Realistic Conflict Theory & Social Identity Theory

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The aim of this essay is to address the existing conflict of racial discrimination, the reasoning behind why people of a certain race feels more privileged than the others, racial superiority and discussing it thoroughly backed up by Realistic Conflict Theory and Social Identity Theory. This essay is going to examine the issue regarding Asians being the target of a racial discrimination and prejudice in Australian context. Focusing on the demographics of the apparent reason to why Asians are being treated unfairly because of their ethnicity by Caucasians specifically in Australia.This issue regarding race differences should be addressed as not only it is an unpleasant experience for the victimized race, it is also uncomfortable to be the witness of such incidents. Predominantly, Australia appears to be a multicultural country, having diverse cultures, ethnic, and lifestyles. Therefore, race differences should be tolerated and accepted, rather than being discriminated. Experiencing race-based discrimination can ‘traumatize, hurt, humiliate, enrage, confuse, and ultimately prevent optimal growth and functioning of individuals and communities’ (Harrell 2000, p. 42)

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Based on SBS, it is stated that those who belong to a Language Other Than English (LOTE) background reported the highest rates of workplace racism (54.1%) and racism within various educational institutions (55.8%). Related to my article itself, it is surveyed that the experience of racism on public transport or in the street was the highest at 34.1%, followed by at a shop or shopping center at 32.3%. Online experiences of racism were also quite high at 28.2%. In brief, the media article covers the recent incident that happens on July 12, 2018 located on a tram from Northcote to Docklands, regarding two Melbourne teenagers who victimized a man with debilitated remarks because of his race, being Asian. He was verbally abused with racist insults including “F*k off back to your own country” and “go cook some more f***ing cats”.Theoretical BackgroundIn this case, Realistic Conflict Theory and Social Identity Theory are the preferred social theory that is used to explain the underlying cause of discrimination and racism. Realistic Conflict Theory justifies that competition between groups for valuable but limited material and/or symbolic resources breeds hostility (Campbell, 1965).

This competition for limited resources caused intergroup conflict, supported by evidence from a famous study investigating group conflict: The Robbers Cave (Sherif, 1954, 1958, 1961) which knowingly concluded that the least complex clarification for this contention is rivalry. This is further explained as it is perceived that the gain of one’s group is the loss of another’s, considering it to be a group threat, which in turn causes prejudice against the out group, and results in creation of negative stereotypes, mistrust and avoidance about the other group.The selection of this theory is highly related to the belief that resources are scarce, which in turn causes people to compete for survival, preferring their own and discriminating the other in which however could be reduced by superordinate goals achieved through cooperation.

Social Identity Theory suggests that individuals’ drive for positive identity and esteem influences the social comparisons they make. (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Accordingly, Tajfel proposed the idea that the groups, including social class, family, and teams that people are a part of plays a big role in their pride and self-esteem, giving them a sense of belonging to the social world. The selection of this theory is highly correlated to the belief that discriminating the outgroup is essential to enhance their self-image. Racial Prejudice and DiscriminationRacism is referred to as “beliefs, attitudes, institutional arrangements, and acts that tend to denigrate individuals or groups because of phenotypic characteristics [e.g., skin color, hair texture, width of nose, size of lips] or ethnic group affiliation” (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, 1999, p. 805).

Racism is everywhere, it takes many form and can occur in different places. It divides individuals into different groups, basing it on where we originate from or the shade of our skin. Thinking that treating other people badly because they are of a different race is alright. However, there are a lot more things happening beneath it, and the reasoning behind why it all happens.Realistic group conflict theory might explain why interracial tensions surface in communities as racial diversity in them increases. Based on the research “Community Matters: Realistic Group Conflict Theory and the Impact of Diversity”, conflict may stem in communities, for example, from competition for material resources, including economic ones (Blalock, 1957) or symbolic resources, such as political strength (Glaser, 1994). In the situation of the workplace, white people have arising feelings of resentment towards Asians as they are afraid they are unable to obtain their desired work, because Asians has been taking over the workplace in most western countries, Australia included. Moreover, as per Financial Review, the Federal Government has endorsed the idea that having more migrants, or Asians in general is an exceptional move for Australia’s economy.

Supported by the idea that highly educated Asians mostly have good grades and tend to be a hardworking employee.The prevalence of empirical evidence suggests that how organizations function can be hindered by diversity (Williams and O’Reilly, 1998). As diversity increases, the majority group members were observed to have a lower quality of interpersonal relationships in their work groups (Riordan and Shore, 1997). And with the increasing number of minorities in the workplace, the white employees were reported to have a lower trust and attraction to their peers (Chattopadhyay, 1999). This might be justified by the fact that the white employees view the minority, Asians included as their competitors, and left them feeling uneasy which attributed to the occurrence of prejudice.The incident that took place in the tram where a man got victimized because he is Asian was clearly a form of racial discrimination. Although the story in the media article itself does not necessarily occur in a workplace, this is still closely related to the idea that most whites, including the teenagers held negative attitudes towards Asians. It is evident that the two teenagers who verbally abused the Asian man unconsciously views him as a competition for economic security, power and social status. Their guts instinct was to naturally remove the competition when they are aware that resources are limited and only available for possession by one group. This explains their racist remarks telling him to go back to his own country. Diversity is stimulated by the accelerating number of immigrants.

The research “Social Psychology of Prejudice: Historical and Contemporary Issues” has shown that attitudes toward immigrants and immigration are of considerable national importance. At the same time, worldwide migration has increased substantially in the last few decades (United Nations, 2002), immigration into the United States and Canada has met with some resistance and has at times resulted in tension between immigrants and members of host populations. Indeed, Gallup poll data collected in the United States show that a sizeable proportion of Americans (e.g., 49% in June 2002; Jones, 2002) believe that immigration to the United States should be decreased, with somewhat lower levels in Canada (e.g., 33% in March/April 2002; Aubry, 2002). This study, in fact, is related to the case in Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australia’s net overseas migration rose by 250,100 people over the year, accounting for 63.2% of Australia’s total population growth. Belinda Allen, a Senior Economist at the Commonwealth Bank quoted that the migrant intake is generally skewed towards the skilled migrants rather than unskilled migrants. Knowingly, a study was conducted that shows that in times of high unemployment, exposure on issues such as immigration can result in adverse attitudes towards immigrants (Esses et al, 1998). The locals view this as the immigrants reaping the benefits out of their limited resources that they might already be deprived of. This could cause problematic issues especially if it is apparent that the immigrants are doing well. In relation to the assault of the Asian man, it is visible that the two teenagers are less accepting towards the minority group which causes a harmful incident. With the increasing number of immigrants, the availability of the work for the locals is threatened. Which causes them to react in an unfavorable way towards him, even though knowingly, high level of immigration is necessary in order to maintain a strong economy and workforce. The idea of someone being judged based on something they are born with and incapable of being altered may cause psychological harm to the victim itself.

A report shows that the chronic experience of racism was linked to higher incidences of stress-related diseases (McCord and Freeman, 1990). This verbal abuse done by the two teenagers might affect the man in worse ways than they think they could have.Based on the research of “Applications and Extensions if Realistic Conflict Theory: Moral Development and Conflict Prevention”, A laboratory-based study was conducted by Worchel, Axsom, Ferris, Samaha, and Schweitzer (1978) in which two groups either competed or acted independently, wearing either similar or different uniforms. Intergroup attraction was lowest for groups that wore distinctive uniforms and competed with one another. Subsequent intergroup cooperation increased intergroup liking, particularly when the groups succeeded in their task, were not distinguished by dress, and had not previously competed.Based on the Social Identity Theory, in-group positivity and enhancement is a default position, in that individuals seek a positive in-group identity to satisfy their basic need for positive self-esteem (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Sherif also emphasized the importance of in-group identification, arguing that the identity and personal interests of an individual are heavily reliant on group membership. Seeing that one’s sense of self is determined by the group, negative normative intergroup attitudes then becomes internalized, thus deepening and extending conflict. Although the negative intergroup relations tend to strengthen intragroup solidarity, it then however boosts the unfavorable attitudes toward the out-group (Sherif, 1958).

Needless to say, it is shown that people unconsciously prefer the ones that are similar to them, therefore using race and skin color to create judgements, which then determines the positive or negative interactions between groups. This further explains on the in-group favoritism done by a higher status groups, which in this case is the white people.In relation to the media article itself, racial discrimination tends to happen to boost their own self-esteem. The issue of “us” and “them” itself has already produces in-group favoritism (Tajfel, 1979). The two Melbourne teenagers who assaulted the Asian man thinks that their race is more superior than his. Even though these individuals are going to be motivated to achieve a more positive self-concept, this then includes discriminating the others. Which is the relevant to why the assault happened. The outgroup race is looked down upon, and the higher status groups think that they are powerful than others.Based on the research done by Drew Nesdale and Debbie Flesser on “Social Identity and the Development of Children’s Group Attitudes”, it is founded that in relation to social comparisons, research indicates that children as young as 4 and 5 years of age are capable of self-other evaluations and actively and spontaneously engage in social comparisons. (Chafel, 1986; Yee & Brown, 1992).

A study was created by (Bigler et al., 1997) engaging children to wear colored shirts for the duration of a four weeks’ program, this in turn shows that the children who were assigned to their own color groups did not want to change groups, choosing more members of the in-group versus the out-group. This study has revealed that showing attitude towards differences has been begun from a very young age. By the time children enter elementary school, prejudices have been developed. These stereotypes will remain until personal experience or someone attempts to correct them (Rollins & Mahan, 2010). Racial attitudes, whether it is positive or negative was observed to be affected most by parents. (Savard and Aragon, 1989). It will be beneficial for the children if the parents inform their kids about discrimination and educate them on how to cope with it. In relation to the incident in the article, it is now clear why the two teenagers have shown racist attitude towards the others, as it is apparent that racism tends to start from a very young age. People unconsciously compare people and create a stereotype out of them.


In conclusion, racial discrimination and prejudice in discrimination context can be elaborated more by Realistic Conflict Theory and Social Identity Theory, showing in a different perspective as to why people of a certain race is discriminated.The completion of this assignment has helped me developed a greater understanding as to why racism exists. Mainly due to the occurrence of ignorance, and the fact that the majority of us fear others who are different and unlike us and would much rather preferring those who are similar instead. In addition, relating to the Realistic Conflict Theory, racism is caused by the fact that people are competing for scarce resources, viewing the other group as a threat, thinking within a society, access to the resources is only limited for just a group. In order to reduce the Realistic Conflict Theory, superordinate goals and recategorization is sufficient to be offered in order to intervene the possible destructive conflict that might happen in the future.

While the Social Identity Theory contrasts the Realistic Conflict Theory and proposes that prejudice and discrimination naturally occurs when someone else is categorized by an individual to be a part of an outgroup. Correspondingly, they observed that intergroup conflict happens not necessarily only due to competition over resources. But it is based on in-group favoritism and thinking that their race is more superior than the others. Nevertheless, no specific theory will be sufficient to explain the underlying motives to why racism occurs as human behavior is unpredictable and complex. ReflectionAs an Asian living in Australia myself, I do experience racism first hand. Being shouted by random white guys as a “money magnet” while passing by the road is an offense on its own, creating a feeling of uncomfortableness. It is a stereotype that is made by white people that all Asians are loaded with money and is capable of getting it easily, when in reality we have to work hard to get that money. In the workplace, there is a Canadian study (Oreopoulos 2011) which shows that employers discriminate against applicants with Asian names in the decision to call for an interview. This itself shows that race is a significant factor in applying for jobs, which is unfair for the minorities, not only Asians but also the people of color if they have the potential to make the company be more successful. Racial differences should be tolerated and accepted, especially in a diverse country like Australia.

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