Race and Ethnicity
Trayvon Martin was a seventeen-year-old black teenager. On the evening of February 26, 2012, Trayvon left her home on foot to buy a snack from a nearby convenience store. As he was returning, George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic male and the community’s neighborhood watch program coordinator, noticed him.
In light of a recent rash of break-ins, Zimmerman called the police to report a person acting suspiciously, which he had done on many other occasions. According to Zimmerman, Martin attacked him, and in the ensuing scuffle Martin was shot and killed (CNN Library 2014).
A public outcry followed Martin’s death. There were allegations of racial profiling—the use by law enforcement of race alone to determine whether to stop and detain someone.
Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
- Race: This concept has changed across cultures and eras as it has become less connected with ancestral and familial ties and more concerned with superficial physical characteristics.
- Ethnicity: Like race, the term ethnicity is difficult to describe and its meaning has changed over time.
- Minority Groups: According to Louis Wirth, minority group is any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.
Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
- Stereotypes: These are oversimplified generalizations about groups of people and can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation. They may be positive but are often negative.
- Prejudice and Racism: Prejudice means the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes someone holds about a group. A prejudice is not based on experience; instead, it is a prejudgment originating outside actual experience (Landor et al. 2013).
- Discrimination: Discrimination based on race or ethnicity can take many forms, from unfair housing practices to biased hiring systems.
Theories of Race and Ethnicity
The key issues of race and ethnicity include three major sociological perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.
- Functionalism: This concept, of course, is problematic since the key issues of how racism and discrimination contribute positively to society can not be answered.
- Conflict Theory: A conflict theory perspective of U.S. history would examine the numerous past and current struggles between the white ruling class and racial and ethnic minorities, noting specific conflicts that had arisen when the dominant group perceived a threat from the minority group.
- Interactionism: These interactions contribute to an abstract picture of the subordinate group that allows the dominant group to support its view of the subordinate group and thus maintains the status quo.
- Genocide: is the deliberate annihilation of a targeted (usually subordinate) group, is the most toxic intergroup relationship.
- Expulsion: refers to a subordinate group being forced, by a dominant group, to leave a certain area or country.
- Segregation: refers to the physical separation of two groups, particularly in residence, but also in workplace and social functions. Pluralism: it is represented by the ideal of the United States as a “salad bowl”: a great mixture of different cultures where each culture retains its own identity and yet adds to the flavor of the whole.
- Assimilation: it describes the process by which a minority individual or group gives up its own identity by taking on the characteristics of the dominant culture.
- Amalgamation: it creates the classic “melting pot” analogy; unlike the “salad bowl,” in which each culture retains its individuality, the “melting pot” ideal sees the combination of cultures that results in a new culture entirely.
Race and Ethnicity in the United States
- Native Americans: Currently, about 2.9 million people identify themselves as Native American alone, while an additional 2.3 million identify them as Native American mixed with another ethnic group (Norris, Vines, and Hoeffel 2012).
- African Americans: Many people with dark skin may have their more recent roots in Europe or the Caribbean, seeing themselves as Dominican American or Dutch American.
- Asian Americans: Asian Americans represent a great diversity of cultures and backgrounds. The experience of a Japanese American whose family has been in the United States for three generations will be drastically different from a Latin American who has only been in the United States for a few years.
- Hispanic Americans: The segment of the U.S. population that self identifies as Hispanic in 2013 was recently estimated at 17.1 percent of the total 44 percent reported as Cuban, and 9 percent reported as Puerto Rican.
- Arab Americans: Both Hispanic Americans or Asian Americans are so designated because of their counties of origin.
- White Ethnic Americans: According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2014, 77.7 percent of U.S. adults currently identify themselves as white alone.
Racial Tensions in the United States
The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, on August 9, 2014 illustrates racial tensions in the United States as well as the overlap between prejudice, discrimination, and institutional racism.
On that day, Brown, a young unarmed black man, was killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. During the incident, Wilson directed Brown and his friend to walk on the sidewalk instead of in the street. While eyewitness accounts vary, they agree that an altercation occurred between Wilson and Brown.
Three autopsies independently confirmed that Brown was shot six times. The shooting focused attention on a number of race-related tensions in the United States.
CNN Library. (2014). “Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts.” CNN US. N.p.
Landor, Antoinette M., Leslie Gordon Simons, Ronald L. Simons, Gene H. Brody, Chalandra M. Bryant, Frederick X. Gibbons, Ellen M. Granberg, and Janet N. Melby. 2013. “Exploring the impact of skin tone on family dynamics and race related outcomes.” Journal of Family Psychology. 27 (5): 817-826.
Norris, Tina, Paula L. Vines, and Elizabeth M. Hoeffel. 2012. “The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010.” U.S. Census Bureau. Web.