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How might sociologists explain the existence of racism Essay

According to Miles (1993), racism is a relatively new to the world. There is no definition for racism in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1910. The word was adopted in England in about the 1930’s and was used to describe the beliefs of Hitler and the Nazi party. Rex (1986), Defines racism as, ‘deterministic belief systems about the differences between the various ethnic groups, segments or strata’. Discrimination and racism are a form of prejudice which is usually a result of stereotyping.

Prejudice is a result of stereotyping because it is literally a per-judgement and involves having an attitude towards something or somebody that is not necessarily based on an accurate assessment of that object or person. ‘Allport’ (1954), describes prejudice as being “an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalisation. It may be felt or expressed. It may be directed as a whole or toward an individual because he is a member of that group. ” These prejudice attitudes also have cognitive explanations as well as social explanations.

The cognitive explanation for prejudice is based upon the way humans categorise information. Stereotypes are schemas that summarise data. Like schemas stereotypes influence memory. For example if you are told that someone is a librarian it may influence your recall of that person in the future. By grouping people we form impressions quickly and use past experience to provide explanations about individuals that we do not know. Stereotypes do help to assist our memory but they also cause us to over estimate differences between groups.

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When discussing prejudice it is important to identify the concept of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups. ‘ An in-group is the group which people feel that they identify with and an out-group is the people who aren’t in the in-group. Members of their own ‘in-group’ often believe that there is a greater similarity between members of the out-groups that there is of their group. This is known as the ‘out-group homogeneity effect’ and members of the in-group often believe that members of the out-group “all seem alike. The greater the perceived homogeneity, the more likely we are to overestimate the number of members who fit the stereotype. This creates in-group bias, which is the tendency to give greater rewards and evaluations to in-group members and to generally treat people differently based solely on their group membership. The homogeneity effect is greater between ethic groups because a member of a particular ethnic group can identify members of their own ethnic group better than someone who is not from that particular group.

This is because they find it easier to identify differences between people belonging to the same race because they are more familiar with certain features whereas someone who is of a different race may find it very hard to distinguish differences and have a tendency to believe that members of a particular race ‘all look very similar. ‘ This effect causes people to be quick to generalise one individual to the whole group. This usually occurs because we fail to notice differences between out-groups because of the lack of contact between the two groups.

Contact with out-groups is usually limited by two sampling biases. The groups usually only interact with each other in certain situations and often these situations are often at times of conflict. Also if people do communicate with the out-group then they only interact with certain member, which does not enable them to form a fair representation of the group. Tajfel, (1971), believed that in-group discrimination could be a product of our tribal past and this gives us the tendency to favour our ‘own’ groups and discriminate against others.

This tendency towards inter-group discrimination would have presumably have given the in-group some advantage in survival terms. Another part of in-group bias is the concept of ethnocentrism which is the belief that your own group is better than other groups. Depending on how strong the in-group bias is it can strongly influence memory and attributions. The Social Dominance theory suggests that groups in society are organised hierarchically and that the dominant group in society tends to receive a disproportionate amount of society’s assets and the subordinate groups receive most of society’s liabilities.

This conflict is created when one groups feels that they are being treated unfairly. This can be either the repressed group or the dominant group. The dominant group may feel that all the problems are caused by the out-group and also believe that the other group is an ‘extra weight on their shoulders,’ whereas the out-group may feel that they are not benefiting from the assets. The conflict that occurs in this situation can cause the groups to separate more and reinforce stereotypes. This can cause frustration which leads to aggression. There are many examples of violence which has been caused by racism e. . Bradford race riots (2002). The ‘Scapegoat Theory of Prejudice’ occurs when people can’t aggress against the source of their frustration and so they aggress towards weaker or stigmatized groups. According to Dollard et al. (1939), this type of prejudice occurs because, frustration always gives rise to aggression and aggression is always caused by frustration. Taking a ‘Freudian’ view, Dollard et al. claimed that we need to vent our frustration but when we are unable to do this directly; we do it indirectly by displacing it on to a substitute target.

Some people argue that stereotyping is a human nature which is necessary to categorise people. However there are certain factors that can help people to ignore stereotypes. Once personal information is known about an ethnic group it causes stereotypes to loose there relevance and impact, it just depends on interaction. The perceiver can also use their cognitive ability to focus on a particular individual of a stereotyped group. Also the perceiver’s motivation is a key factor in reducing stereotypes. People manage to set aside pre-existing beliefs is they are motivated to form an accurate impression.

It is believed that people are more likely to form an impression based on stereotypes if they are busy, in a hurry or stressed because they do not make the effort required to think carefully about attributes. Crocker et al, (1991) suggests that members of stigmatised groups (e. g. on the basis of race) may be prone to make exclusively inter-group attributions about communication when their own group membership is known to out-group members, and only make interpersonal ones when their own group membership is hidden from the out-group other.

People gain a sense of who they are and derive much of their self-esteem from their memberships in social groups and categories. The ‘Social Identity Theory’ believes that everyone is always trying to enhance self esteem, and this is done through personal identity and social identity. Tajfel & Turner (1979) identified the basic principles of Social Identity Theory. Group members strive to achieve or maintain a sense of positive identity. A group member will try to make favourable comparisons between the in-group and the out -group. Group members may leave the group if social identity is not satisfactory.

The inter-group discrimination is a result of a motivation to evaluate ones own group more positively than a relevant out-group. Social identity makes people feel better about them selves because people enhance their self-esteem. Because Social Identity Theory makes people feel good, they react strongly when their identity is threatened or negative. People may react differently to having threatened or negative social identity. A Group member may try to make advancement to a group that has higher status. The group member may start to racism could happen if the in group decided to directly compete with an out-group.

This suggests that some individuals are more prone to prejudice because they have an intense need for acceptance by others. According to Sheriff’s (1966), realistic conflict theory, inter-group conflict arises as a result of a conflict of interests. When two groups want to achieve the same goal but cant both have it, hostility is produced between them. Sheriff claims that conflict of interests is a sufficient condition for the occurrence of hostility or conflict. He bases this claim on the famous ‘robbers cave experiment’, which Brown (1986) described as the most successful field experiment ever conducted on inter-group conflict.

Tajfel et al. (1971) believed the mere perception of another group’s existence can produce discrimination. Based on a study that he conducted on 14-15 year-old Bristol school boys he stated that, when people are randomly divided into two groups, knowledge of the other group’s existence is sufficient for the development of pro-in-group and anti-out-group attitudes. Before this can occur people must be categorised as members of an in-group or an out-group. The very act of categorisation creates conflict and discrimination. Prejudice isn’t always a result of social factors it can also be a result of personality.

A ‘Prejudice Personality’ is the name given to someone who resents all social groups that they do not belong to. This can often be a result of bad parenting where the parents have over exaggerated inter-group conflict and exposed the child to prejudice views. Strict harsh parenting where the rules are strict and bad behaviour is harshly punished can lead to the child developing ‘Authoritarian Personality. ‘ This train is characterised by submissiveness to authority, rigid adherence to conventional values, and prejudice toward out-groups. Some of these people are often associated with ‘Old Fashioned Racism. People who adopt this type of racism can be characterised by their open opposition to racial equality and the stereotypes that they use are blatant negative stereotypes. Geographically some areas are more racist than others this can be a result of conformity to societal group norms. ‘Pettigrew, (1959)’ found that traditionally discrimination against blacks is greater in southern USA. Minard (1952) found that black and white coal miners in West Virginia followed a pattern of almost complete integration bellow the ground, but almost complete segregation when above.

This makes sense only when viewed in terms of conformity to the norms which operated in those different situations. If racial stereotypes are the ‘societal norm’ then people who are constantly subjected to them are likely to become unconsciously prejudice and may adopt stereotypes without awareness. This type of stereotype may be activated without thinking and without conscious intent. Studies of inter-group conflict appear to show that increased contact between social groups can reduce prejudice and increase attraction. This attraction appears to be due to many factors.

Increased contact between groups can make the groups stops the members from making comparisons between the groups and enables hem to draw similarities between the groups. Incorrect and exaggerated stereotypes seem to be one of the main reasons for prejudice. Contact of different groups can lead to disconfirmation of group stereotypes by offering information which is inconsistent with existing stereotypes. Motivation is required to try and categorise members of groups as individuals rather than stereotypes of a certain group. Inequality creates hostility and so if contact between groups is increased then the groups should be of similar status.

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