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Racism in the United States is nothing new. In the beginning Africans were brought to the country as slaves to work on plantations and now, though they have gained rights, still face discrimination. The subject of race and ethnicity spans from the individual people in local social structures to a global scale and how different parts of the world influence the other. In the past the United States government has made laws that made the lives of black people more challenging through education restriction, limits in job benefits, and labeling of neighborhoods.
In this essay I will summarize the central theme of race and ethnicity, actions taken by the United States government towards black people, and how these actions have affected my view towards treatment of minorities, especially black people, in America.
The race of a person is defined by a person’s physical or biological characteristics which are similar to that of others with a similar background. On the other hand, there is ethnicity which is also socially based but is based on cultural characteristics like language or religion.
Ethnic groups tend to last a long time and are based largely in shared origins and clear boundaries. Often races and ethnic groups are often considered the same thing, but this is not true. When it comes to race, it is often seen as a fluid concept. For example, in Latin America, “countries see race as a matter of gradations between black and white,” (Essentials of Sociology, 207). During Darwin’s time, people believed that biological characteristics could be used to “‘scientifically’ justify the unequal distribution of wealth, power, prestige, access to resources, and life chances to subordinate racial groups,” (205).
However, later in the 20th century these ideas changed from racial superiority to cultural superiority. Even though there has been a shift in the United States to a majority-minority population, most people in minority groups try to identify with the majority group. When it comes to defining the two, “a minority group is a group that is subordinate in terms of wealth, power and prestige, while the majority group is dominant,” (209). Because of this, the majority group often does not have to deal with discrimination unlike the minority group which has to deal with discrimination in a lot of places.
Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are concepts that are often confused with one another. Stereotypes are, “generalizations about an entire category of people that are thought to apply to everyone in that category” while prejudice has “preconceived negative attitudes towards minorities,” (210). Discrimination is a is acting on “negative stereotypes associated with prejudice,” (210). In the United States, discrimination can be seen in the labor force with whites holding higher positions and blacks holding lower positions as well as a “white racial frame” and institutional racism. When it comes to interaction between different groups there are four main ways: pluralism, assimilation, segregation, and genocide. Pluralism and assimilation can be seen as the positive ones of the two with the former allowing each person to keep their own qualities while the later involves people leaving their old ways in favor of the dominant group. On the negative side are segregation and genocide. Segregation, being the lesser of the two evils, involves “the physical and social separation of majority and minority groups,” (213). Genocide, on the other hand, involves the “systematic attempt at eliminating an entire group of people,” (213), the most infamous one being the holocaust.
Though hate groups are still prevalent, great strides towards equality were made for minorities during the civil rights movement in the 20th century. Along with this, there has been a decline in diasporas on a global scale. However, that does not mean racial inequality does not still exist with the “poorest billion people in the world being minority group members in the Global South,” (220). Racism exists all over the world but a famous way of deal with another race was the West’s way of deal with Asians called “orientalism”. Orientalism is, “a set of ideas and texts produced by the Global North that served as the basis of systems designed to dominate, control, and exploit the Orient,” (221). Something that also shows the North’s or West’s power over the Global South is the fact that they can make positive flows that benefit them while the Global South have little to no access to positive networks. Finally, there are the three different forms of ethnic conflict: expulsion, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. The first involves the “removal of a group from a territory through direct or indirect methods” (224) while the second involves the “establishment by the dominant group of policies that allow or require the forcible removal, abuse, and even murder of people of another ethnic group,” (224). As stated previously, genocide involves the “systematic attempt at eliminating an entire group of people,” (225) and continues to be practiced in places like Cambodia.
Being Latino in the United States, I already knew major aspects of racial inequality like how often blacks and Hispanics are paid less than whites and how job opportunities are the same for black and Hispanics either. What I did not know was all the “under cover” actions taken against black people to make life harder for them. When slavery was abolished, I believed that that was the end of slavery, but in lecture I learned about, “share cropping as a form of indentured servitude,” (lecture, October 30, 2018) or how Douglas Blackmon titled his book, Slavery By Another Name (Doubleday, 2008). Along with actions taken by the south, there were taken by the national government like the National Housing Act, the Wagner Act, and the GI Bill. In respective order, the first was in act from 1934 to 1968 and allowed the government to rate neighborhoods by race, seeing neighborhoods with more blacks as “undesirable” (lecture). Then with the Wagner Act, the benefits applied to everyone except railway, domestic, and agriculture workers, all areas that were predominantly black (lecture). Finally, with the GI Bill, thousands of soldiers were allowed to go back to college after World War Two except for black soldiers (lecture).
This new information regarding the subliminal treatment of black people has changed my thinking about the subject slightly. Already I knew that black people have been mistreated in the United States since the founding of the country to this very day, and that discrimination was present in almost all social places. What I did not know about were the actions taken by the American government against black people to worse their lives, both on a local and a national level. Still my views towards the mistreatment by the white majority towards blacks and Hispanics remains the same, with white people having more control and privilege than minorities. Overall, the fact that the government passed laws that made lives for black people worse does not astonish me. The history of the United States is filled with such acts of racism towards black people and the removal of such laws and the prevention of similar ones from forming are a part of the country’s long journey towards racial equality.
The United States was founded on slavery and discrimination towards minorities continues to this day. This includes acts and bills passed by the government that benefits the majority group while undermining the minority groups. The topic of race, ethnicity, and ethnic groups is a complex social construct that varies in view from place to place. Racial inequality in the United States was prevalent then, is prevalent now, and will be prevalent in the future.
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