What is Race?

What is race? In today’s society many individuals have set definitions of race that limit the differences between two races to specific traits, which can include skin color and religion, among others. However, the boundaries which we draw between the groups of people we separate into race have not always been so clear. Race has been as changing and dynamic as other established social institutions. Yet, as modern definition may change, race still displays an important role in the way that individuals categorize themselves and others. Race, when focused exclusively upon, can become a boundary used to justify inequality and discrimination, as most people are familiar with today.
Race, as defined by Dalton Conley, is “a group of people who share a set of characteristics- typically, but not always, physical ones- and are said to share a common bloodline.” Coming hand in hand with it, racism is “the belief that members of separate races possess different and unequal traits.” In modern terminology we generally define race based upon and individual’s skin color and ethnicity. But beyond those simple traits, we also group generalizations of each individual’s behavior due to their classified race. In one such study by Richard Felson et al. (2007), the generalizations of race and its correlation to violent crime in adolescents is explored.
Felson et al. studied the correlation between race and crime rates in the research study, ‘Do theories of crime or violence explain race differences in delinquency”. This article uses national data from 15,430 youth in grades 7-12 and their crime records. According to this research, black adolescents are more likely, sometimes twice as much so, to engage in violent crime than their white adolescent peers. After accounting for other demographic factors such as family structure and socioeconomic status, there is still a significant difference in violent crime rates between black and white adolescents. This data shows that there is a strong connection between race, more specifically blacks, and delinquency.
There are many reasons why this difference in crime rates may occur. Societies often negatively define minority races and label them with stereotypes, a type of racism. Eventually these labels impact how people in that race actually act. By being typecast as delinquents, black adolescents may act in accordance and be more likely to break the rules and deviate from social norms. After taking part in initial acts of crime, adolescents are labeled as deviant and then become more likely to take part in secondary deviance, rule-breaking that occurs a result of a deviant label. Black adolescents are constantly put in this cyclical process of labeling and deviance.
Our society is constantly reinforcing the idea that black adolescents are delinquents. The way these adolescents are typecast creates a negative label for them that is continuously present throughout their social life. The negative stigmas that come along with these labels lead to deviant actions by these youth. They alter their identities as a result of this racism and are more likely to participate in deviant crimes. As a result of this cycle, racial feelings and tension are reinforced.
As our society changes and moves forward, we often hope that we will more towards eliminating inequality and racism. Yet, the institution of race will only change in significance if the current boundaries are changed. What do you think makes an individual define race in the context of their everyday lives? Do you think our current definition of race will change, and if so, what factors will influence that change?

The Felson et al. article:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WX8-4PP7R3Y-&_user=86629&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000006878&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=86629&md5=ebecac64045561fbed00962e7d88babb
*Due to link problems, go to www.sciencedirect.com and enter title: “Do theories of crime or violence explain race differences in delinquency?” and enter auther Richard Felson

For more information:
http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9599&page=243
http://books.google.com/books?id=YMUola6pDnkC&pg=PA384&lpg=PA384&dq=racial+deviance&source=bl&ots=ct584W5aqu&sig=RE9k01l6yZw0L0vFixczQu-29BY&hl=en&ei=5mDISd_tBqbpnQf7562RAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=results

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “What is Race?

  1. 02lauramcclenahan

    I thought the idea that the characterization of a group as deviants (even though all of the members may not have participated in deviant acts) could cause a sort of secondary deviance among the population was very interesting. In my American Popular Music class, we discussed another instance in which this could be true. In the 1950’s there were a high amount of cases of juvenile delinquency, and kids who listened to rock and roll were labeled as juvenile delinquents. This idea was supported in the media, especially through movies. For example, in class we watched a preview for the movie Blackboard Jungle which had rock n’ roll playing in the background as hoodlums beat up their teacher in an alley. My teacher told us that listening to rock and roll did not cause juvenile delinquency, but maybe being labeled as a delinquent could.

    Another theory that could explain this high rate of juvenile delinquency among African American youth is the paradox of authority. Perhaps the fact that African Americans are sentenced with the death penalty more often than whites has caused the government to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of blacks, made apparent by a higher crime rate (Our book states that crime rates in the African American population are exceptionally high and that one third of all black men (ages 20-29) was in jail or on probation in 2005).

    The view that police brutality is more common against African Americans could also account for this increase in deviance. Albert J Reiss Jr. studies police brutality in his article Police Brutality – Answers to Key Questions (http://www.springerlink.com/content/j4g6011389146746/fulltext.pdf). Though he came to the conclusion that police brutality was not higher among blacks, he did find that police are more likely to engage in the status degradation of African Americans. “That many Negroes believe that the police have degraded their status is clear from surveys in Watts, Newark, and Detroit…The harassing tactics of the police–dispersing social street-gatherings, the indiscriminate stopping of Negroes on foot or in cars, and commands to move on or go home–are particularly common in ghetto areas. Young people are the most likely targets of harassing orders to disperse or move on.” Maybe because blacks, especially black youth, feel that the law has no respect for them, they have less of a problem with breaking the law.

  2. 02tiffanywright

    Race seems to be a very sensitive subject as it often brings up the topic of racism. Though equality between all people of any race is strived for in the United States, it seems that throughout one’s day-to-day life this division of people based on their physical characteristics still exists, skin color being the greatest division. I think our current definition of race is dependent upon skin color and physical attributes. Unfortunately negative connotations are often intermingled with these definitions of one’s race. I believe that forming an opinion on someone based on his or her race is something that will never be completely obliterated. As technology expands, however, and new ways of creating beings such as cloning or even robots, race could very likely be redefined to divide those of different “technological backgrounds”. This theory may be a bit premature eccentric, but it seems to be a definite possibility.

  3. diocelyn

    Race is subjective to the power distributions in a given society. In countries where there isn’t a dominant white population, there tend to still be issues regarding race. Take for instance the Dominican Republic. I visited last year and was outraged by the mainstream racism toward Haitians. In some Dominican “Bateys” (sugarcane plantations) there are Haitians who are bound to the land by the military and many human rights groups have labeled this forced labor as “modern slavery.” The interesting thing is that many Dominicans who are just as dark skinned as Haitians still feel as if they are superior. The main difference between the countries: economics. Haiti has been labeled as the poorest country in the western world and of the most disadvantaged overall. According to World Food Programme, Seventy-six per cent of the population lives on less than $2.25 a day, and 55 per cent live on less than $1.13 a day. The Dominican Republic on the other hand is considered the largest economy in Central America and the Caribbean. If we can agree that money equals power in capitalist economies, we can agree that the Dominican Republic has more power than its neighbor. Even the poorest in the country are likely to be prejudiced against Haitians. How can we explain this?
    Marx would argue that the way to end inequality in our society, we must first get rid of capitalism. We can expand his idea and perhaps argue that with the fall of capitalism we will also see the fall of racial inequality, and eventually the end of racism. I personally don’t think communism would work, and likewise I don’t think that racial inequality or racism will ever fully end.

  4. 02michaelgootee

    Diocelyn’s comment is dead on. Here in America, it seems that it is mostly the larger white population that participates in racism, and to an extent that is true. The problem is, most assume that only white men and women are the racist groups. In America, the caucasian population has been in power sonce the nation’s founding. In many south American countries, there is an intense racis attitude between the european descendants and the more native populations, or between the Indo-caribbean and Afro-carribean groups. For the most part, these groups share much of the same cultural heritage, skin color, language, and religion, yet one group has decided that the other is inferior. As Diocelyn pointed out, it is purely a function of which group hold the power.
    As for our future deinitions of race, I think this too is entirely dependent on who controls the power in a given society. Race will slowly become less of a physical distinction and much more a cultural distinction. The trend in society is to tolerate differences that cannot be changed (biological ones). However, in time (perhaps many, many years in the future) the physical distinctions between race (at least ina melting pot society such as America) will slowly disappear. The only distinctions left to make with be of cultural heritage and activities. Perhaps in time distinctions will not be made at all, but until then, the group in power has the privelage of defining itself and unfortunately, the other groups around it. Until that changes, race will always be a hot-button issue.

  5. 03katemeasom

    Race is a social construct, and is therefore changing in relation to trends in society. For example, the definition of whiteness has changed throughout American history. In “Race as Class,” Herbert Gans cites the arrival of slavery as creating the important difference between white and black, even though at first slavery was justified because the black Africans were “heathens.” Also, when Italians and Irish immigrants started coming to the US after the end of slavery, they were not seen as white because of their low status in society (most were peasants). Now, Irish is considered white, and Gans attributes this to the upward movement of the descendants of these European immigrants. He says, “The biological skin color of the second and third generations had not changed, but it was socially blanched or whitened.” If the definition of white can change back then, then it surely can change now.

    The question is, according to Gans, whether the African American race will be able to overcome difficulties in a white-dominated society; will the African American race be whitened, or will it eventually become a larger part of the middle class and erase old stereotypes? Even though African Americans today may still be viewed as “ex-slaves,” and may have more difficulty with upward mobility in society, if society keeps pushing towards equality, these stereotypes and obstacles will eventually disappear. In regards to the comments above me, I believe that there is an undeniable correlation between race and class/socioeconomic status. The upper class in the United States seems to have always been “white.” If African-Americans move upwards towards middle class and upper class majorities, would this white superiority be overthrown, or would the African American race be “whitened” as the Irish and Italian were?

  6. 03jerricaraglin

    I believe your point on black adolescents reacting to social labels and deviating because of them is true to an extent. I’m glad the study looked into possible differences that SES could cause in violent crime rates between Blacks and Whites. However, there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis or mention of pure discrimination. The results when accounting for SES should hint that there is something else going on besides a labeling theory. Discrimination is defined in our text as “harmful or negative acts against people deemed inferior on the basis of their racial category….” (529) The study does not look into whether discriminating officers or victims led to higher crime rates for Black adolescents. It also does not look into false accusations based on who a victim believes committed a crime as opposed to who actually committed it.

    Getting to one of your questions, I think our current definitions of race will change as more and more people become multi-racial. Currently, it seems that skin color and wealth (as demonstrated in Diocelyn’s comment) will form racial boundaries in the future. However, given that race is a socially constructed term, who knows what it will develop into in the future? Maybe those against miscegenation will find a way to the top of a future “racial hierarchy,” or those currently at the bottom will move to the top?

  7. 03genevievegale

    As Gallagher calls our country a “Post-Race America,” it seems overwhelmingly apparent that we as citizens would like to be deemed “color-blind.” Not oblivious to the physical differences among us he states, but lacking off thoughts that people of separate races are inherently different. As Joanna and Chelsea wrote, we generally define race based upon an individual’s skin color and ethnicity, and in the this post-race environment, I would argue that we as a country have transitioned from racism to culture-ism. Masking our prejudices for those of different color or ethnicity with socioeconomic discrimination. Coincidentally, race just happens to coincide quite nicely in this class hierarchy. Instead of discriminating against African Americans, we marginalize poor, low socioeconomic individuals who happen to be Black. Is this coincidence? Or have we just disguised our racism to justify that minorities are three times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts1?
    Consequently, we use those minorities who have climbed up the economic ladder to find themselves in the middle to upper class strata as an excuse to prove our lack of racism. As an extreme example, we point to prominent black figures such a Barak Obama to show our new found color blindness. But as I said, I think it’s more of a culture-ism topic than race. Those who have integrated themselves into white society have adapted our white culture, and thus are seen as equal. The ethnography by Philippe Bourgeois, “Selling Crack in El Barrio,” is a particpant-observational account of the poverty and underground economy of disenfranchised East Harlem. Bourgeois explains how white corporate culture in the work place differs so much from the cultural norms of the Puerto Ricans in Harlem that the culture divide perpetuates the economic divide as these individuals find it extremely difficult to adapt and excel in the white world. It’s the individuals who can invade the corporate hegemony who rise out of the poverty and dangerous drug industry. Thus in today’s world it is not those who change the color of their skin of place of origin that can suceed, but those who can fit into the majority Aglo culture.

  8. 03genevievegale

    !DISREGARD PREVIOUS POST!

    As Gallagher calls our country a “Post-Race America,” it seems overwhelmingly apparent that we as citizens would like to be deemed “color-blind.” Not oblivious to the physical differences among us he states, but lacking off thoughts that people of separate races are inherently different. As Joanna and Chelsea wrote, we generally define race based upon an individual’s skin color and ethnicity, and in the this post-race environment, I would argue that we as a country have transitioned from racism to culture-ism. Masking our prejudices for those of different color or ethnicity with socioeconomic discrimination. Coincidentally, race just happens to coincide quite nicely in this class hierarchy. Instead of discriminating against African Americans, we marginalize poor, low socioeconomic individuals who happen to be Black. Is this coincidence? Or have we just disguised our racism to justify that minorities are three times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts?
    Consequently, we use those minorities who have climbed up the economic ladder to find themselves in the middle to upper class strata as an excuse to prove our lack of racism. As an extreme example, we point to prominent black figures such a Barak Obama to show our new found color blindness. But as I said, I think it’s more of a culture-ism topic than race. Those who have integrated themselves into white society have adapted to our white culture are the ones seen as equal. The ethnography by Philippe Bourgeois, “Selling Crack in El Barrio,” is a participant-observational account of the poverty and underground economy of disenfranchised East Harlem. Bourgeois explains how white corporate culture in the work place differs so much from the cultural norms of the Puerto Ricans in Harlem that the culture divide perpetuates the economic divide as these individuals find it extremely difficult to adapt and excel in the white world. It’s the individuals who can infiltrate the corporate hegemony who have the chance to rise out of the poverty and dangerous drug industry. Accordingly, I argue that in today’s world it is not those who change the color of their skin of place of origin that can succeed, but those who can fit into the majority Aglo-culture. Does this “fitting in” call for a removal of ethnic individuals traditional customs and culture? And if so, is that a price we as Americans seem morally appropriate?

  9. 02chelsibullard

    First, to answer the blog question, I would say that race is simply how one classifies himself based on personal beliefs or even by the beliefs of society. Basically, it is the physical description that allows us to branch of into groups, because at the end of the day, there is no gene coded for race.

    I think its interesting that the group brings up the differences between black and white deliquency and notes how demograpgh, family structure, and ses correlate with the high levels of deliquency among black teens. This then makes you wonder are these factors the cause of the problem, or rather the result.

    Looking at the historical context plays a crucial role when dealing with such a topic as race, especially when dealing with groups who have a long history of tension. Slaves were brought from West Africa and forced to do all types of manual and domestic labor. This instilled in them a sense of inferiorirty. Over years, as slavery was abolished and instead, segration was adopted, blacks have always been told that they were lower class and more prone to violent crimes. Once you’re told you are violent or more likely to commit this or that, eventually, you’re going to believe it. It’s sort of like a mind game. Another example would be how females’ bodies would be on display and they became attractions for white men. Now, black girls are dying to be “video vixens” and become the same object of lust that earlier women were forced in to!

    Going back to the delinquency isse presented in the blog, this notion of black delinqueny worked in the same way. It doesn’t help that now this separation is still inforced through white-flight and other events of this nature.

    It’s really interesting how race is a very powerful thing and causes so much tension and violence between people when it can’t be proven by your DNA. It’s truly an issue that exists because of history has allowed it to, and we hive history thay power.