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Does ‘Race’ Exist Essay, Research Paper


Many sociologists believe that races do not exist therefore have to find alternative groupings to study racism or patterns of racial disadvantage in the United Kingdom. There exist many differing theories but no finite method of determining the true cause of racism. This dissertation will outline the different theories used by sociologists and attempt to show the patterns of ethnic disadvantage present in Britain.

Racism is thought by many to be the notion that some ethnic groups are naturally superior to others. The Oxford Dictionary s definition of the word race is

A group of persons of common stock

and that racism is the belief that

Human abilities are determined by race.

(Oxford Dictionary 1986: 445)

Although Race and Racism are defined in the oxford dictionary sociologists claim that races do not exist. They have considered the work of human biologists who in turn have studied the genes of many individuals that are said to be associated with different races. The results of these studies show that there is no distinctive gene that defines which race a person belongs to. Blood groups have been examined and results show that while some races have higher tendencies to certain blood types, no one race has been found to have one particular blood type unique to their origin. Due to there being no conclusive biological evidence biologists refer to different races as different populations. Any cultural differences are said to be ethnic differences, not differences in race.

There is a belief that if race does not exist then sociologists can t rightfully use the term in their study of different populations. It is due to this belief that they must find alternative ways of analysing population differences. The history of race is important to examine in the attempt to show why ordinary people, known as actors, still think that race exists.

Racism is thought to have always existed. The Romans considered slaves as being inferior to themselves, but there has been no scientific evidence to support claims of superiority. In the early 18th century until early in the 19th century there was a progressive belief that there was basic similarity between all men, that social differences were due to the environment. This view was overridden by the rise of scientific racism where all social differences found previously were labelled and explained as natural. But again race has never been a scientific concept. It was due to this that in the 20th century political/moral reasons forced scientific racism into decline and was eventually replaced by cultural racism, which shares the same beliefs.

Racism is thought to be a set of beliefs and racial discrimination the set of practices that are synonymous with these beliefs. There are several contrasting views of racism and racial discrimination. The functionalist model looks upon it via the perspective of race relations, that racism exists due to the creation of bad relations between races. Due to race not existing, functionalists study situations that are apparent in society. They look at events which actors define as racial, and by this expedient they examine the processes of racialism.

John Rex a radical weberian believes in the conflictional view that competition over scarce resources in different markets is the cause of conflict between Afro-Caribbean s, Asians and whites in relation to employment and housing (Bulmer et al, 1999:335). He say s that it is not due to the lower wages which ethnic minorities receive.

The Marxist perspective focuses on labour relations. An ideology masking contradiction of capital between capitals need for free labour and nationalism. Robert Miles, a hard line Marxist believes that class is the determining factor and all inequalities derive from class inequalities. Miles is very much alone in his claim but gives the example of the white working class fearing immigrants due to a rise in unemployment levels and a decline in standard of living. However, Miles states that the immigrants were not the cause of this. He claims that capitalism was. He states many find this hard to see because:

We are offered definitions and theories of racism which are so specific to the history of overseas colonisation (that is specific to the domination of white over black as so many writers express it) that they are of little value in explaining any other non-colonial) context

(Miles, R (Bulmer et al, 1999:344))

Another Marxist theory focuses on wider relations. Race has no reality but can be used in analysis, this theory is concerned with racial politics and how they may be independent of class. Marxists who follow this belief say that groupings and conflicts intersect, and may not actually be connected with class.

With the term race being seen as invalid by many people the question has arisen. Are we better to talk about ethnicity rather that race?

Ethnicity is a sense of identity to a group that shares a common history. Ethnic groups are also held together by ties of language, culture and group spirit that are now referred to as nationalism. There are also territorial ties, although many ethnic groups had previously left their homeland they still share a common geographical link. The term ethnicity is often confused with race, again when talking about ethnicity there have never been boundaries whether cultural or geographical that clearly states the limits of ethnic groups, even though many believe ethnicity is naturally determined. The idea that ethnicity is natural is said to be wrong. Ethnic differences are cultural, we all have an identity, though we may not always be conscious of it.

There has recently been a revival of ethnic differences followed by reactions to discrimination and racial disadvantage. An example of this is Afro-Caribbean s beliefs of what Britain would be able to offer them, these beliefs have changed due to certain types of discrimination and disadvantage. Cultural and religious issues can now be seen as more significant than economic inequalities. There are however some problems with ethnicity. Emphasis is placed on difference and cultural issues of power and inequality, therefore, ethnic groups may be seen to be fixed racial groups with another identity.

Racial disadvantage in the United Kingdom is visible in many different areas of the community. Employment, education and crime are just a few examples. Throughout employment, horizontal segmentation can be seen to be apparent via clustering. Ethnic minorities are more likely to work for themselves, graduates from these backgrounds tend to do relatively badly, many Asians are self-employed and Afro-Caribbean s are largely recruited to the private sector. This shows that ethnic or racial factors are involved in stratification in Britain. Within the generalisation that, ethnic minorities are treated less equally, individual successes and inter-group variations are present. This is shown by vertical segmentation, Afro-Caribbean s being placed at lower levels of employment than Asians.

When the The Race Relations Act was amended in 1976 The Commission for Racial Equality was established to promote racial harmony. This was to try to counter the acts which had been enforced prior to the Race Relations Act of 1965. Such acts, for instance, as the British Nationality Act 1948 and the Commonwealth Act 1962 which where more concerned with restricting immigration than trying to promote good race relations. In the context of the recruitment of employees, the Race Relations Act 1976 stated that it is unlawful to discriminate:

 By a company giving racial instructions to a personnel officer or an employment agency.

 In relation to terms of pay.

 By rejecting an applicant or refusing to consider him for the post on the basis of race.

These laws were enacted in order to try to increase equality in employment. As a mechanism to bring about change to employment rights the Commission for Racial Equality has made extensive recommendations to successive governments including a move to make ethnic monitoring compulsory for all employers with an excess workforce of 250. In the belief that ethnic monitoring is essential for progressing to racial equality.

Racial disadvantage has also been found to be present in the theatre of education. Before 1973 it was known that white pupils topped the performance list with Asians and Afro Caribbean s coming further down. The differences in levels of performance were considered to be related to the duration of the pupils stay in the UK. Newcomers would have experienced problems adapting to a new way of living and may even have encounter communication problems. Moving on to early 1970 s 1980 s the focus of discrimination in education moved to examine the effects of class and the school at which they enrolled. It was found that ethnic minorities are more likely to go to an underachieving school than their white counterparts due to their class framework, lower income and location. Curriculum was also thought to be a cause of the poor academic findings relating to ethnic minorities. The syllabus that the schools were offering was not relevant to children from ethnic backgrounds, a white curriculum concentrated on white history and the history of Britain. This was modified to give a wider education on the history of ethnic countries in an attempt to make studies more relative for ethnic minorities. With these problems tackled, education monitoring in the 1980 s showed children from ethnic backgrounds to be improving at a faster rate than white children of the same age.

Schools support the right of all children to receive quality education and fair treatment. The governing body of education aims to ensure that no one receives less favourable treatment on the grounds of race or any other social/cultural labels. It is believed that racism can be learned from an early age but to control this unwanted learning the children must be taught respect for other people in-order that they might learn rights from wrongs

If segregation of the sexes or races prevails, if authoritarianism and hierarchy dominate the system the child cannot help but learn that power and status are dominant factors in human relationships. If the teacher and the children are each respected units, the lesson for respect for the person will easily register

(Allport, 1954: 511)

The Race Relations Act of 1976 again places barriers on education by stating that;

By excluding a pupil from the establishment or by treating him unfavourably in any other way

is unlawful. Now in higher education a higher percentage of ethnic children stay on after 16 years old. This is encouraging but fewer now enrol at university, on academic courses and more drop out. This however can no longer be explained due to lack of adjustment since most were born here and therefore need no time to adjust to the a new community or learn a new language.

Within the Criminal Justice System racial discrimination also exists. It is understood that black people are far worse off at every stage of law enforcement. They are more likely to be stopped by Police, charged with serious offence, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. They are less likely to be given lenient treatment for example, fined, put on probation, or allowed bail. It has been declared that in 1997 the United Kingdom had one of the highest levels of racist orientated attacks in Europe, and that 1 in 3 British citizens classed themselves as racist (Thompson B., Roots of poison). Racial hatred and prejudice is an example of extremism, when cultural differences start being connected to race a persistent hatred can occur. Racism, it is argued, is a specific form of discrimination usually associated with skin colour and ethnicity. It involves the use of power of one group over another. When this power is unequal it enables those that share a particular culture to deny others access to opportunities, hence treat them in a racist way.

As well as being more inclined to be the perpetrators of crimes, ethnic minorities are also prone to be the victims. These crimes are not however due to ethnic background but are due to the social background of their class. Despite this, people are sometimes ignorant to this fact and state that ethnic crimes are more apparent because they are of an inferior race.

A Report by Sir William Macpherson that examined the Lawrence case (in which it was claimed that the police neglected their job because the victim was black ), was published on 24th February 1999. In the report, which was presented to the Government and to the Home Office, McPherson revealed that the problems, which occurred during the case, were the result of Institutional Racism defined as;

The collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin

(The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry)

It was said that institutional racism can not be used in the labeling of individuals but must be a label that is associated with the organization as a whole. It is due to the finding of racial disadvantage, that the police have set up Operation Athena to tackle the problems outlined in the report. The operation aims to improve prevention, awareness, communication, response and the identification of needs in the context of ethnic minorities.

The three examples of employment, education and crime are only a selection of the sectors of the community that show racial disadvantage. Although there is no finite definition of race there has been continual work to improve the social conditions for ethnic minorities. It is hoped that in the future there will be racial harmony between all populations and that true equality will be gained.

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