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Sociological Theories of Prejudice and Racism

Functionalist theory argues that for race and ethnic relations to be functional and thus contribute to the harmonious conduct and stability of society, racial and ethnic minorities must assimilate into that society. Assimilation is a process by which a minority becomes socially, economically, and culturally absorbed within the dominant society. The assimilation perspective assumes that to become fully fledged members of society, minority groups must adopt as much of the dominant society's culture as possible, particularly its language, mannerisms, and goals for success, and thus give up much of its own culture. Assimilationism stands in contrast to racial cultural pluralism the maintenance and persistence of one's culture, language, mannerisms, practices, art, and so on.

Symbolic interaction theory addresses two issues: first, the role of social interaction in reducing racial and ethnic hostility, and second, how race and ethnicity are socially constructed. Symbolic interactionism asks, What happens when two people of different racial or ethnic origins come into contact with each other, and how can such interracial or interethnic contact reduce hostility and conflict? Contact theory, which originated with the psychologist Gordon Allport argues that the contact must be between individuals of equal status; the parties must interact on equal ground. The contact between equals must be sustained; short-term contact will not decrease prejudice. The participants must agree upon social norms favoring equality.

The basic premise of conflict theory is that class-based conflict is an inherent and fundamental part of social interaction. To the extent that racial and ethnic conflict is tied to class conflict, conflict theorists argue that class inequality must be reduced to lessen racial and ethnic conflict in society. The current "class versus race" controversy concerns the question of whether class or race is more important in explaining inequality and its consequences or whether they are of equal importance. Those focusing primarily upon class conflict, have argued that class and changes in the economic structure are sometimes more important than race in shaping the life chances of different groups. Sociologists focusing primarily on the role of race argue the opposite: They say that race has been and is relatively more important than class though class is still important in explaining and accounting for inequality and conflict in society and that directly addressing the question of race forthrightly is the only way to solve the country's race problems.

A recent variety of the conflict perspective propounded by Andersen and Collins is the intersection perspective. This perspective refers to the interactive or combined effects of racism, classism (elitism), and gender in the oppression of people. Intersectional theory posits that any person is socially located in a position that involves race, class, and gen- der and, thus, looking at only one of them to explain their status is incomplete. This perspective notes that not only are the effects of gender and race intertwined, but also both are intertwined with the effects of class. Class, along with race and gender, are integral components of social structure, according to the intersection perspective.

Reference: John J. Macionis, Sociology, Pearson, 14th Edition