native Americans toward Native


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A growing number of people is perceiving the application of the word “minor-
ity” to specific racial and ethnic groups as offensive; as a result its usage has fallen
out of vogue. However, it would seem that until all groups share equally in socio-
economic and political power, some will be designated as holding minority status.
This is due in part, as sociologists point out, to the fact that minority status can
be applied to groups based on characteristics beyond race and ethnicity, such as
gender, age, and physical disability.

Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture

Box 8.2 The Use of Indian Imagery in Sports

This chapter’s introductory story briefly introduced

the idea that many Native Americans consider the use

of Indian imagery in sports offensive. Sports teams

routinely use nicknames, logos, and mascots as a

means of conveying an identity. There is a great deal of

symbolism involved with sports nicknames, logos, and

mascots. “A group’s symbols serve two fundamental

purposes—they bind together

the individual members of a

group, and they separate one

group from another. . . . Using

symbols to achieve solidarity

and community is a common

group practice” (Eitzen 1999,

p. 29). Many sports teams use

Native American imagery for

their nicknames, logos, and

mascots and insist that they

are doing this to bring honor to

Native Americans.

However, various Native

American groups and aca-

demic scholars argue that

the practice of using Indian

imagery amounts to a form of racism. In their view, the

use of Indian mascots places Native Americans on a

parallel level with animals, relies on racist logos and

practices, and constitutes an obscenity, considering

the history of genocide perpetrated against native

peoples by Europeans and Americans (Meyer 2002;

Davis-Delano 2009). Is it any wonder that descendants

of a people who were nearly obliterated by Europeans

and Americans find it very difficult to accept “Indians”

as sports mascots?

Sports teams that use Indian imagery often also

engage in behavior known as

“playing Indian.” Playing In-

dian involves building a type

of team spirit by displaying

stereotypical Native American

behaviors for entertainment

purposes (King and Spring-

wood 2001). For example,

students at Simpson College

in Indianola, Iowa, shout “a

victory cheer known as the

‘Scalp Song’ and use idioms

of Indianness in their annual

rituals such as homecoming”

(King and Springwood 2001,

p. 3). Playing Indian may

include wearing face paint,

which had spiritual meaning for native peoples. An-

other example is the “tomahawk chop” and the chant

that goes with it, practiced by Florida State University

and Atlanta Braves fans. This practice is a sort of team

Many Native Americans and sociologists consider the

“Redskin” nickname as the most racist of all U.S. sport

franchises. Shown here are fans of the Washington

Redskins dressed in Native American costume.

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As discussed in Chapter 4, cultures around the world are quite unique and cher-
ish their own sets of norms, values, and beliefs. There also exists a tendency
among like-minded people to view their way of life as “right” or proper. This
line of thinking is known as ethnocentrism. Recall that ethnocentrism refers to
the tendency of people from one cultural group to judge other cultures by the

cheer, used especially when the team is doing par-

ticularly well, to express the idea that the “Indians”

are about to attack, crying out with their well-known

war whoops as they chop up their opponents with

small axes. Most Native Americans find this conduct

demeaning to them.

Of the many professional sports teams that uti-

lize Indian imagery, perhaps none is as offensive

as the National Football League’s Washington

Redskins. The Redskins organization argues that

the word “redskin” is neutral and that its use of the

name “Redskins” honors American Indians. Many

Native Americans strongly disagree that the con-

cept of redskin is an honor and have challenged

the use of that term in various courts of law. For

example, in 1992, seven Native Americans filed

an action before the U.S. Patent and Trademark

Office to cancel six Red-

skins trademarks because

they were “scandalous”

and “disparaging” to Na-

t i v e A m e r i c a n p e o p l e s

(MacDowall 2010). More

recently, in 2009, Native

Americans again unsuc-

cessfully challenged the

u s e o f t h e w o rd “ R e d –

skins” by the Washington,

D.C., franchise in Harjo v.

Pro Football Inc. (565 F.3d

880; D.C. Cir. 2009) (Mac-

Dowall 2010). It should be

pointed out that nearly all dictionaries characterize

“redskin” (the R word) in the same way as they do

“nigger” (the N word)—that is, as an offensive term

or offensive slang. Native American advocates

point out that people should be as uncomfortable

saying the R word as they are saying the N word.

Furthermore, they find it more than ironic that the

Redskins franchise is located in the U.S. national

capital city, considering that Washington, D.C., has

long been the symbol of broken promises to and

treaties with Native Americans.

The issue of sports teams using Indian imagery

in nicknames, logos, and mascots will not disappear

until offensive usages of such imagery no longer exist

in sports. Some believe Native Americans are being

honored by teams who use Indian imagery (Davis-

Delano 2009). In the U.S. military there is an expres-

sion: “No honor is given if no

honor is received.” In other

words, one cannot claim to

have honored another if the

other does not view the act

as such. Other people try to

ignore the Native American

nickname, logo, and mas-

cot issue by saying, “It’s just

political correctness.” That

is not true. Native Ameri-

cans are people. They are

not mascots. Eliminating

offensive Indian imagery is

a matter of correctness.

What Do You Think?

Many Native Americans, academics, and

others believe that sports teams should

eliminate the usage of Indian imagery.

Imagine the social reaction, they say, if the

Washington team changed its nickname to

“N***ers” and claimed that it did so to honor

African Americans! That is what they say

people should imagine every time they see

the Redskins’ logo. Do you find the use of

Indian imagery offensive? What do you think?

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standards of their own. An ethnocentric viewpoint generates a “we” feeling that
is shared by members of a group. Ethnocentrism promotes group solidarity and
group pride (a positive aspect), but it also generally involves viewing other groups
as inferior (a negative aspect).

When one group deems itself superior, it usually displays acts of intolerance
toward others. Stereotypes, racism, and prejudice are by-products of intolerance.
This section examines the social effects of “we-they” thinking in group interac-
tions and group identity. It also describes how racism can exist on both the
individual and the institutional level. Finally, it scrutinizes the “color-blind,” or
race-neutral, perspective and explores why race continues to matter in a society
that claims to hold equality as an ideal.

A Closer Look

Box 8.3 “Go Back to Your Own Country”

What does it mean to tell a Native American, “Go back to

your own country”? Is this a sign of hate or perhaps of ig-

norance? Or it is a Halloween prank gone terribly wrong?

A colleague of mine at the State University of New York,

Oswego, Kevin White, a Native American (Akwesasne

Mohawk), had to wrestle with these questions and more

while teaching, ironically, his “Native Americans 100”

class shortly before noon on October 31, 2003. During

class a student wearing a headdress ran into Professor

White’s classroom, fired a suction cup arrow from a bow,

and shouted, “Go back to your own country” (Mohr

2003a, p. B1). The student claimed he was simply in-

volved with a Halloween prank. A number of students in

White’s class were outraged and considered the incident

a hate crime. One student was quoted as saying, “I’m

part Native American and

this was the biggest form

of racism I’ve ever seen”

(Mohr 2003a, p. B1). The

student who dressed and

acted like a stereotypical

“Indian” was charged not

with a hate crime but with

disorderly conduct. Still, the

incident stirred the passions of many Native American

academics across the nation and among White’s friends

and colleagues. The student offender maintained that

the incident was simply a prank. The university did not

charge the student with a hate crime because of the

language of its policy on hate crimes. That language

has since been changed so that such an incident today

could be classified as a hate crime (White 2010).

As Professor White (2010) explained, the student

appeared before a local judge in city court (Oswego,

New York) on disorderly conduct charges and was or-

dered to apologize to the entire class. The student left

school on his own accord, saying that he was suffering

after having been identified as the culprit publicly and

that the humiliation was more than he could endure.

Professor White wonders

whether the student thought

about his being humiliated

before or after the incident.

As for his reaction to being

told, “Go back to your own

country,” Professor White’s

reaction was, “I am already


What Do You Think?

Why is “Why don’t you go back to your own

country” an odd question to ask of a Native

American? What do you think?

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“We” Groups

As we learned in Chapter 5, social interaction plays a significant role in an indi-
vidual’s life, and it is important for us to feel as though we belong, or fit into a group.
Individuals like to experience a sense of unity with their fellows. Group participa-
tion provides a sense of “we-ness,” where saying “we” is natural. For example,
members of a specific racial or ethnic group might say, “We have long been victims
of prejudice and discrimination.” The creation of the “we” category involves a sense
of community. Ethnic communities are deeply rooted in common sentiments, com-
mon experience, and a common history. Sharing a common history not only gives
an ethnic group a common ancestry and descent but also becomes a significant basis
for organizing the present. Often, the historical past is selectively interpreted from
the perspective, and from the needs, of the present. Ethnic groups often share spe-
cial-purpose associations to further their political and/or economic needs (e.g., the
American Jewish Committee, National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Urban League).

However, racial and ethnic groups are not completely autonomous and self-
contained. “Instead, they are a part of a larger societal system that influences,
shapes, and partially determines their life circumstances. Internally, groups
often attempt to maintain their distinctive ‘we-ness’” (Shibutani and Kwan 1965,
p. 47). Once an in-group establishes itself as a “we” group, its members come to
seen by external groups for their “they-ness” (Rose 1981). Thus, the creation
of a “we” parameter implies that a “they” label has also been established to refer
to out-groups. As Ringer and Lawless (1989) explain, “When an ethnic group
defines itself as a distinctive group it must face the fact that the larger society also
perceives it as a distinctive entity” (p. 19).

“They” Groups

Interestingly, although it is made up of other “we” groups, “they” is generally
viewed or recognized as representing the larger society itself. Even more ironi-
cally, the outside society, or “they,” comes to view the initial “we” group as a
“they.” Thus, the determination of “we” and “they” groups is a matter of perspec-
tive. “However, despite this apparent agreement on the designation of distinctive-
ness, major differences exist between the ethnic group and larger society over the
specifics of this definition. For example, on the cognitive level, larger society’s
definition of the ethnic group is primarily a function of its own beliefs about the
group, which may not basically correspond with the group’s own beliefs about
itself nor even with the ‘real nature of the group’” (Ringer and Lawless 1989,

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p. 19). The larger society comes to view specific ethnic groups in an oversimpli-
fied manner and may fail to grasp the social realities of such groups. Historically,
misunderstandings between “we” and “they” groups result in discriminatory
treatment by dominant groups over smaller, less powerful ones.

The “we-they” dichotomy was influenced by the work of famous French lin-
guistic anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1962) and his concept of binary oppo-
sition. Some of his binary opposites are fairly straightforward, such as raw versus
cooked, while others are used as a means of creating a social hierarchy. Consider,
for example, the Western cultural meanings of “white” and “black,” wherein white
is associated with purity and goodness, and black is considered a sign of darkness
and evil. Such interpretations of white and black carried over to the realm of race,
where Europeans, who are white, viewed Africans as inferior because of their skin
color and the meanings associated with being black.

In should be noted that the “we-they” social relationship extends beyond
racial and ethnic distinctions. Street gangs identify one another on the basis of
affiliation. Athletes and sports fans have long drawn distinctions between “us”
and “them.” Budgetary concerns between different departments within the same
organization often create adversarial rivalries expressed in such ways as, “If that
other department (them) receives its requested funds, there will not be enough
money left for us to make our budgetary requests.” Charities also compete with
one another when requesting funds from the government and public donations.

Individual and Institutional Racism

Earlier in this chapter, the term “racism” was introduced. It
is now important to point out that racism occurs at two lev-
els: the micro level (individual or interpersonal racism) and
the macro level (institutional or ideological racism). Indi-
vidual racism refers to unequal treatment and behavior on
the part of a member or group of one race against a person

or group of another race. For example, a store manager may refuse to hire a quali-
fied person just because of his or her race or ethnicity. Although individual racism
is fairly common, most researchers indicate that the total number of incidents of
prejudice and discrimination is declining (Tepperman and Blain 2006). However,
as Doob (1999) indicates, “While individual racism is surely less common than in
the past, the impact of particular incidents can be shocking” (p. 7). An informed
person who watches the news can find daily examples of shocking acts of indi-
vidual racism.

What Do You Think?

Think of the groups you belong to (“we”

groups) and determine the corresponding

“they” groups. Is there any way to avoid the

“we-they” group parameter in life? What do

you think?

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Institutional racism involves widespread, large-scale,
structured discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.
“Institutional racism involves impersonal forces that are
likely to disproportionately impact on minority group mem-
bers, restricting opportunities for success in mainstream
society by providing inferior facilities and limiting access”
(Doob 1999, p. 8).

Many social institutions are arranged in such a manner
as to disadvantage those without socioeconomic or politi-
cal power. As Sage (1993) explains, “Racism is a salient aspect of the structure
of American society. The most important aspect of this form of stratification is
that it excludes people of color from equal access to socially valued rewards and
resources. These people tend to have less wealth, power, and social prestige than
do other Americans. Moreover, racism has built-in policies and practices that sys-
tematically discriminate against people in employment, housing, policies, educa-
tion, health care, and many other areas. These conditions result in fewer human
resources and diminished life chances for African-Americans” (p. 6).

One example of institutional racism is redlining, which involves marking out
specific areas where some people (usually based on race or ethnicity) are refused
goods or services. Mild forms of redlining may include denying taxicab service or
delivery of takeout foods to certain neighborhoods. More extreme forms of redlin-
ing occur in real estate and the banking and mortgage industries (e.g., Federal
Housing Administration policies from the 1930s to the 1960s). In these cases,
minority members will not be shown homes in certain neighborhoods, and quali-
fied minority members will have their loan requests denied. Although redlining in
real estate and mortgage lending has been illegal since 1968, when the Fair Hous-
ing Act became law, critics charge that it still takes place today.

Institutional racist policies also extend to other social institutions. For exam-
ple, in 2004, the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel was ordered to pay $8.7 million
to settle allegations that it mistreated black customers and discriminated against
black employees. More than forty plaintiffs in sixteen states claimed that blacks
were denied service, assigned to segregated seating, subjected to racial slurs, and
even served food taken from the garbage (Post-Standard, 9/10/04). Based on
numerous news reports in 2006, Rose Rock, mother of African American come-
dian Chris Rock, claimed that she had been a victim of discrimination at a South
Carolina Cracker Barrel restaurant (Tapper 2006). She reported being seated but
then ignored for thirty minutes. (Note: At this writing, Cracker Barrel authorities
were still investigating the accusation.)

What Do You Think?

Based on your observations and experiences,

do you think acts of individual racism are

commonplace or isolated incidents? Have

you noticed any of your friends or family

members acting in a racist manner? What do

you think?

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In 1998, Nationwide Insurance was ordered to pay a record $100 million in a fed-
eral suit over racial redlining. Civil rights advocates hailed the judgment as a civil rights
landmark, arguing that the decision underscored redlining practices in sectors beyond
the banking and mortgage industries—which have long been held up as exemplars of
institutions that employ discriminatory redlining practices (Fulwood 1998).

Why Race Matters

Some are uncomfortable with categorizing people by race and ethnicity. As we
shall see, however, race does matter—and for a wide variety of reasons. It matters
because society is not color-blind. Most people see others based on their skin
color. If this were not true, racism in all its forms would not exist. But as we know,
racism, prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance exist in the United States and
throughout most parts of the world.

If race did not matter, society would be color-blind, and the playing field would
be level for all people regardless of their race. “The color-blind or race neutral per-
spective holds that in an environment where institutional racism and discrimina-
tion have been replaced by equal opportunity, one’s qualifications, not one’s color
or ethnicity, should be the mechanism by which upward mobility is achieved.
Color as a cultural style may be expressed and consumed through music, dress,
or vernacular but race as a system which confers privileges and shapes life chances
is viewed as an atavistic and inaccurate accounting of U.S. race relations” (Galla-
gher 2009, p. 91). A majority of white Americans believe discrimination no longer
exists against racial minorities; however, a majority of black Americans see a field
that remains quite uneven (Gallagher 2009).

Believing that today’s society is color-blind allows one to think of institutional
racism as a thing of the past, but again, this is not reality. Higginbotham and
Andersen (2009) would have us consider two more points: schools in the United
States are now more segregated than thirty years ago, and some successful plans
for desegregation are being dismantled (Frankenberg, Lee, and Orfield 2003).
There is a 61 percent gap between black and white household incomes (DeNavas-
Walt, Proctor, and Lee 2006). Based on interviews of nearly 77,000 Americans age
sixteen or older, a 2005 Justice Department study found that black, Hispanic, and
white motorists are equally likely to be pulled over by police, but blacks and His-
panics are much more likely to be searched, handcuffed, arrested, and subjected to
force or the threat of it (Sniffen 2005).

Race complicates the legal system with regard to crime on Native American
reservations. The system relies largely on race to determine jurisdiction and then
charges law enforcement and prosecutors with the sometimes delicate task of

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determining a person’s race (Missoulian, 9/6/10). In most states, federal and tribal
authorities can arrest and prosecute Indians on Indian lands, but criminal offenses
by non-Indians are handled by federal or state authorities (Missoulian, 9/6/10).
According to B. J. Jones, director of the Tribal Judicial Institute at the University
of North Dakota School of Law, there is no clear-cut definition of who is an Indian
(Missoulian, 9/6/10). The Shane Maggi case illustrates many of these points.
Maggi was accused of terrorizing a Native American couple at their home on the
Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana for more than two hours on the night
of May 16, 2007. Maggi was tried as a Native American for committing crimes
against a Native American couple on a reservation and was sentenced to more
than forty-two years in prison. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit overturned Maggi’s March 2010 conviction because he did not meet the
definition of Native American: he was not enrolled in the tribe. As a result, tribal
police were not allowed to arrest or prosecute him (Missoulian, 9/6/10).

Race matters for reasons beyond the social; certain medical issues pertain to race
as well. Thus, having knowledge about one’s own race may be critical to disease
prevention and treatment and long-term care for individuals. Consider, for exam-
ple, the fact that although nearly all people of northern European descent can enjoy
milk and milk products, many people of other races are lactose intolerant, meaning
that they cannot drink milk or consume dairy products without an adverse diges-
tive reaction. About 75 percent of African American, Jewish, Native American, and
Mexican American adults cannot digest much milk; neither can about 90 percent of
Asian Americans. Lactose intolerance can be managed by taking a chemical called
lactase, which is available in pill form and in some dairy-based products such as
specially formulated milk (vos Savant 2005). As another example, young blacks are
twenty times as likely as whites to suffer heart failure. This illness strikes one in every
one hundred blacks under the age of fifty (Post-Standard, 3/19/09). Interestingly
enough, there is a specific treatment for heart disease that is most effective for blacks:
BiDil. BiDil represents the first medication approved by the Food and Drug Admin-
istration for a specific racial group (Jewell 2005).

For years, medical research had shown that African American patients do better
on kidney dialysis (a life-sustaining process for removing waste and excess water
from the blood that acts as an artificial replacement for lost kidney function in
people with renal failure) than their white counterparts (Johns Hopkins Medicine
2011). However, 2011 Johns Hopkins research has shown that younger blacks—
those under the age of fifty—actually do much worse on dialysis than equally sick
whites who undergo the same blood-filtering process (Johns Hopkins Medicine
2011). Dorry L. Segev, the lead medical doctor who headed this research at the
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, claims that black patients between

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the ages of eighteen and thirty are twice as likely to die on dialysis than their white
counterparts; those ages thirty-one to forty are one and a half times as likely to die
(Johns Hopkins Medicine 2011). As a result, younger black patients are advised
to opt for a kidney transfer instead of dialysis. As we can see, when it comes to kid-
ney treatment options, race matters.

Another relatively new medical procedure that is giving new hope to patients
with a number of cancers and immune-deficiency disorders is bone marrow trans-
plantation. Bone marrow is a spongy tissue found inside the bones, and patients
with leukemia, aplastic anemia, and some immunodeficiencies have their healthy
stem cells destroyed along with unhealthy ones during chemotherapy and radia-
tion therapies (Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center 2010). There is a 35 per-
cent chance that a patient’s sibling will be a perfect bone marrow match (Columbia
Presbyterian Medical Center 2010). A patient without a close relative to serve as
a match can turn to national registries to seek donors. However, the picture is
significantly different depending on the patient’s race, because the markers used
in matching bone marrow are inherited, and patients are most likely to match
someone of their own race or ethnicity. This becomes even more difficult when a
person is multiracial. A white person has an 80 to 90 percent chance of finding a
donor; blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans have about a 40 percent chance;
and multiracial persons have a much lower chance (Moses 2010). Native Ameri-
cans have slightly more than a 1 percent chance of finding a donor because of the
7 million donors on the national registry, only about 80,000 are Native American
(Moses 2010, p. A5). As the numbers would indicate, a multiracial person who is
partly Native American will have less than a 1 percent chance of finding a donor.

The above discussion of why race matters is a mere sampling of the social and
medical reasons why it is important for individuals to know their racial and ethnic
background and to understand the possible consequences of their categorization.

Conducting genealogical research into one’s own ancestral background might
prove quite beneficial for medical purposes, but it may also reveal surprising or
shocking information (see “A Closer Look” Box 8.4 for an example of one per-
son’s search for the truth about his past).


Individual and institutional racism, prejudice, and discrimination exist because of
ignorance, hatred, and intolerance among diverse individuals and groups. We can
do many things to fight hatred and intolerance (see “A Closer Look” Box 8.5), but
how do we explain its occurrence? This section looks at three theoretical explana-
tions for why prejudice and discrimination exist. It also examines the effects of
prejudice and discrimination, both on the people who engage in these practices

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and on those who are subjected to them. We conclude with a discussion of the
most extreme form of discriminatory behavior: hate crimes.

The Psychological Approach

Psychological theories of why prejudice and discrimination exist focus on how
psychological needs are fulfilled. One of the earliest psychological theories
explains prejudice as a means by which people express hostility as a result of

A Closer Look

Box 8.4 Genealogical Research and Why Race Matters

In late February 2010, an intriguing news story spread

across the wire services and Internet news outlets.

A long-time neo-Nazi skinhead named Pawel (he

asked that his last name not be revealed because of

threats against his life) took a closer look at himself

in the mirror and was alarmed by what he found: he

was no longer the man he considered himself to be.

Pawel, a thirty-three-year-old Pole living in Warsaw,

had a long history of bigotry. He belonged to a group

of skinheads who imitated Nazi salutes and enjoyed

harassing the few Jewish

residents of Warsaw. “Be-

fore 1939, Poland was home

to more than three million

Jews, more than 90 percent

of whom were killed by the

Nazis. Most who survived

emigrated. Of the fewer

than 50,000 who remained

in Poland, many abandoned

or hid their Judaism during

decades of Communist op-

pression in which political

pogroms against Jews persisted” (Bilefsky 2010).

Consumed with fascist ideology, Pawel and his in-

tolerant buddies, heads shaved and filled with racist

hatred, once took a train ride to the remains of the

Auschwitz concentration camp, where they cracked

jokes about the Holocaust.

Pawel joined the army and married a fellow skinhead

at age eighteen. At age twenty-two, his wife, Paulina,

suspected that she had Jewish roots. The couple went

to a genealogical institute and discovered that they

both had registered Jewish maternal grandparents.

When Pawel confronted his parents, they revealed

that his maternal grandmother was Jewish and had

survived the war hidden in a monastery by a group

of nuns. His paternal grandfather, also a Jew, had

seven brothers and sisters, most of whom perished

in the Holocaust. Pawel

stated that he could not

look in the mirror for weeks

(Bilefsky 2010). Confused

by his newfound ances-

tral roots, he felt guilty for

his past racist behavior.

Imagine, the very people

he discriminated against,

the people he treated like

the dirt beneath his shoes,

were, in fact, his people.

Eventually, he decided to

embrace his newfound ethnic background, and at

age twenty-four Pawel was circumcised. Two years

later, he decided to become an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

He and his wife are raising their two children in a Jew-

ish home. He is now a victim of anti-Semitism, and

many of his tormentors were once his friends.

What Do You Think?

Imagine the transformation in Pawel’s

life since he discovered his ancestral

background. How would Pawel respond to

the question, Why does race matter? Is it

possible that if you researched your own

genetic ancestry, you would find connections

you did not expect? What do you think?

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frustration (Marger 2006). According to John Dollard et al. (1939), scapegoating
is an essential feature of this approach. In brief, people who have difficulty achiev-
ing highly desired goals tend to respond with a pattern of aggression. Because
certain social forces block attempts to reach these goals, some people direct their
attention toward substitutes—scapegoats.

However, many people are frustrated by their life circumstances and yet do
not resort to acts of discrimination or prejudicial feelings. As Thomas Adorno et
al. (1950) explain, becoming aggressive and blaming others for their own inad-
equacies is most common among persons with the authoritarian personality type,
which is characterized by, among other traits, intolerance, insecurity, excessive
conformity, submissiveness to authority, and rigid stereotyping thought patterns.
The concept of an authoritarian personality helps to explain why some people
turn to prejudice and discrimination when frustrated while others do not.

Rosen and Crockett (1969) argue that some racial and ethnic groups dif-
fer in their orientation toward achievement, especially with regard to their drive
for upward mobility. They use the concept of achievement syndrome to explain
this drive. The implication of this theory is that some groups (and individuals),
because of a drive to succeed, may use prejudice and discrimination to get ahead.

Theories that suggest certain personality types are prone to prejudice and discrim-
ination are popular on the one hand because they offer simple explanations about a
complicated issue—especially when compared to sociological theories that empha-
size the role of power imbalances within society. On the other hand, sociologists tend
to discredit psychological theories because they reduce the explanation of prejudice
and discrimination to personality traits while mostly ignoring the social conditions
that lead to them. Furthermore, a large number of people who are not extremists
(authoritarian personalities) are prejudicial and discriminate against others.

Normative Theories

The normative approach centers on the idea that people feel compelled to abide
by the norms of their group. That is, we follow the rules that dominate in-group
associations. As we learned in Chapter 5, people are socialized to follow group
norms. The socialization process is the key to learning and behavior. Thus, one’s
reference groups have a strong influence over behavior. In this regard, one’s social
environment shapes individual thoughts and actions. Prejudice and discrimina-
tion, then, are explained within the framework of social norms and people who feel
obligated to follow them. From this viewpoint, tolerant people have been raised in
an environment that instills respect for others, whereas bigots emerge out of social
experiences where intolerance is the norm.

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Power-Conflict Theories

Psychological and normative theories help to explain how discrimination and preju-
dice are transmitted and sustained, but they fail to explain how or why they arise in
the first place. Sociologists focus on the imbalance of power between individuals
and among diverse groups. Sociologists believe that an imbalance of power leads to
different outlooks on life and that prejudice and discrimination are used as power
resources that can be tapped as new conflict situations demand (Marger 2006). The
power-conflict approach argues that those in power use discrimination and preju-
dice as weapons to maintain their power positions (e.g., via institutional racism).

Sociological power-conflict theories, however, are less
effective in explaining why subordinate groups engage in
prejudice and discrimination. Clearly, members from all
racial and ethnic groups are capable of holding prejudicial
thoughts and of behaving in a discriminatory manner. This
leaves us with the realization that prejudice and discrimina-
tion are products of group interests that can be used by any
group in an attempt to protect and enhance its own interests
(Marger 2006).

The Effects of Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice and discrimination exist in some form in every society. Consequently,
from the functionalist perspective, they must serve a purpose. The effects of prej-
udice and discrimination vary based on whether one is a victim or perpetrator.
From the perspective of those who discriminate and hold prejudicial beliefs (per-
petrators), prejudice

1. provides scapegoats for certain social problems. A scapegoat is a readily
available, often weaker (lacking in socioeconomic power), and (generally)
innocent person or group blamed by others for specific societal problems.
Scapegoats are the targets of prejudice and discrimination.

2. gives the majority, or power, group an opportunity, via institutional rac-
ism, to prevent subordinate groups from becoming a threat (to the power
group) politically, economically, and socially.

3. serves to enhance the self-esteem of the majority or dominant group. One
of the easiest ways for people to feel good about themselves (or superior)
is to put others down. Prejudice and discrimination, then, serve as a self-
esteem-enhancement mechanism.

From the perspective of the victimized group, the effects of prejudice may
involve the following consequences:

What Do You Think?

Which theoretical approach best explains

why prejudice and discrimination exist?

How would you explain their occurrence in

society? What do you think?

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1. Members of a victimized group often unite.
2. Because of this unification, victimized groups are better able to preserve

their heritage.
3. Furthermore, this unification can lead to efforts for social change (i.e.,

finding or demanding courses of action designed to end prejudice and dis-

Throughout history, the dominant group of any particular society has typically
victimized subordinate groups. Beyond the above-mentioned possibility of group
members uniting with others in their “we” group, people can react in a number
of ways to the effects of prejudice and discrimination. I refer to these reactions to
subordination as the “seven A’s”:

1. Acceptance: simply accepting things as they are. The Marxist/conflict per-
spective would refer to this as an example of false consciousness.

2. Avoidance: removing oneself from that neighborhood or society.
3. Assimilation: merging and blending in with the greater general society.

(Note: Assimilation is discussed later in this chapter.)
4. Aggression: acting out with violence and hostility toward the power group.
5. Action: taking social action to correct the wrongs of society.
6. Appeal to a higher loyalty: turn-

ing to God or some other entity
for guidance or relief.

7. Anxiety: failing to act at all. This
is different from acceptance
in that victims of prejudice or
discrimination may not accept
their plight but fear the conse-
quences of acting out against it.

Hate Crimes

One of the severest effects of prejudice involves hate crimes. The Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI) defines a hate crime, also known as a bias crime, as “a crim-
inal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in
whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual
orientation, or ethnicity/national origin” (FBI 2004). In response to the growing
number of reported bias crimes in the late 1970s—from lynchings to cross burn-
ings to vandalism of synagogues—the term “hate crime” entered the nation vocab-
ulary in the early 1980s (FBI 2004; Gerstenfeld 2004). Racist skinheads and the
National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) were among the leading hate groups

What Do You Think?

The Seven A’s represent a few examples of

reactions to subordination. Can you think of

others? They do not have to start with the

letter A, but as a form of mental exercise, see

if you can make them. What do you think?

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that helped to trigger the need for special legislation to fight bias crimes via hate-
crime legislation. Fans of popular culture may recall that the NSPA was satirized
in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. In this film, the character brothers Elwood
(Dan Aykroyd) and Jake (John Belushi) Blues run down a group of Illinois NSPA
members attempting to cross a bridge on their way to a hate rally. Elwood, the
driver of the car, calmly states, “Illinois Nazis.” Jake responds, “I hate the Illinois

In response to the growing national concern over crimes motivated by bias,
Congress enacted the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990. Among other things,
this law directed the attorney general to collect data “about crimes that mani-
fest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic-
ity” (FBI 2004). In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law
Enforcement Act, which amended the Hate Crime Statistics Act to include both
physical and mental disabilities. According to the FBI (2008a), in 2007, 2,025
law enforcement agencies reported 7,624 hate-crime incidents involving 9,006
offenses. There were 7,621 single-bias incidents that involved 8,999 offenses,
9,527 victims, and 6,962 offenders. Table 8.2 presents a breakdown of the 7,621
single-bias incidents reported in 2007 based on category.

Among the leading nongovernmental orga-
nizations attempting to track the number of
hate crimes is the Southern Poverty Law Cen-
ter (SPLC). The SPLC was founded in 1971 as
a small civil rights firm located in Montgomery,
Alabama, the birthplace of the civil rights move-
ment. Its motto is “Fighting Hate, Teaching Tol-
erance, Seeking Justice.” To learn more about
the Southern Poverty Law Center, see “A Closer
Look” Box 8.3.


History has shown that when very diverse groups of people come in contact, the
consequences are generally negative. Negative patterns include the following:

1. Expulsion or population transfer: the forced uprooting and ejection of a
minority group from the society of the dominant majority. For example,
the Roma (Gypsies) have been forced out of most European countries.
There are believed to be approximately 12 million Roma scattered

TABLE 8.2 Single-Bias Hate-Crime Incidents, 2007

Race 50.8

Religion 18.4

Sexual orientation 16.6

Ethnicity or national origin 13.2

Disability 0.9

Source: FBI 2008a.

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throughout the world. Many Roma mask their ethnic origin out of fear of

2. Annihilation or genocide: the mass murder of a minority group by the
dominant group in an attempt to eliminate the minority group. Bradley
Campbell (2009) argues that genocide is a form of social control wherein
the “perpetrators express moral grievances against the targeted” (p. 155).
The examples are too numerous to document here, but they include the
Nazis versus the Jews (and other groups), the Turks versus the Arme-
nians, and the European settlers in the Americas versus the American

3. Segregation: the separation of races; the formal restriction of contact
between racial or ethnic groups with denial of access to superior facilities

A Closer Look

Box 8.5 Fighting Hatred and Intolerance

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in

1971 by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, two Montgomery,

Alabama, lawyers who shared a commitment to racial

equality (SPLC 2010). The SPLC investigates hate

activity throughout the United States and provides this

information to the public via a number of publications

and its website. The organization also conducts train-

ing sessions for police, schools, and civil rights and

community groups, and its associates often serve as

experts at hearings and conferences (SPLC 2010).

The chief publication of the SPLC with regard to

hate-group activity is its quarterly SPLC Report, which

in spring 2009 documented 926 hate-group chapters

in the United States. This figure represents a 54 per-

cent increase since 2000 and a 4 percent gain over

2007. “The number of hate groups active in the United

States continued to grow in 2008 as racist extrem-

ists were fueled by immigration tensions, a faltering

economy and the election of the first black president,

an SPLC investigation has found. . . . Obama may

have smashed the ultimate political barrier to African

Americans, but his presidency and the recession are

creating a perfect storm for white supremacists intent

on swelling their ranks” (SPLC 2009, p. 1).

Hate groups, of course, are not solely the domain

of whites, as a large number of minority hate groups,

especially black hate groups, also exist in the United

States. The leading black hate group, the black

separatists, is tied to the Nation of Islam. Furthermore,

there is a black Ku Klux Klan organization, although

the number of chapters is small compared to other

major hate groups (Hale 2008).

As mentioned above, the number of hate groups

in the United States has grown throughout the first

decade of the 2000s. According to the SPLC (2011),

there were 1,002 documented hate groups in the

United States in 2010. California, the nation’s most

populous state, has the largest number at sixty-eight;

even South Dakota, the last state to serve as home to

a hate group, now has two. See Table 8.3 for a listing

of the largest categories of hate groups operating in

the United States in 2010. Not listed in Table 8.3 are

122 “general hate” categories that include antigay

(seventeen), radical traditional Catholic (seventeen),

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and opportunities to subordinate groups. Examples include the former
South African policy of apartheid and the U.S. doctrine of “separate-but-
equal” public facilities for blacks.

4. Enslavement: the literal ownership of a population of people, whereby
owners have complete control over slaves. Slavery was legal in parts of the
United States until 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution abolished the practice of “involuntary servitude.” The Inter-
national Labour Organization (2010) estimates that 12.3 million people are
enslaved around the world today.

Although all peoples have failed to exercise tolerance at some time in history,
and despite the numerous examples of ethnic conflict and genocide across the

racist music (fifteen), Holocaust denial (eight), anti-

Muslim (five), and other (forty-seven).

In Ten Ways to Fight Hate, the SPLC (2000b) states

that the ten best ways to fight hate are to

1. act (do something);

2. unite;

3. support the victims;

4. do your homework (learn about the group);

5. create an alternative (do not attend a hate rally);

6. speak up;

7. lobby leaders;

8. look long range (e.g., create a bias-response


9. teach tolerance (bias is taught at home, but so

is tolerance);

10. dig deeper (look into the social issues that

cause hate crimes).

The SPLC also provides the publication “101 Tools

for Tolerance” (2000a), which, as the title implies,

provides 101 ideas for tolerance, along with ideas

about how to promote equity and diversity. (Note:

Because of the document’s length, these tools are

not listed here, but they can be found online at the

website provided at the end of this chapter.)

What Do You Think?

There were more than one thousand

documented hate groups operating in the

United States in 2010. The Southern Poverty

Law Center provides us with ten ideas on

how to fight hate groups. Is it possible to

eliminate, or at the very least reduce, the

number of hate groups in the United States?

What do you think?

TABLE 8.3 Hate Groups Operating in the
United States, 2010

Ku Klux Klan 221
Neo-Nazi 170
Black separatist 149
White nationalist 136
Racist skinhead 136
Neo-Confederate 42
Christian identity 26

Source: SPLC 2011.

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globe, sociologists remain among those who refuse simply to accept racial intol-
erance as an inevitable reality. There are some possible solutions to the negative
effects of intergroup contact. These include assimilation, pluralism or multicultur-
alism, and amalgamation. Let us examine each of these.

Assimilation (Melting Pot Theory)

The word “assimilate” derives from the Latin assimulare, which means “to
make similar” (Feagin and Feagin 2004). The basic idea behind assimilation
is that people who move from one nation to another should learn, as quickly
as possible, to accept the culture of the new homeland. Assimilation, then,
involves the cultural blending of two or more previously distinct groups. It
involves conformity to and acceptance of the dominant culture. As sociolo-
gist Robert E. Park explains, European out-migration (during the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries) was a major catalyst for social reorganization around
the globe, especially in the United States (Feagin and Feagin 2004). Park
(1950) argued that out-migration leads to recurring cycles in intergroup his-
tory (between in-groups and out-groups): contact, competition, accommoda-
tion, and assimilation. In theory, the faster immigrant groups assimilate to the
greater society, the faster they will receive acceptance by the dominant group.
The adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” comes into play here. Thus, while
many European immigrant groups (starting with the Irish and continuing with
the Italians, Poles, and so on) faced a great deal of prejudice and discrimination
when they first arrived in the United States, they came to enjoy relative equal-
ity due to cultural assimilation. Over time, these immigrant groups abandoned
the cultural ways of their ancestors, and their heritages became compromised;
in the process, however, the dominant society slowly accepted them. “Ideally,
then, at the point of complete assimilation, there are no longer distinct ethnic
groups. Rather, there is a homogenous society in which ethnicity is not a basis
of social differentiation and plays no role in the distribution of wealth, power,
and prestige” (Marger 2006, p. 101).

For generations, social policy makers promoted assimilation as the primary
means of resolving ethnic differences in the United States. Functionalists argue
that assimilation policies help to eliminate conflict among diverse groups because
everyone belongs to the same group. In this regard, there are no “they” racial or
ethnic groups, just one big “we” group of Americans.

Conflict theorists believe that assimilation does not work with racially differ-
ent categories because the dominant group generally refuses to give up power to
those deemed significantly different, or socioeconomically inferior. According to

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this view, assimilation worked quite well with European ethnic groups primar-
ily because they were all white. They were also willing participants in the idea of
assimilating to the greater society. Many nonwhites do not wish to assimilate and
value their own cultural heritages. As a result, a new prevailing sentiment exists in
the United States—one that promotes multiculturalism, or pluralism.

Multiculturalism or Pluralism (Salad Bowl Theory)

For the past generation or so, U.S. policy makers have endorsed the idea of mul-
ticulturalism, or pluralism, instead of assimilation. Pluralism is the idea that all
groups have something positive to add to the greater society and that each racial
and ethnic group (“we” group) should maintain its cultural heritage. However,
while maintaining old customs, these groups would also have the right to partici-
pate fully in the greater society’s political and economic institutions.

This approach works on the assumptions that the greater society can be taught
to value the differences among people via diversity education and that the greater
society will be willing to give up its dominant socioeconomic power. Public school
education, for example, has fully embraced the multiculturalism ideal and teaches
students to value all people as equals and to accept the cultural differences that
may exist between them. Many businesses value workers with a background in
diversity training and awareness because of the diverse nature of most workplaces.
Thus, pluralism teaches that all groups should be treated equally and should share
equally in society’s scarce resources.

As the conflict perspective predicts, people in a power position are almost
always reluctant to relinquish their power voluntarily. As a result, the pluralis-
tic approach has, at best, mixed results (Dobbin, Kalev, and Kelly 2007). The
younger American generation, raised in the ethos of multiculturalism, does
indeed appear to be far more tolerant of others, especially compared to past
generations. Nonetheless, as indicated by the growing number of hate groups
in the United States (described earlier), racism, prejudice, and discrimination
persist. Americans are not alone in questioning the validity of the “salad bowl”
theory. In a February 2011 speech to the Munich Security Conference, British
prime minister David Cameron blasted multiculturalism as a complete failure.
He spoke of the importance for all immigrants of learning the language of their
new home and becoming educated in the elements of a common culture and
curriculum. To that end, Cameron said, “Frankly, we need a lot less of the pas-
sive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism” (BBC
News 2011). Cameron claims that multiculturalism has failed in other societies
as well.

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Interestingly, we may be witnessing people accomplishing, via voluntary amalga-
mation, what social-policy makers have failed to achieve. Amalgamation involves
the “genetic blending” of two or more previously distinct racial or ethnic groups.
It occurs when two people from different races have children either through inter-
marriage or interdating. Marriages between people of different races are often
referred to as “mixed marriages,” although the term “interracial marriage” is
more acceptable. In the past, interracial marriages were outlawed in various parts
of the United States because of public sentiment (and government policy). “In
1958, only 4 percent of whites approved of white-black marriages, according to
a national Gallup Poll survey. Blacks were not included in the 1958 survey. By
1997, the approval rate among whites had increased to 61 percent. Later Gallup
polls found that black approval rates rose from 56 percent in 1968 to 77 percent
in 1997” (Pugh 2001, p. A5). So-called antimiscegenation laws were declared
unconstitutional by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1967.

Although interracial marriages accounted for just 5 percent of all U.S. mar-
riages in 2001, the total number of interracial marriages represents a tenfold
increase over 1960 (Pugh 2001). In 2001, there were 1.5 million black-white
marriages. Adding Hispanics and Asians who marry outside their racial or ethnic
groups increases the total number of mixed marriages to 3 million (Pugh 2001).
“Four states with large minority populations—California, Texas, New York, and
Florida—are home to nearly half of U.S. mixed marriages. Nearly one of every four
such couples lives in California” (Pugh 2001, p. A5). The steady growth in inter-
racial marriages reveals an increasing acceptance of such diversity in marriage,
especially in geographic areas that have a high rate of racial and ethnic diversity.

As the number of relationships between members of racially (and ethnically)
diverse groups continues to increase, the total number of children of “mixed”
race increases more dramatically. The number of people not of one specific race
has increased so much over the past decade that the U.S. census, as well as other
government and official forms, now allows people to indicate “Other” when asked
to identify their race. As La Ferla (2004) indicates, “Nearly 7 million Americans
identified themselves as members of more than one race in the 2000 Census, the
first time respondents were able to check” such a category (p. D1).

Have you ever met someone whose race you could not determine by looking at
and talking with him or her? The term “racial passing” is applicable here. Racial
passing once referred to people who tried to “pass” for members of another race
(such as light-skinned African Americans who attempted to pass as white in order
to avoid discrimination); today, the term is more applicable to people who are

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not obviously biracial. In other words, such people can pass for
any number of racial or ethnic categories. A number of actors (e.g.,
Jessica Alba), athletes (e.g., Tiger Woods), and entertainers (e.g.,
Christina Aguilera) have this ethnically ambiguous quality as they
are neither black nor white nor even obviously biracial (La Ferla
2004) (see “Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture” Box 8.6
for a discussion of famous multiracial persons).

As the amalgamation trend continues, it will become increasingly
difficult to tell the difference between racial and ethnic groups in the
United States. In addition, as diverse groups around the world con-
tinue to move from nation to nation, the amalgamation trend occurring
in the United States will likely become dominant elsewhere as well.
Perhaps as people become less dissimilar, they will learn to concentrate
on the similarities among them rather than the differences. Ideally, this
will lead to a more racially and ethnically tolerant world—one where
ethnic stratification is replaced by ethnic ambiguity.


The terms “race” and “ethnicity” are socially constructed means of categorizing
people based on specific criteria. “Race” refers to a group of people who are socially
recognized based on some sort of physical characteristic, generally skin color. “Eth-
nicity” refers to a group of people who are recognized as a distinct group based on
social or cultural factors. Historically, people belonging to minority groups (those
lacking in socioeconomic and political power) have faced such inequalities as rac-
ism, prejudice, and discrimination. Generally, like-minded groups, including racial
and ethnic groups, identify with one another and come to use the expression “we”
in a natural forum. Out-groups come to be viewed as “they” groups. Concentrating
on the differences between groups of people leads to ethnic stratification. Ethnic
stratification is a system of ranking ethnic groups in society with the dominant group
on top and the less powerful groups taking positions lower in the hierarchy. Utiliz-
ing this system of ethnic stratification, sociologists are able to distinguish majority-
minority and dominant-subordinate social systems.

Many Americans, such as Jessica Alba shown

here, have a combination of multiple races and/

or ethnicities.What Do You Think?

Are racism, prejudice, discrimination, and

intolerance permanent fixtures of society?

What do you think?

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Connecting Sociology and Popular Culture

Box 8.6 Famous Multiracial Persons

Numerous famous multiracial persons have become

pop-culture icons while starring in their specific fields.

Among today’s most admired actresses is Jessica

Alba, the Dark Angel herself. Known for her exotic

looks, Alba received her first break in the television

series Dark Angel. Since, she has gone on to star in

numerous feature films and can be seen in a variety of

advertisements. Born in Pomona, California, on April

28, 1981, Alba has an ethnic background consisting

of Danish, French, and Mexican heritages.

One of the most popular singer-songwriters of her

generation, Christina Aguilera was born on December

18, 1980, in Staten Island, New York. Aguilera is a bi-

lingual singer of Irish (mother’s side) and Ecuadorian

(father’s side) ancestry. Her self-titled debut album

went platinum ten times over. She has received many

honors, including Grammy nominations, MTV awards,

a Teen Choice Award, and so on. She also has many

commercial endorsements. Aguilera was a child actor

on the New Mickey Mouse Club from 1993 to 1994.

She continued to draw attention for her singing abil-

ity throughout her childhood, and she remains a top

performer in her twenties.

Considered one of the world’s most popular

athletes (at least until his infidelity scandal in 2009),

Tiger Woods dominates his sport (golf) like no other.

Woods has been in the limelight since he first putted

a golf ball as a two-year-old for Bob Hope on The

Mike Douglas Show. Born in Cypress, California, on

December 30, 1975, Woods has pursued Jack Nick-

laus’s record for majors victories (eighteen) ever since

he turned professional. He

is perhaps one of the most

famous multiracial people

of all. His father, Earl, was

of mixed African American

(50 percent), Chinese (25

percent), and Native Ameri-

can (25 percent) ancestry;

Woods’s mother, Kultida,

originally from Thailand, is of mixed Thai (50 per-

cent), Chinese (25 percent), and Dutch (25 percent)

ancestry. This makes Tiger one-quarter Chinese,

one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American,

one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch.

He refers to his ethnic makeup as “Cablinasian”—a

term he coined to combine syllables from Caucasian,

black (American), Indian, and Asian. (Woods used

this term to describe himself during an appearance

on The Oprah Winfrey Show.)

Barack Obama, perhaps the most powerful man

in the world, is a descendent of biological parents of

different races. Obama was born on August 4, 1961,

in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr.,

was of Luo ancestry and came from the Nyanza Prov-

ince of Kenya. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was

raised in Wichita, Kansas, and was of primarily Eng-

lish ancestry. Obama’s parents met at the University

of Hawaii’s Manoa campus. A number of Dunham’s

ancestors had been antislavery activists in the mid-

and late-1800s. Seemingly appearing out of nowhere

in his relatively modest position as the freshman U.S.

senator from Illinois, in 2008 Obama was elected the

forty-fourth president of the United States; his victory

was attributed in large part to his popularity among

younger and minority voters. Because he is the son of

parents of two different races, Obama is sometimes

referred to as the nation’s first multiracial president.

Others, however, refer to him as the first black U.S.

president. Perhaps ending this debate, when he

filled out his 2010 census form, Obama responded

to Question 9 by checking

“Black, African American,

or Negro” as his race. As

described earlier in this

chapter, he could have

chosen “white” (because of

his mother) or checked the

last category on the form,

“Some other race.”

What Do You Think?

What other famous multiracial people can

you think of? Do multiracial people hold a

certain appeal that single-race people do

not? What do you think?

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Most societies are stratified based on race or ethnicity. In the United States,
whites make up the majority group. However, the number of minority groups is
growing rapidly, especially the number of Hispanics or Latinos, who now represent
the largest minority group, followed by African Americans, Asian Americans, Native
Americans, and Pacific Islanders. The term “minority,” from a sociological stand-
point, has less to do with statistical realities and more to do with identifying people
who are disadvantaged in terms of socioeconomic and political power. In many
cases, the dominant group attempts to hold onto its power via institutional racism—
widespread, large-scale, structured discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Although tolerance and acceptance of ethnic diversity have been growing,
prejudice and discrimination still exist throughout society. There are a number
of possible explanations as to why intolerance toward others exists in society;
this chapter has discussed psychological, normative, and power-conflict theo-
retical explanations. One extreme form of prejudice comes in the form of hate
crimes. A hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is a criminal offense committed
against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the
offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or
national origin.

Patterns of interracial and interethnic contact have also resulted in many nega-
tive consequences, including expulsion or population transfers, annihilation
or genocide, segregation, and slavery. Possible solutions to the negative effects
of intergroup contact include assimilation, pluralism or multiculturalism, and


Amalgamation—The physical blending of two or more previously distinct racial
or ethnic categories of people.

Assimilation—The cultural blending of two or more previously distinct catego-
ries of people.

Discrimination—Behavior that treats people unequally on the basis of an
ascribed status, such as race or gender.

Enslavement—The literal ownership of a population of people, whereby owners
have complete control over slaves.

Ethnic stratification—A system of ranking ethnic groups in society with the
dominant group on top and the less powerful groups taking positions lower in
the hierarchy.

Ethnicity—A category of people who are recognized as distinct based on social
or cultural factors (e.g., nationality, religion, language, geographic residence,
and values).

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Ethnocentrism—The tendency of people from one cultural group to judge other
cultures by the standards of their own.

Expulsion or population transfer—The forced uprooting and ejection of a
minority group from the society of the dominant majority.

Genocide—The intentional attempt by a dominant population to exterminate a
race of people.

Hate crime—A criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society
that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, reli-
gion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or national origin; also known as
a bias crime.

Individual racism—Unequal treatment and behavior directed by a member or
group of one race against a person or group of another race.

Institutional racism—Widespread, large-scale, structured discrimination on the
basis of race or ethnicity.

Minority group—A disadvantaged group of citizens; specifically, the underprivi-
leged at the lower end of the stratification hierarchy.

Pluralism—The idea that all groups have something positive to add to the
greater society and that each racial and ethnic group (“we” group) should
maintain its cultural heritage.

Prejudice—Negative beliefs and overgeneralizations concerning a group of

Race—A category of people who share socially recognized physical characteris-
tics (such as skin color or hereditary traits) that distinguish them from other
categories of people.

Racism—Any attitude, belief, behavior, or social arrangement that has the intent,
or the ultimate effect, of favoring one category of people (or individual) over
another category of people (or individual).

Segregation—The separation of races; the formal restriction of contact between
racial or ethnic groups, with denial of equal access to superior facilities and
opportunities to subordinate groups.

Discussion Questions

1. How do you and your friends view race in the United States? Are there
growing signs of tolerance, or do prejudice and discrimination prevail?

2. What can you do to stop prejudice and discrimination in your community?
What have you already done?

3. Do you think it is necessary to have hate-crime legislation? Are stiffer penal-
ties justified when a bias is involved? Why or why not?

4. Do you have membership in “we” groups? If so, what parameters distin-
guish “we” from “them”?

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5. Is society becoming ethnically ambiguous? Or do people still see black and
white (and other distinctive categories of people)?

Web Links

To learn more about the Southern Poverty Law Center, visit
To learn more about promoting tolerance, visit
To learn more about hate crimes, visit the U.S. Congress’ website
To learn more about the “Beer Summit” and to see a video clip, visit www
For an up-to-date look at U.S. and World Population figures, visit www.census

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