Ethnic Groups and Racism Essay

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Ethnic Groups and Racism


Race and ethnicity are important concepts in the field of sociology and are ones that are studied a great deal. Race plays a large role in everyday human interactions and sociologists want to study how, why, and what the outcomes are of these interactions. A race is a human population that is believed to be distinct in some way from other humans based on real or imagined physical differences. Racial classifications are rooted in the idea of biological classification of humans according to morphological features such as skin color or facial characteristics. An individual is usually externally classified (meaning someone else makes the classification) into a racial group rather than the individual choosing where they belong as part of their identity.

Conceptions of race, as well as specific racial groupings, are often controversial due to their impact on social identity and how those identities influence someone’s position in social hierarchies. Ethnicity, while related to race, refers not to physical characteristics but social traits that are shared by a human population. Some of the social traits often used for ethnic classification include:


religious faith
shared language
shared culture
shared traditions

Unlike race, ethnicity is not usually externally assigned by other individuals. The term ethnicity focuses more upon a group’s connection to a perceived shared past and culture.


Race is a socially defined category, based on real or perceived biological differences between groups of people. Ethnicity is a socially defined category based on common language, religion, nationality, history or another cultural factor. Sociologists see race and ethnicity as social constructions because they are not rooted in biological differences, they change over time, and they never have firm boundaries.

Example: White

The distinction between race and ethnicity can be displayed or hidden, depending on individual preferences, while racial identities are always on display.


The classification of people into races and ethnic groups carries deep implication on the social and political life of different racial and ethnic groups. These classifications led to the notion of racial superiority and racial inferiority, culturally advanced groups and culturally disadvantaged, the use of derogatory undertones and parody, apartheid policy, discrimination and prejudice, and stereotyping of groups of people. Ethnic conflicts have been regular process within the same territorial borders and among the nations of the world. Ethnic conflicts have been pervasive and dangerous because they cause massive humanitarian suffering, civil wars, and destabilizing effects.

Sociologically, “race” refers to a group of people whom others believe are genetically distinct and whom they treat accordingly. This term is commonly used to refer to physical differences between people brought about by physical characteristics of genetic origin. This commonness of genetic heritage may be manifested in the shape of the head and face, the shape and color of the eyes, the shape of the nose, lips, and ears, the texture and color of the hair, the skin color, height, blood type and other physical characteristics. Among the significant racial categories studied by early social scientists were the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid, and the subgroups of primary and derived races. Racial differences are seen as physical differences singled out by the community or society as ethnically significant.

It is preferable to refer to ethnicity or ethnic groups rather than race for its historical and biological connotations. An ethnic group represents a number of persons who have a common cultural background as evidenced by a feeling of loyalty to a given geographical territory or leader, a feeling of identification with and unity among historical and other group experiences, or a high degree of similarity in social norms, ideas and material objects. Members of ethnic groups see themselves as culturally different from other groups in the society and are viewed by others to be so. SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF MEMBERSHIP IN RACIAL AND ETHNIC GROUPS Membership in racial and ethnic groups influences people’s social status and roles as they interact with others. Physical characteristics, especially skin color and certain distinctive cultural traits, complexes, and patterns, become badges for social and economic status.

Frequently, they establish a person’s or groups position in the social stratification system and make up the foundation for prejudice, discrimination, and other forms of differential treatment. Furthermore, when an ethnic group becomes a target of discrimination, such group may utilize the unique physical or cultural traits as the rallying force for promoting common loyalties and enhancing collective action. When people’s definition of physical characteristics greatly affects their relationship, such definitions generally become interlinked with cultural differences. A classic example is the white man’s justification of his technological, economic, political and military superiority. Examples are such ideologies as the God-chosen race, the white man’s burden and more recently, the apartheid policy.

Since the early days of the United States, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were classified as belonging to different races. But the criteria for membership in these races were radically different. For Africans, the government considered anyone with African appearance to be purely African. Native Americans, on the other hand, were classified based on a certain percentage of Indian blood. Finally, European-Americans had to have purely white ancestry. The differing criteria for assigning membership to particular races had relatively little to do with biology; it had far more to do with maintaining a group’s defined roles and position.

Racial and ethnic membership leads to a sense of people-hood. By this, we mean a sense of identification with a relatively small segment of the world’s population- those who by virtue of common ancestry or heritage we consider “our own kind”.

Erich Fromm wrote in 1941:

“The identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, he is rooted in, structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from worst of all pains- complete aloneness and doubt.”


People who occupy a subordinate status are usually called a minority group. What determines a minority group is not the unique racial or ethnics traits nor their great number but the relationship of different groups in the society of which they are a part. A minority group, then is one that, because of the power of differences among the groups, is singled out for unequal treatment in the society. A minority refers to a group which, because of physical and cultural characteristics, occupies a subordinate position in the society and subjected to collective discrimination, in some cases, even segregation, oppression, slavery, peonage, military subjugation, religious persecution, and economic, political, educational, and social suppression. The patterns of ethnic group relations include the following:

1. Patterns of Racism

a. Prejudice and discrimination

Racism – is behavior that is motivated by the belief that one’s own group is superior to other groups that are set apart on the basis of physical characteristics Structural racism refers to inequalities built into an organization or system. An example of structural racism can be seen in recent research on workplace discrimination.[37] There is widespread discrimination against job applicants whose names were merely perceived as “sounding black.”

These applicants were 50% less likely than candidates perceived as having “white-sounding names” to receive callbacks for interviews, no matter their level of previous experience. Prejudice – prejudged negative attitude or opinion about a group without bothering to verify the merits of the opinion or judgment The relationship between prejudice and discrimination is complex. Robert Merton’s study and typology of the relationship between prejudice and discrimination

Four patterns

1. Unprejudiced nondiscriminatory – integration
2. Unprejudiced and discriminatory – institutional discrimination

3. Prejudiced and nondiscriminatory – latent bigotry
4. Prejudiced and discriminatory – outright bigotry

In his study, (1974), Bulatao listed impressions on some ethnic groups by respondents from five Philippine cities: Ilocanos and Chinese were viewed as most industrious, serious, thrifty; Tagalogs, progressive; Bicolanos and Cebuanos, humble, friendly, warm, and peaceful; Warays, lazy but strong; and Ilongos, proud and extravagant.

b. Discrimination refers to the act of disqualifying or mistreating people on the basis of their group membership or on ascriptive rounds rationally irrelevant to the situation. Whereas prejudice is a state of mind, discrimination is actual behavior. Prejudice and discrimination work hand in hand to create and sustain racial and ethnic stratification, (Jarry J. 1987)


Light gives the following explanations on the origin of prejudice: 1. Economic Theory- assumes that racial prejudice is a social attitude transmitted by the dominant ethnic majority class for the purpose of stigmatizing some group s as inferior so that the exploitation of the group resources will be justified. 2. Symbolic Theory- asserts that prejudice arises because a racial or ethnic group is a symbol of what people hate, fear, or envy. 3. Scapegoat theory- maintains that human beings are reluctant to accept their mistakes for their troubles and failures so they look for an ethnic-minority to shoulder the blame. 4. Social norm theory- asserts that ethnocentrism is a natural development of group living. Hatred and suspicion for the out-group are the standard and normal way of doing things, particularly in dealing with people.

c. Stereotypes are often simplified and unsupported generalizations about others and are used indiscriminately for all cases. A few examples are Ilokano, “bantay kuako” (heavy smokers) and “kuripot” (stingy); Pampangueno, “dugong aso” (dog blood or traitors); Batangueno, “balisong” (knife-wielding); Bicolanos, “sili” ( pepper or hot people). 2. Patterns of Competition, Conflict and Domination

When ethnocentric attitudes are coupled with intergroup competition for territory and scarce resources, an explosive social situation may arise. When two groups both strive for the same things- and they perceive their respective claims to be mutually exclusively and legitimate- the stage is set for conflict. In modern societies, the state has become the vehicle that enables one group to dominate and keep the other group subordinate. In sum, competition supplies the motivation for systems of stratification, and ethnocentrism directs competition along racial and ethnic lines, but power determines which group will subjugate the other (Noel, 1972; Barth and Noel, 1975).

3. Economic and Political Subjugation

The economic takeover of one nation by a more powerful one and the subsequent political and social domination of the native population is called colonialism. If the takeover of one nation is trough the military superiority of the more powerful one for the purpose of territorial expansion and establishing colonies, it is termed as military colonialism. On the other hand, if the economic takeover is made through the great technological superiority of the more powerful one, the institutionalization of their businesses in their former colonies, the control and domination of most of a colony’s natural resources, the imposition of trade policies and economic treaties favorable to their side; the establishment of outlets for their surplus capital; the need for more cheap labor, raw materials, and markets to fuel their growing economy, the process is termed neo-colonialism or economic imperialism.

4. Displacement and Segregation of the Native Population

Economic and political subjugation of a minority population by a more powerful group is not the only pattern of conquest that occurs when different racial and ethnic group meet.

Displacement of native population can be made possible through the influx of powerful settlers or invaders with their vastly superior weapons. It is typically found in areas rich in natural resources and similar in geography and climate to the homeland of the invading group. Displacement takes the following forms: a.) by attrition, that is, numbers of the weaker group may die of starvation or disease either deliberately or not; b.) by population transfer; and c.) by genocide- deliberate and ruthless extermination of the weaker group.

Segregation involves the enactment of laws and/or customs that restrict or prohibit contact between groups. Segregation may be ethnic or racial or based on sex or age.

5. Patterns of Accommodation and Tolerance

Interracial and interethnic accommodation can be carried out through miscegenation or amalgamation- the intermarriage of members of the majority and minority groups. This can result in the blending of their various customs and values and the creation of a new cultural hybrid. This involves a cultural and biological blending in which the customs and values of both groups are to some extent preserved and their biological characteristics appear in the offspring.

6. Patterns of Acculturation and Assimilation

Acculturation and assimilation are two very important concepts in sociology and anthropology that describe cross cultural effects on both minorities as well as majorities in societies that are multi ethnic and multi cultural in nature. Assimilation is a broader concept as described by sociologist Jean Piaget and refers to the manner in which people take new information. There are many people who think of the two concepts as same and even use them interchangeably. If you belong to a minority community in a country and retain your own culture but cannot remain isolated and are affected by the majority culture in such a way that you adapt to some aspects of the majority culture, the process is referred to as acculturation.

Assimilation is a process whereby people of a culture learn to adapt to the ways of the majority culture. There is a loss of one’s own culture as a person gives more value to the cultural aspects of the majority community in the process of assimilation.

What is the difference between Acculturation and Assimilation?

• Meeting of cultures always produces results in terms of changes in both the cultures, and acculturation and assimilation refer to two important and different changes in these cultures. • Assimilation refers to the process where some of the majority community’s cultural aspects are absorbed in such a manner that the home cultural aspects get mitigated or lost. • Acculturation is a process where the cultural aspects of the majority community are adapted without losing the traditions and customs of the minority community. • Minority culture changes in the case of assimilation whereas it remains intact in the case of acculturation.

7. Patterns of cultural Pluralism or Ethnic Diversity

Cultural pluralism refers to the coexistence of different racial or ethnic groups each of which retains its own cultural identity and social structural networks, while participating equally in the economic and political systems. (Light, 1985) In pluralistic society, each group retains its own language, religion and customs, and its members tend to interact socially primarily among themselves. Yet all jointly participate in the economic and political systems and live in harmony and peaceful “coexistence”. A prime example of such an arrangement can be found in Switzerland. There, people of German, French, and Italian heritage preserve their distinct cultural ways while coexisting peacefully and equally. No one group enjoys special privileges or is discriminated against.


Ethnic groups in the Philippines are classified according to certain physical, cultural, linguistic, religious and geographic criteria.

A. According to distinctive physical traits
1. The Negritoes who are regarded as the aborigines of the Philippines.
2. The Indonesian- Malayan stock which is predominant among the Filipinos.
3. The Chinese who make up the largest national group.
4. The Americans and the Spaniards, and a few other Europeans who came as colonizers.

B. According to cultural standpoints
1. Cultural minorities or cultural communities
2. Muslims
3. Christian groups

C. According to linguistic groupings

PANAMIN reports that there are about 87 ethno linguistic groups in the Philippines-e.g., Tagalog, Ilokano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan, Ilonggo, etc. D. According to religion
1. Roman Catholics
2. Muslims
3. Aglipayans
4. Protestants
5. Iglesia ni Cristo
6. Buddhists
7. Jehovah’s witnesses
8. Other religious sects.
E. Muslims of Southern Philippines

The Muslims make up the largest single non-Christian group. They have nine ethno-linguistic groups, namely:

1. Taosug
2. Maranao
3. Maguindanao
4. Samal
5. Yakan
6. Sanggil
7. Badjao
8. Molbog
9. Jama Mapun

From the Spanish regime to the present, Muslim and Christian intergroup relationships have been characterized by animosity and suspicion. This has been expressed in the Muslims’ ongoing resentment of Christian settlers and attempts at secession to form an independent Mindanao. Muslim revolutionary groups the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsai Moro Liberation Front (BMLF) want Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan to secede from the Philippines.


The non-Christian Filipinos now known as cultural communities make up 10% of the total national population. They have maintained their culture in their clothes, art, religion, ethnic dialect, customs, traditions and other superficial differences. There are 77 major ethno-linguistic groups in the Philippines.


Within sociology, the terms race, ethnicity, minority, and dominant group all have very specific and different meanings. To understand the sociological perspective on race and ethnicity, it is important to understand the meanings of these concepts. An ethnic group is a social category of people who share a common culture, such as a common language, a common religion, or common norms, customs, practices, and history. Ethnic groups have a consciousness of their common cultural bond. An ethnic group does not exist simply because of the common national or cultural origins of the group, however. They develop because of their unique historical and social experiences, which become the basis for the group’s ethnic identity. For example, prior to immigration to the United States, Italians did not think of themselves as a distinct group with common interests and experiences. However, the process of immigration and the experiences they faced as a group in the United States, including discrimination, created a new identity for the group.

Some examples of ethnic groups include Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Mexican Americans, Arab Americans, and Irish Americans. Ethnic groups are also found in other societies, such as the Pashtuns in Afghanistan or the Shiites in Iraq, whose ethnicity is base on religious differences. Like ethnicity, race is primarily, though not exclusively, a socially constructed category. A race is a group that is treated as distinct in society based on certain characteristics. Because of their biological or cultural characteristics, which are labeled as inferior by powerful groups in society, a race is often singled out for differential and unfair treatment. It is not the biological characteristics that define racial groups, but how groups have been treated historically and socially. Society assigns people to racial categories (White, Black, etc.) not because of science or fact, but because of opinion and social experience.

In other words, how racial groups are defined is a social process; it is socially constructed. A minority group is any distinct group in society that shares common group characteristics and is forced to occupy low status in society because of prejudice and discrimination. A group may be classified as a minority on the basis of ethnicity, race, sexual preference, age, or class status. It is important to note that a minority group is not necessarily the minority in terms of numbers, but it is a group that holds low status in relation to other groups in society (regardless of the size). The group that assigns a racial or ethnic group to subordinate status in society is called the dominant group. There are several sociological theories about why prejudice, discrimination, and racism exist. Current sociological theories focus mainly on explaining the existence of racism, particular institutional racism.

The three major sociological perspectives (functionalist theory, symbolic interaction theory, and conflict theory) each have their own explanations to the existence of racism. Functionalist theorists argue that in order for race and ethnic relations to be functional and contribute to the harmonious conduct and stability of society, racial and ethnic minorities must assimilate into that society. Assimilation is a process in which a minority becomes absorbed into the dominant society – socially, economically, and culturally. Symbolic interaction theorists look at two issues in relation to race and ethnicity.

First, they look at the role of social interaction and how it reduces racial and ethnic hostility. Second, they look at how race and ethnicity are socially constructed. In essence, symbolic interactionists ask the question, “What happens when two people of different race or ethnicity come in contact with one another and how can such interracial or interethnic contact reduce hostility and conflict?” The basic argument made by conflict theorists is that class-based conflict is an inherent and fundamental part of society. These theorists thus argue that racial and ethnic conflict is tied to class conflict and that in order to reduce racial and ethnic conflict, class conflict must first be reduced.

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