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Race Conflict Theory

Race Conflict Theory

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the key ideas, theorist contributions, and basic components of race conflict theory.

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

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[THEME MUSIC] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies Of Society. Today's lesson is on the race-conflict approach. 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 the race-conflict approach, as you guessed, the race-conflict approach is similar to the social-conflict approach, and it really argues that sociology should focus on the study of inequalities and conflict between different groups. And specifically, the race-conflict approach is looking at the conflict between different racial groups. And just like the broader social-conflict approach, this conflict is really based on a competition for resources. And different structures within society are set up to enable some to do better and limit the opportunities of others.

Now this approach can be traced back to Ida Wells Barnett. Now Ida Wells, she was born to slave parents right around the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. So her parents ended up being freed, and she was a social activist. Now the reason why she is credited with being the first to really bring up the race conflict approach is that she saw the biggest issue being a conflict between African-Americans and European Americans, blacks and whites.

Now she really fought for racial equality at this time, and it was really too end the act of lynching. If you don't know what lynching is, it's a horrible part of American history where African-Americans, for some minor infringement as little as, like, looking at someone quote unquote "wrong" would be a mob of white people would go and grab that person and hang them from a tree. And that actually happened to Ida Wells Barnett's friends. And that really was part of the reason why she became so involved with trying to end the act of lynching.

And she really saw lynching though as having a couple of reasons why. It wasn't just that the whites that were doing the lynching were racist. There was also some economic and social reasons for the lynching. So there was a fear that the African-Americans were going to take the economic resources of these poorer whites, and so she really started to look at this idea as more than just the actual conflict but actually seeing how that conflict is played out in different parts of society.

Another famous thinker credited with really developing the race-conflict approach is WEB Du Bois. Now you've probably heard of WEB Du Bois before. He's someone that you can read about in many, many different subject areas, really, really intelligent man who wrote prolifically on a bunch of different topics.

Now the reason we're looking at him today, though, is he really was one of the first academics to challenge the status quo that blacks were inferior to whites. And he did this through his writings in his speaking, and that really helped the racial-conflict approach develop itself.

On top that, he also founded the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory, which was really the first sociology-based laboratory in the nation. He was also the founder of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. And while this work was going on, he analyzed African-American communities and really tried to look at that segment of society to understand what was some positives from that society and what were some negatives from that society.

And one of things that he came up with was this idea of the double consciousness. Now the double consciousness is the idea that people of color are forced to divide themselves in several parts. They see themselves through their own eyes, and then they also see themselves through the eyes of whites, the dominant culture, the dominant racial group in society.

And what that really does is it leads to an internalization of negative stereotypes. And what this means is that this conflict, this racial conflict actually ends up going on inside of African-Americans as well as within the rest of society. And with all this, WEB Du Bois was very, very critical of blacks' eagerness to win white acceptance because he thought that they were then buying in to this conflict and on the side of people already in power, the whites.

So today's takeaway message-- the race-conflict approach focuses on inequality and conflict between different racial categories. And Ida Wells Barnett was one important contributor to this approach, and she fought for racial equality, especially to end lynchings. WEB Du Bois was a another person who really contributed to this approach, and he was a really vocal spokesperson against racial inequality, and he founded the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory. So that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Race Conflict Theory

An approach to sociology that emphasizes inequality and conflict between different racial groups.

People to Know
Ida Wells Barnett

‚ÄčAn activist, journalist, and lecturer who spoke out against lynching.

W.E.B. Dubois

An outspoken critic of white privilege who founded the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory.