We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
Martin Luther King, Jr
Racism as Expression of Group Dominance
The most important and most far reaching forms of social inequality today are related to group relations based on gender, class and ethnic background. [Inequality on the basis of age, sexual orientation, and physical or mental handicap also plays a role.] Gender, class and ethnicity are influential concepts of social organization and processes of signification. Historically, specific mechanisms of group dominance have produced and reproduced these forms of social inequality. Racism is a typical expression of group dominance (Van Dijk, 1993: 18-48). Racism as a system of social inequality implies that social groups do not have equal access to and control over material and immaterial social resources. At the material level, these resources include employment, income and housing. Immaterial resources, however, are of equal concern, including education, knowledge, information and access to the social networks and means of communication instrumental in public debates (such as the media, politics, the judicial system, the educational system and the welfare sector). Discourse occupies a central position as far as these immaterial resources are concerned. Discursive representations imbue social practices with meaning and thus legitimate social inequality and the daily organization of dominance and exclusion. This also implies, among other things, that ethnic groups do not have control over their representation in public discourse. Few professionals working in the field of communication such as journalists, opinion makers, writers, politicians and teachers are from ethnic minorities. With a few exceptions, ethnic minority groups are represented in public debate, in the press, in politics, in scientific literature and in schoolbooks by opinion makers originating from the majority group (Van Dijk, 1993). Crucial for understanding the phenomenon of racism is the observation that racism not only refers to overt and violent forms of social domination and exclusion but also to more indirect and subtle forms expressed in daily practices, including through discursive practices. It should, however, be stressed that racism is not considered a mental property of individual persons, but rather a dynamically changing dimension of social practices.
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