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Identify factors that make African Americans and Latina/os more vulnerable to entanglement in the penal system in the United States. Explain and critique at least two approaches to address injustices in the penal system.

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Race and

Rashawn Ray, University of Maryland
Patrick Sharkey, Princeton University
Matthew Clair, Stanford University

Race and Ethnicity (Fall 2021)

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Race and Ethnicity R A S H A W N R A Y , U N I V E R S I T Y O F M A R Y L A N D
P A T R I C K S H A R K E Y , P R I N C E T O N U N I V E R S I T Y
M A T T H E W C L A I R , S T A N F O R D U N I V E R S I T Y
Race and ethnicity
Are race and ethnicity “real”?
The “science” of race
Implicit bias
Stereotypes and prejudice
A sociological approach toward stereotypes
Racism in individuals and institutions
Affirmative action and reparations
Trends in racial inequality
Understanding the persistence of racial inequality
A moment of change?

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President Barack Obama. (Source)


 Is race still important in the U.S.?
 What do we mean by race and ethnicity?
 What is the racial and ethnic composition of the United States?
 Is race a biological feature of humans?
 When did the idea of race first emerge?
In 1903, the sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois famously wrote, “The problem of the twentieth
century is the problem of the color-line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men
in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”1 Du Bois was writing just a few
decades after the end of slavery, at a time when lynching of Black people was a common

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occurrence, public facilities were segregated by race, and immigrants from China were
excluded from entering the United States. Much has changed over the past century, but race
and racism remain central problems in American society.
The election of Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States is a case
in point. President Obama’s election was a momentous event in American history, and many
political pundits and journalists at the time considered his election to be a harbinger of the
end of racism as we know it. Some commentators suggested that America had entered a
“post-racial” moment. So why are we still talking about race and ethnicity today?
In the eight years that President Obama was in office, he faced continuous questions
about whether he was born in the United States and whether he was lying about his religious
faith (given his name and ancestry). He was criticized by conservatives for bringing too much
attention to race, and criticized by liberals for failing to do enough to help Black Americans. At
the start of his presidency, the Tea Party emerged as a major conservative social movement,
and toward the end of his presidency, the Black Lives Matter movement developed in
response to police killings of Blacks and Latinos.
Eight years after Barack Obama was elected, Donald Trump—the man who had led
the call for proof that President Obama was born in the U.S.—became the 45th President of
the United States. Following President Trump’s election, hate crimes against racial and religious
minorities increased throughout the country, and white supremacist groups that used to be on
the fringes of society grew bolder and garnered more and more attention.
And then, in May of 2020, a video from Minneapolis showed Derek Chauvin, a White
police officer, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, until he lost consciousness
and died. The video, which emerged in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, led to a
massive mobilization against police violence and other forms of racial injustice and economic
oppression. Demonstrations were held in cities and towns across the country, as millions of
Americans expressed their support for a national reckoning on race. On April 20, 2021,
Chauvin was convicted of murder, but about 1,000 people—disproportionately Black, Latino,
and Native American—continue to be killed by the police every year and most police officers
are not held accountable.
A lot has happened since November 2, 2008, and there is no simple way to interpret
everything that’s changed since the day American voters elected the first Black president. But
two things are clear: the United States did not turn into a colorblind nation, and we are not
living in a post-racial era. Race and ethnicity remain crucial to every aspect of life in the
United States. This chapter explores why.

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Race and ethnicity
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires an “enumeration” of the population,
otherwise known as a census, every ten years. The first Census occurred in 1790, and every ten
years since, the federal government has undertaken a massive project to find out how many
people live in the United States. Race, and related conceptions of who counts as a citizen,
have always been a central part of the effort. For example, Native Americans were rarely
included in the Census before 1900, and although enslaved Black people were counted, they
were considered to be only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the political
representation of White citizens in slaveholding states.
Race is a system that humans created to classify and stratify groups of people based
mostly on skin tone and other phenotypic characteristics, such as eye shape and hair texture.2
Race has been used to create, maintain, and enhance group distinctions and disparities.3 The
first Census included only three racial categories: people were classified as either “free white
males or free white females,” “all other free persons,” or “slaves.” As the nation has become
more diverse and the category of citizenship has expanded, these categories have changed
again and again. Before 1950, Census-takers visited people in their homes and typically
assigned everyone there to a race, usually just by looking at them; since then, Census
procedures have changed and Americans are able to choose our race for ourselves. The
terms used for African Americans have included “colored,” “Negro,” and “Black.” Starting in
2000, respondents could choose multiple racial categories instead of being forced to choose
just one. And along the way, a new question was added to the Census: in addition to
identifying our race, Americans are now asked to identify another characteristic—our

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During the Middle Passage transport from Africa to the Americas, Blacks were held in shackles and
chains inside ships. (Source)

Ethnicity refers to common culture, religion, history, or ancestry shared by a group of
people. Ethnicity, unlike race, is not always tied to shared physical characteristics. Ethnic
groups in the United States include different groups of Hispanic Americans (such as Mexican
Americans, Cuban Americans, and Puerto Ricans), Irish Americans, Vietnamese Americans,
and Jewish Americans. People considered members of different racial groups can belong the
same ethnic group (such as Black Mexicans and White Mexicans), and people of the same
race can be of different ethnicities (for example, Korean people and Filipino people). Ethnicity
is an aspect of identity that can be central to your life or one that only matters in certain
situations, like religious services or family parties. It can fade away over time, as people
assimilate into the wider culture. It can be the basis for stigma and discrimination, like race, but
it usually doesn’t imply a clear hierarchy the way racial categories do.
Now that we have a working definition of race and ethnicity, we can better understand
what the American population looks like. The latest information is available from the American
Community Survey, which runs every year in between the ten-year Census. Table 1 shows the
breakdown of the U.S. population in 2019.

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Table 1: Race and Ethnicity in the United States as of 2019
Racial/Ethnic Group Number % of Total Population
Total U.S. Population 324,697,795 100%

Not Hispanic or Latino (total) 266,218,425 82%
White alone 197,100,373 61%
Black or African American alone 39,977,554 12%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone 2,160,378 1%
Asian alone 17,708,954 6%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone 540,511 Less than 1%
Some other race alone 789,047 Less than 1%
Two or more races 7,941,608 3%

Hispanic or Latino (total) 58,479,370 18%
White alone 38,277,289 12%
Black or African American alone 1,257,088 Less than 1%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone 589,765 Less than 1%
Asian alone 215,255 Less than 1%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone 59,357 Less than 1%
Some other race alone 15,258,322 5%
Two or more races 2,822,294 1%

Source: American Community Survey 2019 (5-year estimates)

The most common way to classify race and ethnicity is to first ask people whether they
are Hispanic or Latino. Hispanic is classified on the Census as an ethnicity rather than a race,
even though many Latinos are increasingly classified as a racial group by everyday people
and other institutions.4 Roughly 18% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or Latino, and most
Hispanics are of Mexican descent. The remainder of the population, about 82%, is not Hispanic
or Latino. Just over 61% of the population identifies as non-Hispanic White, 12% identifies as
non-Hispanic Black or African American, 6% identifies as Asian, and less than 1% identifies as
either American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. A tiny
percentage are members of some other racial group, and another 3% identify as members of
at least two racial groups.
But even this detailed breakdown of the population doesn’t tell the whole story.
Because respondents answer questions about both race and Hispanic ethnicity, it’s possible
for people who identify as Hispanic to also select a racial group. If we consider both race and

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ethnicity, we find that about 12% of the population (and the vast majority of all Hispanics)
identifies as Hispanic (their ethnicity) and White (their race); 5% of Americans consider
themselves Hispanic and “some other race.”
Two lessons are clear from this exercise in classifying the U.S. population. First, Americans
are extremely diverse, and a sizable share are not content with classifying themselves in a
single racial or ethnic category. Second, we don’t really know the “true” racial and ethnic
makeup of the country. Our understanding of race and ethnicity is affected by the categories
we’ve selected to officially measure race and ethnicity, and by individuals’ own ideas about
their identity and ancestry. As an example, many state laws used to declare that any person
with any African ancestry at all was Black, a custom known as the one-drop rule. Although this
is no longer written in law, the custom hasn’t gone away. Many well-known public figures, like
Halle Berry and Vice President Kamala Harris, have parents with diverse racial and ethnic
ancestries, but they identify—and are described by others—as Black.
Similarly, the groups of people who count as White have changed over time.5 In the
1800s, Greeks, Irish, Italians, Poles, and Jews from different countries were all seen as members
of different races, inferior to Americans of English descent. Slowly, individuals from these groups
began to assimilate into the culture of the United States, and their close connection to their
homelands weakened over generations. As they began to speak English and moved out of
the highly-segregated neighborhoods where they lived when they first arrived in the U.S., the
boundaries between different European ethnic groups became less sharp. Today, people with
ancestry from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are categorized as White on the
Census. Despite this Census classification, many people with MENA ancestry in the United
States are racialized as non-White and experience ethno-racial and religious stigma and
discrimination, especially after the September 11th terrorist attacks.6
Estimates indicate that Whites may no longer make up a majority of the U.S. population
at some point in the next few decades. While it’s undeniable that the country is becoming
more ethnically diverse, it’s also true that various groups of Americans may see themselves
differently over time. Just as ethnic groups like the Irish, Italians, and Jews came to be seen as
White over time, it’s possible that other groups, like some Hispanics or Asians, may begin to
identify as White. The categories that we use to classify the population may also change. As
an example, there were extensive conversations about whether a new MENA category would
be added to the 2020 Census, given the discrimination they face. Ultimately, MENA was not
added as a racial category, and the millions of people in this category continue to be
classified as White but can indicate their specific ethnicity as, for example, Lebanese or
Egyptian under the White racial category.
The categories we create to classify race are sometimes quite persistent, but they can
be interpreted in many different ways and—as the Census example shows—the categories
can change. These changes show that race and ethnicity are not fixed, biological attributes.

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They are ideas that are created and revised by humans as a means to classify ourselves. But
as we’ll see in the remainder of the chapter, these concepts have very real consequences.
Are race and ethnicity “real”?
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is a well-known and highly-respected professor of African
American Studies at Harvard University. He has written dozens of books and made fifteen
documentary films, one of which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program. In
2006, Gates produced and hosted African American Lives, a groundbreaking show on PBS
that traced the family background of some of the most notable African Americans through
historical research and DNA testing.
While doing research for the show, Gates made a startling discovery. He knew that not
all of his ancestors were from Africa, but when he investigated his history in more depth, he
learned that his ancestry was about half African and half European. One of the most
prominent scholars of the African American experience had a much more complex family
history than he realized.
A few years later, his story got even more complicated. On July 16, 2009, Gates was
returning home to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from a trip overseas and was unable to open
the door to his house. A neighbor in the mostly-White neighborhood noticed Gates and his
driver attempting to force the door open and called the police. The officer who responded
ordered Gates to come out of the house and asked him to prove that he was a professor at
Harvard and owned the house. Gates eventually complied, but repeatedly asked the officer
for his badge number and name. The officer warned Gates that he was acting in a disorderly
manner and ultimately handcuffed and arrested him. While charges against Gates were
dropped, the mugshot of the world-renowned professor revealed something very deep and
disturbing about race in the United States.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., may have an equal number of ancestors from Europe and from
Africa, but his African descent seemed to matter most that day in Cambridge. Although it’s
impossible to know for certain, Gates was convinced that neighbors would not have called
the police, and officers would not have been so aggressive, if his skin were white.
The consequences of race in daily life are very real, but the science and genetics of
race are messy.7 Despite the search by many life scientists—such as geneticists—over several
centuries, there has been no discovery of a gene for race—that is, there is no gene biologists
can find that determines which racial category someone falls into or that clearly separates
members of one race from members of another.8 In fact, a White person and a Black person
can be genetically more similar to each other than two White people or two Black people.
If race doesn’t have genetic coherence, then how do we understand its importance?
Sociologists typically think of race as a social construct, a concept that humans invented and

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gave meaning to in order to understand or justify some dimension of the social world.
Differences in skin tone or other physical markers have been used for centuries to explain
differences or inequalities between groups and to justify treating groups of people differently.9
And the idea of race has been justified, for centuries, on the basis of natural science.

Despite research showing no genetic differences by race, DNA is often used to justify
racial differences. (Source)
The “science” of race
Although the most credible research reveals no biological or genetic differences exist
that cause meaningful psychological, mental, or physical distinctions among races, many
people believe there are innate differences in the capabilities of racial groups.10 Dominant
stereotypes in the U.S. lead people to think of Asians as short and intelligent, Blacks as
physically superior but intellectually inferior, and Whites as the standard and epitome of the
human ideal.
These types of beliefs are present even among the best-educated professionals. One
study compared attitudes about race and genetics among first-year medical students to
attitudes among those who had completed medical school and were doing their medical
residency.11 Nearly 30% of first-year medical students, compared to only 4% of medical
residents, believed that the blood of Blacks clots faster than the blood of Whites. Over 20% of
first-year medical students (but only 4% of medical residents) believed that Blacks have
stronger immune systems than Whites. Some racial stereotypes persisted even after medical
residents underwent training on race and health; 40% of medical students and one-quarter of
medical residents believed that Blacks have thicker skin than Whites.
As some of these medical students failed to realize, humans are one species regardless
of skin color, language, eye shape, or hair texture. While there are average differences

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between racial and ethnic groups in health, educational attainment and test scores, and
athletic achievements, these differences are driven by socialization, environmental factors,
culture, and opportunities.12 Scientists across many disciplines reject the idea that race is
rooted in biology.
So if race is indeed a social construct, an idea made up by humans, then who invented
it? In the mid-1700s, Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus, a Swedish taxonomist, started with the simple
observation that people looked very different from each other.13 Linnaeus argued that there
had to be psychological traits associated with these physical differences in skin color. He split
humans into four subspecies, each associated with a major continent.
The classification of humans into racial groups had just begun and was reinforced by
European conquest of the Americas, genocide of Indigenous populations, enslavement of
Africans, and the global spread of capitalism. In the early 1800s, the German naturalist Johann
Blumenback introduced five racial categories—American, Caucasoid, Malay, Mongoloid, and
Ethiopian—with each race associated with a color (white, yellow, red, brown, and black).
Later, the term Negroid, which means black, replaced the term Ethiopian. These classifications
of racial groups were arbitrary, and were made by White Europeans and Americans. This
explains why Whites were placed on top of the racial hierarchy and why Whiteness was used
as the marker of perfection.14 Other groups were placed into a hierarchy below Whites, often
ordered by skin color from lightest (at the top) to darkest (at the bottom).
As the science of evolution progressed,
theories of race and biology were reinforced.
In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
showed how the survival of the fittest leads to
a superior species that evolves and adapts to
its environment. Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s
cousin, argued that selective breeding of the
fittest people, genetic engineering, in vitro
fertilization, and forced sterilization of those he
viewed as unfit would allow humans to
develop enhanced intelligence while saving
society’s resources and reducing human
suffering.15 Eugenics, the idea that we can
actively improve the genetic profile of humans, led to forced sterilizations of groups of people
labeled as unfit to reproduce.
As a result of these theories from the 1700s and 1800s, external physical characteristics
(such as skin color, hair color and texture, and eye shape) and ethnic distinctions were
believed to reflect psychological and mental abilities that made some racial or ethnic groups
superior to others.16 Pseudo-scientists (people without proper training or credentials) used
A statue of Charles Darwin. (Source)

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data, often fabricated, on anatomical features like skull weight and facial angles to shape
public opinion and government policies about race and inequality. By the turn of the
twentieth century, eugenics was popular in the United States and Europe. The idea
contributed to the Holocaust, where Nazi Germany systematically murdered six million Jews
between 1941 and 1945.
Through the development of theories and concepts that described and categorized
humans, race became a social reality—an idea that, because people believed in it, had real
and immensely harmful consequences. It became a means to separate, exploit, and even
murder groups. Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection became the scientific
justification for the idea that differences naturally exist among racial groups. Galton’s eugenics
theory provided the scientific basis to justify the attempt to preserve the “purity” of the superior
White race. Racial prejudices became linked with biological theories of human inequality,
ensuring that race would continue to be a crucial part of social life in the centuries to come.



7: Race and Ethnicity

7: Race and Ethnicity

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 Why are most of us biased in our judgments about different groups of people?
 Where do stereotypes come from and why do they persist?
 Sociologically, how should we think about differences between racial and ethnic groups?
Has your hair color changed since you were born? What about your eye color? Does
your skin or hair color change from season to season with exposure to the sun?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. In a quick survey of a
class of 120 students, nearly 100% said their skin tone changes with exposure to the sun.
Roughly 15% said their hair color has changed since they were born, and a similar percentage
said their eye color has changed since birth. About 20% of students said their hair or eye color
changes with the seasons.
The human phenotype is the set of our visible features or characteristics, like the color of
our skin, hair, and eyes. The phenotype is affected by both genetics and our environment, and
most individuals’ phenotypic features change over their lives. And yet, many of the same
features that change within each of us have been used as justifications for racial classification
and exploitation.
The connection between phenotype and the value, quality, or goodness of human
beings is ingrained in society. Think about words that pop into your head when you hear the
colors yellow, red, black, and white. In another in-class survey of students, some words
commonly associated with the color yellow included docile, cowardly, cautious, and sunny.
Red triggered words such as fire, stop, blood, and aggressive. The color white brought to mind
words such as purity, cleanliness, and innocence. In contrast, black triggered words like evil,
bad, and satanic. Black is the color people wear at funerals and symbolizes death, whereas
white is the color worn by brides, doctors, and nurses. White is the absence of color and
represents being good, positive, and pure.
These associations may seem meaningless, but there is evidence that they can affect
the way we see other people. In famous experiments carried out in the early 1940s, Drs.
Kenneth and Mamie Clark presented children with identical dolls, one with white skin and
yellow hair and the other with brown skin and black hair. They asked the children which doll
was nice, which one was bad, which they preferred to play with, and other questions. Both
White and Black children favored the “White” doll. They preferred to play with the White doll
and thought it was nicer, and were more likely to say that the Black doll was “bad.” The

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preference for the White doll was particularly strong among Black children who attended
highly-segregated schools in Washington, D.C.
The Clarks concluded that racial identity and self-awareness develop as early as age
three, and that segregation damaged Black children’s self-esteem and self-concept. Their
research was later cited in the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, in which
the Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional because they were inherently
Sadly, these impacts on Black children’s sense of self aren’t a thing of the past. In the
2005 documentary A Girl Like Me, Kiri Davis replicated the doll study, with similar results. As we
will see, our internalized ideas about race affect the ways we think about different groups of
people and ourselves, and none of us are immune.

Implicit bias
A bias is a tendency to view things in a particular way, regardless of the details of the
specific situation. Implicit bias is the association our minds make between seemingly unrelated
things; it is subconscious, and we may be entirely unaware of our implicit biases. Implicit bias is
ingrained in all of us, regardless of our race or ethnicity, through socialization in family and
neighborhood settings and media exposure. In our daily lives, we are continuously exposed to
oversimplified beliefs about different groups, which lead us to form mental associations
between these groups and positive or negative evaluations.
In studies, both White and Black children prefe
The assignment Identify factors that make African Americans and Latina/os more vulnerable to entanglement in the penal system in the United States. Explain and crit has been handled previously by writers from Wridemy.

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