The Sociology of Slavery, Race, and Ethnicity

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2 March 2016

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According to Essentials of Sociology a Down-to-Earth Approach written by James M. Henslin, Race is defined as a group of people with inherited physical characteristics that distinguish it from another group. The concept of race is both a reality and a myth. The reality of race is that we as humans are born with a variety of shapes and colors (Henslin, 214). Depending on our genetic makeup, we are viewed upon as white, black, red, yellow, or brown (Henslin, 214). Other distinguishing characteristics include the color of our eyes, fullness of our lips, and texture of our hair. The assortment of these characteristics in the concept of race is obviously reality. In contrast, the concept of race is also considered to be a myth. People seem to believe that there are genuine races. For example, many believe that a race could be composed of only blacks and whites or African Americans and Caucasians. When in reality, these classified racial groups differ from one another only once in a thousand subunits of the genome, making us surprisingly homogenous (Henslin, 214).

Race, because of the above differences in reality and myth, is seen as a very sensitive matter. It can also be confused with ethnicity. Race, as mentioned above refers to supposed biological characteristics that distinguish one group of people from another, while ethnicity refers to cultural characteristics (Henslin, 217). They are commonly confused with one another because of ignorance of the people. Ethnicity refers to people who identify with each other on the basis of common ancestry and cultural heritage and their sense of belonging may center on their clan, country, or region of origin, foods, clothing, language, music, religion, or family names and relationships (Henslin, 217). The terms race and ethnicity or ethnic groups are often confused because people think a particular group of people are a race when in actuality they are really an ethnic group. For example, people think Jews are a race; however they are properly considered an ethnic group (Henslin, 217). Their cultural characteristics, especially their religion bind them together (Henslin, 217).

Aside from race being a sensitive matter, prejudice and discrimination are also among subjects people hesitate to speak about. Prejudice and discrimination are common throughout the world, therefore are very significant in social life (Henslin, 218). Discrimination is action of unfair treatment directed against someone (Henslin, 218). People can be discriminated against based on many characteristics. For example, age, sex, height, weight, skin color, clothing, speech, income, education, marital status, sexual orientation, disease, disability, religion, and politics (Henslin, 218). Discrimination has been a long time issue that dates back many, many years and yet it still exists today. People are protected by laws against discrimination, however others nonetheless finds ways to get around these laws. Discrimination is most often the result of an attitude called prejudice (Henslin, 220). Prejudice denotes the possession of negative attitudes of a particular kind regarding members of a specific group or category (Denmark, 2010). As commonly used, prejudice is not merely a statement of opinion or belief, but an attitude that includes feelings such as contempt, dislike, or loathing (Denmark, 2010).

Discrimination is a term applied to the negative actions that result from prejudicial attitudes and that are directed against the targets or victims of prejudice (Denmark, 2010). Someone who is prejudiced may, in certain situations, practice discrimination.

Discrimination can be classified into various categories including individual discrimination and institutional discrimination. Individual discrimination is the negative treatment of one person by another (Henslin, 222). This treatment usually involves individuals. For example, one may be discriminate another because of the color of their skin. This then becomes and issue between these two individuals. Institutional Discrimination is the negative treatment of a minority group that is built onto a society’s institutions (Henslin, 222). This type of discrimination creates favor for one group against others because of race or ethnicity. For instance, being denied a loan application because of the color of one’s skin. Studies from earlier have shown that bank lenders had participated in such practices discriminating against minorities by rejecting their loan applications (Henslin, 222). They defended themselves by stating that whites had better credit history (Henslin, 222).

The subject of race, discrimination, prejudice, individual discrimination, and institutional discrimination all have had a major impact on the current social, education, and economic position of African Americans. Discrimination involving cooperative efforts by the real estate industry, federal housing policy, banking instructions, and neighborhood organizations ensured blacks were restricted in housing choices to the least desirable residential areas (Collins and Williams, 1999). Thus, putting African Americans in tough situations as it relates to social, educational, and economic opportunities. Schools help to socialize and provide knowledge to children to become better individuals in society. However, when the schools are located in the least desirable residential area, this poses a threat to the socialization and education of children.

This has a major impact on those African American children because they are not afforded the same education and socialization as those children attending the more desirable schools. Whites also display widespread acceptance of negative stereotypes of blacks and great reluctance to positive ones therefore impacting the current position of African Americans (Collins and Williams, 1999). For example, more than half of whites believe blacks are prone to violence, prefer to live off welfare, and lack the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty (Collins and Williams, 1999). African Americans then internalize this racism because they have been told or hear these allegations over and over and now believe that it is true, subsequently affecting them socially, educationally, and economically. Segregation has also played an important role in the impact of the current situations of African Americans. Blacks are discouraged from residing in white residential areas and whites continue to move out of communities when the black population increases (Collins and Williams, 1999). There has been a very minimal decline in segregation over time for this is another issue impacting African Americans today (Collins and Williams, 1999).

All things considered, prior to the civil rights legislation, African Americans were not afforded the same opportunities as whites. Sociologist William Julius Wilson has stated, “The African American experience was dominated by race.”

He has stated this because African Americans were segregated from whites and this adversely affected African Americans. They were negatively treated, solely based on the similar characteristics of their skin. Another term commonly used to describe this treatment is racism. Whites were able to maintain their social distance from blacks, limiting them to only certain jobs and opportunities (Henslin, 227). They also were able to manipulate the social institutions to suppress African Americans and deny them full access to society’s benefits, a term theorists use internal colonialism (Henslin, 227). By denying black’s access to the society, whites were able to control them based on race.

Collins, C. and Williams, R. (1999). The Deadly Effects of Racism. Sociological Forum, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sept., 1999), pp. 495-523. Retrieved March 16, 2011 from JSTOR database. Demark, F. L. (2010), Prejudice and Discrimination.Retreived March 17, 2011 from Henslin, J. M. (2011). Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach. Boston: Pearson Higher Education

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