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Sociology of Ethnic and Racial Conflict

The issue of reparations for slavery and racism has come on the national agenda at the beginning of the 21st century and has immediately raised a number of mixed responses. Although some consider this option as a way to establish more equal relationships between the people of different races in the US and at the same time use reparations as a way of apologizing for the history of racism discrimination, the others strongly disagree. The opponents of reparations for racism say that this not only increases discrimination, but also makes all the taxpayers, despite of their origins and family history, pay a common fee for the US past. Moreover, Smith emphasises that the conflict may rise not only between the white and black populations of the United States, but also between African-Americans and the Native peoples.

Reparations for African-Americans

After the 2000, when the possibility for the reparation cases was offcially recognized in the United States, a number of lawsuits were filled. One of the most famous of them is the case of Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, who accused a number of big corporate entities, such as JP Morgan and the Bank of America in profiting from the slave trade and their further misinterpretation in own participation in the slave trade. Although financial claims were not satisfied, the companies had to admit own role in the slave trade and issue corresponding documents with apologies. This was the first major case that showed that the US judicial system is supporting not only the corporate structures, but also the slave descendants.

Taking the petition of the African-American communities on reparations will lead to the unsatisfied responses from the Native people, thus there will be no unity among the people of color in the fight against oppressions. There are two main reasons that might raise the mass dissatisfactions of the indigenous peoples. Firstly, any reparations in the form of land will be deeply unfair, because each piece of the US territory has at some point belonged to one of the tribes. Therefore, the government does not have a right to give any American territory away as a compensation. Secondly, the Native peoples are not eligible for compensations to individual victims, which is one of the most common forms of it. The cases of compensations to Native population cover only the group pleads by tribes. Therefore, instead of providing more equal conditions, reparations will only increase the discriminations in the population of the United States. Moreover, even with the reparations the colonialist attitudes will not change and the compensation will not have any influence on the relationships in the society.

Intersectionality and Racism

In his book Tim Wise focuses on many issues of the racism phenomenon in the United States. At some parts of the analysis the author also applies the concept of intersectionality and defines that not only the race, but some other discrimination factors also matter in defining the patterns of racial discrimination and racism in the United States. For example, a separate attention in the book is paid to the complications, which an African-American person faces on the way to success.

There are some cases, in which discrimination is less significant. The success of black people in the United States highly depends on their attitudes towards racial discrimination or rather the attitudes they express. For example, Wise believes that a large part of Obama’s success relied on his lack of desire to raise the questions of racism in his campaign. Only by ignoring the existing situation and supporting the current white power existing in the United States the African-American population is able to become successful. Wise notes that African-Americans of middle and upper class are less discriminated than those with lower incomes. At the same time, the author notes that despite financial status discrimination exists on all levels of the society.

Overall Wise does not give enough attention to some factors of the intersectionality concept, such as gender. Overall the author’s main focus remains on the racism itself, its’ tendencies in the United States and relationships between the black and white populations in the United States. The author had a possibility to focus of a number of other issues, such as the relationships between racism and gender, age, income, etc. But Wise only touches upon some of the issues and avoids a deeper focus on the interconnections. In these terms Smith provides a deeper focus on intersectionality, especially – gender and race. At the same time, one might note that Wise’s research is already quite wide and, thus, does not need additional focus on intersectionality.

Anti-Racist Ideas of White Americans

After the study of the book by Wise it is quite hard to define some significant changes that have been made by the white US population in the process of introducing anti-racist ideas. Any of the anti-racist events or practices described by the author bases solely on strengthening of the white power in the country and maintaining the existent order by introducing only some minor changes. For example, the creation of «black culture month» and similar events are strengthening the national pride of African-Americans.

The most anti-racist event of the US history is, of course, the election of Barack Obama as the president. Many praise it as a sign of the rapidly decreasing racism in the country. At the same time Wise emphasizes the lack of «black support» expressed by Obama and his ignorance of the race issue. But still, it shows the changes happening in the US society at the moment. Moreover, there are more and more cases of positive discrimination, which was stimulated not only by the governmental decision-makers, but also by the changing attitudes. What is important, the younger generations are much less racist and even do not perceive the skin color as an important element of person’s identification.

All in all it is clear that the racial tension has changed over the past decades. Although there is no visible segregation or discrimination laws, which have existed in the first part of the 20th century, the United States are still facing numerous problems connected with racism that has changed its form and shape.

Contributing Factors to Environmental Racism

Environmental racism is a well-known phenomenon of the modern United States. Back in the middle of the 20th century, researchers have shown that there is a significant disproportional impact of environmental hazards on ethnic and national minorities. Environmental racism is, thus, a form of institutionalized discrimination, which exposes the country’s population of color to more environmental hazards than the white population. These dangers include bad drinking water, polluted air and land, locations of landfills nearby the settlements of African-American population, etc. overall environmental racism facilitates environmental regulations that do not provide equal protection to all of the US population.

The main aspect of environmental racism is probably the current strength of the white population that maintains all the positions at power. Therefore, to maintain this “white power” and protect its supporters the legislation is adjusted to the economical and political conditions in the country. Cole and Foster especially focus on “political economy” of environmental racism, thus emphasizing its role in these two spheres of the US life. Environmental racism remains a profitable factor for the economy and is, therefore, supported by the national policies, which are created by the white politicians. Therefore, the businesses are given a possibility to profit, while the population suffering from the environmental hazards does not get any official support on the state or federal levels. The two main factors that have influenced the development of environmental racism in the United States are the economical profitability of environmental racism together with the political support of this movement by the governmental powers. Both of the factors arise from the major concept of white domination and the power of white population in the United States.

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Environmental justice

The described causes of environmental racism are rooted in one of the biggest problems of the US society – the racism and the order existing in the country. As it was already noted, currently the white population is at power in the United States, which means that all the country’s legislation is created by the white Americans and with the interests of their part of population in mind. Therefore, in order to change the current situation, it is essential to target not only the results of the existing politics, but also the roots.

Many changes have already happened in the sphere of environmental racism. In the middle of the 20th century, along with civil rights movement, a movement for environmental justice has started. The first steps of the development of environmental justice politics have shown that the best way to achieve results would be the cooperation of local communities facing environmental problems and the academia, which could present the theoretical basis of the problem. Moreover, the academia could provide their lobbying powers in order to support the efforts of communities.

Although, traditionally all the decisions were made from the upper levels and down, environmental justice reverses the direction of the decision-making process. Firstly, on personal level people feel the empowerment and the ability to make a difference. Secondly, seeing the common problems communities unite and, thus, become stronger in the fight for their environmental rights. Thirdly, institution transformation is caused by the growing influence of local communities that are putting the problem of environmental justice on the state and national agenda. This whole process of transformation on individual level to the institutional transformations is the change that is required to emphasize the role of environmental justice. Without any significant support on the state or national level due to the domination of «white interests», the only way to influence the policy-making process is to show that a large part of the society is interested in the change and is aware of the situation. Therefore, only moving «from the ground up» it will be possible to establish environmental justice in the United States. At the same time this reversed process means that on the level of the formal decision-making environmental justice does not have appropriate support, thus more time and efforts are required to implement formal changes.

Environmental privilege

The concept of environmental privilege is an inherent element of the overall phenomenon of environmental racism. In case when one part of population is discriminated, the other obviously gets benefits from the situation. In case of environment it means that while African-American communities, as well as other non-white groups of population, suffer from the increased environmental hazards, the white population has overall better environmental conditions, cleaner air and drinkable water, etc.

Environmental privilege can be called a part of the overall phenomenon of «white privilege». White privilege includes all the benefits that the white population of America receives thanks to the existing racial discrimination. Therefore, with all the benefits it becomes much harder to fight for racial equality and support various anti-racist campaigns. The decrease of the number of discriminatory policies will lead to the smaller number of possibilities and privileges available to the white population.

The same tendencies can be seen in the concept of environmental privilege. With the growing levels of environmental justice a part of the population that has previously enjoyed better ecological conditions will have to face a decrease in the environmental conditions. Although they will not be at the hazardous levels in which many communities of color live at the moment, this change will still be noticed. Therefore, for the environmentally-privileged people it is not beneficial to support the environmental justice movement.

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Works Cited

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham, Maryland, USA.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2003. Print.

Dalton, Leigh E. “The Cause of Racial Inequality in America Today: Innocent Victims or Guilty Victimizers?” May 2008. SELECTED WORKS. Electronic. 8 April 2013.

Eliav-Feldon, Miriam, Isaac, Benjamin, Ziegler, Joseph. The Origins of Racism in the West. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.

Henry, C. Michael. “The New Geography of Inequality in Urban America”. Race, Poverty, and Domestic Policy. New Haven, New York: Yale University Press, 2004. Print.