Ethnicity and ethnic groupings are socially constructed ideas. This means that the things we consider to be designations between peoples, such as their skin color or nationality, are really just arbitrary determinations. For example, take someone who is African-American, or "black." Educated people know that the skin color of the individual will have little if any bearing on the individual. However, the stereotype of the person will be that he or she is uneducated, that they are potentially involved in crimes or criminology, or at the very least they will have a relative who is. Additionally, they will have an anger and prejudice against the other ethnicities, particularly white people. These are all stereotypical constructions. If someone does not conform to these ideas, they are considered by some to be beyond the norm and to be rejecting his or her stereotypical behaviors. Sociologically-imposed labels are everywhere. This is also true of gender. The physical differences between male and female are referred to as sex. Gender, on the other hand, is all the sociological characteristics a person would expect when dealing with someone of a designated sex. For example, if someone has the physical anatomy of a girl, the gender type would assume that this person plays with dolls and likes pink. She does not play rough with the boys and instead prefers to stay clean and neat. Her ultimate goal is to by a mommy and her maternal instincts are nurtured through her play. When a person defies the characteristics of their social group, they are considered non-normative. There are severe ramifications for those who do not conform to the ideas of their group. They are often ostracized from those in their same social group; sometimes to the point where they can only associate with other similarly-ostracized individuals.
Every ethnic, racial, and religious group is subject to stereotyping from others. Stereotypes, by definition, are "impressions that people form of groups by associating particular characteristics and emotions with particular groups" (Smith 2000,-page 156). Stereotypes lead to negative opinions about a given people, a psychological position referred to as prejudice. The definition of prejudice is "a rigid and unfair generalization about an entire category of people" (Macionis 2006-page 284). There are several theories about why people use stereotypes and formulate prejudices. People judge other individuals and behave in negative ways towards those people because of preconceived notions about the othered population. Stereotypes are used to make judgments about a group even when there is no basis for making those assessments. Often people's prejudicial beliefs are formed even before they have any one-on-one contact with the group against whom they are prejudiced. There are prejudices which are centered on religion, around occupation, but most prejudices are based upon ethnicity and race. These are scapegoat theory, authoritarian personality theory, culture theory, and conflict theory.
Ethnicity and race are often used as interchangeable terms but they are actually very different. This is similar to how sex and gender are used interchangeably. One is a genetic marker separating human beings into categories while the other is a socially-constructed term which people accept as being the basis for classification of difference. Race is "a socially constructed category composed of people who share biologically transmitted traits that members of a society consider important" (Macionis 2006-page 280). Ethnicity on the other hand is the physical difference that categorizes people, such as skin color or country of origin. It is "a shared cultural heritage" (Macionis 2006-page 282). This is the difference between the two terms and much prejudice takes the form of racism, which are anger or negative opinions based upon stereotypes of a given racial group. That is why people who are racist against black people cannot differentiate between African-Americans or people who are Nigerian or Kenyan. To those with prejudices against black people, anyone who fits into that racial classification is equated. Their ethnicity doesn't matter at all, only the race is perceived and judged.
The scapegoat theory is the idea that a group of individuals is uniformly prejudiced against a given population. It is the idea that "prejudice springs from frustration among people who are themselves disadvantaged" (Macionis 2006-page 287). People tend to absorb the system of beliefs regarding a group without personal interaction with that group. Part of the blame for the propagation of these stereotypes belongs to the media (Macrae 1996,-page 435). The trouble with the scapegoat theory is that it requires a scapegoat to be found, a person who all the problems of the disadvantaged group can blame for the problems they are experiencing economically and sociologically as well. One of the ways that the scapegoat theory works is that propagation of negative ideas is perpetuated through media by supporting and creating propaganda. When the majority of information that is accessible to the public is negative, it fuels negative stereotypes about that group. Politicians have been known to use stereotype in order to further their political agenda. This is the scapegoat theory of prejudice wherein an official convinces the populous that all their problems are the result of the influence of an identified other; such as the Jews in Hitler's Germany. The leader utilizes a homogenous fear of the unknown to create a scapegoat, a group of people on whom all the blame for the current situation can be blamed.
The second theory of prejudice is the authoritarian personality theory. This is the idea the prejudice just happens to be a personality treat of some people, things that they cannot help. It is also believed that persons who hold prejudicial views against one minority group will more than likely hold prejudicial views against all minority groups (Macionis 2006-page 288). These individuals hold on to stereotypes rigidly and cannot comprehend that their viewpoints are based on fallacies. People who hold prejudicial opinions as children will more than likely grow up to be prejudiced adults, unwilling to interact with individuals who come from other racial groups. This theory also states that people are accepting of a minority will also be more accepting of other minority groups. Essentially the theory itself categorizes individuals, which is where it is weak. It does not believe that a group can be suspect of one ethnic group but then accepting of another minority.
Culture theory claims that all people hold at least some prejudicial beliefs. This theory comes from the concept that prejudice begins with culture clash (Macionis 2006-page 288). Culture theory is negative opinions formulated when one group's culture and traditions comes into conflict with that of another culture. This is usually a situation where a new culture immigrates into an accepted culture. In the United States, the nation is famously referred to as a melting pot wherein cultures from all the corners of the glob unite and settle in this country. Each of these immigrant groups bring with them their own traditions and heritage and hold onto the things that they know, such as foods and language. What can happen is that when an immigrant population moves in, the majority group can feel negatively towards the foreign influence. In the U.S., pamphlets in the DMV are written in many different languages and there is a group who are petitioning legislation to insist that English be adopted as the official language of the United States. This would force immigrants to learn English and perform tasks, such as taking the driver's license test, in English. The phrase "Learn English or go home" seems to be the motto of this group. Instead of embracing the new culture, the majority culture can rebuff the immigrants and form prejudices against the people.
The final theory of prejudice is conflict theory. This dictates that people in power oppress other peoples and use racial differentiation as the basis for this oppression. This is exemplified in the United States through the history of slavery of African-Americans. The prejudices against African-Americans in this country led to a mentality wherein the perception states that black people were inherently inferior. Their race showcased how they were inferior to white people. So, oppression of African-Americans was acceptable because of the racial differences between black and white. In reaction to this, the minority group develops prejudices against the majority population, feeling that their history of oppression entitles them to certain privileges in the modern era. "Because of their historic disadvantage, minorities claim that they are victims entitled to special consideration based on their race" (Macionis 2006-page 289). There are several situations that have come up, both legally and sociologically, which reflect this perspective. One such example is the Affirmative Action debate wherein people of minority ethnicities are given priority placement in certain institutions, like schools or businesses. This was designed to make up for the historic oppression of minorities in the United States in both academic acceptance and hiring practices. Affirmative Action has been ruled illegal because it bases acceptance on race rather than merit.
Most people lean on stereotypes because they allow a person to other someone else. By placing…