Race Pierre Van Den Berghe Essay Research

Race: Pierre Van Den Berghe Essay, Research Paper

When we look at physical characteristics such as skin color from the social definition perspective, there is no clear meaning, but these characteristics do have what is referred to as social meaning. Pierre van den Berghe defined a racial group as a “human group that defines itself and/or is defined by other groups as different from other groups by virtue of innate and immutable physical characteristics” (8). Racial group distinctions are based upon ideological racism, which links physical qualities to the lesser or greater cultural and intellectual characteristics.

Originating more than one hundred years ago, people with only one-eighth African ancestry, but even without any physical characteristics normally associated with African Americans, is still considered black by today’s society. People refer to this as the “one drop of blood” rule, which basically is saying that if you have any African blood in you, you will most likely still be considered black no matter how much of any other blood you have in you. This is very unfair to mixed people around the world because people want to be considered whatever they feel they should be, not what society classifies them as. If this were true for all races, then how come someone who is only one-eighth white isn’t considered white by society? Probably because society considers African Americans as the minority, so this became a cultural universal on how to judge if someone should be considered black or white.

Ethnicity comes from the Greek word “Ethnos”, which means “nation.” Its earliest English usage referred to countries or nations that weren’t Jewish or Christian. There are two different definitions of ethnicity, one broad and one narrow. The broad definition refers to an ethnic group as being a social group distinguished by race, religion, or national origin. If we look closer, we will see that these characteristics are both physical and cultural, that’s why this is referred to as the broad definition. The narrow definition refers to groups that are distinguished primarily on the basis of cultural or national-origin characteristics. The cultural characteristics being language, and the national-original characteristics being the country from which a person or his/her ancestors came. Today, the narrower definition is more preferred by social scientists because it matches up more precisely with the original Greek meaning of nationality. Ethnocentrism should also be mentioned here because this is a big cause of racism today. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your group or country believes that they are better than all the other groups and countries in the world. These groups always compare everything about other groups to their own group and try to pick out that groups weaknesses or differences.

With all this, we get the words prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice can be defined as “an antipathy based on a faulty generalization. It may be felt or expressed. It may be directed toward a group as a whole, or toward an individual because he or she is a member of that group” (16). With prejudice being the feelings people have against specific people or groups, discrimination is actually the actions one carries out upon these people or groups. There are specific steps that have been used to show how discrimination is formed, and they are broken down in to the following: Motivation, discriminatory actions, effects, the relation between motivation and actions, the relation between actions and effects, the immediate institutional context, and the larger societal context (18). Even today, racial discrimination continues to be a multi-dimensional problem surrounding all institutional areas of our society.


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