“Race” & Ethnicity in Society in Social-Historical Context (AAS-SOC 338)

Posted in Course Offerings, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-01-24 01:43Z by Steven

“Race” & Ethnicity in Society in Social-Historical Context (AAS-SOC 338)

Lehman College, City University of New York
Spring 2012

Mark Christian, Professor & Chair of African & African American Studies

The idea of “race” since the 18th Century, and up to the present, has brought forth tremendous social inequality and, not to be over-dramatic, “social death” in a global sense. The ironic thing about “race” is that, from a scientific-biological sense, most authoritative commentators note that it is a problematic concept with little validity if one is arguing for “distinct races” among humankind. In other words, there are no distinct racial types of humans that can be separated from one another. Yes, there is some minor genetic difference among humans, such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, lip-size; but when measured by what it is to be a human being these add up to only minor genetic differences. However there are still those who will try to put difference between humankind via pseudo-scientific racial theories. Some biologists use modern genetic science to distort the truth that we are all basically the same in humanity. A recent book by Dorothy Roberts called Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century (The New Press, 2011) gives a powerful insight into the abuse of modern genetics.

What is significant about “race” and ethnicity (ethnicity is largely related to shared cultural experiences of a specific racialized social group) is the reality of its social significance over time and place. Indeed, “race” has changed from one place to another. For example, what it is to be Black in South Africa is not the same in a social-historical context to what it is to be Black in the United States over time. We can make this point even more complex by stating what it was to be Black in the United States could once change from one state to another. The point here is to comprehend that “race” has been a socially constructed concept over time that has wielded a great amount of human misery and pain for certain social groups, and a great amount of power and privilege for other social groups. Our task is to come to an understanding of this complex topic and for this to be worthwhile intellectually we shall have to comprehend the idea of “race” from a social-historical context.

Given the social significance of White privilege in terms of “race” grouping and hierarchy, this course will focus on the how “whiteness” creates both a conscious and sub-conscious reality that is born out of the historical exploitation of people of color from the period enslavement and the plantation economy (17th – 19th Centuries) experience right through to the present. Even though we now live in a world whereby racism is largely outcast and a forbidden entity in social discourse and interaction, it still lurks beneath the surface in all things social. The current US statistical data on health, wealth, and other societal disparities between so-called “races” makes the comprehension of “whiteness” an important, indeed essential, part of our studies.

Although the course is taught primarily from a social-historical perspective, it is at bottom an interdisciplinary course involving aspects of knowledge from the humanities and social sciences. Having a positive and open mind that has a willingness to learn and work hard will be the key to your success in this class. We shall combine sociology, history, film & documentary to give a dynamic learning experience. The course will be taught via an interactive perspective whereby students will engage with the material and present in individual and group formats. Moreover, it is essentially a reading and writing class with interactive discussion. RESPECT for all in the classroom environment is imperative; regardless of one’s philosophical views or social background, gender, racialized self, or other human attribute.

Learning outcomes:
By the end of this course students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • “Race” as a social construct and therefore “racialized” issues that produce social inequality in the US.
  • “Race” as a problematic concept if put to biological scientific inquiry.
  • The fallacy of “racial typology” classification.
  • Whiteness in the social imagination.
  • White privilege and white ethnic groups.
  • Sociological theories of “race” & ethnicity.
  • How to think critically about “race” & ethnicity.
  • The “cultural minority” problematic in regard to peoples of color.
  • Multicultural issues in a hierarchical “race” and social-cultural framework.
  • Social inequality in terms of “race,” class and gender.
  • How to talk about “racial issues” effectively, and get beyond racialized stereotyping.

Key Reading:

Tags: , ,