Race and racial theories are essential in sociology, as we can comprehend culture and politics in a more substantial framework through history. We can understand the significance of race and racism by understanding their connections to other areas, such as gender, class, and religion. The historical and political changes in the United States help us know about the sociological theories on social stratification, especially for the Latinx community and the intersectionality between race, gender, and class.
Scholar Howard Winant explains in Race and Race Theory (2000) that the sociology of race became central by the effects of the civil rights movements, World War II and fascism, and the international mass increase in migration. Winant also notes that the limitation of current theory in race. He focuses on ethnicity-based, class-based, and nation-based theories on race: ethnicity-based theories focus on race as a collective identity. The theories suggest that assimilation or changes in policies or law would suppress prejudices, as Winant also notes how Western European countries form national culture through exclusion (179). Class-based theories focus on race as stratification and economic competition. Winant notes that class-based theories have limitations regarding affirmative actions by conflicts within marginalized racial groups and interracial working-class solidarity (179). Nation-based theories focus on race on geopolitical terms by the decolonization process after World War II. Winant describes nation-based theories evolved into “crude and retro forms of cultural nationalism informed more by mysticism than by social analysis”. (179-180). Winant’s comment on nation-based theories reminds us how theoretical approaches can fail to answer questions by their flaws. However, Winant does not mention gender theories on race, which would further clarify his argument on contemporary theories on race. Winant could have explained how gender scholars who describe race relate to gender-based theories, such as sociologist R.W. Connell’s Masculinities (1995), which clarifies that masculinity is plural and hierarchical. Connell included how race influences people’s role by hegemonic masculinity (Connell& Messerschmidt, 829-859; 2005). Winant notes the three dimensions that racial theoretical response must answer: the theoretical response must address the comparative/historical dimension of race, the macro and micro aspects of racial signification and racialized social structures, and the newly pervasive forms of politics (180-181). Winant also notes that the racial formation approach is how racial identities are unstable and politically focused since race is intersectional. The meaning of race depends on types of factors, from individual to institutional level (182). Winant’s argument helps us understand the limitation of more classic sociological theories are compared to newer theories on race and racism.
Sociologist Bob Blauner discusses the theoretical perspectives on race and ethnicity in America. He criticizes the five frameworks that dominate social science on race in America: the assimilation approach, the immigrant analogy, caste and class, prejudice and discrimination, and economic class reductionism (13). Blauner argues that the social theory should focus on and find relations with the major social forces and trends of historical periods. Blauner also argues that common social theories on race fail to predict or illuminate new racial awareness or conflict developments, such as social movements or cultural shifts (14). Blauner notes that these issues in the five common frameworks include: (1) the view that racial and ethnic groups are not central nor essential elements in society, (2) the simplification of racism, (3) presupposing that racism is merely attitudes or prejudices of white Americans and (4) that there are no long-term differences to the mainstream society between European ethnic groups and racial or third world groups (14). Blauner notes that several scholars assume that various ethnic groups, even Blacks and Indigenous, will undergo Americanization and acculturation. The error is that exclusion and dualism within the social hierarchy are part of Americanization and acculturation (20-21). Whether culturally or legally, what makes someone American requires us to determine what exactly makes someone American or not. Blauner highlights the problems with the five frameworks that enforce colorblindness, by ignoring the complexity of racial groups ad neglecting how significant race and racism are in economy, politics, and culture. However, Blauner does not explain why assimilation is more complex and political than what scholars presupposed on assimilation through historical accounts or conflicting policies. Although he mentions examples briefly to prove his argument, Blauner could have described historical records on racial groups and the complexity of assimilation to prove his case; this will help us further understand the limitation of assimilation bias.
The pressure to assimilate, even if we are unassimilable, is hegemonic. According to philosopher Antonio Gramsci, cultural hegemony in culture and politics includes both direct force, like threats of violence, and consent, like socialization (Cole, 2020). We tend to think we consent without critical understanding why so; we follow an unquestioned ideology. An example includes the conception of femininity, as people follow the cultural customs of womanhood without realizing its history nor subjectivity. In Unequal Freedom (2002), scholar Evelyn Nakano Glenn explains how exclusions against various groups affect our notion of gender, race, and class. In chapter five Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest, Glenn notes how Mexican Americans undergo Americanization in three ways; by setting “corrected” behavior and culture, increasing aspirations that follow the Protestant ethics, and molding Anglo ideals or manhood or womanhood (184-186). Glenn notes that the benefits for Mexican families were to learn English and American customs for broader job opportunities, rather than to actual assimilate, as they knew that their culture and beliefs are not inferior to Anglo-Saxons (185). However, Glenn could have directly acknowledged that subtle forms of domination exist even if we actively resist them. An example is Mexican Americans resisting white supremacy by celebrating holidays, without realizing how capitalism overturns their resistance by the way they celebrate holidays. People do not realize how racial capitalism occurs in forms, such as finically supporting corporations over small businesses or unfair treatment against migrant workers through low wages and labor practices. Glenn describes the history of education through segregation and changes in classifications for Mexican Americans. Although Mexicans were classified as white and racial segregation ended, they were still not allowed to attend white schools. People argue that children’s ability to speak English is critical in Americanization. At the same time, they ignore that Bohemian and German children who did not speak English were allowed to attend white schools (180-182). The classification of white requires us to define white. Mexicans classified as white were allowed to marry Blacks when interracial marriages were illegal (160). Glenn points out that social hierarchy in race, gender, and class determines our citizenship. The dominant ideology of domesticity is an example of gendered and racial citizenship, as Anglo women did not often work in physical labor jobs as Mexican women (154-156). The definition of womanhood or manhood is racialized, just as the meaning of whiteness is gendered. We must ask questions about our social reality to find answers we are seeking, such as our collective notions on identity and history, or we risk keeping the social stratification.
Overall, we must understand how our phenomenology influences us, such as constructing our identity and morality, to improve our lives and terminate societal problems. People believe classism is the most important, or even only issue, in the United States, without considering the history of racism that intersects with classism, along with other forms of discrimination. The readings mentioned above helps us to understand why we must ask questions about our social reality in race and ethnicity. Sociological theories require us to ask why we should use them and their limitations. Otherwise, we risk not finding answers to our questions for solutions to resolve public issues.
- Explain why you agree or disagree with the limitations of sociological theories on race from Blauner and Winant?
- How does the historical discrimination, such as education and workplace, of the Latinx community help us to understand Blauner’s and Winant’s arguments?
Blauner, Bob. 2001. “Theoretical Perspectives” Pages 13-23 in Still the Big News: Racial
Oppression in America. Temple University Press.
Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. “Biography of Antonio Gramsci.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020,
Connell, R. W, and James W Messerschmidt. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the
Concept.” Gender & Society, vol. 19, no. 6, 2005, pp. 829–859.
Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2002. “Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest.” In Unequal
Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor. Harvard
Lyons, Patrick J. 2019. “Trump Wants to Abolish Birthright Citizenship. Can He Do That?” The
New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2021 (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/22/us/birthright-citizenship-14th-amendment-trump.html).
Winant, Howard. 2000. “Race and Race Theory.” Annual Review of Sociology 26:169-85.