Saturday, June 09, 2007

Worlds Apart

Peace and blessings,

The following topic I am about to discuss and the question I am going to pose to the readers stems from two influences. The first influence has to do with a graduate course I took about a year ago. It was an urban education course and we dealt a great deal with theories which sought to best explain the past and present educational disparities affecting children and their families. Most, if not all of these theories can be grouped in either one of two categories. On one end, there are "race-oriented" theories that generally argue that the main source of inequality within the U.S. is race, such that there is a dominant race and ideology which oppresses and trumps other races and ideologies. On the other end, there are "class-oriented" theories, which generally argue that to understand the extent of inequality in the U.S., we must understand the ways in which the U.S. is stratified based on class, and the effect of people's class levels on their(quality of)life chances. I'm not going to describe these theories in detail, but just wanted to provide a "snap - shot" to which to base the discussion. However, it is important to note that by categorizing these theories as race - and class - oriented I am not saying that they only focus on one or the other. Instead, these categorizations reflect the extent to which the theorists' in their respective camps felt that either race or class was more important in understanding injustice and inequality in the U.S.
Ok, enough of the academic mumbo-jumbo, lol. I know that few would disagree with the idea that both race and class are important with respects to understanding inequality in the U.S. Furthermore, I agree with the idea that issues of race and class are related, and that they are in combination with, not in isolation from each other (Collins, 1990). For example, assuming that the socioeconomic status of both individuals are identical, most would agree that a poor white person would still be in a more privelaged position in the U.S. than a poor black or brown person. Although this may be true and I believe that any problem entails a myriad of factors, I think that in some instances, some factors are more important in explaining inequality in a given context than others. From my personal experience and point of view, it seems that whereas as race issues appeared to be more salient during the times of slavery up to the civil rights era, it seems that class - related issues have become more important in explaining contemporary injustice and inequality in the U.S.
Despite witnessing and being a victim of racist beliefs and actions, my position on this issue stems from two related beliefs. First, it seems that at least within my experience, there is a difference (nowadays) between the effects of racism and the effects of classism. With regards to race, racist beliefs and actions have many effects on the individual or people to whom these beliefs and actions are directed. One can be affected symbolically (one interprets a racist comment about himself or herself to be "true"), psychologically (internalization of racist beliefs and actions), socially (some groups are privelaged over others), and/or materially (an applicant does not get hired because of his or her race). With regards to class differences, it appears that the implications of these differences are primarily social and material. In other words, in contemporary U.S. society it appears that one's life chances are more determined by the socioeconomic resources people, their parents, and/or ancestors have or had, than on their race. As mentioned earlier, this is not to say that race and socioeconomic resources are unrelated, because it is clear that there are serious race trends with regards to who belongs to the upper, middle, working, and lower classes. However, what I am saying is that one's economic resources, and the social networks one establishes as a result, have a significant bearing on the quality of instutions "made available" to him or her, and on their life chances.
Second, it is this emphasis on social and material effects that I think makes class issues an extremely signifcant factor in U.S. inequality due to the sharp distinctions often drawn between upper and lower classes. I feel that in general (because there are always exceptions), distinctions based on race in the U.S. were more sharp in the past than they are now. For instance, there has been much collaboration and unity amongst races in certain contexts, such as friendships, relationships, and organizations. In contrast, there does not appear to be (or at least I am not aware of) such collaboration and unity among people of certain economic classes. It seems much more likely for one to have friends and relationships with people of different races, than for upper class people to associate with, let alone establish meaningful relationships with working class or lower class people. Because upper class people's life chances are often so drastically different than those of the working and lower class, there are less opportunities for these groups' paths to cross in meaningful ways. People of different races but of the same class level are more likely to come together on common issues than people of the same race but from different class levels.

As these are only my thoughts from my own observations and experiences, I am interested in what others think. Based on your own experiences and observations, would you say that race or class is more important in explaining contemporary U.S. inequality? Or do you think that they are so intertwined that one cannot be viewed as a more important determinant of U.S. inequality than the other? Weigh in and speekonit..

Collins, P.H. (1990). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. NY: Routledge


Shanessence said...

You've been tagged -- see my post!

Melanie said...

I think what you're saying is very true. We are no longer segregated by race, but I certainly didn't live on top of the mountain some of my students lived on last year. Nor did I live in the ill-kept holes-in-the-wall some of my other students lived in. People choose where to live based on their income, and therefore their class.

I see breaking these barriers as the responsibility of the school system and the church. I'm not sure who else has the power to do it. Rich people aren't going to choose to live in small apartments, and the lower class doesn't have the means to move into upper class neighborhoods. The only places we cross paths are at church and at school.

There are grants for schools in low income areas. It is the only way the school I am teaching at next year could manage to keep classes small and pay for teachers for PE, music, and computers. But schools in lower class neighborhoods need more than those in upper class neighborhoods. Because some of my students will not be able to afford things like crayons, pencils, and backpacks, and because their moms will be working or taking care of the baby and can't come volunteer as easily.

Like race, I think the first step is making people realize that they are just as important as anyone else, regardless of how much they have and where they live.