Lecture _12.doc - SOC 101 - Principles of Sociology Lecture...

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1 SOC 101 - Principles of Sociology Lecture Notes #12 Race and Ethnic Inequality in the United States 1) Introduction . Race and ethnicity constitute important bases of inequality in the United States (especially, the U.S. as a pluralistic or multi-cultural society). Race refers to physical traits or characteristics that are inherited or in-born such as skin color, eye shape, or hair texture. However, the concept of race is important to sociologists because of its social meaning . Individuals or groups defined by racial attributes may have access to resources and opportunities in society or they may be denied the same. Individuals or groups defined on the basis of inherited or in-born characteristics may be treated favorably or unfavorably in social contexts or before U.S. laws. Furthermore, race may be used to explain social behavior and intellectual differences of racial minority groups from the dominant group (e.g. in "The Bell Curve" by Murray and Bernstein). This is contrary to explanations that focus on socioeconomic conditions and subordination or exploitation of such groups. Hence, race is a powerful social construction due to the meaning society assigns to the concept. Recent research findings by biologists and physical anthropologists indicate that distinctions of skin color, hair texture and facial features have nothing to do with biological differences among human beings. Race is considered a myth or biological fiction . In other words, race has no biological reality; though it is a source of cultural and political division as well as discrimination or prejudice in the American society. Recent DNA evidence shows that race accounts for less than 0.2% of the diversity or differences among human beings. In fact, 99.8% of all human DNA is the same (regardless of race or ethnicity). DNA shows that a Nigerian (West
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2 African) is more like a Norwegian than some other Africans. (See Special Issue of Discover Magazine , November 1994.) Ethnicity refers to characteristics of a group based on cultural identity. Such characteristics may be acquired or learned during socialization or re-socialization. The characteristics include shared ancestry, nationality, language or religion. The concept of ethnicity is broader or more inclusive and more flexible than that of race. Hence, it is popular area of study for sociologists and other social scientists. Sociologists not only prefer the concept of ethnicity, but most tend to sub-sume or include race under it. Race has a controversial past and is often discredited as an area for study. In contrast to race, ethnicity is a constructed reality (not imposed by the dominant group) by individuals or groups seeking to define themselves and to create a collective experience. It is a feeling of being culturally committed or attached to one's heritage. For example, the words Negro or Black indicate a racial category based on skin
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Lecture _12.doc - SOC 101 - Principles of Sociology Lecture...

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