Examining the link between social inequality and racism in America
“We, as a nation, have failed.” This was a recent comment by Attorney General Eric Holder in a candid interview published in New York magazine. Holder is the first African American to hold the top law enforcement position, and sadly, (to the delight of many Republicans,) he announced his resignation in September.
Although certain aspects of racial inequality has made progress throughout history, it is apparent when examining recent events that there is still a major white influence in America today. It is clear that we, as a nation, have a further need for dramatic improvement on racial considerations, and we need to begin bridging the gap of racial and social inequality within all of society.
In People Magazine’s exclusive interview with Barack and Michelle, the President is quoted as saying “There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.”
The U.S. justice system seems to lean to the side of white power, finding no fault with law enforcement murdering black people… Eric Garner, for instance, strangled to death by a New York police officer for selling cigarettes, and teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. There’s plenty of this happening, (76 people of color killed in police custody in the last 5 years!) and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
Many American’s are trying to change this recent spat of injustice, such as the Millions March NYC where tens of thousands of protesters met at New York’s Washington Square Park and marched their way through Manhattan. Thousands of others across the country joined in the protests. According to a recent Washington Post article however, 52% of white American’s have actually increased their confidence in law enforcement, believing their local cops treat black and white people equally!
There are plenty that somehow think these “murders by cop” are okay. I have read post after post in Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites and blogs by white people who think that black people exaggerate far too much when it comes to claiming how they are mistreated, misunderstood and judged in society. Some actually have the grossly mistaken belief that we are all treated equally under the law, and whites get an equal amount of bad breaks and misfortune. Black people just make too big of a deal about their own culpabilities and injustices.
According to an article published in Contemporary Sociology, Allen and Chung believe that perspectives such as the woes or “blues” of a black person are the same as those of their white counterparts and stem from a narrow summary of social inequality on a broad level.
Bear with me while I go all “sociology” on you…. I’m simply giving my perspective on this article now. I want you to think about the intersection of race and social justice, perhaps give yourself pause to think about what this really means, and how our governments and ourselves as human beings can help end inequalities in all of society simply by acknowledging a truth that race is a social construct.
While Karl Marx stressed the economic inequalities, Max Weber saw status and power as factors in the social hierarchy. Emile Durkheim went further by researching suicide, religion and social organization to show how structured, hierarchical relationships produced distinct, patterned outcomes, namely, inequality. Neither of the three put much significance on the race issue. This was finally address by W.E.B. DuBois when he stated “the most significant problem in the twentieth century is the color line”.
The article authors write: “In the United States, the contemporary debate on race has been affected largely by major cultural and structural transformations that have occurred since the 1960s Civil Rights era.”
They continue further to stress that race is a social construct, and should not be viewed as a singular fixed object, but rather one of intersectionality, which includes hierarchies of race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and nativity among other hegemonic systems that determine the status and lived experiences.
This line of thought seemingly coincides with the black socialist feminist perspective, one that claims gender, class, and race/ethnicity are socially constructed according to power relations, and that unequal power between races, classes and gender results in a type of supremacy by the dominant group, limiting some while privileging others. This is certainly true when surveying racial and social inequality.
What the authors are suggesting is that various studies and research showing racial inequality fail to address the combination of issues which create the inequality, and that many studies are too narrowly focused so as to obtain insufficient and misleading results.
Race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality and religion are social constructs. They are not tangible, they are created in the imagination of society. The dominant group defines the categories in simplistic terms – black and white, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, and so forth, then place them in ranking order. They justify their polar opposite thinking and hierarchies by claiming these ideas are fixed because they are based in biology and nature, when in reality these categories have evolved out of group struggles caused by these social constructs.
It almost seems we are trapped in a vicious circle of constructs. Our concepts of self and others are defined by our culture, our environment, and our social life. We are who we are as we define ourselves through these external influences. We react with varying degrees of emotion and behaviors when our inner self, our core values and beliefs, are brought into question or challenged, and accordingly, we feel threatened.
When we react to the perceived threat as a cooperative group process, however, and examine all aspects thoroughly, from all positions – negative, positive and neutral – societal changes can be, and are, initiated.
Summing this up, it’s simply a matter of recognizing that race, gender and class are all ideologies which we, the people, have constructed in our imaginations to benefit ourselves, consciously or not. The problem is that white people of the male gender in higher socioeconomic classes are the only ones who benefit, and they are in power. The rest of us are left to protect ourselves the best we know how and fight for the resources available only to those in power.
Pretty lopsided when it comes to “equality”, heh?