Graphic is a cardboard house on (I believe) the Navajo Reservation. Courtesy of 4 All Our Relations.
In the United States we have come to believe that issues of discrimination due to race and gender no longer exist. We function under a disguise of equality; in a society that outwardly appears to be free of discrimination, a society that gives equal opportunities, liberties, and freedoms to all of its citizens. However, this is not true. It is nothing more than an external façade. Under the surfaces of newly redeveloped urban areas, and even within the corporate infrastructures that supposedly promote hiring equity, something is awfully wrong. There is a serious neglect and ignorance of the presence of racial and gender inequalities that continue to permeate and saturate our society. This has become such an easy issue to disregard today because these inequalities have predominantly left the blatantly obvious realm of life; that is we generally don’t see the evidence of such problems on a day to day basis. Nevertheless, discrimination and inequalities are corrupting the social structures and environments from underneath our society’s direct awareness. Many would like you to believe that we live in a color and gender-blind world, far removed from the inequalities of the past, or that the present problems of racial and gender inequality are only small issues that don’t really deserve our attention. But if we peer beneath the surface it becomes obvious that race and gender inequality are true social problems that still exist.
It is a common belief that race has become an issue of the past. That the abolition of slavery and the introduction of civil rights laws have dismantled social discrimination and inequality based on race. This is, however, very untrue. While the abolition of slavery and civil rights laws legally worked to tackle the behaviors of society, no longer letting individuals blatantly discriminate against minorities, the legislation could not challenge people’s attitudes. So instead, they simply attempt to control society’s behaviors enough to promote equality for racial minorities. Nevertheless, equal opportunity never really reached the bulk of minorities. With the threat of desegregation society at large experienced what was known as “white-flight,” possibly one of the first steps in creating the divided world that exists today. In fear of mixing their children with minorities, many middle-class white families fled the urban cities to settle down in dominantly white suburbs. These suburbs continually grew over time, moving steadily outward with federal assistance in the building of freeways and interstate highways to connect their ever-further (yet minority-free) suburbs to the jobs they still had in the cities. Because of this, suburbs gained their own school districts which have continued to get more and better funding for their children than the minorities that were forced into urban public schools. With the middle class quickly leaving the urban areas, ethnic areas in urban cities quickly turned into nothing more than ghettos. With the lack of proper resources and presence of decent paying jobs the majority of families fell into irreparable poverty where individuals do not have the money or means of travelling to get a job that provides a wage that can support them. In this way, the minorities that have been left in the impoverished areas of urban cities continue to struggle, often adding a racial touch to the social stratification and presence of class in looking at race and minorities. The issue is that the concept of a difference in race is socially constructed. Biologically, we are no different than those of different skin; the real discrimination begins to form, today, within the infrastructure of society. Racial inequality in society doesn’t exist in “deficiencies” within minorities, or through the biases of the racist (because many individuals are only supporting their own interests, not being malicious or racist), but through the structures and institutions of society. This is reinforced, often times, because institutions are often interrelated. Because members of the racial minority are often excluded from higher levels of education will likely effect other aspects of society like acquiring a job with a life-supporting income. Or even how minorities receive inferior educations over dominant racial groups, and their unjust treatment within the criminal justice system is enough to show how institutional discrimination often exists inherently and will continue influencing them throughout life.
Like racial discrimination, gender discrimination, too, is often thought of as no longer an issue. Perhaps openly, as well as addressing race, it is no longer socially acceptable to blatantly dismiss women as lesser than men, but under it all, gender inequality is still prevalent. Like race, gender differences aren’t inherent. Instead, they are social inventions. The reason why many presume that gender inequality no longer exists is that men have varying degrees of power, and that different groups of women exhibit varying degrees of inequality. In this way, yes, you may find individual women in roles more powerful than those of certain other individual men, but the key is that across the board men in this stratified society generally are still perceived as more valuable and are often more appreciated for their work than women are. This comes from the existence of discrimination within social structures and even social interaction. Many of the discriminating predispositions found within both social structure and interaction come from sexist perceptions in history long ago that have continued to the present. In the past, female gendered institutions placed them within the domestic circle of importance. Taking care of the home, and raising children, while the men would go to work to make a living. Regardless of the true importance of the woman’s role, it was within a more private range of importance, while the men’s role was in the public, thus making his role more readily appreciated by society. Due to this, women attempting to leave this role are often forced into service and care roles in the public world, a large percentage of women fill positions of secretaries or clerks. And even with the segregation of women into these gendered occupational roles, they nearly always get paid less than men with the same amount of education and when doing the same amount of work. In regards to social interaction maintaining the perceived difference and inequality in gender, we can see today many examples within language our society uses to belittle and keep women considered a lesser figure in society. Terms like “bitch” or “shrew” used to dehumanize and belittle women attempting to leave society’s preconceived gender roles for women. This stratification works to give men an unequal dominance when considering social class, as well. All of these negative influences that create present-day gender inequality work to rob women of the same opportunities as men, disadvantaging families headed by women, and as long as these rigid gender structures exist they work to belittle the potential for all men and women together to thrive.
Inequality is still as pervasive and threatening today as it has always been, but taking new forms to achieve its purposes. While blatant discrimination fades away as a social taboo, institutional discrimination against race and gender still exists. As Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, once said, “There can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation, and as long as the weak and small continue to be trodden by the mighty and powerful” (Gyatso). And, undeniably, it will be only through profound changes through developing policies and programs working to benefit the disadvantaged, promoting true social equality, that we will make any steps toward encouraging and upholding a better world.
Beggs, John J. “The Institutional Environment: Implications For Race And Gender Inequality In The U.S. Labor Market.” American Sociological Review 60.4 (1995): 612-633. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.
Gyatso, Tenzin. thinkexist.com quotes. thinkexist.com, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. http://thinkexist.com/quotes/tenzin_gyatso,_the_14th_dalai_lama/.