Who is Poor in the UK?

22% of the UK population, or 13.9 million people live in poverty in the UK (2016). Poverty rates are higher for lone parent households (46%), disabled households (34), and rates also vary significantly by ethnicity (e.g. the Bangladeshi poverty rate = 50%).

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In brief, 22% of the UK population, or 13.9 million people live in poverty in the UK (2016). Poverty rates are higher for lone parent households (46%), disabled households (34), and rates also vary significantly by ethnicity (e.g. the Bangladeshi poverty rate = 50%).

Below is a summary of the latest statistics on the characteristics of those living in poverty in the UK. NB These are the latest stats I could find which have been comprehensively analysed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based on their 2017: Poverty in the UK report. 

Poverty 2018.png

If you can’t see the above chart online (it’s designed to be downloaded and printed off in A3) the it’s all replicated below!

Basic Poverty in the UK Statistics 

A total of 13.9 million people lived in poverty in the UK in 2015-16, or 22% of people live below the poverty line, 30% children, and 18% of pensioners. However, there is significant variation between the proportion of working age adults, pensioners and children living in poverty.

Poverty statistics UK

What is Poverty?

Relative poverty: the stats in the JRF report summarised here mainly show  ‘relative poverty’: when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.

A related measure is persistent poverty which is when a person is currently in poverty and has been in poverty for at least two of the three preceding years.

For more details for different ways of defining and measuring poverty please see this post: What is poverty?

Poverty rates by household type

46% of lone parent households are in poverty, twice as many as all other household types.

Household Poverty

Poverty Lines

The ‘poverty line’ varies by household type:

Family type £ per week, equivalised,

2015/16 prices

  • Couple with no children     = £248
  • Single with no children       = £144
  • Couple with two children*  = £401
  • Single with two children*   = £297

*aged 5 to 14

Poverty varies most significantly by disability 

In 2016 34% of working-age adults in families with disabled members lived in poverty, compared with 17% of those who did not.

Disable Poverty

Poverty also varies by ethnicity 

Approx. 2016 rates for working age adults Bangladeshi – 50%, Pakistani – 45%, Black British 37%, White – 19%.

Poverty ethnicity

Find out more…

There are other variations in poverty highlighted by the JRF report (link above), I’ve just selected the main ‘in focus’ trends as things stand in 2017.

NB on the ‘data lag’ – that’s just one of the problems of Official Statistics more generally – most of the data above has been analysed from various different types of government stats, which are already a year out of data before the ONS publishes them, then you have wait further for the JRF summary. If you want the 2018 stats, you’ll just have to wait til 2019!

If you like this sort of thing, then you might also like my previous post on ‘Poverty Trends’ in the UK, which looks at how poverty rates changed between 1996 and 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who are the alt-right?

The Unite the Right Ralley in Charlotsville back in August 2017 was attended by various right wing groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Skin heads, Neo-Nazis and various Militias, but the most newly formed in attendance, the so-called ‘alt right’, a disparate group of clean cut, smartly dressed, young white men, the latest ‘wave’ of white U.S. white nationalists who are unafraid to express their racist views.

The alt-right is an eclectic, decentralized movement of extreme-conservative, who want a white-only ethno-state: they mainly operate online, via forums such as Reddit and 4chan, sharing memes which support Donald Trump and Hitler, as well as those disparaging Barrack Obama.

But who are these young men, and how do they develop their racist views?

This article in the Washington Post is based on interviews with six young men, tracing their trajectories as members of the alt-right. The following themes stand out:

  1. Many self-radicalised on the internet, finding others with similar views, and they went through stages of meeting others at local and regional meetings and gradually learnt not be ashamed of their racist views.
  2. Thought most members don’t blame impersonal economic factors, many feel that there are no jobs for white people any more – they go to Walmart and McDonalds and see mainly ethnic minorities working in such places.
  3. There are also deeper ‘structural reasons’ – the decline of factor jobs, and the feeling of being left behind, having had the ladder kicked away, and feelings of loneliness and alienation.

NB – these are just the stand-out factors, there are also middle-class people in the movement.

The Charlotsville Rally represented a culmination of a movement that’s been brewing for years online, many drove hundreds, some thousands of miles to get there, possibly emboldened by Donald Trump, they came armed for violence, and of course were met by it.

Whatever you think of the alt-right, the underlying causes which have given rise to it, and the communications networks which maintain it aren’t going anywhere, so I think we can expect this to be a potent force in US politics for years to come.

NB – It reminds me of the kind of white nationalism expressed by the BNP, but just a step-up!

 

 

Will Britain ever have a Black Prime minister?

Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister? aired on the BBC IN 2017, which looked at the relative average life chances of a Black British child progressing through life… NB Thank you kindly to whoever uploaded this to You Tube (it won’t be there forever, the BBC have unjustly removed this from iPlayer already)

In the summary below I focus on some of the educational disadvantages black children face highlighted by the programme…

Teachers mark black children’s test scores more harshly than other ethnic groups

teacher racism evidence

For in-school test scores, the scores for black British students are consistently lower throughout schooling, until we get to the actual GCSE Results, when the scores of Black British students increase dramatically, with Black African students actually overtaking white British students.

The suggested explanation for this is that in school tests are marked by teachers who know their students and thus know their ethnicity, and that they have an unconscious bias against black students, and thus mark their test scores at a lower level, while GCSEs are marked independently – the markers do not know the students who sat them, and thus do not know their ethnicity: when the tests are marked in a neutral, unbiased way, the scores of black and white pupils are much closer together.

This is backed up by research conducted by Professor Simon Burgess which compared the results of test scores marked by teachers who knew the students sitting the tests (and hence their ethnicity) with the results of tests marked independently, where the markers did not know the ethnicity of the students who sat the tests: the results for some ethnic groups were lower when the teachers knew the ethnicity of the candidates, suggesting that there is an unconscious bias against certain ethnic groups.

A link to Professor Burgess’ (2009) research

This seems to be pretty damning evidence that teachers hold an unconscious bias against black students

Black students are less likely to get three As at A level than white students

Here we are told that….

  • Only 4% of black children get 3 As or more at A level, compared to…
  • 10% of white pupils
  • 28% of independent school pupils, who are disproportionately white.
  • In fact, the programme points out that you are more likely to be excluded from school if you are black than achieve 3 As at A-level

This seems to be less an example of evidence against black students, rather than evidence of the class-bias in A level results.

The Chances of being admitted to Oxford University are lower for black students compared to white students

The programme visits Oxford University, because every single Prime Minister (who has been to university) since 1937 has attended this bastion of privilege.

We are told that black applicants are less likely to be accepted into Oxford University than White students, even when they have the same 3 As as white students.

In an interview with Cameron Alexander, the then president of the African students union, he comes out and says that Oxford University is ‘institutionally racist’ and that structural factors explain the under-representation of black students – he points out the dominant culture of Oxford University is on of elite, white privilege, one in which staff identify more with independently schooled children, who have benefitted from the advantages of huge amounts of material and cultural capital; while they fail to identify with the hardships a black child from an inner city area may have faced – the result is that privileged white student has a higher change of being accepted into Oxford than a black student, even when they have the same grades as a the privileged white student.

As with the example of test scores above, at first glance this evidence seems damning, however, Oxford University has previously explained this by saying that black students have a higher rejection rate because they apply for harder courses on average than white students.

So what are the chances of a black person ever becoming Prime Minister…?

In short, a black person has a 17 million to 1 chance of becoming Prime Minister, compared to a 1 in 1.4 million chance for a white person…

black prime minister chances

Or in short… a black person is 12 times less likely to become Prime Minister in the U.K. compared to a white person…

life chances ethnicity

 

Postscript…

Unfortunately this programme has already disappeared from iPlayer, despite the fact that anyone in Britain with a T.V. has already paid for it, which is just bang out of order.

Why are Oxford and Cambridge Still Bastions of Privilege?

A recent freedom of information request from David Lammy MP led to him commenting that Oxford and Cambridge operate a form of ‘social apartheid‘. Two of the most stark statistics are below:

  • More than 80% of offers go to the top two social class, the children of barristers, doctors and CEOS, many of whom are privately educated and from the South East.
  • In 2015, one in five colleges at Cambridge and one in five at Oxford failed to admit a single black A-level student.

Writing in The Independent, Tom Rasmussen suggested that this was because people who work in admissions in Oxford and Cambridge are disproportionately from privileged white backgrounds, and so fail to grasp the challenges that people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds face.

Labelling at Cambridge

A second possible reason, according to The Observer, is that the independent schools themselves are institutions of white privilege.

Cambridge and Oxford respond to the above by saying that they’re not institutionally racist, pointing out that they recruit plenty of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese A-level students, and that the simple truth of the matter is that only a few hundred black Britons achieve the required 3 As at A-level.

Discussion Question

Given the above – do you think that Oxford and Cambridge should practice ‘positive discrimination’ and recruit more black A-level students?

Is There a Crisis in Youth Mental Ill Health?

  • Girls are more than twice as likely to report mental health problems as boys
  • Poor girls are nearly twice as likely to report mental health problems than rich girls.

One in four teenage girls believe they are suffering from depression, according to a major study by University College London the children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

The research which tracked more than 10,000 teenagers found widespread emotional problems among today’s youth, with misery, loneliness and self-hate rife.

24 per cent of 14-year-old girls and 9% of 17-year-old boys reported high levels of depressive symptoms compared to only 9% of boys.

However, when parents were asked about their perceptions of mental-health problems in their children, only 9% of parents reported that their 14 year old girls had any mental health issue, compared to 12% of boys. (Possibly because boys manifest in more overt ways, or because boys are simply under-reporting)

Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill health among children in the UK, and Lead author of the study Dr Praveetha Patalay said the mental health difficulties faced by girls had reached “worryingly high” proportions.

Ms Feuchtwang said: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs.

Dr Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at the charity YoungMinds, said: “We know that teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying and the pressure created by social media.

The above data is based on more than 10,000 children born in 2000/01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.

Parents were questioned about their children’s mental health when their youngsters were aged three, five, seven, 11 and 14. When the participants were 14, the children were themselves asked questions about mental health difficulties.

The research showed that girls and boys had similar levels of mental ill-health throughout childhood, but stark differences were seen between gender by adolescence, when problems became more prevalent in girls.

Variations by class and ethnicity 

Among 14-year-old girls, those from mixed race (28.6%) and white (25.2%) backgrounds were most likely to be depressed, with those from black African (9.7%) and Bangladeshi (15.4%) families the least likely to suffer from it.

Girls that age from the second lowest fifth of the population, based on family income, were most likely to be depressed (29.4%), while those from the highest quintile were the least likely (19.8%).

The research also showed that children from richer families were less likely to report depression compared to poorer peers.

Links to Sociology 

What you make of this data very much depends on how much you trust it – if you take it at face value, then it seems that poor white girls are suffering a real crisis in mental health, which suggests we need urgent research into why this is… and possibly some extra cash to help deal with it.

Again, if you accept the data, possibly the most interesting question here is why do black African girls have such low rates of depression compared to white girls?

Of course you also need to be skeptical about this data – it’s possible that boys are under-reporting, given the whole ‘masculinity thing’.

On the question of what we do about all of this, many of the articles point to guess what sector….. the education sector to sort out the differences. So once again, it’s down to schools to sort out the mess caused by living in a frantic post-modern society, on top of, oh yeah, educating!

Finally, there’s an obvious critical link to Toxic Childhood – this shows you that the elements of toxic childhood are not evenly distributed – poor white girls get it much worse than rich white girls, African British girls, and boys.

Sources and a note on media bias 

You might want to read through the two articles below – note how the stats on class and ethnicity feature much more prominently in the left wing Guardian and yet how the right wing Telegraph doesn’t even mention ethnicity and drops in one sentence about class at the the end of the article without mentioning the stats. 

Telegraph Article

Guardian Article

Analyse the reasons for social class, ethnic and/ or gender differences in society

Analysis Grid Sociology.pngThe issue of why differences in life chances by class, gender and ethnic differences exist forms a major part of any A level sociology syllabus, and I would say the analysis of the reasons behind these social differences is fundamental to sociology’s very self-identity.

Within A level sociology, students need to be able to a very general ‘macro’ analysis the ‘general reasons’ behind differences in life-chances by class gender and ethnicity, and they need to be able to focus in and analyse more specifically the reasons why there are specific variations. For example, across the A level syllabus you might reasonably ask students to do any of the following:

  • Analyse the reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
  • Analyse the reasons for differences in educational achievement by social class(education)
  • Analyse two reasons for differences in conviction rates between ethnic minorities (crime and deviance, AND this was an actual question in the AQA’s 2017 paper 3.

The point of this post is to provide a general framework to help students analyse why there are variations in class, gender and ethnicity in so many areas of social life.

A framework for analysing in A level sociology

To analyse the any social difference by class, gender or ethnicity I’d recommend simply looking at the following:

  1. (Functionalism) Socialisation (@home) differences – material versus cultural
  2. (Marxism/ Feminism) Society – Power/ Ideology/ Blocked Opportunities/ Patriarchy/ Capitalism/ Racism
  3. (Labelling Theory) Micro processes, especially labelling.
  4. (Postmodernism) – Individual Freedom….

The picture below shows the prompts I use to get students to analyse the reasons for gender differences in child care….

Analysis A Level Sociology

The above is a ‘BIG VERSION’ so it shows up here, I actually provide my students with the following blank A3 grid (prompts are the same as on the big version)

Analysis Grid Sociology

And I Include the following instructions either on the back of the A3 ‘grid’ or on a PPT…

Developing Analysis Skills in Sociology—Instructions

  1. Write in/ place the cards/ discuss the concepts and research evidence you could include in each bubble.
  2. Try to be logical— demonstrate how each ’broken down’ concept forms a ’causal chain’ to answer the question.
  3. You COULD add in evaluation outside each bubble.
  4. If you like ‘subvert the bubbles’ by analysing differently (see below)

Alternative ways of doing it!

  • Analysing this question from four broad perspectives is only one way of doing it—you could adopt a purely Marxist/ Feminist analysis and analyse using Marxist. Liberal, Radical and Difference Feminism.
  • You could also analyse this by using different institutions… focus on the family, education, work and the media.
  • And you could even analyse by research methods—simply macro versus micro….

The idea is that students can develop analysis within each bubble, but also across each bubble, the bubbles on the left and right (as you go down the template) should be especially easy to link together.

Essentially, students need to be able to analyse the reasons for any difference (within education/ families/ crime/ religion/ work, depending on options chose) by any of class/gender/ ethnicity (or two or three of these). This means there are a lot of possible combinations – in other words, there is a limitless amount of fun to be had with developing analysis skills.

Analysis questions in the A level sociology exams

All three of the A level sociology exam papers will have one 10 mark ‘analyse two reasons why’ questions. For example:

  • Analyse two reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
  • Analyse two reasons for differences in educational achievement by ethnicity (education and research methods

These questions will have an item which will fundamentally limit what reasons students can choose. I’d recommend a different template for specific exam preparation.

More of that later, personally I think it’s better to encourage ‘open analysis’ early on, as this also helps with the ‘outline and explain’ questions as well as any of the essay questions.

Ironically (not surprising for the AQA) the above template is probably better preparation for the 10 mark ‘outline and explain questions’, because good explanation also requires analysis!

Comments welcome!

As far as I see it, the above structure works for any combination of class/ gender/ ethnicity for any topic within A level sociology, although it doesn’t apply as well to Global Development.

Of course you might disagree, if so, do lemme know, and keep analysing!

 

Ethnicity and Inequality in the UK 2017

The issue of why there are inequalities by ethnicity in the UK is a topic which runs all the way through the A level sociology syllabus. This post simply presents some sources which provide information on the extent of inequality in life chances by ethnicity in contemporary Britain.

As it stands, in 2017 it seems that:

  • ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities
  • ethnic minorities have higher rates of unemployment
  • ethnic minorities are more likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned.

Ethnic minorities are less likely to be offered places at Britain’s top universities

Russel Group universities are less likely to provide ethnic minorities with offers of a place, even when grades and ‘facilitating subjects’ have been controlled for.

Univeristy ethnicity.jpg

White British students have the highest chance of being offered a place, with 52% of candidates receiving offers, while Black African students have the lowest chance, with only 35% of candidates receiving offers of places. (source: Manchester University Policy Blog, 2015) also see: (source: UCU research paper).

Oxford University has also been accused of being biased against Ethnic Minorities: according to Full Fact – in 2013 the Guardian revealed that only 17.2 percent of ethnic minority applicants were admitted to Oxford University, compared to 25.7 per cent of white applicants, and earlier this year (2017) MP David Lammy argued that this issue has not yet been addressed.

NB – It’s worth mentioning that the Russel Group universities, and Oxford University explain this away by saying that ethnic minority students are more likely to apply for more demanding courses for which they don’t necessarily have the grades, hence their higher rejection rate.

Ethnic minorities have higher unemployment rates

Ethnic Minorities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white people (source: ONS employment data)

In January – March 2017 the unemployment rate was 4.1% for white people compared to 7.9% for people from a BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) background.

unemployment ethnicity UK 2017

There are significant variations by both specific ethnic and group and age: for example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Britons have the highest unemployment rates relative to other ethnicity in all ages.

unemployment ethnicity age UK 2017.png

This difference is at least partially explained by the relatively high levels of unemployment among Pakistani and Bangladeshi females, which is significantly higher than male unemployment, a trend on found in these two ethnic groups.

ethnicity unemployment gender UK.png

Ethnic minorities are more likely to be charged for comparable offences

According to a recent study headed by David Lammy MP, ethnic minorities are more likely than white people to be arrested by the police, to be prosecuted by the CPS, and to be sentenced and jailed by judges and juries.

A Guardian article outlining the findings of the report (link above) notes that

‘Disproportional outcomes were particularly noticeable in certain categories of offences. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at crown courts for drug offences, the report found, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure is 141 for every 100 white men.’

NB – It’s particularly interesting to note the disparities in sentencing for black women, suggesting a truly massive ‘intersectionality effect’

Race gender crime statistics UK

Comments/ Questions 

This is just a brief ‘update post’ providing links to some recent statistical evidence on ethnic inequalities across a range of topics in A-level sociology.

You should always question the VALIDITY of these statistics – the drug offences stats, for example, do not tell us the severity of offence. It may just be that all of those black women were caught smuggling drugs whereas white women are more likely to be caught ‘merely’ dealing them… not inconceivable!

Also, even if you accept that the stats have at least some validity, you’ll need to dig even deeper to deeper to find out why these inequalities in life chances by ethnicity still exist!

Related Posts

Ethnic inequalities in social mobility 

Criminal Justice, Ethnicity and Racism

 

An Introduction to Ethnicity

While the idea of race implies something fixed and biological, ethnicity is a source of identity which lies in society and culture. Ethnicity refers to a type of social identity related to ancestry (perceived or real) and cultural differences which become active in particular social contexts.

For comparative purposes you might like to read this post: an introduction to the concept of race for sociology students

The concept of ethnicity has a longer history than ‘race’ and is closely related to the concepts of ‘race’ and nation. Like nations, ethnic groups are ‘imagined communities’ whose existence depends on the self-identification of their members. Members of ethnic groups may see themselves as culturally distinct from other groups, and are seen, in turn, as different. In this sense, ethnic groups always co-exist with other ethnic groups.

Several characteristics may serve to distinguish ethnic groups, but most usual are language, a sense of shared history or ancestry, religion and styles of dress.

dress islamic identity.jpg
clothing can be an important aspect of ethnic identity to some people

Ethnicity is learned, there is nothing innate about it, it has to be actively passed down through the generations by the process of socialisation. It follows that for some people, ethnicity is a very important source of identity, for others it means nothing at all, and for some it only becomes important at certain points in their lives – maybe when they get married or during religious festivals, or maybe during a period of conflict in a country.

Problems with the concept of ethnicity

Majority ethnic groups are still ‘ethnic groups’. However, there is often a tendency to label the majority ethnic group, e.g. the ‘white-British’ group as non-ethnic, and all other minority ethnic groups as ‘ethnic minorities’. This results in the majority group regarding themselves as ‘the norm’ from which all other minority ethnic groups diverge.

There is also a tendency to oversimplify the concept of ethnicity – a good example of this is when job application forms ask for your ethnic identity (ironically to track equality of opportunity) and offer a limited range of categories such as Asian, African, Caribbean, White and so on, which fails to recognize that there are a number of different ethnic identities within each of these broader (misleading?) categories.

Sources use to write this post

Giddens and Sutton (2017) Sociology

Top Ten ‘Big Questions’ for A-Level Sociology Students

One way of introducing sociology is to introduce some the ‘big questions’ that sociologists asks. Here are just a few of them…

  1. To what extent is the individual shaped by society?
  2. Is there such a thing as a social structure that constrains individual action, or is society nothing more than a figment of our imaginations?
  3. To what extent does our social class background affect our life chances?
  4. To what extent does our gender affect our life chances?
  5. To what extent does our ethnicity affect our life chances?
  6. What is the role of institutions in society – do they perform positive functions, or simply work in the interests of the powerful and against the powerless? (a related question here is why do our life chances vary by class, gender and ethnicity)
  7. How and why has British society changed over the last 50 years?
  8. What are the strengths and Limitations of macro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
  9. What are the strengths and limitations of micro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
  10. Is it possible to do value free social research and find out the ‘objective’ knowledge about society and the motives that lie behind social action?
  11. Is British Society today better than it was 400 years ago?

these questions run all the way through the AS and A-level sociology syllabuses – the idea of sociology is to develop a position on each of these questions, using a range of research-evidence, and be able to critically evaluate the validity etc. of the research evidence you have used to support your ‘position. 

And so it goes on….

An Introduction to the Concept of ‘Race’ for Sociology Students

Race is one of the most complex concepts in sociology, not least because its supposedly ‘scientific’ basis has largely been rejected.

However the term ‘race’ is still widely used and many people believe we can still divide the world into biologically distinct ‘races’.

There have been numerous attempts by governments to establish categories of people based on skin colour or racial type. However these schemes have never been successful, with some identifying just four or five major categories and others as many as three dozen. Such disagreement over categorizations does not provide a reliable basis for social scientific research.

In many ancient civilizations, distinctions were often made between social groups on visible skin colour differences, usually between lighter and darker skin tones. However, before the modern period, it was more common for perceived distinctions to be based on tribal or kinship affiliations. These groups were numerous and the basis of their classification was relatively unconnected to modern ideas of face, with its biological or genetic connotations. Instead, classification rested on cultural similarity and group membership.

Theories of racial difference based on supposedly scientific methods were devised in Europe the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and used to justify the emerging social order – in which European nations came to control overseas territories through colonialism.

Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816 -82), sometimes referred to as the ‘father of modern racism’ proposed the existence of just three races – white (Caucasian), black (Negroid) and Yellow (Mongoloid).

According to Gobineau, the white race possessed superior intelligence, morality and willpower, and these properties explained their technical, economic and political superiority, while the black race were the least capable race – possessing the lowest intelligence, an animal nature, and a lack of morality, which served to justify their position in the American society as slaves.

Such wild generalizations have today been discredited, but they have been extremely influential, forming part of Nazi ideology in 1930s and 40s Germany, as well as the ideology of racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan in the USA.

There is a link here to social action theory as the use of the concept of race illustrates W.I Thomas’ famous theorem that ‘when men define situations as real, then they are real in their consequences’. In other words, despite the fact that there is no objective basis for racial differences, because people in power have believed these differences to exist, they have perpetuated social orders which have systematically disadvantaged (in the case of European-colonial history) non-white people.

Many biologists report that there are no clear-cut races, just a range of physical variations in the human species. Differences in physical type arise from population inbreeding which varies according to the degree of contact between different groups. The genetic diversity within populations that share visible physical traits (such as skin colour) is just as great as the genetic diversity between populations.

As a result of such findings, the scientific community has virtually abandoned the concept of race. UNESCO recognized these findings in its 1978 Declaration of Race and Racial Prejudice:

‘All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity’.

Some sociologists argue that race is nothing more than an ideological construct and should therefore be abandoned, because simply using the term perpetuates the very idea that there are significant racial differences between humans

Others disagree, claiming that ‘race’ still has meaning for many people and cannot be ignored. In historical terms ‘race’ has certainly been an extremely important concept used by powerful groups as part of their strategies of domination, as with the slave system in American history, and the contemporary situation of African Americans today cannot be understood without reference to the slave trade, racial segregation and racial ideologies – thus we still need to use and ‘deal with’ the term ‘race.

Students of sociology will come across the term ‘race’ in many text books, but often in inverted commas to reflect the problems with the concept discussed below.

Racialization

The process through which understandings of race are used to classify individuals or groups of people is called ‘racialization’. Historically, some groups of people came to be labelled as distinct on the basis of naturally occurring physical features. From the fifteenth century onwards, as Europeans came into contact with people from different regions of the world, attempts were made to explain perceived differences. Non-European populations were racialized in opposition to the European ‘white race’.

In some instances, this racialization developed into institutions backed up by legal structures, such as the slave system in the United States, or the Apartheid system in South Africa.

More commonly, however, social institutions have become racialized in a de facto manner – in other words, informal white prejudice and discrimination have resulted in a situation in which institutions have come to be dominated by white people, with non-white people being under-represented.

In racialized systems, the life chances of individuals are shaped by their position in that system – in European societies, for example, you would expect white people to have greater life chances in relation to education and work (for example), while non-white people would suffer reduced life chances .

It follows that racialization (and the ideas of ‘race’ that inform the process) is an importance factor in the reproduction of power and inequality in a society.

The concept of racialization might be a powerful tool for challenging racist ideology: because it essentially names the process for what it is – a purely subjective process used by the powerful to maintain positions of privilege, rather than the social divisions being created being based on any really existing significant objective differences  between individuals.

Related Posts

What is Racism?

Sources used to write this post include:

Giddens and Sutton (2017) Sociology