Social Stratification in Modern Day United States

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By Andrew Springer, student author.

Popular culture of modern America celebrates equality. The United States displays it’s affinity for fostering equality in nearly any facet imaginable, in forms both formal and informal. We flaunt how far we have come in our government-recognized holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, local festivals that celebrate diverse communities, the presence of ethnic diversity in advertising and entertainment (although it could be debated that this is merely the effect of institutions formal policy that implements affirmative action to help sway public opinion of it’s image). In our capitalistic society, we have easy access to the goods and services that were once limited to the ethnic groups and subcultures they are most often associated with. Popular information dictates that social stratification based upon such factors as race, ethnicity, creed, gender and sexual orientation are outdated and shameful traditions of the past. Examining current social environments of different minority groups will reveal and unspoken culture of inherent social stratification obtained and maintained by behavior including, but not limited to, institutionalized discrimination that directly opposes popularly held values of American culture.

Readily available and commonly known information regarding the matter of
discrimination may be in celebration of out-of-vogue traditions of the past, but with that celebration also comes an admission of guilt for the dominant group of the past and present day. America’s history associated with slavery, racism, and ideologically justified discrimination is taught to serve as a gauge to distinguish how far we have come in this battle for equality. A topic that does not garnish the inclusion into common knowledge is the means by which all of this occurred. Soft control has been a common means to achieve and maintain the stratification that took place in the past, that is also not to say that force and coercion had no play in Americas history of prejudice that lead to discrimination.
Perhaps there is reason for the lack of exposure regarding the abuse of soft control by the dominant groups in the United States. The 2010 U.S. census shows that a quantitative dominance of solely white individuals that numbers 63.7% of the population (Hixson). This shows that by numbers, white americans of european decent make up the primary dominant group in America. It wouldn’t be too hard to extrapolate this fact into an explanation as to why this group has also undergone the least publicly acknowledged discrimination in both the past and present (that is disregarding discrimination based upon creed, gender, and sexual orientation being that this data focuses only on ethnic majority). This fact does not demonstrate that there is still a presence of soft control used by the statistically dominant ethnic group.

It is unfortunate that there are specific examples that demonstrate this groups abuse of soft power on minority groups in modern day. A brief overview of current events reveals that institutionalized discrimination is an issue we are still struggling with today (despite what our holidays and celebrations have to say of its presence). Arizona is in the midst of putting into action a piece of legislation, titled SB 1070, that flies in the face of the values of equality we so openly celebrate (Morse). This bill operates under the ideology that the presence of illegal aliens in the domestic workforce is in some way a threat to the wellbeing of the community. The means by which this bill aims to achieve a solution is by putting in place policy that:

“Requires state and local law enforcement to reasonably attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a lawful stop, detention or arrest in the enforcement of any other local or state law or ordinance where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present, except if it may hinder or obstruct an investigation” (Morse)

It should also be noted that the bill does not define what “reasonable suspicion” may be that would require a law enforcement officer to determine the immigration status of an individual (Morse). Due to it’s geographic location, it is probable that Arizona would likely see a greater number of illegal immigrants that belong to the hispanic community more-so than aliens that belong to any other ethnic community. What this legislation enables is for institutionalized racial profiling, or at the very least, leaves anyone questioned by a law enforcement officer subject to that officers potential personal prejudices (and logical extension would also reveal, potentially subject to discrimination as well).

This law serves as a perfect example of the unspoken culture present today in the United States that makes use of flawed ideology to promote a dominant group’s position in social stratum over that of a minority group’s. This is also only an examination of a dominant ethnic group making use of soft control. Further exploration of different dominant and minority groups will reveal more examples of similar attempts to establish or maintain social stratification that favors the dominant majority.

Ethnic groups are not the only groups subject to their social strata being defined by inherent characteristics outside of their own control. Females are put into submissive roles and lower strata in nearly every social group they are part of, a great example to examine would be the realistic earning potential of women in the workforce. The fact of the matter is that women earn only 77 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts (“”). This gap has several social implications, which include the lessened ability of females being capable of financially leading a family group. Legislative reform is happening to help correct this value-conflicting fact that forces women into lower social standing, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act (“”). This legislation also serves as an example of affirmative action being able to correct value conflicting behaviors, such as the use of soft control to maintain un-equal social stratification, allowing for the protection of the social mobility of the minority group.

In conclusion, the social environments of different minority groups has in multiple cases proven to been one that fosters a culture of inherent social stratification obtained and maintained by behavior including, but not limited to, institutionalized discrimination that directly opposes the popularly held value of social equality in our society. The decrease of disparity between social stratum is an imperative goal associated with the value of social equality, which dictates that the means by which social stratification is established and maintained must be abolished in order to achieve true social equality. If the American dream is social mobility based upon characteristics of an individual that are within the control of that individual, then I would submit to you that with the maintenance of social stratification as it exists today can lead only to the death of that dream. Perhaps rather than using holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day to celebrate how far we have come, it would be apt of America to make use of the day to consider ways in which we could further a value we have agreed as being worth striving for. Social equality is something that has proven itself as something that must have a path analyzed and planned in order to achieve, as sitting idly by will lead only to the maintenance of what was and may continue to be the status quo.

Works Cited
Hixson, L. U.S. Gov.. Census Bereau. 2010 census. 2011. 0. 13 Jun 2012.
Morse, A.. “Analysis of Arizona’s Immigration Law.”National conference of state legislature. National Conference of State Legislatures, 2011. Web. 13 Jun 2012.
U.S. Gov.. White House., 2012. 0. 13 Jun 2012.

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