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A Report on What Race is

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The ideology of race and it’s counterpart (racism) have been phenotypically interpreted throughout history. Race, defined by Dalton Conley in his sociologically-based book You May Ask Yourself, as “a group of people who share a set of characteristics and are said to share a common bloodline.” (Conley 322). Ethnicity, defined by Conley is one’s ethnic quality or affiliation (Conley 355). Race is something that is externally imposed and involuntary, usually based on physical difference (phenotype) and hierarchial based on social constructs. Race is exclusive and primarily unitary: you can only have one race. Ethnicity, however, is based on differences in practice, not phenotypical voluntary, self-defined/embraced by group members, non-hierarchial, fluid and multiple: you can have many ethnical affiliations. The fundamental difference between race and ethnicity is that race is hierarchial and socially imposed: you have no control over your race, it’s imposed by others. You can identify as many different ethnicities, but only one race. For example, you could identify ethnically as Russian and Irish, but can only really racially identify as black or white.

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Most associate ethnicity with culture and race with biology. Given the history of biology’s use for political means, it’s a very important people to realize that race as we know it is not a biological concept. According to sociologist David Freund, “one could argue that both ethnicity and race are socially constructed, their influence in terms of power and inequality is in the way that racial identities have been constructed historically. One could argue that they’re both illusory and imagined. But racial categories have had a much more concrete impact on peoples’ lives, because they’ve been used to discriminate and to distribute resources unequally and set up different standards for protection under law”. The core focus of this excerpt is that the influence of race and ethnicity are global, and have both been used to highlight inequality. An example of racial inequality is in the 1950’s, when racial segregation was extremely prevalent, and thousands of people were killed over the philosophy of white privilege.

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An example of ethnic inequality is Hitler’s reign over Germany, and his antisemitism towards Jews, where he put thousands of Jews in concentration camps and killed them, all because of their ethnicity: Jewish. There are many theories regarding inequalities and how they are related to race and ethnicity. As a functionalist view, ethnic and racial inequalities must have served an important function in order to exist as long as they have. However, this concept raised some questions. How can racial prejudice contribute positively to society? A functionalist might look at “functions” and “dysfunctions” caused by racial inequality. Anthropologist Manning Nash (1964) focused his argument on the way racism is functional for the dominant group, for example, suggesting that racism morally justifies a racially unequal society. For example, the way that slave owners justified slavery in the South: by suggesting that black people were fundamentally inferior to white and preferred slavery instead of freedom.

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