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Theories of Inequality in Race

Theories of Inequality in Race

Author: Zach Lamb

Differentiate between theories of prejudice and their influences.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, welcome to Sociological Studies. In this lesson, we're going to discuss various theories of prejudice. Prejudice is part of society, and it's not just part of American society. It's part of other societies as well. So sociologists want to understand what it is about prejudice that makes it so tenacious. Why is it appealing to people in some regard, and why does it persist through time? So we'll discuss four ways to look at prejudice from different angles in this tutorial.

Firstly, scapegoat theory is one theory developed to explain the persistence of prejudice in society. And scapegoat theory, you're familiar with its basic form, and that's blaming someone else for something unfairly. You know the term scapegoat. Usually, someone with less power and little ability to resist negative accusations gets labeled the scapegoat.

So for instance, you hear this in terms of economics a lot. All those immigrants are taking our jobs. We'd have jobs if it wasn't for them. If it wasn't for them, we'd be wealthy. Things used to be better, but now they came along. That kind of language is an example of scapegoating a group of people for your problems unfairly. So scapegoat theory is a way to explain prejudice really well at that level of group analysis, where you're saying, we v. them.

Now I'd like to shift gears and discuss authoritarian personality theory, another theory of prejudice that brings prejudice down to the individual level and situates it in an individual's development of their personality across the life course. Authoritarian personality theory was developed by Theodor Adorno, who was a prominent social theorist.

This personality theory then explains prejudice on the individual level in terms of one's personality. It's the result of their traits, of their upbringing, of strict domineering parenthood.

People with authoritarian personalities are more rigid in their thinking, meaning that they see the world more in black and white, yes and no, good and bad. Their morals are more fixed, and there's less of a gray area in the world. Some people are inherently superior. Some people are inferior. Some people are successful, and some people are unsuccessful. This is right. This is always wrong. There's no exception. I, by virtue of my position, am superior relative to others. So authoritarian personalities then tend to see the world in this fashion, and they then place groups of people in categories that according to their rigid outlook on the world and organize their prejudice accordingly.

Next, let's pull it back up from the individual a little bit and look at forces that impact the individual, specifically culture, and the culture theory of prejudice, which states that we live, basically, in a culture of prejudice and that some degree of prejudice is found in everyone. Well, this implies then that we learn prejudice growing up within a specific culture, and in this way, prejudice is culturally transmitted through the generations.

It's even been found that minority groups are prejudiced as well, and they express similar prejudices to whites against categories of people. So culture theories of prejudice involve group dynamics and suggests our need as humans to conform to groups, to be a part of a group and identify another, an outsider of the group. And so prejudice then is rooted in culture, this theory holds.

Lastly, let's look at what social conflict theory has to say about prejudice and society. Well, conflict theory, recall, is theorization of society that sees society as an arena of conflict, and the conflicts over the distribution of resources in society cause change in society. So the conflict theory of prejudice then sees prejudice as rooted in class, and by this theorization, prejudice is a tool that people in power can use to justify their position and their entitlements.

It is important not to see these four theories of prejudice as completely separate, distinct, compartmentalized. They're in fact interwoven, and any person's prejudice cannot be explained by any one of them alone. We probably need all four theories to explain just one person's prejudice. So think about them as interrelated aspects that all contribute to an explanation of prejudice in individuals and then in society broadly.

Thank you for tuning into this lecture on prejudice. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Authoritarian Personality Theory

A theory of prejudice that sees prejudice as the result of personality development throughout the lifecourse.

Conflict Theory of Prejudice

A theory of prejudice that sees prejudice as rooted in class, and that people in power use prejudicial attitudes to justify their position and entitlements.

Culture Theory of Prejudice

A theory of prejudice that holds that we live in a culture of prejudice and that prejudicial attitudes are transmitted through generations culturally.

Scapegoat Theory

A theory that holds that people blame another person or group for their problems, typically the powerless, when they cannot direct their anger at the appropriate agent.