Slow progress towards racial equality: a sociological analysis

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Are race relations getting better? This problem persists prominently in the minds of many Americans in such as tense political and social atmosphere. Race relations in the United States have always been a source of controversy and divisiveness. The atmosphere of discrimination still exists in numerous ways. In fact, many people within the racial minority groups primarily the African Americans and Hispanic populations. The Civil Rights era marked a turning point in the country by granting every race equal rights after a period of struggle. However, the progress that has occurred in the past five decades remains minimal.  Despite the absence of explicit racist attitudes among the diverse population, it still exists implicitly and subtly in various aspects of ordinary life where discrimination is evident.

Statistics show significant differences between the dominant groups composed of the Caucasian race compared to the minority races. These differences can be observed in aspects of livelihood such as a pay difference between the races. A study by Pew Research Center (2016) on race and inequality indicates a $28,000 income gap between Caucasian and African American households. In fact, the same study claims that minorities are twice as likely to experience discrimination as a hindrance towards attaining their goals. For example, 47% and 45% of African Americans claim to have been treated suspiciously and unintelligent respectively. These instances indicate a lack of progress since the Civil Rights era. Understanding the mechanisms of race and the absence of progression is vital in establishing a long-lasting solution.  This paper will use the critical race (CRT), cultivation, and ecological systems theories to evaluate the lack of progress in racial equality since the Civil Rights era.

DISCUSSION OF THE PROBLEM

Racial equality refers to a social order where people with different physical features live in harmony with access to similar opportunities and treatment. On the other hand, inequality applies to a situation of imbalance in wealth, perception, or lifestyle between different races. In the United States, racial equality is not a reality. Instead, the society exists stratified according to race (Coleman 2016). This disparity is due to the opportunities and treatment that the dominant majority has access. The Caucasian race is not only wealthy, but it has access to relatively better education and less association with negative perceptions and stereotypes when compared to the minority races. The issue of inequality has been a recurring problem in the United States. It has deep roots in the practice of slavery and the fight for civil rights among the African American community.

Slavery ended after the Civil war leading to a unified country that had abolished the practice. However, despite the newly found freedom, the African Americans were viewed as an inferior race leading to the creation of the separatist Jim Crow laws. They outlawed racial interactions under the slogan ‘separate but equal’. However, the Civil rights era began in 1948 (Kelly 2013). This period marked an era of protests and civil disobedience aimed at pushing for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Civil rights activists faced significant resistance from the government and separatists groups that often turned violent. This struggle ended in 1964 after President John F. Kennedy signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  This legislation ended segregation and prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, and gender. It ushered in a time of change and racial interaction. However, despite this proclamation, race relations remain a topic of concern in the country.

Today, racial tensions are prevalent in the United States. However, the manifestation of these instances of discrimination seems to take up an implicit approach most of the time. The absence of direct acts of racism does not mean that the country is past the problem. Instead, it calls for the identification of subtle instances of discrimination (Rohde and Guest 2013). For example, an evaluation of household income suggests significant disparities between Caucasians and minorities. Education between these groups is also such an instance where predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods have schools with adequate funding to provide a quality education. Those in minority neighborhoods even barely get by on far less funding. Racial inequalities also exist in environmental dimensions where areas that are predominantly composed of minority groups such as flint Michigan face ecological challenges such as dumping of toxic waste in landfills or water bodies (Pulido 2016). Finally, the justice system also seems to be a significant facilitator of racial inequality through the creation of policies that translate to racial profiling and disproportionate incarceration. The status of race-relations shows little progress from desegregation.

The issue of racial equality warrants extensive discussion followed by actions that promote race relations in the country. Poor race-relations further a divisive rhetoric and institutionalize negative perceptions across ethnic markers. A divided society, especially along racial lines, leads to a lower quality of life among specific groups while others flourish at their expense (Bertocchi and Dimico 2014). Such a society is limited in its ability to work as a cohesive unit. It increases suspicion between races and provides a suitable environment for the propagation and popularization negative stereotypes. However, the most significant effect of racial inequality is marginalizing specific groups of the society from economic growth, leadership, and participation in the community. Understanding the causal aspects of the issue is necessary to develop solutions that will revive progress on establishing absolute racial equality.

SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES

This section will provide a discussion of the various sociological theories that are relevant to the topic at hand. Understanding the fundamental aspects of these approaches will enhance their application to the issue of racial inequality and promote current understanding on the subject.

The Critical Race Theory

The critical race theory (CRT) is an interpretation of racial inequality that takes a cultural perspective. According to the method, the society seems to accept race as a norm thereby making it a standard and justifiable occurrence in the country (Carbado and Roithmayr 2014). This theory also suggests that the existing laws can only be applied efficiently to cases that involve explicit infractions rather than the mundane challenges that occur in race relations. This theory is rooted in four crucial principles. First, normalcy is an essential aspect that defines what is acceptable in the society. Secondly, the CRT operates in an environment where the norms of society are diffused through narratives. Thirdly, the CRT also claims that the propagation of group differences such as racism occurs due to the interests of the primary beneficiaries. This class of beneficiaries facilitates the existence of the normalcy since it serves their interests. Finally, the normative discourse of the issue in question is highly dependent on facts and information that affect the widely accepted perceptions and norms. The critical race theory challenges the validity of existing rules and opinions to eradicate preconceived and prejudicial ideas.

The critical race theory was developed within a legal context with the intention of assessing race and power dynamics. However, the validity of this approach goes beyond the issue of race and the legal discipline. In fact, it can be used to evaluate cases of discrimination across multiple disciplines. The theory developed as a way to establish the reasons behind the slow progress of attaining racial inequality in the 1970s after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of the most outstanding scholars associated with the theory are Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman (Noblit, Cleveland, and Hughes 2013). These scholars identified the inadequacies of previous race theories and set out to create one that would push forward the fight for equality. These theorists contributed to the popularization of the CRT through conferences and academic literature. These scholars challenged the status quo concerning legal perception on race and minority groups in the United States to establish the causes of slow progress. They combined scholarship in legal studies and civil rights as a basis for the relationship between race, power, and freedom in the country.

The main strength of the theory is its ability to discuss the issue of racism in a broad context. For instance, it can help link different disciplines such as economic disparities, gender, and social stratification. However, its main criticism exists in its inability to differentiate individual and group identities (Tyler 1998). For example, the theory can develop racist generalizations about a particular group of people irrespective of their actions merely because they enjoy white privilege albeit obliviously. By doing so, the application of the theory can realize racist undertones.

The Cultivation Theory

The cultivation theory is an interpretive construct based on communication studies. The theory claims that the television and other forms of mass media are social agents whose exposure leads to the definition of the users’ perception of the real world (Potter, 2014). This theory exists under the premise that the media shapes societal perceptions and attitudes but not behavior. Significant changes occur after prolonged exposure to a particular aspect of the media coverage. The theory considers people to subscribe to two major categories of media consumption including heavy and light users. Heavy users frequently interact with media sources such as the internet, television, and newspapers among others. This frequent interaction leads to alterations of beliefs and consequently, attitudes and mechanisms of judgment. For example, a person who is exposed to violent media continually becomes desensitized to its undesirable nature. This individual begins to consider violence acceptable and fails to recognize its destructive nature after prolonged exposure. Therefore, the cultivation theory claims that long-term exposure to media leads to changes in societal perceptions of particular issues.

The cultivation theory emerged shortly after the popularization of the television in the United States. The TV became a standard household item after the 1950s. As such, many people in the country were consuming media at an alarming rate. It led to the concern of the effects of this exposure to the media. George Gerbner formulated the theory after research was conducted under the cultural indicators project in the 1970s (Gerbner et al. 2002). The plan was developed to understand the relationship between violence and media. The conclusions stated that a relationship existed between television viewership and awareness on crime and fear of victimization. This understanding bore rise to the cultivation theory and facilitated additional research on the topic that has allowed it to become a prominent conceptualization of the interaction between the media and society.

The main strengths of the theory include its broad applicability on numerous forms of media and innumerable topics beyond violence such as race perceptions. As established, the approach was created concerning television. However, their broad ranges of applications include other forms of media including the internet, music, and video games among others. Its primary limitation is the assumption that it does not consider additional factors that may influence attitudes and beliefs such as people and personal experiences (Potter, 1993).

The Ecological Systems Theory

The ecological systems theory suggests that the environment that person resides plays a significant role in influencing their development. The theory’s creator, Urie Bronfenbrenner claimed that environmental factors contributed to a child’s development (Harkonen 2005). The Russian-American psychologist focused his academic work on sociology and human development. It was through these studies that the scholar established a correlation between the environment and human development (Burns, Warmbold-Brann, and Zaslofsky 2015). The scholar claimed that family, social, political, and economic factors contributed to the child’s development and perception of the world.  He developed five environmental systems that have a profound influence on the development process (Darling 2007). The microsystem relates to the forces that are connected directly to the individual such as family, education, and peers. The meso-systems refer to the interactions between the directly impactful forces such as peers and their families. The exo-system demonstrates a connection to an environment where the individual is not a participant in a particular context. For example, a parent’s sickness affects the child. The macro-system operates at a cultural level where systems such as poverty or capitalism have a profound implication on the individual by dictating identity and behavior. The chronosystem refers to impactful transitional and socio-historical developments. For example, the implementation women’s suffrage rights marked a moment that affected all women by giving them a chance to practice their right to vote.

The main strength of the theory is that it provides a causal relationship where one can identify the implications of a major life event on the individual. In doing so, it implies a causal relationship. However, the theory is based on scenarios that are not regular. As such, one cannot forecast the implications of such situations on the individual effects.

THEORETICAL ANALYSES OF THE PROBLEM

The sociological theories considered in this paper can be used to analyze the issue of racial inequality in the United States. They provide explanations for the reason behind the slow progress of establishing racial equality that is evident today.

The Critical Race Theory

The critical race theory claims that race is a prominent aspect of the American society. As such, one can conclude that racial discrimination is a permanent and possibly crucial aspect of the American culture (Davis 2016). This culture began during slavery where Africans were subjected to ill-treatment and forced labor. This situation led to the institutionalization of the racial divide where an ‘us and them’ perception began. This aspect of the culture was exhibited during segregation. Now, the culture of discrimination is evident in the less subtle aspects of mundane life. The law can identify and deal with race-related crimes such as racially motivated aggression. However, it fails to acknowledge this discrimination in its subtle forms. For example, the education system provides different learning opportunities based on race. Predominantly African American neighborhoods do not get the same funding as those in Caucasian communities. This policy claims it is because African American neighborhoods contribute less government revenue than Caucasian ones. However, this system propagates unequal opportunity indicating the institutionalization of racial inequality.

The narratives present in the society also have a profound impact on the culture concerning race relations according to the theory. The CRT claims that these stories shape the society’s perceptions of race issues. For example, racial stereotypes that portray African Americans as criminals and ignorant people further a negative attitude of the community towards the race (Weber et al. 2014). These narratives come from a variety of sources including the media and social interactions. In addition to the story, self-interests play a significant role in the issue. The presence of specific groups that stand to benefit from discrimination creates an incentive to continue racial inequality and negative narratives.  For instance, white privilege, which is defined as visible and invisible benefits accrued to members of the Caucasian race, persuade members of the race against opposing inequality (Hart 2013). Therefore, adverse narratives and white privilege have slowed the progress on racial equality.

The CRT defines racism as an issue of cultural norms. As such, the situation is subject to the inclusion of facts. These facts can serve to counter the stereotypes expressed in prevalent narratives. For example, changing the story by providing facts on the true nature of the racial landscape as well as developing a positive portrayal of minority races can improve equality. It will lead to changes in individual perceptions and ultimately, construct the society to embrace racial equality.

The Cultivation Theory

According to the cultivation theory, the media plays a crucial role in shaping the viewer’s perceptions of a particular issue. The media works by presenting fictional or exaggerated content that leads to the development of different opinions among the people. However, the media does not necessarily have to develop a negative perception. Nevertheless, the media has been a critical driver in enforcing negative racial opinions of minority groups (Gray 2013). It does so by portraying members of minority groups as stereotypes present in society. This development occurs through assigning or casting minorities in roles that represent these stereotypes. For example, the portrayal of Hispanics as manual laborers implies that the members of this race are underachievers. Upon prolonged exposure to such media, the public begins to adapt and alter their belief systems with aligning to the information passed on through the media. Over time, these ideas constitute the perceived reality of the individual and consequently, society (Lee and Thien 2015). Therefore, the propagation of negative stereotypes among the minority suppresses the progress toward racial equality.

The perceptions of the race created through negative depiction in the media lead to implicit bias. This kind of bias exists at a subtle or even sub-conscious level where the individual harbors negative feelings towards the race (McNutt 2016). For example, such an individual would feel suspicious of African American due to the criminality stereotype. As such, the person may be inclined to deny the African American a job opportunity. As established, the media can present a portrayal of the minority that is equal to that of the Caucasian race to cultivate positive perception. For example, casting African Americans in upstanding and empowering roles can influence a positive societal attitude of the race.

The Ecological Systems Theory

The ecological systems theory claims that factors in the individual’s environment contribute to changes in their perception and development. This argument presents an appropriate approach to assessing racism in the modern era. At a microsystems level, the interaction of the individual with a factor leads to changes in attitude (Hughey et al. 2017). For instance, the interaction of a person with media that promotes negative racial stereotypes leads to the development of an equally negative perception of other races. Another example is the interaction of the legal system with members of minority races where the institution targets these people in a discriminatory manner. Each of these instances illustrates the level of racism that is present in the current society. It also demonstrates why progress toward racial equality has been slow because interactions that propagate prejudice.

On a mesosystems scale, the interaction between factors in the participant’s setting has the potential to facilitate the prevalence of racial inequality. For instance, fatal interactions between the police and African Americans lead to the conclusion that bias does exist within the police force. Additionally, some people who have limited knowledge of the issue may take the perspective that members of the African American race are criminals hence the dispute with police. On the other hand, the African American community may develop the idea that the cops are discriminative since they kill people of their race. Either situation leads to the continuation of the perception of racial inequality. The exosystems level focuses on interactions that affect the individual despite their non-participation. For example, children from minority groups obtain substandard education due to the cooperation between local governments and the education system (Valdez 2015). The child is not a participant in the determination of budgeting policies. However, inadequate and discriminatory policies lead to underfunded schools in minority neighborhoods. However, Caucasian neighborhoods experience better learning conditions. Such systems propagate inequality leading to the slow advancement of equality.

On the macrosystems scale, the culture of white privilege and suspicion of minority races lead to unequal treatment of people from different races. The white privilege provides an incentive for the Caucasian population to go along with the racial inequality. On the other hand, being passed on to a Caucasian individual for opportunities is discrimination and an indicator of racial disparities.

CONCLUSION

Racial inequality is an issue of significant concern in the United States. Disparities between the Caucasian race and minority races involve numerous problems including but not limited to education, income, employment, and police. The critical race theory claims that racism is ingrained in the society through narratives and self-interest. The cultivation theory indicates that the racism and inequality are propagated through media sources that disparage racial minorities. Finally, the ecological systems theory claims that environmental factors such as media, peers, family, and societal attitudes can indicate the prevalence of racial inequalities. These approaches adopt a sociological perspective to assess the society and determine the reasons behind the slow progress towards racial equality in the country.

In summation, specific crucial factors are evident in the assessment. Firstly, the culture plays an essential aspect of shaping the way that people of different racial profiles interact with each other. The culture has the potential to influence people’s perception towards different races, thereby driving their actions. It is also evident that the culture can be affected by changing the negative narratives about race. For instance, using the media as a tool of social change will alter the current racial perceptions. Finally, racial inequality is present in almost every level of interaction with the environment indicating the widespread nature of prejudice. As such, the process of achieving racial equality has been hindered by negative perceptions in the society manifested in the individual’s environment.

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