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Demographic structure of society - race and ethnicity

Created by Sydney Brown.

Video transcript

Voiceover:There are many inequalities in a population, based on race and ethnicity. Just to get some terminology out of the way, let's figure out the difference between race and ethnicity. Race is a socially-defined category that is based on physical differences between groups of people. Racial formation theory looks at the social, economic and political forces that result in socially-constructed racial identity. Sometimes these differences are real, but sometimes they are only perceived or are defined by history. In the 1800s, if a person in the United States had a black ancestor, they could be considered black even if they appeared white. Honestly though, since all humans are 99.9% identical, genetically, there really isn't enough wiggle room in human DNA for there to be a genetic foundation for race. Yet, it is incredibly important on a social level. Every culture places a different importance on specific physical characteristics. For example, in the US, race is identified by broad categories of skin color, but hair color is considered unimportant. In South America, there are more specific categories of skin color. The Latin American race in the US may be broken down into five, or even six, different categories of races in South America. Ethnicity is also socially defined, but, instead of using physical characteristics, these groups are defined by a shared language, religion, nationality, history or some other cultural factor. Ethnic groups are less statistically defined than racial groups, and the definitions can change over time. Sometimes the ethnic minority can even be absorbed into the majority after a generation or two. A minority consists of a group that makes up less than half the total population and is treated differently because of some characteristic. In the 1900s, native-born Americans did not consider Irish, Italian or Jewish immigrants to be white, which actually resulted in a discrimination against them and limited where they could live. Discrimination is the unjust treatment of a category of people simply because they belong to that category. It often results from prejudice, which is when someone has some preconceived opinion that isn't based on reason or experience. Let's get back to those immigrants. While the immigrants weren't considered white, the children of those immigrants were considered white because they were culturally American, so their skin color could be used to determine their ethnic identity. As we begin to look at socially defined groups of people, please keep in mind that what I'm saying doesn't apply to everyone in that group. Just like the English language, there are always exceptions. We need to be sure not to stereotype everyone in a group. We can look at statistical values for a group, but these are only guidelines, trends to keep in mind as we look at the population as a whole. There are a lot of statistical differences between both different races and different ethnicities. Racial differences especially can cause some drastic events, such as genocide or population transfer, where a group is forcefully moved from their territory, or inter-colonialism, where a minority group is segregated and exploited, or assimilation, where the minority group is absorbed into the majority. Pluralism, on the other hand, actually encourages racial and ethnic variation in a society. Statistically, families, education, income, birthrates and life expectancies all vary between racial and ethnic groups. There's a wide-spread disparity in health care between racial and ethnic groups as well. Many Americans simply can't afford basic health care, which then affects the life span of these people. Statistically, minorities tend to have shorter life span because of limited access to health care, lower-income jobs that can have greater dangers in the workplace, a higher prevalence of toxins in the environment, as well as personal behaviors, like drinking or poor diet. Throughout history, dominant groups have racialized minority groups. This means the dominant group ascribes some racial identity to members of a minority group that they do not identify for themselves. You can see this in the labor force in the United States. There's a myth in the United States that everyone has equal opportunities in life, including access to education. In reality, different races tend to be stereotyped for certain jobs. Minorities are expected to have lower-paying jobs, while majorities are expected to have higher-paying jobs. Asian Americans and whites, overall, have more access to education than African Americans or Latin Americans. What it usually comes down to is economic and cultural factors. The cost of education can be too high for minorities, who statistically tend to work lower-waged jobs. Perhaps culturally, for some people, starting a family is more important than continuing an education. This perpetuates the trend of difficulties for minorities, but it isn't just the cultural differences. Our society is structured so that racial and economic subordination develops and is sustained. In order to get a higher-paying job, you need a good education, so when education is not a priority, or isn't available, or when it is simply withheld because of discrimination, the jobs available are unskilled or semi-skilled low-paying jobs. An interesting discrimination among different races and ethnicities is present in the criminal justice system. While laws may not seem racist, the punishment for similar offences vary drastically. For example, the punishment for crack cocaine, which is less expensive and used by low-income users, is much tougher than for powdered cocaine, which is much more expensive. This separates the rich from the poor in the justice system, handing out tougher sentences to low-income criminals, who, statistically, are minorities. There are also higher unemployment and dropout rates for minorities, providing fewer options, other than crime. If you look at the percentage of people in jail who are minorities, it's much higher than the percentage of minorities who live in the United States. These numbers don't line up. Percentage wise, more minorities are being incarcerated than their white counterparts.