Sociology of Diversity in the USA

Minority and Dominant Groups

A minority population group is not defined by being outnumbered by a dominant group. A minority is defined by the following five characteristics: physical or cultural traits distinguished from the dominant population, unequal treatment, in-group marriage, subordination awareness, and involuntary membership. The existence of differing traits of a minority group is a convenient way for a dominant group to identify the minority for creating and maintaining certain boundaries.

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The primary concept that influences the relationship between minority and dominant groups is the concept of race. The race is a group of people that “perceive themselves and are perceived by others as possessing distinctive hereditary traits” (The Concept of Race, 2008, para. 4). The concept of race is also interconnected with the concept of ethnicity that relates to the groups of people that share particular cultural traits such as religion or language. When it comes to the perception of race, it is human nature to make different categories withing populations to make reality easier to tolerate. Moreover, categorizing can be also viewed as a coping method for status. In our society, something as minor as the skin color can determine one’s position in a hierarchy. It is not inherent to every member of the society; however, every individual is born in a culture and the perception of the culture presented since birth. Thus, no matter what person one is looking at, some stereotype-based assumptions will be made.

Racial Discrimination

An institutionalized rejection of difference is considered a necessity in an economy based on profit that needs the population of outsiders as a surplus of a working force. As members of such an economic situations, we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if it is not possible, copy it if you think that it is dominant, or destroy it if we think that it is subordinate. However, we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those difference have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion (Andersen & Hill Collins, 2015, p. 16).

Certainly there are real differences between people of race, gender, or sex. But it is not those differences between people that are separating them. It is rather a refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions that result from the misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation. According to Andersen & Hill Collins (2015), “Racism is the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominate” (p. 16).

It is a lifetime pursuit to extract the distortions from the living at the same time with recognizing, reclaiming, and define the differences upon which they are imposed. As people are raised is a society where those distortions are endemic within the living. Too often, people ‘pour’ the energy needed for recognizing and exploring differences into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all. This results in a voluntary isolation or false and treacherous connections. Either way, people do not develop tools for using human difference as a way of changing their lives. Mostly, they speak of human difference, but of human deviance.

Thus, in a particular power system where white privilege is of major concern, the entrapments used to neutralize black and white populations are not the same. For example, it is easy for Black women to be used by the power structure against Black men, not because they are men, but because they are Black. Therefore, for Black women, it is necessary to at all times to separate the needs of the oppressor form our own legitimate conflicts within the communities. The same problem is not applicable to white women. Black women and men have shared racist oppression and still share it, although in different ways. Out of that shared oppression, people have developed joint defenses and joint vulnerabilities to each other that are not duplicated in the white community (Andersen & Hill Collins, 2015, p. 18).

Certainly one crucial way is for our society’s various ethnic groups to develop a greater understanding of each other. For instance, how can African Americans and Korean Americans work it out unless they learn about each other’s cultures, histories, and also economic situations? This need to share knowledge about our ethnic diversity has acquired new importance and has given new urgency to the pursuit for a more accurate history (Andersen & Hill Collins, 2015, p. 24).

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By looking at the minority groups from a multicultural perspective, it is possible to comparatively analyze their experiences in order to develop an understanding of their differences and similarities. The race has been the social construction that has historically set apart racial minorities from European immigrant groups. Contrary to the notions of scholars like Nathan Glazer and Thomas Sowell, race in America has not been the same as ethnicity. A broad comparative focus also allows us to see how the varied experiences of different racial and ethnic groups occurred within shared contexts (Andersen & Hill Collins, 2015, p. 27).

Long periods of America’s past have been affected by the concept of racism. At the same time, the minority populations offer hope, affirming the battle for equality as a primary topic of the country’s history of development. At the conception of the culture, the nation was dedicated to the equality proposition. The individuals coming together in the creation of the new society gives concreteness to the power of the nation. However, in reality, the workers of different backgrounds are ‘stuck’ in a dominant community trying to get along with each other.

The racial discrimination is no longer legal; however, racism still continues to influence the relationships between groups and differentiates the power that the various groups possess. A new form of racism is color-blind racism in which the dominant group thinks that race does not matter anymore, even in a highly racially segregated society. Many assume that being non-racist means being color-blind, that is, refusing to recognize one’s identity or the racial background. However, ignoring the significance of a particular race in a given society where these groups have distinct historical experiences means denying their importance. Blindness to the concept of racial minorities leads to the idea that nothing should be done about it, neither individually nor collectively. Thus, in such a situation, racism is being perpetuated (Andersen & Hill Collins, 2015, p. 57).

To understand racism means to understand its socially constructed meaning. The majority of people assumes that race is based on the biological constructs, but the concept of raced is rather social than biological. That is, the significance and the real meaning of race as a minority are based on the particular social, historical, and political contexts. These contexts are what makes race meaningful, not just the physical attributes that exist within the minority populations.

Assimilation Versus Pluralism

Assimilation is a process in which separate and differentiated population groups become to share the same culture and merge into one social group. The differences between populations decrease once the society undergoes assimilation. On the other hand, there is a notion of pluralism that denotes the non-existed process of merging, on the other hand, population groups maintain their cultural and social attributes. In a society where pluralism is dominant, groups remain separate. Some may say that assimilation and pluralism are polarly different concepts, but they are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, assimilation and pluralism can happen alongside in a number of different variations in a certain group or society. In a society, some groups can be assimilating while others can remain separate and maintaining their differences (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 43).

Melting Pot Theory

Because the United States of America are often called the ‘melting pot’ for the variety of races and ethnicities, the process of assimilation is as relevant as it can possibly be. The view of the USA as the ‘melting pot’ underlines the ways in which the diverse populations contribute to the country’s common culture to create a new and unique society. Despite the powerful metaphor, the ‘melting pot’ is not quite an accurate depiction of the modern American society structure. Some minority groups are largely excluded from the process of assimilation. Different from the image of the ‘melting pot’, the process of assimilation in the United States is considered a one-sided process that is better determined with the term Americanization. Instead of equally sharing new elements that will gradually melt into the culture, the process of assimilation requires the preserving the predominance of the English language alongside with the British-type patterns of institutions that were created in the beginning of the American society development (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 45).

Traditional Assimilation Theories

The traditional perspectives on assimilation are grounded in the works of Milton Gordon and Robert Park. According to Park, the relations that exist within the group experience an array of predictable stages that the scholar called a race relations cycle. When the various groups first contact each other, their relationships are competitive. However, in the process of their interactions, the race relations cycle moves toward assimilation of the groups. In the industrial society in which democracy is dominant, assimilation is inevitable. Because the democratic political system assumes fairness and justice, all minority groups eventually will receive equal treatment. In an industrial society, each individual is judged by abilities and talents, regardless of the race. However, Park’s theory was criticized for its lack of detailed description of the nature of assimilation (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 46).

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Milton Gordon has clarified the issues of assimilation left out by Robert Park. He divided the process of assimilation into seven separate processes; however, the first three are the most significant. The first stage of the assimilation is the cultural assimilation otherwise called acculturation. On this stage, the minority population members learn and explore the culture of the dominant group. For example, the immigrant groups that move to the United States start to learn English if needed, change their eating habits and begin to adopt new patterns of value systems. The second stage, integration or structural assimilation suggests entering the social structure of the dominant population by a minority group. Typically, the process of integration starts in the secondary sector and then moves to the primary one. This means that before building relationships with the dominant population groups, the minority groups should first become familiar with them. The greater interaction in the secondary sector, the more equal the minority group becomes to the dominant one in the primary sector. The third stage of the assimilation process is marital assimilation or intermarriage. With a successful assimilation in the primary sector, the basis of the third assimilation stage is established. Individuals tend to choose spouses from their primary relations sectors, and thus, the primary structural integration usually leads to intermarriage (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 48).

Types of Pluralism

By using the concepts that relate to the types of assimilation, various types of pluralism can be distinguished. Cultural pluralism is a concept that assumes that the minority population maintains its own cultural identity. Such minority groups may speak their native language without trying to learn the language of the dominant population. Moreover, some groups separate themselves by living in separate areas, practicing different religion at the same time with having different systems of values (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 51).

Following the stages of Gordon’s stages of assimilation, the second type of pluralism is characterized with the minority group being acculturated but not integrated into the society. This type of pluralism is called structural. In structural pluralism, minority groups have minimal differences from the dominant population; however, they prefer to occupy different locations in the social structure. For example, a group of people may speak the same language and adopt the value system inherent to the dominant group at the same time with maintaining separate organizational systems (Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics, n.d., p. 51).

The Concept of Prejudice

Prejudice is the concept that affects the person’s opportunities, the motivation, and self-worth, as well as their engagement in the society. Prejudice is a negative attitude toward a person or a group of people. The features of prejudice invoke the process of categorization and subsequent dislike towards the relevant category or its members. A crucial part of the prejudice attribution is in adequate identification the relevant category towards which the antipathy is targeted. For instance, some people may not have prejudiced views against women in general, but they may have prejudiced views against women that occupy social roles that are traditionally attributed to men. In some situations, prejudice is expressed in the form of patronizing reactions, for example, when a particular group is considered dependent or incompetent (Bodenhausen & Richeson, 2010, p. 342).

Stereotypes and prejudice usually generate a deep intent, not because of an abiding concern about the thoughts and feelings people may have, but because of the assumption that the private reaction can influence overt decisions and actions in ways that have crucial consequences for their targets (Bodenhausen & Richeson, 2010, p. 351).

Explicit judgments and decisions are subjected to control and deliberations, so individuals that wish to be unprejudiced towards others have the option to disregard prejudices and stereotypes in reaching certain conclusions about others. However, people are often unaware of an array of factors that can affect their judgments in significant ways.

In the United States, racial prejudice has taken predominantly negative connotations despite the concept having both positive and negative valence. The views of prejudice can quite easily result from a connection between three factors: the human’s tendency toward ethnocentrism, the lack of adequate contact within the group as well as the tendency to organize new information into pre-developed types.

Prejudice Theories

To answer the questions about why prejudice exists several theories have been developed. These approaches include the personality-centered approach, the cultural-based and power-conflict approaches. The personality-centered approach targets at locating the prejudice within the development of a personality since the early childhood. With this in mind, prejudice occupies an important part in the emotional development of the people with prejudice. Thus, the feeling of prejudice makes individuals project certain characteristics and feeling they cannot admit they have. For instance, prejudiced people not only deny their prejudice but also may project it onto a minority like African Americans (Alibeli & Yaghi, 2012, p. 23).

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The cultural-based theory of prejudice views prejudice as an attitude influenced by social situations and cultural norms. However, social situations can both encourage and discourage prejudice. Moreover, cultural norms affect the environment for developing prejudice or its negation. Thus, the culture of the dominant group influences the decision about which group is to be despised or favored. Contrasting to the personality-centered approach, the culture-base theory views prejudice as an indicator that shows how well a normal individual is assimilated to his or her prejudiced environment. In such an environment, prejudice is simply a product of development in a society that involves prejudice that is based on the racial or ethnic membership (Alibeli & Yaghi, 2012, p. 24).

According to the power-conflict theory of prejudice, prejudice is a consequence of the competition that exists between various groups within a society. Based on such a theory, the elite groups that have power in a society not only dictate the means of production but also influence the views and ideas that exist within that society. Thus, any time the elite groups require subordination of the minority, they will come up with new ideas and concepts for explaining and justifying such subordination. For instance, the U.S. slave owners used to perpetuate the anti-Black prejudice and use them to justify the exploitation of the slaves. It was said that the Black population was to be considered inferior and unable to take care of themselves. Thus, the idea of slavery was considered just and less oppressive. To conclude, the power-conflict theory assumes that prejudice exists in the society because the dominant and powerful groups benefit from perpetuating the idea of discrimination. However, this theory does not explain why some individuals that do not have any power in the society and can gain from the minority subordination still have prejudices views (Alibeli & Yaghi, 2012, p. 24).

To sum up, prejudice may linger because it plays an important part in the emotional background of those with prejudice. Prejudice helps such people to maintain their emotional and health stability by projecting their personal issues onto others through unadmitted prejudice. Very often, such people are adamant at denying their prejudice by projecting it onto another person or a group of people that is not strong enough to resist such inadequate projection (Alibeli & Yaghi, 2012, p. 26).

Origins of Slavery in the U.S.

Slavery in America evolved in small steps since the beginning of the seventeenth century and continued being widespread for almost two hundred and fifty years. Slaves that were brought predominantly from Africa were forced to work on the production of cotton and crops. However, the position of African servants in the society remained ambiguous for decades. Moreover, some time before the spreading of slavery, some African servants could become citizens and purchase slaves themselves. However, by the middle of the seventeenth century, the majority of African Americans were considered as the property of their owners (Healey, 2009, p. 54).

The Noel and Blauner Hypotheses

The particular conditions under which the minority group contacted the dominant population can determine the fate of that minority and shape the relationships for the future generations. For understanding the critical phases in the relationships between minor and dominant groups, two theories play the roles of analytical guides.

The first theory developed by the sociologist Donald Noel distinguishes three features of the situation that become dominant criteria in the group inequality. The Noel hypothesis puts forward an idea that “If two or more groups come together in a contact situation characterized by ethnocentrism, competition, and a differential in power, then some form of racial or ethnic stratification will result” (as cited in Healey, 2009, p. 56). If the situation has three attributes, then the structure of dominant-minority group will emerge.

The first attribute, ethnocentrism, is the prevalence to judge other people by the standards of an individual’s culture. To some degree, ethnocentrism is an essential component of maintenance of cohesion, social solidarity at the same time with being a universal part of human society. However, despite its cultural importance, ethnocentrism may cause some negative outcomes. In a worst-case scenario, it can lead to an opinion that other cultural groups are just not different but inferior (Healey, 2009, p. 56).

The second attribute is the competition over a commodity. In a competitive contact situation, the group that wins the conflict becomes the dominant one when the losing side becomes the minority regardless of the social and racial characteristics. Moreover, the competition offers the dominant group a possibility to establish its superiority.

The third attribute of the contact situation is the differences in power between society groups. The amount of power within a society is a combination of three factors: the size of the group, the group organization, and the group resources. The size of the group can have a significant difference in a competition when other factors are equal. In addition to the numbers, the way group is organized alongside with the effectiveness of the leader can be significant in the group’s move towards domination. Lastly, the resources include all factors that can help the group achieve the set goals (Healey, 2009, p. 56).

Thus, the Noel hypothesis can be used in the creation of minority and dominant groups in a large number of situations. Moreover, this model can be applied for the analysis the changes in the structures of dominant and minority groups.

The contact situation was also examined by sociologist Robert Blauner. In his book Racial Oppression in America (1972), the scientist explores two different phenomena of colonization and immigration. He puts forward a hypothesis that “Minority groups created by colonization will experience more intense prejudice, racism, and discrimination than those created by immigration” (as cited in Healey, 2009, p. 57). The colonized group that makes up a minority is forced into such status by the political or military power of the dominant population.

During the contact with the dominant group, the colonized minority is often being subjected to inequalities and various attacks on their culture and views on life. They are also assigned to various positions, from which any form of assimilation is difficult are is frowned upon by the dominant group. In the majority of cases, the minority groups are differentiated by a visible physical trait that reinforces the system of oppressions. Thus, the minority group is created by the process of colonization as well as the rejection influenced by immigration (Healey, 2009, p. 57).

Impact of Industrialization

As the United States moved from the agricultural to an industrial society, the minority groups were offered the competitive economic freedom which made the dominant groups even more hostile. In such a rigid competitive system, the status of an individual was determined by race. Moreover, small elites began their development within the oppressed minority groups. The division of labor was also determined by the race of the individuals; however, the minority populations worked together with the majorities although received lower wages. This was called a dual-wage market. In the era of industrialization, the separation of racial groups was significant. It was necessary for protection of the dominant group status. Lastly, the competition between the monority and majority populations groups for jobs brought along high possibilities of conflict (The Concept of Race, 2008, para. 10).

References

Alibeli, M., & Yaghi, A. (2012). Theories of Prejudice and Attitudes toward Muslims in the United States. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(1), 21-29.

Andersen, M., & Hill Collins, P. (2015). Race, Class, & Gender: An Anthology (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Assimilation and Pluralism. From Immigrants to White Ethnics. (n.d.). Web.

Bodenhausen, G., & Richeson, A. (2010). Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination. In R. Baumeister & E. Finkel (Eds.), Advanced Social Psychology. The State of the Science. (pp. 341-383). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Healey, J. (2009). Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

The Concept of Race. (2008). Web.

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