Race and Social Inequality Essay

Race and Social Inequality

Oftentimes, we come across race and ethnicity being discussed in many publications. Some of them regard the two phenomena as if they are similar; probably differentiated in a slight degree (Smedley, 1998, p. 690). On the contrary, some scholars have argued that race and ethnicity are entirely two, clear-cut, diverse concepts which need to be carefully distinguished and set apart.

            Race, in the context of anthropology and biology, were defined by blood-group patterns; also regarded as “types” that are demonstrated by statistical measurements or averages (699). Today however, scholars are gradually coming into terms on redefining racial differences and taking it as a product of cultural diversity (Yinger, 1985, p. 159). Now race is perceived as a social invention; rooted from the strong foundation of the society on wealth, privilege, and the allocation of power (Smedley, 1998, p. 699). Its attachment to its anthropological and biological context, which is widely deemed as the intrinsic relationship to human physically deferring population, is slowly disintegrating and its social context emerging.

            In several societies, social stratification is predominantly flourishing; making the concept of “race” emerge as a principal form of identity which brings about the said stratification (690). This kind of societal mechanism is a modern perception in human history which has been regarded as a tragic effect to “low-status” minorities especially in racially diverse countries such as the United States. Conversely, according to Smith, race in its physical anthropological terms and technical biological meaning can never be aligned with the definition of ethnicity (Yinger, 1985, p. 158).

Ethnicity, on the other hand, is described by Yinger as a segment of a larger society which consists of members who think of themselves to be having a common origin and a common culture. He further describes ethnicity as the “longing not to belong to any other group” (157). Members of these so-called segments participate in shared activities where the said origin and culture are considered significant elements (Levine, 199, p. 168; Yinger, 1985, p. 159 ). These elements may be perceived as the mixture of race, ancestral homeland, language or religion.  We can witness instances of reference to ones ethnicity when we observe people classifying someone on the basis of their origins. Sometimes even, ethnicity is deemed synonymous to nationality and country of origin (Yinger, 1985, p. 157). This thought of an exclusive attachment to a segment has caused some adverse effect to socio-cultural matters; its biggest issue by far is known as social inequality within ethnicity and races.

Social inequality is directly traced to the European conquest of the Americas during times when the British colonies and Western Europe are seeking for capitalistic gains through cheaper labor and the growing supplies of food, tobacco, cotton, and beverages. They managed to settle in the Americas, seizing land from American Indians and transporting, kidnapping, and selling of Africans into slavery. This has been the system of production that the Western Europe and the British colonies imposed to develop capitalistic interests in the success that they found in the United States.

During the late 17th century, these ethnic segments, which were regarded as slaves, became the top-most contributor to the workforce and laborers of the production of commodities in agriculture. The Europeans enslaved African people because more laborers can be coerced from Africans than neither the Europeans nor the American Indians. This, however, does not show any initial and significant implications that Europeans have an aversion to blackness, or the African race. Although this kind of scenario of slavery has caused a tragic social interpretation. The inferiority of African societies eventually turned into a validation for slavery, therefore bringing about the ideology of racism within the United States.

            Today, social inequality under the notions of race and ethnicity is still evident in many facets. Even though the newly elected president of the United States is African-American, we still cannot ignore the fact that African-Americans still is the poorest race in the society, the most unemployed among its members, the most denied group in mortgage applications, and many others (Jackson, 2008, p. 161). Today, incorporation of newer races such as Asians and Latin Americans has been dominant in the United States bringing about the wider scope in matters of racism in the United States. Due to the proliferation of this social concept, explanations and theories to explain the phenomenon arise in various literatures.

The structural theory of Marx is a main example of a social inequality foundation. Marx explains that structure generates inequality and social change where advantages and disadvantages are connected to positions in social structure (Sorensen, 1996, p. 1335). According to Peter Bohmer, author of the Marxist Theory of Racism and Racial Inequality, racism serves only the capitalistic interests of employers which divide black and white workers, and in turn thwarting unity. Marx further argues that capitalism has brought tow major classes within the economic system; the capitalist and the working class. The capitalists are the ones in control of capital, production, and are continuously striving to increase profits. The working class on the other hand is the workforce that aids the profit-seeking capitalist in return for income. However, profits are said to be largely benefiting the capitalists as the value of production are not fairly compensated to the laborers. This kind of arrangement is what Marx call exploitation thus bringing about the concept of inequality in races since most of the workers are deemed to be under the same racial profile.

            Max Webber, another theoretical basis, focuses on the social aspect of inequality. His theory’s underpinning elaborates on the social circumstances imposed to races as the cause of inequality. According to Webber, situations and chances in life determines the quality of ones life as well as the access to benefits provided by the society. As cited earlier, cases of racial profiling have been dominant in the United States as there have been trends that African-Americans are more likely to be scrutinized in law enforcement. Most of the time these cases are believed to be caused by environmental conditions set by racial backgrounds. Webber argues that these have brought about the concept of racial inequality in the society.

`           Both theories are significant contributions to literature on racial inequality. Marxist theory on capitalistic interests is adept in explaining its contribution to the division of classes in the society. However, Marx did not establish clearly the correlation of classes to races. Weber’s theory, on the other hand, clearly illustrates social circumstances as causes of inequality. Yet its disadvantage is the lack of further explanations on why different races with different societal and cultural circumstances obtain dissimilar and unequal social status.

Race, although it has been less severe, still matters in the United States. There are still definitional problems existing such as the low rates of intermarriage between blacks and others (Waters & Eschbach, 1995, p. 421). In addition, just as cited earlier in this research, African-Americans are still the poorest among the nation, still last in ranking in wealth formulation, business revenue, family income, and passing scores on the SAT and school admission tests (Jackson, 2008, p. 161). For as long as these trends does not progress, the presumption that racial inequality exists will continue to subsist in societies especially in the United States.


Bohmer, P. (1998). Marxist Theory of Racism and Racial Inequality, Retrieved December 16, 2008, from http://academic.evergreen.edu/b/bohmerp/marxracism.htm

Jackson, J. (2008). End of the Black Civil Rights Agenda? Ebony Published by Johnson Publishing Company Nov 2008, p. 161

Levine, H. (1999). Reconstructing Ethnicity. : The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 2,165 -180.

Smedley, A. (1998). “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 100, No , 690-702.

Sorensen, A. (1996). The Structural Basis of Social Inequality. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 101, No. 5, 1333-1365.

Yinger, M. (1985). Ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 11, 151-180.


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