Social Race, Racism, Ethnic & Minority Group

Social Race, Racism, Ethnic & Minority Group

What is Race & Racism?
According to Horton & Hunt,  “A race is a group of people somewhat different from other groups in  its combination of inherited physical characteristics , but race is also substantially determined by popular social definition”

A race is a group of people thought to share certain distinctive physical characteristics, such as facial structure or skin color. Racial characteristics are thought to be biologically inherited (unlike ethnic characteristics, which are cultural). Sociologists use the concept of race to describe how people think of and treat groups of people, as people very commonly classify each other according to race (for example, as black or as Asian). Most sociologists believe that race is not real in the sense that there are no distinctive genetic or physical characteristics that truly distinguish one group of people from another; instead, different groups share overlapping characteristics. The belief that there are different races can lead to racism, which potentially leads to inequality among different groups of people.


Sociologists define race as a concept that is used to signify different types of human bodies. While there is no biological basis for racial classification, sociologists recognize a long history of attempts to organize groups of people based on similar skin color and physical appearance. The absence of any biological foundation makes race often difficult to define and classify, and as such, sociologists view racial categories and the significance of race in society as unstable, ever shifting, and intimately connected to other social forces and structures.

Sociologists emphasize though, that while race is not a concrete, fixed thing that is essential to human bodies, it is much more than simply an illusion. While it is socially constructed through human interaction, and through relationships between people and institutions, as a social force, race is very real in its consequences.


The term race refers to groups of people who have differences and similarities in biological traits deemed by society to be socially significant, meaning that people treat other people differently because of them. For instance, while differences and similarities in eye color have not been treated as socially significant, differences and similarities in skin color have.


Although some scholars have attempted to establish dozens of racial groupings for the peoples of the world, others have suggested four or five. An example of a racial category is Asian (or Mongoloid), with its associated facial, hair color, and body type features. Yet too many exceptions to this sort of racial grouping have been found to make any racial categorizations truly viable. This fact has led many sociologists to indicate that no clearcut races exist—only assorted physical and genetic variations across human individuals and groups.


Certainly, obvious physical differences—some of which are inherited—exist between humans. But how these variations form the basis for social prejudice and discrimination has nothing to do with genetics but rather with a social phenomenon related to outward appearances. 




Racism, then, is prejudice based on socially significant physical features. A racist believes that certain people are superior, or inferior, to others in light of racial differences. Racists approve of segregation, or the social and physical separation of classes of people.

Race is defined as a category or group of people having hereditary traits that set them apart. While race revolves around the idea of biological traits, ethnicity is based on a shared cultural heritage. Sociologists and other social scientists believe that race is a socially constructed concept. It is an idea that was created in society to justify inequality.


The concept of race has historically signified the division of humanity into a small number of groups based upon five criteria:

(1) Races reflect some type of biological foundation, be it Aristotelian essences or modern genes;

(2) This biological foundation generates discrete racial groupings, such that all and only all members of one race share a set of biological characteristics that are not shared by members of other races;

(3) This biological foundation is inherited from generation to generation, allowing observers to identify an individual’s race through her ancestry or genealogy;

 (4) Genealogical investigation should identify each race’s geographic origin, typically in Africa, Europe, Asia, or North and South America; and

 (5) This inherited racial biological foundation manifests itself primarily in physical phenotypes, such as skin color, eye shape, hair texture, and bone structure, and perhaps also behavioral phenotypes, such as intelligence or delinquency.


This historical concept of race has faced substantial scientific and philosophical challenge, with some important thinkers denying both the logical coherence of the concept and the very existence of races. Others defend the concept of race, albeit with substantial changes to the foundations of racial identity, which they depict as either socially constructed or, if biologically grounded, neither discrete nor essentialist, as the historical concept would have it.

Race is a modern concept. In ancient times, people were more likely to be divided according to religion, language, lineage, and nationality. In ancient Greece, for instance, people were divided by language and culture rather than physical differences. Africans, who may have looked different physically, were accepted into their society as long as they adopted the customs and language of Greek culture. So where exactly does the idea of race originate? In the 16th century, Europeans used three different categories  to classify the different groups of people they encountered through continental exploration. The racial categories used at this time were: Mongoloid (Asians), Caucasoid (European) and Negroid (African). Throughout the centuries to follow, the concept of race was used as a means of justifying superiority and colonization.




Ethnic Group

Ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another. That is, ethnicity is a shared cultural heritage. The most common characteristics distinguishing various ethnic groups are ancestry, a sense of history, language, religion, and forms of dress. Ethnic differences are not inherited; they are learned.


Most countries today consist of different ethnic groups. Ideally, countries strive for pluralism, where people of all ethnicities and races remain distinct but have social equality. As an example, the United States is exceptionally diverse, with people representing groups from all over the globe, but lacking in true pluralism. The same can be said of the ethic diversity of the former Soviet Union with its more than 100 ethnic groups, some having more than a million members.


Minority Group 

minority group refers to a category of people differentiated from the social majority, those who hold the majority of positions of social power in a society, and it may be defined by law. Rather than a relational "social group", as the term would indicate, "minority group" refers to the above-described. The differentiation can be based on one or more observable human characteristics, including: ethnicity, race, religion, caste, gender, wealth, health or sexual orientation. Usage of the term is applied to various situations and civilizations within history despite its popular disassociation with a numerical, statistical minority. In the social sciences, the term "minority" is used to refer to categories of persons who hold fewer positions of social power.


The term "minority group" often occurs alongside a discourse of civil rights and collective rights which gained prominence in the 20th century. Members of minority groups are prone to different treatment in the countries and societies in which they live.

The discrimination may be directly based on an individual's perceived membership of a minority group, without consideration of that individual's personal achievement. It may also occur indirectly by social structures that are not equally accessible to all. Activists campaigning on a range of issues may use the language of minority rights, including student rightsconsumer rights, and animal rights.



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