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The social construction of race is also reflected in the way names for racial categories change with changing times. It’s worth noting that race, in this sense, is also a system of labeling that provides a source of identity; specific labels fall in and out of favor during different social eras. For example, the category ”negroid,” popular in the nineteenth century, evolved into the term “negro” by the 1960s, and then this term fell from use and was replaced with “African American.” This latter term was intended to celebrate the multiple identities that a black person might hold, but the word choice is a poor one: it lumps together a large variety of ethnic groups under an umbrella term while excluding others who could accurately be described by the label but who do not meet the spirit of the term. For example, actress Charlize Theron is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed “African American.” She was born in South Africa and later became a U.S. citizen. Is her identity that of an “African American” as most of us understand the term?

What is ethnicity?

Ethnicity is a term that describes shared culture—the practices, values, and beliefs of a group. This culture might include shared language, religion, and traditions, among other commonalities. Like race, the term ethnicity is difficult to describe and its meaning has changed over time. And as with race, individuals may be identified or self-identify with ethnicities in complex, even contradictory, ways. For example, ethnic groups such as Irish, Italian American, Russian, Jewish, and Serbian might all be groups whose members are predominantly included in the “white” racial category. Conversely, the ethnic group British includes citizens from a multiplicity of racial backgrounds: black, white, Asian, and more, plus a variety of race combinations. These examples illustrate the complexity and overlap of these identifying terms. Ethnicity, like race, continues to be an identification method that individuals and institutions use today—whether through the census, affirmative action initiatives, nondiscrimination laws, or simply in personal day-to-day relations.

What are minority groups?

Sociologist Louis Wirth (1945) defined a minority group    as “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” The term minority connotes discrimination, and in its sociological use, the term subordinate group    can be used interchangeably with the term minority, while the term dominant group    is often substituted for the group that’s in the majority. These definitions correlate to the concept that the dominant group is that which holds the most power in a given society, while subordinate groups are those who lack power compared to the dominant group.

Note that being a numerical minority is not a characteristic of being a minority group; sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power. It is the lack of power that is the predominant characteristic of a minority, or subordinate group. For example, consider apartheid in South Africa, in which a numerical majority (the black inhabitants of the country) were exploited and oppressed by the white minority.

According to Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris (1958), a minority group is distinguished by five characteristics: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits like skin color or language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage. Additional examples of minority groups might include the LBGT community, religious practitioners whose faith is not widely practiced where they live, and people with disabilities.

Scapegoat theory , developed initially from Dollard’s (1939) Frustration-Aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group. History has shown us many examples of the scapegoating of a subordinate group. An example from the last century is the way Adolf Hitler was able to blame the Jewish population for Germany’s social and economic problems. In the United States, recent immigrants have frequently been the scapegoat for the nation’s—or an individual’s—woes. Many states have enacted laws to disenfranchise immigrants; these laws are popular because they let the dominant group scapegoat a subordinate group.

Summary

Race is fundamentally a social construct. Ethnicity is a term that describes shared culture and national origin. Minority groups are defined by their lack of power.

Short answer

Why do you think the term “minority” has persisted when the word “subordinate” is more descriptive?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

How do you describe your ethnicity? Do you include your family’s country of origin? Do you consider yourself multiethnic? How does your ethnicity compare to that of the people you spend most of your time with?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Further research

Explore aspects of race and ethnicity at PBS’s site, “What Is Race?”: (External Link)

References

Caver, Helen Bush, and Mary T. Williams. 2011. “Creoles.” Multicultural America, Countries and Their Cultures , December 7. Retrieved February 13, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

CNN Library. (February 22, 2014). "Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts." CNN US . N.p., Retrieved October 9, 2014 (http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/)

Dollard, J., et al. 1939. Frustration and Aggression . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Graves, Joseph. 2003. The Emperor's New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium . New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial Formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s (2nd ed.) . New York, NY: Routledge.

Wagley, Charles, and Marvin Harris. 1958. Minorities in the New World: Six Case Studies . New York: Columbia University Press.

Wirth, Louis. 1945. “The Problem of Minority Groups.” The Science of Man in the World Crisis , edited by R. Linton: 347. In Hacker, Helen Mayer. 1951. Women as a Minority Group . Retrieved December 1, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

World Health Organization. 2011. “Elder Maltreatment.” Fact Sheet N-357. Retrieved December 19, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Questions & Answers

I have an assignment on sociology to interview people who have vulnerable diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis, Cancer, Diabetes etc can someone advice me how to approach them because it's very difficult for me to do it
Mary Reply
Treat them with kindness like you would anyone else. No one likes to be treated with kid gloves - it's insulting and makes anyone feel marginalized. Do not approach them with piety (i.e., asking 'Are you okay?' with the slight head tilt). It's insulting and they will likely dismiss you immediately.
andi
treat them like you are a patient like also giving them motivational stories, play games with them
Great
sociological perspective
Davison Reply
When you are sick what should you do?You consult a physician likewise when the society is not functioning well what should the government do?Also consult a sociologist
Joseph Reply
hi where are you live mr joseph
Abdinasir
yes Abdinasir "in somalia"
yuusuf
and you
yuusuf
hy
nura
Hy is a for skin in Swedish.
Joakim
hi
yuusuf
Hi
Joakim
Hello everyone, who is from cameroon here because am tired with the 2 weeks ghost town here especially in North and South West region and I have not even done my sociology assignment I don't know were to start
Mary
hi everyone
Tariq
am new in this field I was given an assignment any one knows how to, need help
Davison
just give a tip of the assignment
Mary
Can you bring the assignment's question on board? if no than how one will know the assignment's question?
Emmanuel
who here for now?
Emmanuel
Is there anyone in here?
Emmanuel
how sociology affects in them adversity in age of globilization
mohamed
I leave in Nigeria
Joseph
hi
saad
Sociology affects people in many ways for instance, urban people's thought, life style, way of living is totally different than people live in rural areas. availability of Internet has impact on people because we spend leisure time with friends if we get time but now It's change due to internet.
saad
It depends on your geographic location, government, and what type of physician you are in need of. Always - regardless of where you reside - make certain that your doctor is aligned with an organization for physicians seeking higher ethical standards.
andi
hi Great from Zimbabwe ....and I'm new in this field
Great
Am a Nigeria
Olumide
hai
Machila
what is the relevance of sociology?
Love Reply
how conflict theory differs from functionalist theory in relation to education
kealeboga Reply
Education is a major social institution that helps transmit information, beliefs, and skills through formal training or teaching. Education plays a hug role across the world.
Timi
discuss how some symbolic interactionist theories view the family in relation to socialisation
kealeboga
how can counteract biases?
Hawa Reply
is so splendid
Aminu
hi
Aminu
how r u
Farhana
help me in my sociology questions
Farhana
yes
ali
hi sociologist society
yasir
what is social phenomena and it's nature
yasir
Hell am Ilham
Ilham
pls i want to understand dis course because my lecturer x not helping me at all he don't explain in details
Ilham
what do sociologists study?
Rachel Reply
define sociology of culture ?
Qamar
define sociology in culture ?
Qamar
Tell me how can I easily differentiate the methodology vs methods?
Rk Reply
hi
Praveen
Halo
Rk
hi
Hope
hallo how are you
Chilals
m fine nd u
ali
Good morning friends
Md
what is positivism anyone explain this
Amarkhan
The process of social change in the Caribbean society can not be analyzed using the major macro European paradigm as they ignore the caribbean's reality, to what extent is this statement true?
Keron Reply
True
Andrew
I am a PhD candidate and i am creating a Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹 centric model
Andrew
am a social work trainee.I want to thank you all for your questions and answers,they really useful to me. so thanks en keep it up
Fatoumatta
why is it true @Andrew
Keron
np. if u in trinidad i may fly home in a few weeks. provided i get a cheap flight for under 1000 us..lmao. you will do well i not worried. Be proud of your caribbean identity
Andrew
It is true because the theories and grounded in their culture.
Andrew
Think about it. If you sample is apples and my sample is 🍇 while the numbers may be the same the output would be different.
Andrew
forgive my fruit metaphor i love food
Andrew
Furthermore when you study Philosophy principles which are way higher than sociological principles you realize that the methodological assumptions (values) of various societies are different.
Andrew
Best FIT will always be better than Best PRACTICES! Create your own.
Andrew
are*
Andrew
It boils down to the demographics of your sample
Andrew
If you have to get a representative sample it must be representative of the Society aka the Population you sampling. Different Societal Structure different representative sample. hint hint. A British model can never be transferred to a Trinidad Society.
Andrew
this is a question for my sociology for project.... I need help
Keron
what is the caribbean's reality?
Keron
what is the Macro European Paradigm?
Keron
oh and Andrew I am from Jamaica
Keron
deconstruct the theme. Macro - large or big Caribbean Thinking (paradigm)
Andrew
just write why you think Jamaican thinking is better than England
Andrew
thats the crux of the question
Andrew
and the Caribbean's reality is?
Keron
sigh
Andrew
bro reality is relative
Andrew
the question demands u think
Andrew
how do u define Caribbean reality
Andrew
the music we listen, the food we eat, how we worship, our laws etc
Keron
What is psychology and discuss its major factors
Peace
explain in details five agents of sociology
Kaoma
Andrew what factors that makes people to stop socialising
Kaoma
I am not agree to data analysis and payment
Dipeshkumar Reply
child marriage with queations
manoj Reply
how has sociology contributed to the welfare of the society?
Teza Reply
scholars definition of culture
Sekinat Reply
Can anyone pliz tell me the difference between Epistemology and Ontology? Also how it relates to each other?
Rk Reply
in which reference did u get those two words?
Teza
I found these two words in the area of social research and what I like to know is the usage of these two in doing social research.
Rk
epistemology - schools of thought
Andrew
Ontology the categorization
Andrew
epistemology + ontology = knowledge
Andrew
Epistemology is the study of knowledge. One of the 3 branches of Metaphysics.
Leonard
OK I see
Keron
Ontology and Being are the other 2. They both study being... Maybe it's the 2 branches of Metaphysics?
Leonard
Ooops. Epistemology is one of the 5 main branches of Philosophy. Ontology is a branch of Metaphysics and Metaphysics is one of the 5 main branches of Philosophy. These two words are Philosophy terminology.
Leonard
Thanks!!
Rk
what is limited informal norm
buhle Reply
limited informal customary norm
buhle

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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