The way in which our society works is based on collective thought. As society is shaping the individual, the individual is helping to shape society. As a result, government policies and the way society works is shaped on how people define other people and their self-concept in society. As human society has evolved, what used to be black and white in terms of social classifications has gotten skewed. One such example is the case of gender versus sex, which has recently come under attack with an emerging homosexual population and the debate among rights for homosexuals, such as the right to marry. Another fundamental debate that has existed in human society and goes back to slavery in the European Imperialistic Era is equal rights and defining the line between how someone is classified based on ethnicity and based on race. Most people in general society would consider these to be the same thing, but behavioral researchers find that these two definitions are not the same thing.
One of the ways that we can classify an individual is through their genes as far as how their genetic code is related to those in a similar geographic area. This is the definition of race in that there is a similarity in expressed phenotypes that are passed on from generation to generation. For example, African Americans typically inherit genes that make them susceptible to developing sickle cell anemia as well as the coding that produces a darker pigment on their skin. Since this is a genetic component, there are no known ways of altering one’s race. Early in history, this posed a problem in terms of civil rights. At the point of slavery, many European nations considered slavery ethical in that African Americans were considered to be a sub-class of human. As society involved, the notion of race is used as a classification of being able to define groups of people based on their inherited characteristics (Frank, 2001).
The social component of classification comes from ethnicity. Whereas the concept of race shares the biological perspective of the genetic component, ethnicity falls in line with societal constraints and is not standardized across people, even among the same race. Ethnicity is people who relate to each other. This can be based on shared characteristics such as a shared language, values, customs, religion, etc. The culture is what makes up a person’s ethnicity. This can vary greatly from area to area, even within the same country. For example in the United Kingdom, there can be considered to be two huge ethnicities: those of English decent from England and those of Irish decent from Ireland. Even though they may have components that are similar genetically and phenotypically, culture and history has shaped it so that the ethnicities of these are completely different and as such can cause conflict (Walker, 1993).
One of the alarming things regarding ethnicity is how globalization has started to affect global culture. There used to be separation among different ethnicities and cultures based on factors like communication, physical barriers, etc. As technology and economies have gotten more connected, there is now a blurring of these lines as cultures are being shared across borders and races. Therefore, there is the creation of a more homogenized world culture in comparison to isolated distinct ethnicities.
Another large problem is the ideas of racism and racial superiority. Even fear can come from the idea of people not understanding one’s ethnicity and race. Prejudice in the workplace is one that exists. For example, an African American might be denied work based on stereotypes that their ethnicity is surrounded with the preconceived notion that a majority of people who are of African American decent are either lazy or engage in crime. In history, Hitler tried to take over the world united under the idea that Aryans were the superior race and that people who were of Jewish decent were the cause of the world’s problems. Differences among people are what can cause conflict to occur in the world and those that are caused because of differences in either ethnicity or race are the hardest to solve (Fong, 2008).
Classifications of social groups by gender, race, etc. are ways in which sociologists examine the world. This critical approach can be used to examine conflict and the ways in which society is continuing to evolve. More and more as cultures and societies become more blended together; this creates additional variables that sociologists have to account for as they diagnose systems in society.