One of the primary objectives of Sociology is to provide an evidence-based framework to explain and regulate the processes within society. In spite of being a relatively recent discipline, this area of study has tackled an array of topical issues that stemmed from obsolete views on the relations between individuals. Nevertheless, there remain several challenges, which sociology aims at examining and eradicating. Racial discrimination is one of the most detrimental phenomena that impede effective communication between people on both global and personal levels. While this problem has received increased attention from scientists and researchers across the globe, the need for a comprehensive theory remains. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the issue of racial discrimination within the framework of a critical sociological theory of race and racism explained by Tanya Golash-Boza.
Understanding of Race and Racism
The issue of racism has been extremely topical in recent years due to its severe social repercussions. People that demonstrate such negative views consider people of other origins to be inherently different from them. Moreover, the concept of racism implies that the aforementioned differences make minorities worse than other individuals living in a particular community. Evidently, the term itself stems from the word “race” and means that humans can be separated into specific biological species. However, this statement has proven incorrect by recent studies, making the idea of the race a social construct (Golash-Boza 2016). The idea itself is deeply connected to the principle of European or white superiority, which prevails in the context of racist views. The described stance was primarily established during the European colonization of Africa when the local population was heavily oppressed and later used as slaves. Golash-Boza (2016) refers to race as a modern concept, which derived from the colonial era. Moreover, the very idea of separating people into particular races had not existed before the European civilization conquered the American continent. Therefore, the worldview, upon which racist ideas are based, is a relatively recent invention.
The 21st century has introduced an unprecedented level of globalization, which has established steady connections between different parts of the world. This phenomenon has unquestionable advantages in terms of opportunities. First of all, the entire planet has become available for a broad range of people in the context of residence, career, and travel. Accordingly, individuals are no longer tied to their place of birth, which allows for an effective exchange of knowledge and resources. As a result, businesses are able to manufacture their goods and provide their service on a global scale, improving the choice opportunities for people. On the other hand, the described phenomenon has indirectly entailed negative consequences, as well. People used the new opportunities to realize their talents across borders, and some of the left unstable or hostile areas for new countries. Consequently, as people of different origins began to receive due recognition and indispensable human rights, they faced considerable opposition on behalf of the original population. While diversity is a purely positive concept, those who shared obsolete colonial views promoted the racist agenda driven by the fear caused by the new experience.
Overall, systemic racism has stemmed from colonial encounters and evolved throughout the following centuries. Golash-Boza (2016) states that global white supremacy has affected every part of the planet. Nevertheless, it is noted that it would inaccurate to refer to any form of discrimination of ostracism as racism. Golash-Boza (2016) mentions research that examined the Chinese stratification system based on skin color among other similar concepts which existed in Asia. Such a separation, despite its discriminatory nature, does not involve the biological concept of race and outdates the European colonial period. Therefore, racism is a separate concept that emerged following the Europeans’ conquest of native people of other continents. The primary difference between the two standpoints lies in the manner of skin color differences interpretation. The Asian models, indeed, considered this aspect of a person important and attributed a particular meaning to it. At the same time, the European colonization-induced racism introduces a hierarchy, making one skin type inherently superior as compared to others. Accordingly, the idea of racism only comprises unjustified oppression of other people based on the wrong interpretation of the biological concept of race in relation to humans.
The notion of race is repeatedly examined in the present study, as understanding its nature is crucial for identifying the problem of racism and its underlying issues. Golash-Boza (2016) emphasizes the importance of the correct perception of race by tracing its genealogy within the context of social studies. As far back as the 18th century, European scientists promoted the ideas that later caused the emergence of the primary foundation of institutional racism. Carolus Linnaeus, one of the most prominent biologists in the history of the field, contributed to the problem by dividing humans into four subspecies (Golash-Boza 2016). He considered both mental and physical aspects when distinguishing the “Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeaenus” groups. It is the dual nature of this division that strengthens its connection to racial discrimination, as, apart from emphasizing the physical differences, it associates particular traits with the appearance of a person. A similar paradigm was introduced and spread by the European colonizers. Even though further biological studies proved wrong the assumed relation between a person’s origin and their character, the discrimination persisted, attributing negative qualities to those who look different.
Sociological Theory of Race and Racism by Tanya Golash-Boza
As mentioned earlier, racism incorrectly assumes that the biological concept of race is applicable in the case of the human species. Not having any scientific grounds, this detrimental phenomenon is a social construct and, in many ways, a political category (Golash-Boza 2016). When racism is spread on a global level, it negatively affects people’s minds, leading to unnecessary tensions among communities. In spite of increasing efforts to promote diversity and equality, racism persists in the modern social and political landscape. As a result, the paradigm of white privilege continues to affect society. This system leads to a situation, in which some people are denied due recognition and opportunities because of their origins, while others obtain an undeserved advantage. Golash-Boza (2016:130) states that “critical race scholarship in sociology also needs a framework flexible enough to be applied across settings”. The purpose of her theory is to systemize the research conducted in this area of study. Unlike many previous studies, a comprehensive theory must examine both race and racism within a united research framework. This way, it will be possible to determine the underlying issues of the global problem.
Types and Levels of Racism
While racism is a global problem that has had an impact on every region of the world, it is possible to discern particular levels, on which it exists. This phenomenon permeates all spheres of human activity from minor mundane interactions to global political and economic processes. First of all, there is such an issue as individual racism (Golash-Boza 2016). While it is not global in nature, meaning that it cannot affect all of society at once, it is particularly detrimental due to its high incidence rate. In other words, individual racism is unlikely to have a significant impact on a person’s life, but its daily occurrences make it equally harmful. Golash-Boza (2016:132) mentions the term “aversive racism” in relation to the situations when an individual tends to avoid people of color in his range of close acquaintances. It is worth mentioning that such instances often happen implicitly, meaning that the person may not demonstrate openly racist views, while subconsciously demonstrating affection for those people of the same race. The variety of the cases of individual racism is broad, comprising an array of workplace situations and other daily interactions.
On the other hand, the purpose of sociological studies in this sphere is to examine the problem on a wider scale. Indeed, it is fair to say that individual racism is merely a consequence of processes that occur on a higher level. According to Golash-Boza (2016), in the second half of the 20th century, the focus of sociological research shifted to a structural approach. Studies showed that people of color were often mistreated by the entire organization, and this tendency reached beyond individual cases. For example, the mortality rate of white hospital patients is often lower than that of other ethnicities, implying that most people of color received poorer treatment. This phenomenon has been called structural, or institutional racism. It takes place in a situation when “one or more of the institutions of society has the power to throw on more burdens and give fewer benefits to the members of one race” (Golash-Boza 2016). Accordingly, this sub-concept describes a dangerous situation, in which ethnic groups are mistreated by entire organizations.
At the same time, further research demonstrated an even deeper problem in the context of racial discrimination. Numerous studies and observations have revealed that social systems, in general, demonstrated a high level of bias toward people of color. This phenomenon, known as systemic racism, occurred on the global level. For example, schools with higher numbers of white students received better funding than others. Moreover, systemic racism has managed to permeate the majority of essential spheres enabling the functioning of society, such as politics, health care, and education. Golash-Boza (2016) states that the situation has not yet changed over the last decades, and systemic racism persists. Consequently, people of color suffer from the emerged disparities, against which modern equality movements attempt to fight. Overall, it is possible to assume that systemic racism has the largest amount of negative impact on society. Discriminatory views on the policy-making level cause institutional disparities, which, in turn, translate into individual cases of racism.
When systemic racism is observed, the entire society can be considered racialized. Discriminatory views form entire ideologies that impact communities on all levels described in the previous section. According to Golash-Boza (2016:133), “racial ideology is a set of principles and ideas that divides people into different racial groups and serves the interests of one group”. Such ideologies are created by a particular dominant group, which abuses this system in order to promote its interests. Evidently, the exact nature of the described phenomenon may vary depending on the historical context and particularities of the situation. As society passes from one development stage to another, so does the interest of the elite, which wields the power to enforce systemic racism among other policies. Golash-Boza (2016) admits that, although the situation has changed in the United States over the past fifty years, the principle of white privilege has remained. However, as the nation moved from open segregation, systemic racism has become covert. Racist ideas are being gently incorporated in business, economics, and education, despite increasing levels of diversity and equality movements.
Therefore, modern society demonstrates a particular racist ideology, which is different from openly discriminatory models of the 20th-century United States or Nazi Germany. However, it remains highly detrimental, as millions of lives are affected by this approach. Golash-Boza (2016:133) refers to the modern situation as “color-blind racism”. Unlike previous models, particular ideology suggests that the disparities and unfairness are caused not by people’s appearance and origins but by natural socioeconomic processes. In other words, a white privilege only exists because the majority of people who managed to achieve success happened to be white. Color-blind racism attempts to deny the very existence of systemic barriers preventing talented people of color from attaining their goals. Instead, such ideologists claim that these people were simply unable to meet the market’s requirements and fit in the global picture. Naturally, color-blind racism denies evident facts, as an in-depth analysis reveals abundant evidence of white privilege. Accordingly, despite the promotion of modern values and equality, systemic racism has disappeared, taking a covert form instead.
In the age of globalization and mass media, the described racist ideology is spread via modern technologically advanced means. Nowadays, people have access to a large amount of content broadcast on television and available on the Internet. The global entertainment industry has reached unprecedented production levels, supplying films, TV series, books, and video games. Instead of promoting progressive views, popular culture relies on stereotypes and prejudices in order to facilitate the understanding of content by the audience. As a result, people of color have acquired particular archetypes widely used by content makers (Table 1). For example, Muslim people have been deemed either religious terrorists or oil billionaires without moral principles. Native Americans in the popular culture are usually tribal communities with outdated savage lifestyles. Asian people’s role in content is often reduced to that of a martial arts expert or corrupt businessman. A similar tendency can observe in the case of black people, who are shown as uneducated criminals along with Latino immigrants. As a result, such biased representation affects the audience, spreading racism and bigotry.
It is possible to observe a correlation between all the concepts described earlier. First of all, the notion of racism is derived from the incorrect interpretation of the biological term “race”. Systemic racism, which emerged as a result, spread its influence across institutions and organizations. During the following stage, people adopted the prejudices and incorporated them into their mindsets, even though the process may happen subconsciously. At the same time, the prevailing social, economic, and political ideologies continued to promote the ideas, despite modern equality-aimed efforts. The archetypes mentioned above make the distribution of systemic racism easier. Naturally, people who have seen a large number of films with black people as dangerous criminals will develop a cautious attitude toward them in reality.
While media and entertainment companies occupy a unique position in terms of the potential influence on society, the majority of them choose to support the stereotypes. Nevertheless, anti-racist views have also seen an increase in popularity. However, as far as this direction is concerned, the process develops in the opposite direction. If racism seems to stem from systemic issues and extends to the level of personal interaction, equality begins with separate individuals who promote it. Consequently, anti-racism views extend beyond interpersonal interaction, encompassing institutions and organizations. However, a significant amount of effort is still required to counter the effect of color-blind racism and achieve systemic equality.
In conclusion, the concept of racism comprises a set of stereotypes and prejudices, which are spread on the global level and negatively affect the lives of billions of people. Unjustified scientific assumptions of the past fueled the negative tendency, which appeared during the European colonization. Racism developed throughout centuries, taking different forms and ideologies, while its nature remained unchanged. In the 21st century, it exists in the form of color-blind racism that attempts to justify the disparities through economic and political terms. In addition, it is fueled by mass media and entertainment content producers, who readily include stereotypes in popular culture. Racism begins at the systemic level, gradually encompassing the institutions and permeating personal relations between individuals. Despite considerable progress achieved by equality movements in recent decades, the problem persists and more work on the systemic scale is required to eradicate it.
Golash-Boza, Tanya. 2016. “A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2): 129–141.