Dominant-Minority Relations

The Consequences of Subordinate-Group Status

There are several consequences for a group of subordinate status. These differ in their degree of harshness, ranging from physical annihilation to absorption into the dominant group:

  1. Extermination
    • The most extreme way of dealing with a subordinate group is to eliminate it. One historical example is the British destruction of the people of Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia. There were 5,000 Tasmanians in 1800, but because they were attacked by settlers and forced to live on less inhabitable lands, the last full-blooded Tasmanian died in 1876.
    • The term genocide is used to describe the deliberate, systematic killing of an entire people or nation. This term is often used in reference to the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's extermination of roughly six million European Jews and millions of other people (e.g., homosexuals, people with disabilities, communists, and other political opponents) during World War II.
    • The term "ethnic cleansing" was introduced as ethnic Serbs instituted a policy to eliminate Muslims from parts of Bosnia.
  2. Expulsion
    • Expulsion refers to the process where a dominant group forces a specific subordinate group to leave certain areas or even vacate a country. European colonial powers in North America and eventually the U.S. government itself drove almost all Native Americans out of their tribal lands and into unfamiliar territory.
    • In 1979, Vietnam expelled nearly 1 million ethnic Chinese from the country, partly as a result of centuries of hostility between the two Asian neighbors. The expulsion of the Chinese meant that they were uprooted and became a new minority group in many nations, including Australia, France, the United States, and Canada.
  3. Secession
    • A group ceases to be a subordinate group when it secedes to form a new nation or moves to an already established nation, where it becomes dominant.
    • For example, prior to annexation, Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 as a result of the hostility between the Mexican government and American settlers.
    • Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Armenian peoples all seceded to form independent states leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    • Eleven southern U.S. slave-holding states forming the Confederate States of America sought to secede from the United States during the Civil War.
  4. Segregation
    • Segregation is the physical separation of two groups in residence, workplace, and other social functions (e.g., the Apartheid system in South Africa; the Jim Crow period in the U.S.). Generally, the dominant group imposes segregation on a subordinate group. Segregation is rarely complete; intergroup contact inevitably occurs even in the most segregated societies.
    • Despite growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S., results from the census bureau show little change in segregation. Sociologists measure physical segregation using a segregation index (or index of dissimilarity).
  5. Fusion (A + B + C = D)
    • Fusion occurs when a minority and a majority group combine to form a new group. Theoretically, fusion does not entail intermarriage, but it is very similar to amalgamation, or the process by which a dominant group and a subordinate group combine through intermarriage into a new people.
    • This concept is expressed in the notion of a human melting pot, in which diverse racial or ethnic groups form a new creation, a new cultural identity. This idea, which became popular in the US in the early twentieth century, implied that the new group would represent only the best qualities and attributes of the different cultures contributing to it.
    • It is a mistake to think of the United States as an ethnic mixing bowl. Although there are superficial signs of fusion (e.g., a cuisine that includes spaghetti), most contributions of subordinate groups are ignored.
    • Marriage patterns indicate the resistance to fusion. People are generally unwilling to marry out of their own ethnic, religious, and racial groups. Surveys show that 20 to 50 percent of various White ethnic groups report single ancestry.
    • There is only modest evidence of a fusion of races in the United States. Racial intermarriage has been increasing, and the number of interracial couples immigrating to the United States has also grown. In 1980, there were 167,000 Black-White couples, but by 2000 there were 363,000. Nevertheless, interracial couples still account for only 2 to 3 percent of all married couples.
  6. Assimilation (A + B + C = A)
    • Assimilation is the process by which a subordinate individual or group takes on the characteristics of the dominant group and is eventually accepted as part of the group. The majority dominates in such a way that the minorities become indistinguishable from the dominant group.
    • To be complete, assimilation must entail an active effort by the minority group individual to shed all distinguishable actions and beliefs and the unqualified acceptance of that individual by the dominant society.
    • Assimilation is very difficult. The person must forsake his or her cultural tradition to become part of a different, often antagonistic culture. Members of the subordinate group who choose not to assimilate look on those who do as deserters. Assimilation is viewed by many as unfair or even dictatorial. However, members of the dominant group see it as reasonable that people shed their distinctive cultural traditions.
    • Assimilation does not occur at the same pace for all groups or for all individuals in the the same group. Assimilation tends to take longer under the following conditions:
      1. The differences between the minority and majority are large
      2. The majority is not receptive, or the minority retains its own culture
      3. The minority group arrives in a short period of time
      4. The minority group residents are concentrated rather than dispersed
      5. The arrival is recent, and the homeland is accessible
    • In the United States, dominant White society encourages assimilation. The assimilation perspective tends to devalue alien culture and to treasure the dominant.
  7. Pluralism (A + B + C = A + B + C)
    • Pluralism is the situation where various groups in a society have mutual respect for one another's culture--a respect that allows minorities to express their own cultural without suffering prejudice or hostility. Whereas the assimilationist seeks the elimination of ethnic boundaries, the pluralist believes in maintaining many of them.
    • In the United States, cultural pluralism is more an ideal than a reality. Although there are vestiges of cultural pluralism (e.g., in the various ethnic neighborhoods in major cities), the rule has been for subordinate groups to assimilate. The cost of cultural integrity has been high. The various Native American tribes have succeeded to a large extent in maintaining their heritage, but the price has been bare subsistence on federal reservations.
    • The most visible controversy about pluralism is the debate surrounding bilingualism-the use of two or more languages in places of work or education, with each language being treated as equally legitimate.
    • As of 2000, about one of every six people (17 percent) speak a native language other than English at home. In California, this proportion is more than 40 percent. Consequently, all segments of society are affected. The California state judicial system officially provides court interpreters in 100 different languages. In education, bilingualism has seemed to be one way of helping millions of people who want to learn English to function more efficiently within the United States.
    • A proposed Constitutional amendment has been introduced that designates English as the "official language of the nation." Proponents of restricting bilingualism view the English language as the "social glue" that keeps the nation together. By contrast, Hispanic leaders see this movement as a veiled expression of racism.

Prejudice and Discrimination

Theories of Prejudice

  1. Scapegoating Theory argues that people who face prejudice are society's victims. This theory suggests that people transfer the responsibility for a failure to some vulnerable group. For example, Adolph Hitler used the Jews as the scapegoat for all German social and economic ills in the 1930s. Similarly, immigrants in the United States are often blamed by "real Americans" for their failures to get jobs or secure desirable housing.
    • Scapegoating theory fails to explain why a certain group is selected or why frustration is not taken out on the real culprit when possible.
  2. Authoritarian Personality Theory argues that some people have a personality type that is likely to manifest prejudice. - Theodore Adorno and his research team claimed to have isolated the basic characteristics of the authoritarian personality, which developed from an early childhood of harsh discipline:
    1. adherence to conventional values
    2. uncritical acceptance to authority
    3. concern with power and toughness
      • A child with an authoritarian upbringing obeyed and then later treated others as he or she had been raised.
      • Adorno's study has been widely criticized on numerous grounds, including the equation of authoritarianism with right-wing politics, its failure to see that prejudice is more closely connected to other characteristics (e.g., social class), and the concentration on factors behind extreme racial prejudice rather than more common expressions of hostility.
  3. Exploitation Theory is a part of the Marxist tradition; it views racial subordination in the United States as a manifestation of the class system inherent in capitalism.
    • Racial prejudice often is used to justify keeping a group in a subordinate position, such as a lower social class. Conflict theorists in particular stress the role of racial and ethnic hostility as a way for the dominant group to keep intact its position of status and power. Indeed, this approach maintains that even the less affluent White working class uses prejudice to minimize competition from upwardly mobile minorities.
    • The exploitation theory of prejudice is persuasive. Japanese Americans were the object of little prejudice until they began to enter occupations that brought them into competition with Whites. The movement to keep Chinese out of the country became strongest during the late nineteenth century, when Chinese immigrants and Whites fought over a dwindling number of jobs. Further, the enslavement of African Americans and the expulsion of Native Americans were to a significant degree economically motivated.
    • Although many cases support the exploitation theory, it is too limited to explain prejudice in all its forms. First, not all minority groups are exploited economically to the same extent. Second, many groups that have been the victims of prejudice have not been persecuted for economic reasons, such as the Quakers or gays and lesbians.
  4. The Normative Approach takes the view that prejudice is influenced by societal norms and situations that encourage or discourage the tolerance of minorities.
    • Societies develop social norms that dictate not only what foods are desirable (or forbidden), but also what racial and ethnic groups are to be favored (or despised). Social forces operate in a society to encourage or discourage tolerance.
    • The force may be widespread, such as the pressure on White Southerners to oppose racial equality while there was slavery or segregation. It may also be limited, as in the case of a man who becomes more sexist as he competes with three women for the same position in a prestigious law firm.

Bogardus Social Distance Scale

The Content of Prejudice: Stereotypes

Stereotyping in Action: Racial Profiling

Relative Versus Absolute Deprivation

Institutional Discrimination

The Informal Economy and the Underclass


Environmental Racism

Exclusion of Minorities in Social Clubs

The Glass Ceiling

Explaining Inequality: The Pseudoscience of "Intelligence" Testing

Explaining Inequality: The Culture of Poverty Perspective