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Racial and Ethnic Group Stratification



Racial and ethnic group stratification refers to the ways that a society divides people into social categories based on race and ethnicity, resulting in a particular ranking within the social hierarchy. Race refers to physical characteristics, while ethnicity refers to cultural characteristics. Although many people tend to think of racial categories as biologically determined, racial divisions have no basis in biology or genetics. Race is a social construct based on a society's perceptions of certain physical traits, such as facial features and skin color. Those perceptions vary from one country to another and change over time. Prejudice, discrimination, and racism based on perceptions of race and ethnicity, however, are very real. Discrimination impacts people in minority racial and ethnic groups in all facets of life.

Individuals can engage in discriminatory and racist behavior, but institutional racism is also an aspect of many societies. Institutional racism occurs because biases and inequalities are built into major social institutions, such as education, medicine, and law. It can be difficult to address, because the individuals and organizations that perpetuate it often do not intend to engage in racist behavior and do not recognize their norms and practices as discriminatory. Racial and ethnic group stratification have serious consequences for a society, particularly for members of oppressed or marginalized groups. These individuals experience a wide range of negative impacts, including on their income, health, and access to civil rights and justice.

At A Glance

  • Race is defined by differences in human physical characteristics, while ethnicity is related to cultural values, norms, and traditions.
  • The concept of race is based on physical characteristics, but there are no biological or genetic definitions of race.
  • Prejudice, discrimination, and racism are distinct concepts, but they are interrelated.
  • Functionalism analyzes how prejudice, discrimination, and racism contribute to social equilibrium; conflict theory looks at their role in competition for scarce resources; symbolic interactionism emphasizes how they are expressed and learned within a society.
  • Institutional racism is pervasive racism that is interwoven into social structure.
  • Racial stratification has consequences in areas including educational attainment, unemployment, income, health, and life expectancy.
  • Intersectionality refers to how factors such as race, class, ethnicity, and gender come together to create identity and impact individuals' experiences.