Caste, Race and Ethnicity
Race defines a group of people who share the same geographical region and have a common genetic composition. Ethnicity on the other hand refers to the aspects that define members of a particular group. These might be seen in their cultural practices or the shared belief systems. Castes are the social classes in India that differentiate groups of people with regard to their wealth, occupation or lineage/heredity.
Compare caste as it operates in India with how race and ethnicity operate in the United States – what parallels exist between these social categories? What differences?
Race, ethnicity and caste are some of the categories that influenced the way people are treated in today’s society. The following essay looks at the similarities and differences between race and ethics in the USA and the caste system in India. “According to the American Anthropological Association (2007), “”Race” as a concept is controversial because of the numerous instances in human history in which a categorical treatment of people, rationalized on the grounds of biology-like terms, have been used.”
In the United States of America, before people were so divided according to the colors of their skin and the geographical regions people came from. These divisions made the whites feel more superior to other people in that they were the ones who ruled and enjoyed most of the earth’s pleasures. They were the leaders of the land, owners of industries and the law makers. Due to this, they were the wealthiest people in society and other races were below them. This was a similar trait in the caste system in India where the rich remained rich and the poor people would be subjected to substandard lives for the rest of their lives. This was so because the castes were divided along the ‘have’ and the ‘have not’. The rich people were the ones who controlled most of the economic activities and were in leadership positions.
In the Indian Caste system, there were residential places for the ‘better-off’ groups and the low class, lived in secluded regions. The rich people chose the most fertile land for themselves and the rest of the land was left to the other groups (Healey: 2006). Where the rich people settled, the places progressed and had the necessary facilities as they had the means to pay fro them, while the other poor areas were underdeveloped. The same goes for the United States where wealthier people lived in nice houses in good neighborhoods; their children went to good schools and enjoyed better careers and basically they had the necessary facilities close to them. As the rich enjoyed luxurious lives, the poor who were mainly from the minority races, lived in substandard surroundings and could not access even the necessary basic services like health care.
Race arose in the USA as a result of colonialism and slavery because groups of people were exploited for their labor power on the basis of their perceived race. As restricted and unacceptable as the relations between other minority races and white groups was, a situation the minority groups did not accept their subordinate position in the American social order. In India, the caste system was broadly accepted and was considered normal.
Endogamy and marriage restrictions differ in how the Americans view race and how the Caste system works in India. ‘Endogamy in a caste system is a self-imposed means by which each caste protects its integrity and heritage and thus is generally embraced by all castes (Rees 104).” Attitudes with intermarriage in America vary by race, regional cultures and traditions.
In the Indian Caste system, people from different groups never intermarried. “Inter-caste marriages are infrequent if not rare (Goulbourne: 216).” This was so because members of the same caste married people within their group and their success were passed on to future generations. For example, if rulers came from one group, then that group would retain leadership for as long as they had sons’ to inherit the throne. In the USA, initially people from different backgrounds were never allowed to marry. Rich people would never allow their sons and daughters to marry the under privileged people with the notion that they would bring shame to their families. This was also the same reasoning that was applied when marrying someone from another race. If children were born from such unions, they were not regarded as part of the family.
“In a caste system, each group and individual has a designated place and a purpose which is acknowledged by all other castes as crucial to the welfare of the whole (Rees: 104).” But in the US, there are things which limit the progress and development of an individual within the social organization. In the caste system, the joy and sadness of an individual are shared by the whole group. People are always united in achieving personal and common goals. For example they can plant crops and the benefits go to the community. In the US, people who are discriminated against are usually fighting for their rights and this takes much of their time in that they cannot engage in productive activities that will benefit them and those like them.
“Caste society and American racialized society are seen incomparable because they are structured in two entirely different ways (Rees: 106).” Castes are integrated and interrelated into a complex, functioning whole. On the other hand, race and ethnicity issues in America constitute different societies to the degree that they can be considered as one, a society divided against itself. Their various differences make them useful in that people are able to learn from the various mistakes in both contents so that people can be treated equally and thus foster international unity.
Relations between castes are changing rapidly because the world is fast becoming a global, village. Moreover, there have been reports on caste violence, including atrocities against untouchables and tribal. The new legal and political systems in India have not eliminated the traditional hierarchical order, but they change it at many points. “Eliminating the term race represents an opportunity and a dilemma (American Anthropological Association: 1997).” It is therefore important to recognize, understand and embrace different cultures that people belong to so as to eliminate discrimination.
American Anthropological Association. Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics
and Administrative Reporting, Sept 1997
Healey, F. Joseph. Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and
Change. 4th Ed. Pine Forge Press, 2006
Goulbourne, Harry. Race and Ethnicity: Critical Concepts in Sociology
Published by Taylor & Francis, 2001
Rees, W. Richard. Shades of Difference: A History of Ethnicity in America
Rowman & Littlefield, 2007