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Race and Ethnicity:  Prejudice and Racism

Race and Ethnicity: Prejudice and Racism

Author: Paul Hannan

Understand the functions of race and ethnicity in society.

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Race and Ethnicity: Prejudice and Racism

Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain, Images from, Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on race and ethnicity, prejudice, and racism. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today we're really putting in the spotlight looking at humans. And we're going to talk about a couple of terms that are difficult to address. But I think your understanding through this tutorial will actually make you more comfortable talking about these terms and these categories with your neighbors and with your family. So let's start by looking at race and ethnicity.

Race and ethnicity are on the surface very similar but yet also very different. It will make sense once we go through it. So let's start with how they're most generally similar.

They're both socially constructed. So there isn't some biological test you can take that will tell you your race or ethnicity. It's something that we as humans have constructed, we've made ourselves, and we've defined what it is to be a certain race and ethnicity. And these categories can shift and change as society changes.

Now, both groups are also categorizing humans. But they're doing it in very different ways. Race is looking at physical features and visible biology. I like to think of race as other people looking at you and saying, you look like this race.

Now, one thing-- because it's based on physical features and things that are visible from the outside, it really can vary from population to population, society to society on who is categorized as what. You might be labeled as an African American here in the United States America. But in Saudi Arabia or somewhere in the Middle East, you're actually labeled as white. Since it's socially constructed and it's based on other people viewing you from the outside, it makes sense that it's going to change from society to society.

One last note before I move on to ethnicity-- an important thing when you're thinking about race here is race is not something you can test for in your DNA. If we were to map out different people's genomes-- and they've done this with people-- and you try to figure out where their ancestry comes from, we might think that, oh, if you're a really dark African American, you must have really strong ties to Africa.

Well, if you look at the DNA and trace that back, that's not necessarily true. You may look like it on the outside because of our perception of what race is. But that doesn't mean that you are or are not more genetically similar to a certain region of the world. And in fact, we all actually came originally from Africa anyway.

Now, ethnicity, like I said before, is also socially constructed. But it's not basing this construction on how you physically look. Instead it's looking at, what is your cultural heritage? What kind of identity do you have culturally? What ancestry do you have? So where does your family come from? What language do you speak? What religion are you? All these things tie together to create your ethnicity.

Another major difference of ethnicity is ethnicity is often-- you can think about it being much more personally defined. So race is outsiders judging you. With ethnicity, you claim an ethnicity if you want to. Or you can reject it if you want to.

So my father is Australian. I call myself Australian. I personally accept that heritage and those traditions and some of those language cues, although I don't have a sweet accent, from my father's side. I adopt that.

But also, because it's personally defined, I could choose not to. My mother is from Wisconsin. And Wisconsin and Minnesota are rivals. And I don't often talk about my mom's heritage being from Wisconsin and her grandparents being French Canadians. I don't really talk about that. I don't claim to be Canadian or French Canadian or a Wisconsinite nearly as much as I do claim to be an Australian.

So a term that ties in with race and ethnicity is "minority." And minority can be really any group that is different from the dominant majority. Often it's racial, ethnic, or gender groups. But it can be a lot of different things.

So now we're going to tackle how those categories get used to pass judgment. So we have prejudice, stereotype, and racism. Now, prejudice and stereotype and racism are all fairly similar. But there's some distinctions about what exactly they are.

So prejudice is an attitude. And what it is is an attitude that's unfairly generalizing. It's unfairly passing judgment about a person or a group of people based on group membership. So I might be prejudiced against Latino Americans. I have an unfair generalization or unfair attitude which is generalizing against a group of people.

Now, it's very similar to stereotype. Stereotype is also a generalization. And I'm passing judgment. And it's unjust. But prejudice is the attitude. Stereotype is when I apply it. And I can apply it to an individual or a group. But it's me actually applying my prejudice. I like to think about-- you can have prejudiced thoughts. But with a stereotype, you're actually applying it to somebody or a group of people.

Now, racism is similar to prejudice and stereotype. But specifically, it's really based upon this belief that race gives people certain things, certain traits that makes us think that some races are better than others. And that's really what racism is.

So if I think that being from the African American race makes you more athletic, well, it's racism. It's saying that some races are going to be superior to others. So you can have prejudiced attitudes. And you can apply them to people using the stereotype. And racism is when you're specifically looking at race as the thing that is having you do these unfair generalizations. And it ultimately leads you to judge some races as more superior than others.

So today's takeaway message-- we looked at some really heavy topics today, the first one being race. And that's the socially constructed categorization of people based on outwardly visible traits. And then we also looked at ethnicity. And that's also socially constructed. But it's based on shared cultural identity and heritage. A minority is just any smaller group that differs from the dominant majority culture in society.

Prejudice is an unfair attitude which is generalizing about a group of people based on group membership. Stereotype is a generalization which is unjustly applied to members of a group or to a group as a whole. And racism is the belief that one race is better than others because of certain traits that are tied to race.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully I'll be seeing you on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know

Shared cultural characteristics, or shared ancestral origins.


A group that is different from the dominant majority, usually judged according to race, ethnicity, or gender.


An attitude or judgment about another group usually involving stereotypes.


The socially constructed meaning of human traits such as skin color, facial shape, eye color, and hair texture.


Prejudiced ideas and stereotypes put into action.


A statement of questionable validity that is indiscriminately applied to all members of a group.