Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

1
The Study of Race and
Ethnic Relations

FRED L. PINCUS AND HOWARD J. EHRLICH

One major goal of this anthology is to expose students to some of the diverse perspectives in the study of race and ethnic relations. Like scholars in other fields of inquiry, those who study race relations often disagree on many major issues. This is sometimes confusing to students. In 1968, when Fred Pincus first started teaching, a troubled student came up to him and said, "You and Dr. R. disagree on racial inequality.""I know," Pincus responded. The student, appearing even more troubled, said, "Maybe you didn't hear me. You and Dr. R. said different things in class." It took a while to calm her down and reassure her that it was normal for sociologists to disagree about important issues.

Today's students are not so naive and are more used to the fact that experts often disagree. However, students are still confused about what to make of these disagreements. It is often difficult to take the time to understand different arguments and to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Our goal is to make sure that diverse views are clearly presented so that the students can come to their own conclusions. Of course, we have our own views, which we express when appropriate.

These problems exist even when we begin discussing the basic terminology that social scientists generally use. Even simple definitions can be controversial.

Amajority groupis a social group that controls the political, economic, and cultural institutions of a particular society.

Aminority groupis a social group that lacks control of the political, economic, and cultural institutions of a particular society.

The central idea of these two concepts is power, not numbers. In the United States, the two go together since whites have the power and are also in the numerical majority. In most societies, the numerical majority also has power. In South Africa before the fall of apartheid in 1991, however, the black numerical majority would be referred to as the "minority group" because they lacked power.

There are some controversies about the use of these terms. First, some scholars have suggested that the terms dominant group and subordinate group be used because they are more descriptive. This would avoid the problem of the black South African majority being called a minority group. Second, some people object to that label because it is too geographically restrictive. For example, although His-

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