Most define America as a meritocratic society, in which all have an equal opportunity to pursue happiness and achieve success through talent and hard work. Regardless of one’s race, this opportunity should be available if one possesses sufficient skills, perseverance, and determination in order to attain the highest level of society. However, the actual situation is not so easy, and social stratification exists along with racial lines. This social stratification denies individuals from the minority groups, which include any non-Caucasian race, access to the resources and standard of living that Caucasians enjoy and take for granted.
The social division has always existed in various forms in the United States, and social mechanisms, such as economic practice, the criminal justice system, resource allocation, and religion, serve to maintain the separation between the races. Caucasians have benefitted from preferential treatment inherent in American civilization, and their hierarchal position has also remained stable. While this situation had an ancillary effect of providing a coherent power base that resulted in this country’s status as the most powerful nation in the world, it has been attained at the expense of the less-favored races.
During the industrial revolution, the social division became more pronounced along with economic lines because wealthy capitalists generated huge amounts of wealth by employing large numbers of workers paid below the value they are provided. Due to the fact that the power was transmitted from the government toward the super-wealthy individuals, economic stratification joined racial stratification as the primary means of segregating the privileged ones from the unclean masses who toiled to provide huge profits for these owners of the industry.
Impact of Race on Opportunity
Spohn (2000) describes the racial class structure of the United States as based on the prerogatives and corresponding access to the resources (p. 56). Caucasians hold the advantage because they possess and retain the existing power, and this manifests in higher living conditions as compared to other races. They enjoy higher wages, better living conditions, more representation in the government, and preferential treatment in the justice system. Viewed from the perspective of functionalism, the status quo operates well to maintain stability and the current societal division based on race. Functionalism is the social theory that the individual parts of civilization, such as economics, technology, material culture, and religion, are interdependent and support each other. These components work together to provide the United States with a steady stream of workers in order to support the capitalist economy, continue to limit access to the resources for those who are not Caucasian, and persuade those within the system to accept the situation as natural and inevitable.
White people have a clear advantage while searching the employment, and they receive higher salaries than equally trained and skilled workers of other racial identities. Similarly to the African-American people who were enslaved and forced to work for the benefit of their owners, non-Caucasians are prevented from attaining equal prosperity and chance for advancement in contemporary America. Da Silva describes how different cultural groups enjoyed similar advantages in Brazil, and how recent legislation seeks to promote cultural equality and promote tolerance (2000). Similar legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act, has been passed to attempt similar measures in the United States but has not prevented racial discrimination in the workplace. Pager describes how African-American job candidates received responses to their job applications consistent with those who had criminal records (2007).
Racial segregation, while illegal, still exists in most parts of the United States, especially regarding Caucasian residential areas. This racial homogeneity serves to concentrate on wealthy homeowners in certain areas and the poor in other areas. It is worth noting that the crime rates are higher in poorer areas, and there are fewer retail outlets at the disposal of the residents. Public service is of lower quality, and there are fewer aesthetic benefits. The poor (racial minorities) are less likely to own their homes, and thus do not obtain the financial benefits of homeownership during their lifetimes such as tax credits for home mortgages and lines of credit secured by their homes. The impact lasts beyond their death, as their offspring do not benefit from the passing of material wealth through inheritance upon their death.
The majority of those who hold public office, especially in the higher echelons, are white people. While an African-American president is currently serving his second term in office, the racial composition of the population is not reflected in the government. The current administration committed vast resources during the economic recession to preventing the collapse of the banking, insurance, and automotive manufacturing industry while the nation hemorrhaged jobs and millions joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Even with the improvement of the economy, unemployment numbers remain higher than they were before the recession. However, the industries that received government assistance in order to survive are reporting profits.
The minorities, which have contact with the criminal justice system, also fare worse than their white counterparts. Spohn describes that minority offenders were more often sent to prison than Caucasians, and they were given longer prison sentences than Caucasians who were incarcerated (2007). However, the prison population is one place where whites are in the minority. African-American males represent the vast majority of Americans who are imprisoned. Once released from incarceration, those who have been “reformed” face systemic discrimination that prevents them from achieving the lifestyle that everyone desires. This promotes recidivism and continues the practice of generational involvement in the criminal justice system that is observed among racial minorities.
These examples of institutional racism define the discrimination that exists between the highest level of social strata in the United States and the lower levels. Race defines the profit of certain persons, their accommodations, how much the government will help them, and the problems they will face if they break the law. There is no other single factor that determines the rights and privileges one enjoys in the society other than a cultural group one belongs to.
Racism Now and in the Future
The effect of these barriers is keeping the power and wealth concentrated among those that hold it generationally. There are examples of those who are able to improve the level of their social strata, but these are the outliers. Due to the fact that the demographics of the United States changes over time and more population belongs to the traditional minority groups, the question of whether the existing system, biased toward Caucasians, will be able to maintain its monopolistic possession of the power and wealth that society has bestowed on them.
The economic system in America is harshly divided between those who have the higher profit and those with lower income. There is no other industrialized nation in the world that has a greater disparity between the highest and lowest wage earners. Some countries have laws that regulate the salary of the highest-paid employee of a company and how much he can be paid in relation to its lowest-paid worker, but there is no such law or philosophy existing in the United States. The incredible amount of the resources paid to the top of the salary “food chain” requires a huge amount of workers toiling at low wages to generate enough money in order to keep the system solvent, being also the model of the economy. The automakers sought and received concessions from the United Auto Workers, the union that represents the rank and file those who physically produce the product after the recession struck. New workers were paid less, and the salary increases were lowered. This had the predictable effect of boosting the profits of the companies that received these concessions. The CEO pay scale did not come into question or face unilateral limits placed on the earning potential for the highest-paid employees of their companies. Similar wage structuring has resulted in the “loss” of the middle class in the American economy and an economic scale that is disproportionately small for the largest segment of workers. The “American Dream” is no longer attainable by most people, and the possibilities for achieving it are slim for those who are not white and wealthy.
Technological advances, such as increased automation and remote data transmission, play a large role in maintaining the current economic climate. Robots are able to manufacture goods that used to require skilled human labor. This has eliminated an entire class of jobs, which used to provide stable living conditions for many people who must currently survive on lower paid positions. Introduction of technologies, such as electric meters, which transmit electrical use, have eliminated many jobs that used to employ people at wages that, while not at the level of a CEO, provided a lifestyle that was higher than the minimum wage employment that has replaced them. The labor model in the United States is designed to outsource the most possible amount of jobs to the countries where employment costs are lower and eliminate the remaining jobs with the new technology involvement.
This new technology requires skilled workers to manufacture, program, and maintain, but much of this work can be accomplished with the same foreign manufacturing jobs that currently produce numerous durable goods. Maintenance and other support works do not require such amount of people as it was needed previously to build physically the goods, which are now produced robotically. Therefore, the net effect is a loss of skilled employment. In this way, technology functions to maintain a large amount of low paid workers necessary to generate the productivity required to pay the ever-increasing wages of those on the higher positions. Where technology promises the possibility of increased production that could provide benefit to all, it actually exists to increase profit and control over the wealthy people who can afford it.
The material culture of the United States similarly reinforces racial stratification. Poorer urban areas are devoid of the “McMansions” that are ubiquitous in the affluent suburbs. The schools located within the lower-income areas are similarly stark and lack the technological resources, such as computers, that students from economically privileged school districts enjoy. Large retailers concentrate in malls where they appeal to those who benefit from the racial division, and the less fortunate ones are forced to purchase the necessities of life from a smaller choice of more expensive goods offered by pawnshops and local stores that still operate in the economically challenged environments.
When a poorer area becomes attractive to the rich and its architecture is improved, gentrification ensures that the original residents can no longer afford to live there and take advantage of the improvements. Private schools, charging tuition that is not affordable to a low-income family, have become more popular and are situated in the areas that are populated by affluent families that can afford their prices. Plus describes how racism in education functions to keep the limited opportunities for those of economic means (2003). While continuing to follow education substandard for the poor population, the advantages enjoyed by the upper class that can afford better schools for their children are guaranteed continued economic success in the future. The material culture in America follows this program to both rewards the rich with greater tangible goods and to limit access to them for those who aspire to reach them.
The phrase “religion is the opiate of the masses” is paraphrased from a quote of Karl Marx, and was part of the work that called for the end of religion on the basis that religion caused many problems it protests. Similarly to the slaves who sang spirituals to distract themselves from the injustice that defined their lives, religion offers solace to those who continue to suffer from economic injustice on the basis of their race. Religions generally preach the value of accepting one’s fate as the “will of God”, and offer eternal salvation to placate those who suffer on the mortal plane. The sacrifice is lauded through such conventions as Ramadan and Lent, and the spoils of this world are decried as the work of the devil. This does not prevent organized religion from amassing huge amounts of wealth that are protected from taxes in the United States. Moreover, this inherent hypocrisy of religion shows its function as a palliative arm of society. Where religion has the possibility to affect social change, it instead eschews the pursuit of improvement for the downtrodden in favor of silent suffering with hope of a better existence after death.
The various functions of American society work to keep the situation as it is and to ensure that those who enjoy the benefits of the system will continue to do so in the future. By structuring the economy to provide the lion’s share of wealth and power to the few already in control, the future is guaranteed to be similar to the currently existing situation. Technology has aided the control system of the economy, and by restricting technology in the schools that the poor minority members of American society attend, the employers establish the new pool of unskilled workers necessary to keep those on the higher positions wealthy and in charge. The architecture clearly indicates the lines of demarcation between the “haves” and the “have-nots” as any line drawn on the map. These parts work together to create a stable system, but one that consistently discriminates against those who are not white.
The conflict theory describes how one group of people uses the function of society to maintain control over other groups. During the industrial revolution, those who owned large industries began to dominate America’s growing infrastructure and concentrated on their own benefit. They accomplished this task by creating a distinct tier system composed of management/ownership and those who performed the physical labor necessary to operate their businesses. This tiered structure continues to exist today, evidenced by the institutional discrimination from which the civilization suffers. By limiting the wealth and power of those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, those at the top are able to maintain their monopolistic control over wealth and privilege.
As America’s economy transformed from agriculture to industry, and the population began to concentrate in the urban centers, the first material manifestation of the control theory came into practice. Those who employed them often provided housing to these new workers. Thus, those who provided the physical labor necessary to implement the industrial revolution ceded autonomy to the people who gained the best profit. The workers, who were injured and unable to work, could be immediately removed from their homes, which could then house new and healthy workers. There were no labor laws that prevented the practice of discarding employees who were injured during the course of their employment or collective bargaining practices that could give greater power to the voice of the workers demanding better conditions.
The legislation that emerged to address these issues, such as Worker Compensation laws, has been weakened by more strenuous burdens of proof that must be provided to receive compensation. Unions have been weakened, as discussed above, and have not provided many benefits for the employees who comprise their ranks. The problems of the worker that existed at the time of the industrial revolution are still faced by the workers nowadays. Those who labor for low wages face discrimination that limits their options to improve themselves. The meritocracy, which is the ideal of the founding fathers, has been replaced by an oligarchy that works to maintain control provided by the wealthy elite.
he social structure of the United States reflects the privilege given to Caucasians and denied to other ethnicities. Racial compositions of the poorest areas of any given community are skewed toward racial minorities, and the social fabric that provides shelter and assistance for these groups is insufficient. The various functions of the government and society work to limit the opportunity for self-improvement of non-whites and punish them more harshly than whites for transgression. Education does not provide the same skills to those who attend these schools, and the ability to enter institutions of higher learning is much less. Racial division in America exists in every facet of the government and society, working to maintain the coherence of the system.
While American has been described as the land of opportunity, there exist restricted opportunities for those who are not white and already wealthy. Their wealth is concentrated and maintained within the families through investment and inheritance. Less fortunate members of the society who have a hand-to-mouth existence cannot take advantage of retirement accounts that allow an increase of the profit on a tax-deferred basis before being bequeathed to the next generation of the elite.
Similarly, economic privilege is denied for those who seek to attain it through hard work and determination. Such factors as lack of access to the education and living conditions that are conducive to success prevent correspondingly the upward mobility that is represented by the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. This strategy leads to continuous failures, suffering greater humiliation and discrimination at the hands of the white elite power base.