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Social Stratification of Race

Race is a complex concept which has different meaning and usage in different environments. Race as a biological concept refer to a large category of people who share certain inherited physical characteristics like color of skin, type of hair, facial features and size of head. With advancement in technology, this notion of race is debunked with use of DNA finger printing and it is now well established that all humans have small variations along a continuum. For sociologists, a race is a group of people who are perceived by a given society as biologically or culturally different from the others. Some sociologists claim that people are assigned to one race or another by public opinion which is molded by that society’s dominant group rather than on any scientific basis. Sociologists view race as merely an ideological construct based on physical differences. It was also used as a tool of domination, discrimination and spreading inequality in the form of racial stratification. Joseph Arthur De Gobineau in the middle of 19th century gave first major racial classification in terms of three distinct groups which were White (Caucasian), Black (Negroid) and Yellow (Mongolian).He also attached notions of superiority and inferiority with these races. White race was termed as supreme race. Such ideas of scientific racism also influenced colonial rulers and they at times tried to justify their colonial sojourns on the basis of such ideas. 

According to one theory, differences were already there for centuries but they acquired a racial shape with the arrival of racial nomenclature and terminologies which colored those physical differences as racial differences. White race supremacy is the outcome of one such early theory.

Ethnocentrism is another explanation which is a suspicion of outsiders with a tendency to evaluate the culture of others with terms of their own culture. It creates notions of in-groups and out-groups. Use of exclusionary methods like ghettos, intermarriage restrictions and social distance maintenance gives a practical shape to ethnocentrism.

From conflict perspective, racial stratification is seen as a product of the capitalist system in which ruling class used slavery, colonization and racism as tools for exploiting labor.

Another theory says that racism is a result of highly unequal and exploitative relation that whites established with the non-whites. Slave trade was a consequence of this approach. Whites used racism as a tool to justify colonialism and decline of political rights like citizenship to non-whites in their colonies further strengthened racial stratification. Another reason is attributed to migration of ethnic minority to western countries. When developed countries witnessed periods of economic hardship, native population started blaming the outsiders for taking their employment opportunities and economic space. Racial stratification has affected different societies differently and racism is the worst form of racial stratification. 

After declaration of equal civil rights in USA in 1960s, official abolition of Apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s and similar steps by other countries, racial stratification and racism now operate in more subtle ways than the earlier open blatant racism. It is termed as new racism. Discriminatory attitudes still persist. Developed countries like USA also suffer from racial profiling incidents. Angela Davis in her Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture and Empire 2005 goes on to argue that state is also complicit in perpetuation of racial and ethnic discrimination. According to her, mass imprisonment is a modern tool of the American state to impose repression and discrimination upon African American and Hispanics in USA.

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