Racial and Ethnic Inequality


This essay examines racial and ethnic inequality based on an article by Erlanger Steven. The article indicates that racial profiling by the police in Paris is still a sticky issue that has to be addressed.

Basing on different sociological perspectives, the article is analyzed towards understanding the phenomenon and recommending a policy framework. Good policy and grounded initiatives are the only sure way of dealing with racial and ethnic inequality.

Article Summary

An article by Erlanger reports that police in Paris harass black and Arab men more than their white counterparts. A research done by the “open society justice Initiative” on “ethnic Profiling in Paris” indicates that police in Paris stop and do identity checks on black and Arab men more prevalently than is the case for white Paris men. This study confirms the wide spread accusations or racial profiling leveled against the police. For one white man checked, at least six blacks and 7 Arabs are checked.

Secondly, the study also established that clothing was a major factor used in profiling individuals. Out of the total population checked, those found wearing cloth that is representative of French youth culture formed 47% (Erlanger 1). Thirdly, out of those stopped, blacks and Arabs were more susceptible to police frisking and detention. From interviewees in the study, it is clear that police target youths on a purely racial line.

Article Analysis

Racial and ethnic inequality has been a big challenge or stumbling block in the way people interact around the world. Different sociological perspectives have been proffered to explain the phenomenon of racial and ethnic inequality or discrimination. There are four main sociological schools of thought i.e. the functional theorists, the conflict school, the interactional theorists and the labeling school of thought (Arrighi 105).

The functional perspective focuses on how ethnic and racial inequality advances the interests of different groups in society (Arrighi 107). Theorists in this school of thought although acknowledging the fact that racism or ethnic discrimination cannot be admired, they point out that this phenomenon is sustained by the function it plays (Schaefer 253).

In most cases, racial or ethnic discrimination is sustained by the purpose or role it fulfills especially for the dominant group. In the case of Paris, as presented in the article, discrimination against minority blacks and Arabs serves as a way of asserting dominance of the white majority in society.

Secondly, through discrimination, the dominant group manages to keep the minority checked i.e. it denies them the freedom necessary for self actualization and enjoyment of life in Paris. Largely, discrimination gives the discriminating group a good feeling or airs. The airs that come with understanding the perceived competitor is subdued sustains racial and ethnic inequality and discrimination.

On the other hand, functional theorist points out that racial and ethnic discrimination makes society dysfunctional in many ways (Schaefer 253). The only way of ending racial and ethnic inequality and discrimination is to help people realize how dysfunctional such attitudes and dispositions are. For example, police in Paris belief that much crime is committed by black and Arab youths.

This may be true; however, the major reason why these minority groups resort to crime or delinquency is the frustration from not being able to live in peace like the majority. As the frustration due to denied opportunities and harassment increases, phenomenon like the violent riots that were witnessed in Paris in 2005 cannot be avoided.

The second sociological perspective on ethnic and racial inequality is the conflict perspective. Conflict theorists look into the phenomenon of racial and ethnic inequality in terms of conflict between different classes in society. In line with Marxist thinking, the economically dominant do not want the less privileged to become empowered (Schaefer 253). The bourgeois cannot allow the enlightenment and empowerment of the proletariat.

According to the exploitation theory, proffered by conflict theorists, economic competition and related conflict is the major explanation as to why discrimination persists. The herd mentality and close identification with race or ethnic group results from a self preservation instinct. In the mind of many in society, the other poses an economic threat.

In the case of Paris, many Arabs and blacks are considered largely as unwanted aliens on sorts. As indicated in the article, those perceived as immigrants especially from Africa are targeted most. One reason why they are targeted would be to ensure they do not assimilate and rise within the economic echelons (Arrighi 110).

As the conflict theorists explain, racial discrimination does not serve society. It basically leads to acrimony and dissatisfaction in society. The actions of police make Arabs and blacks see them as enemies. As a result, the two groups cannot work harmoniously for the good of society.

The blacks and Arabs continue seeing whites as oppressors while the whites see the others as unwanted and unworthy competition of sorts. Such like conflicts have precipitated into xenophobic attacks.

However, racial and ethnic discrimination can not conclusively be explained by the conflict perspective. The exploitation and minority is not entirely about them being an economic threat. The findings presented in the article point more towards a labeling perspective or explanation of ethnic and racial discrimination. The blacks and Arabs are not discriminated because they are a threat to the economic well being of the whites but rather because they have been labeled as more likely to do criminal acts.

The authorities, after following historical data, are convinced of prevalence of crime or given characteristics among a given group. This then becomes the label and all members of the group become suspects of sorts. As the study presented in the article indicates, labeling does not help much as it only creates an angry lot. Many black and young Arabs are angry because they feel targeted on the basis of color.

The final perspective on racial and ethnic inequality is the interactional view. Interactional theorists indicate that level of interaction and mode of interaction either fuels or stops racial and ethnic discrimination. As reported by (254), the contact hypothesis, proffered by interactional theorists posits that racial discrimination is lowered by increased interaction between people of different racial groups that are of relatively equal social or economic status.

Interaction with others helps individuals to appreciate that beyond the color difference, human beings are largely the same or similar. Race or ethnicity is a mere accident. As people interact, they are able to challenge their own leaned stereotypes and prejudices leading to acceptance of others.


In conclusion, authorities have to look at the issue of racial and ethnic discrimination a little more carefully. If it is not checked, it leads to conflicts that can turn violent as witnessed in Paris in 2005. Policy guiding police interaction with populace has to be geared towards fairness in the way the treat all citizens. As an official indicated in the report, training can play an important way in changing outlook.

Police and other citizens have to be helped to understand how other groups are functionally important, how the groups contribute in the economy, why the labels against them are prejudicial and stereotypical. Finally, forums and ways of facilitating interaction between police and Arab or black youths can help dissipate the prejudices.

Works Cited

Arrighi, Barbara, A., Understanding Inequality: the Intersection of Race/Ethnicity, Class, and Gender .Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007

Erlanger, Steven. Study Says Blacks and Arabs Face Bias from Paris Police. New York Times. 29th June, 2009. 17th April, 2010.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/world/europe/30france.html?_r=2&scp=30&s q=US%20racial%20inequality&st=cse

Schaefer, Richard, T. Sociology. 12th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009

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