The social problem that will be analyzed in this paper is racism. Racism describes a system of assigning values and structuring opportunities based on physical characteristics such as hair texture and skin color. This system discriminates or disadvantages one group or some individuals, damaging their physical and emotional health. Racism is usually based on a racial dominance ideology in which a specific racial group’s supposed cultural or biological superiority is used to prescribe or justify the unjust treatment or positions of other ethnic groups. (Clair & Denis, 2015). In the US, racism has been a problem for decades. Several ethnic and racial groups, including Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, face racism. However, Black Americans are more likely to be discriminated against based on their color compared to other ethnic and racial groups.
First, before we discuss why racism qualifies to be a social problem, it is important that we understand the meaning of the term social problem. Glicken (2010) defined “social problem” “as an issue within the society that makes it hard for individuals to achieve their full potential.” It has also been defined as an issue that impacts a large group of people within a society. Based on this definition’s racism qualifies to be a social problem because it not only prevents people from achieving their full potential but also affects a large group of people. Racism impacts many things ranging from interpersonal interactions to opportunities in housing, education and employment. Its impact is reflected in disparities in income, wealth, health, justice and voting.
Shared undesirable conditions
People facing racism faces many challenges that include but not limited to the following. The first challenge is poor mental and physical health. People experiencing racism suffer from poor mental and physical health. In their study, Paradies and colleagues found that those who experience racism are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who don’t (Paradies et al., 2015). Mental health problems associated with racism include depression, stress, emotional distress, anxiety, suicidal thought and PTSD. Stress can reduce the immune system and increase blood pressure which in turn can increase the risk of developing other health conditions like hypertension. Studies have also shown that stress associated with racism can also have long-lasting physical effects. Cuevas et al. (2014) found that stress associated with discrimination is liked with higher rates of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking, and bad eating habits.
The second challenge is unemployment. Those who experience racism are more likely to be unemployed, work at lower wages, have lower wage growth rates over time and accumulate less wealth compared to those who don’t. Many studies have shown that unemployment rates for Blacks, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans are generally lower than that of their white counterparts. The issue of unemployment is serious as it limits people’s access to basic necessities like food, housing, clothing, access to healthcare services and good education.
The third challenge is underrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Racism causes disadvantaged racial groups, especially Black Americans to be represented unfairly in the US criminal justice system as compared to other racial groups (Hinton et al., 2018). African Americans are five times more likely to be jailed in states prisons than whites (Hinton et al., 2018). They also experience harsh incarceration experiences than other racial groups. Racial discriminations in the criminal justice system are also evident among black youths. Black youths in the US experience higher rates of incarceration compared to whites.
The fourth is underachievement. Racism has been associated with underachievement. The pressure and stress associated with racism prevent people from reaching their full potential. Researchers have shown that students who experience racism record law grades than those who don’t. Those who experience racism are also more likely to drop out of school and fail to graduate (Colbert, 2017). This is due to the discrimination that they face while in school.
The social group
Many ethnic and racial groups, including Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, experience racism. However, black Americans are more likely to experience racism than other ethnic and racial groups. Estimates by Pew Research Center show that approximately 80% of the people in the US recognized that Blacks experience a lot of discriminations, 76% acknowledge that there are some discriminations against Hispanics, and 70% of Americans see discrimination against Asians (Daniller, 2021). Black people in America are also more likely to acknowledge that African Americans face a lot of racism. The Pew report reveals that approximately 95% of black adults acknowledge that African Americans face a lot of racism compared to 54% of Hispanic and 38% of Asian adults (Daniller, 2021). In addition, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that African Americans, Asians and Hispanics face a lot of racism.
Racism against African Americans and other racial groups is recognized as a serious problem by many Americans. However, there are those who believe that racism has never been a problem in America. Estimates show that approximately 64% of the people in the US believe that racism is a serious problem in our country, 30% agree that racism still exists, but it is not a serious problem, 3% believe that racism once existed but no longer exist, and 1% believe that racism has never been a problem (Arenge et al., 2018).
Why I chose racism as a social problem
Racism is a sensitive topic and a serious problem in our society. The reason why I chose this problem is because of the attention that it has gained in recent years. This is especially after the death of George Floyd. Floyd demonstrated the challenges that Blacks Americans go through at the hand of police officers. In my community, racism is common and takes place at school, home, workplaces, hospitals and government offices. Black people in my community experience a lot of discrimination which impacts their lives negatively.
Why sociologists need to study racism
Sociologists study many things, including social life, social change, patterns of social interactions, social relationships and aspects of culture. Thus, by studying racism, sociologists will help to explain why racism occurs and how it can be addressed. Sociologists can investigate and explain why there is persistent racial discrimination in many countries despite the fact that most people recognize racism as a major problem.
Arenge, A., Perry, S., & Clark, D. (2018, May 29). Poll: 64 percent of Americans say racism remains a major problem. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/poll-64-percent-americans-say-racism-remains-major-problem-n877536
Clair, M., & Denis, J. S. (2015). Racism, sociology of. International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences, 858.
Colbert, J. L. (2017). Examining the Phenomenon of Dropping Out of High School Through the Perspectives and Experiences of the African American Male. University of Arkansas.
Cuevas, A. G., Reitzel, L. R., Adams, C. E., Cao, Y., Nguyen, N., Wetter, D. W., … & McNeill, L. H. (2014). Discrimination, affect, and cancer risk factors among African Americans. American journal of health behavior, 38(1), 31-41.
Daniller, A. (2021, March 22). Majorities of Americans see at least some discrimination against Black, Hispanic and Asian people in the U.S. Pew Research Center. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/18/majorities-of-americans-see-at-least-some-discrimination-against-black-hispanic-and-asian-people-in-the-u-s/
Glicken, M. D. (2010). Social work in the 21st century: An introduction to social welfare, social issues, and the profession. Sage.
Hinton, E., Henderson, L., & Reed, C. (2018). An unjust burden: The disparate treatment of Black Americans in the criminal justice system. Vera Institute of Justice, 1-20.
Paradies, Y., Ben, J., Denson, N., Elias, A., Priest, N., Pieterse, A., … & Gee, G. (2015). Racism as a determinant of health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 10(9), e0138511.