Sociology of race and ethnic relations

The sociology of race and ethnic relations is the study of social, political, and economic relations between races and ethnicities at all levels of society. This area encompasses the study of systemic racism, like residential segregation and other complex social processes between different racial and ethnic groups.

The sociological analysis of race and ethnicity frequently interacts with postcolonial theory and other areas of sociology such as stratification and social psychology. At the level of political policy, ethnic relations is discussed in terms of either assimilationism or multiculturalism. Anti-racism forms another style of policy, particularly popular in the 1960s and 1970s. At the level of academic inquiry, ethnic relations is discussed either by the experiences of individual racial-ethnic groups or else by overarching theoretical issues.

Classical Theorists

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois is well known as one of the most influential black scholars and activists of the 20th century. Du Bois educated himself on his people, and sought academia as a way to enlighten others on the social injustices against his people. Du Bois research "revealed the Negro group as a symptom, not a cause; as a striving, palpitating group, and not an inert, sick body of crime; as a long historic development and not a transient occurrence".[1] Du Bois believed that Black Americans should embrace higher education and use their new access to schooling to achieve a higher position within society. He referred to this idea as the Talented Tenth. With gaining popularity, he also preached the belief that for blacks to be free in some places, they must be free everywhere. After traveling to Africa and Russia, he recanted his original philosophy of integration and acknowledged it as a long term vision.[2]

Marx

Marx described society as having nine "great" classes, the capitalist class and the working class, with the middle classes falling in behind one or the other as they see fit. He hoped for the working class to rise up against the capitalist class in an attempt to stop the exploitation of the working class. He blamed part of their failure to organize on the capitalist class, as they separated black and white laborers. This separation, specifically between Blacks and Whites in America, contributed to racism. Marx attributes capitalism's contribution to racism through segmented labor markets and a racial inequality of earnings.[3]

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was considered one of the most influential black educators of the 19th and 20th centuries. Born in 1856 as a slave in Virginia, Washington came of age as slavery was coming to an end. Just as slavery ended, however, it was replaced by a system of sharecropping in the South that resulted in black indebtedness. With growing discrimination in the South following the end of the Reconstruction era, Washington felt that the key to advancing in America rested with getting an education and improving one's economic well-being, not with political advancement. Consequently, in 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in order to provide individuals with an education that would help them to find employment in the growing industrial sector. By focusing on education for blacks, rather than political advancement, he gained financial support from whites for his cause. Secretly, however, he pursued legal challenges against segregation and disfranchisement of blacks.[4]

Weber

Weber laid the foundations for a micro-sociology of ethnic relations beginning in 1906. Weber argued that biological traits could not be the basis for group foundation unless they were conceived as shared characteristics. It was this shared perception and common customs that create and distinguish one ethnicity from another. This differs from the views of many of his contemporaries who believed that an ethnic group was formed from biological similarities alone apart from social perception of membership in a group.[5]