Home » SOC 101 Week 12: Race and Racial Stratification

SOC 101 Week 12: Race and Racial Stratification


Welcome to the twelfth online lecture in the Fall 2015 Introduction to Sociology course at the University of Maine at Augusta.  This week, we discuss an upcoming assignment on gender in the classroom before we move on to considering the subjects of race and racial stratification.  This lecture augments the wide-ranging presentation made in Chapter 9 of Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself, focusing in on and clarifying the two concepts.  First, we consider racialization — how groups come to be understood as races — with a nod to a bigoted chapter of Maine’s own history.  Second, we cover the distinction between prejudice and discrimination in sociological studies of racial stratification and review some available evidence to answer the question, “Does racial discrimination persist in the United States today?”

Racialization in America

In last week’s class, we discovered the many ways in which gender is a status (that is, a set of expectations for social behavior), and how profoundly those expectations have varied across time.  The same can be said for race.  One of the ways we can tell that race is not a biological reality but rather a socially-created set of expectations is by identifying the variety of ways in which societies have placed people into “races” in recent times.

The following video segment of our lecture begins in the city of Bath, Maine, where on July 6, 1854 the only Catholic church in the city was burned to the ground.  Why did this happen, and what does the event have to do with the sociology concepts of race and racialization?  This half-hour video lecture lays the conceptual foundation for understanding past racialization (for groups like “the Irish”) and considers the current state of racial formation in the United States with reference to U.S. Census categorizations, the work of Omi and Winant, and the Bogardus distance scale.  You may recall that at the beginning of the semester you and other students in the SOC 101 course were asked questions about how close you’d prefer to have various sorts of people… or how far away you’d rather they remained.  What are the patterns for respondents in this course overall?  Watch the video to find out:


Racial Discrimination: Some Evidence

When sociologists discuss racial stratification, there are two tendencies in their work.  First, they are careful to distinguish between racial prejudice and racial discrimination (two terms which are popularly combined into a single term, racism).  Second, rather than focus on the story of a single case, sociologists study variation in behavior across many cases.  This video lecture prepared for the University of Maine at Augusta summarizes (and provides citations to) a number of sociological studies of race that demonstrate the continuing occurrence of racial discrimination in the United States.

The list of audit studies (also known as “field experiments”) demonstrating racial discrimination continues to grow.  An October 2008 experiment involved a set of e-mail messages sent to 4,859 state legislators across the country (Butler and Broockman 2011).  These e-mail messages were sent in sets, within which all characteristics of the message were held constant with two exceptions — that of race and that of political party.  Here’s a template that the researchers used when they sent out e-mails; items within brackets are variables altered by the researchers:


Sample E-mail message sent to state legislators in 2008 by Butler and Broockman

Reference to party is straightforward: an e-mail message sent out refers explicitly to future Democratic or Republican party primary elections.  Race is represented more subtly, but no less powerfully, by the fictitious sender’s name: “Jake Mueller” or “DeShawn Jackson.”  These names were chosen because research has shown them to be highly racialized: the names Jake and Mueller are strongly associated with a white identity and the names DeShawn and Jackson are strongly associated with a black identity.  “Jake Mueller” received responses 5.1% more often than “DeShawn Jackson.”  This overall effect masks important variation according to the race of the legislator.  Republican white state legislators responded to “Jake Mueller” 7.6% more often than to “DeShawn Jackson,” and Democratic white state legislators responded to “Jake Mueller” 6.8% more often than to “DeShawn Jackson.”  Democratic non-white state legislators, on the other hand, responded to “DeShawn Jackson” 16.5% more often than to “Jake Mueller.”  The effect indicates that state legislators practice racial discrimination that benefits constituents who are like them and that disadvantages constituents who are unlike them.

Finally, in a piece of research that is hot off the presses, to be released by the journal Social Forces in its next issue for the year 2015, sociologist S. Michael Gaddis sent out 1,008 fake job applications in which two features varied: the college or university from which an applicant graduated and the name an applicant used.  Names were identified as “racialized” if they were strongly associated with black identity (DaQuan, Ebony, Jalen, Lamar, Nia, and Shanice) or white identity (Aubrey, Caleb, Charlie, Erica, Ronny and Lesly).  The fake applicants’ alma maters were grouped into two categories: high-prestige universities such as Duke, Harvard or Stanford and “second-tier universities” that are respected but not as well-ranked (University of California-Riverside and University of North Carolina-Greensboro were two such universities).  The quality of applicants’ records, and of the applications themselves, were held equal within pairs; only names and university names varied (Gaddis 2015).

The dependent variable in Gaddis’ research was whether these fictitious job applications would receive a response.  Here are the rates of positive employer responses from employers in Gaddis’ study:

Percent of Job Applicants Gaining Positive Responses, by Category: Gaddis 2015


As you can see, there is a continuing added value of whiteness; applicants with Black names who graduated from elite universities obtained employer responses at about the same rate as White applicants from second-tier universities.  When comparing Black and White applicants claiming graduation from universities of the same status, Black applicants received responses about 5% less often than their White peers. Yet again, this research finds a pattern of racial discrimination in the current day.


Bertrand, Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2004. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” National Bureau of Economic Research, No. w9873.

Butler, Daniel M. and David E. Broockman. 2011. “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 55(3): 463-477.

Fagan, Jeffrey and Garth Davies. 2000. “Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New York City.” Fordham Urban Law Journal 28: 457-504.

Fagan, Jeffrey, Garth Davies, and Adam Carlis. 2012. “Race and Selective Enforcement in Public Housing.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 9: 697-728.

Gaddis, S. Michael. 2015. “Discrimination in the Credential Society: an Audit Study of Race and College Selectivity in the Labor Market.” Social Forces: Forthcoming.

Kochel, Tammy Rinehart, David B. Wilson and Stephen D. Mastrofski. 2009.  “Effect of Suspect Race on Officers’ Arrest Decisions.” Criminology 49(2): 473-512.

LaPiere, Richard. 1934. “Attitudes Versus Actions.” Social Forces 13: 230-237.

Nast, Thomas. 1871. “Bravo! Bravo!” Harper’s Weekly July 29.

Novak, Kenneth J. and Mitchell B. Chamlin. 2008. “Racial Threat, Suspicion, and Police Behavior: The Impact of Race and Place in Traffic Enforcement.” Crime & Delinquency 58(2): 275-300.

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 2015. Racial Formation in the United States3rd edition. New York: Routledge.

Pager, Devah. 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” American Journal of Sociology 108(5):937-975.

Pager, Devah and Lincoln Quillian.  2005. “Walking the Talk? What Employers Say Versus What They Do.” American Sociological Review 70(3): 355-380.

Pager, Devah, Bruce Western and Bat Bonikowski. 2009. “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment.” American Sociological Review 74(5): 777–799.

Schreer, George E., Saundra Smith, and Kirsten Thomas. 2009.  “Shopping While Black: Examining Racial Discrimination in a Retail Setting.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 39(6): 1432-1444.

Stults, Brian J. and Eric P. Baumer. 2007. “Racial Context and Police Force Size: Evaluating the Empirical Validity of the Minority Threat Perspective.”  American Journal of Sociology 113(2): 507-546.

Winant, Howard. 1994. Racial Conditions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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