The Sociology of Slavery, Race, and Ethnicity

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.