Defining the Concepts of Class, Race, Gender Essay
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Every society known to man has used either race, class, ethnicity, gender or all of the above to determine placement in civilization. Sometimes one or more of these categories comingle and we characterize this as: intersectionality. Finding the words, however, to define class, race, gender, or intersectionality is not an easy feat. Throughout the past few weeks we have read many articles that allowed us many clear descriptions. Prior to this course I would have described class as being a way in which society groups individuals based on economic positions or social status.
In my opinion, sometimes political beliefs can attribute towards class placement as well. However, since reading the required texts and watching films based on class, we now know that there are other factors associated with class divisions. For example, we read in Brenda J. Allen’s “Social Class Matters” article that not only are these two viewpoints large contributors (economic & political alliances) towards classes, but also geographic locations.
This can be seen when visiting a typical trailer park, where many of its residents are presumably called “white trash”, or as depicted with lower income families who live in the projects or ghetto. Their locale most likely reflects their social status or class. Moreover, we have learned that these factors also define what class is to the general public: education, occupational position, and power. “Women without class” by Julie Bettie examines class theory by understanding the ways in which class identity is constructed. It has many illustrations of social class by way of education and occupational positions. The upper crust students of Waretown were typically children of white collar employees. The preps generally outperformed the las chicas, hard living, and often settled living students of this documentary, as exemplified in the titles placed on the over and under achievers. For example, “preps” is an abbreviation for “college preparatory” which was the type of advanced class the children of white collar workers of Waretown enrolled in to prepare for life after high school.
While these courses allowed some students endless opportunities, other students in the exact same school attended seminars with lowered educational expectations. Instead these students were encouraged to attend expensive certification courses that upon graduation held them captive in low paying positions with debt remaining after completion. “The Death of the Social Class” by Pakulsky and Waters believes social class is no longer relevant in the United States. A principal reason for this message states that because slavery is now obsolete, we have the legal upholding of the United States Constitution, and we expect education to be attained by all races. As a result resources have become more prevalent among all races. Race, in the past, was a word that I identified as being someone’s skin color, however as I matured (both mentally and physically) and met individuals from other cultures I soon realized that race is a culmination of many things.
Culture and ethnicity are quite influential in determining a person’s race as well. For example, not everyone with dark skin is African American, just as not ever fair skinned person is Caucasian. As exhibited in Cruz-Janzen’s For example in the article Racial formation in the United States written by Michael Omi and Howard Winant, we learn of the Louisiana law that states that if a person has 1/32nd “Negro blood, they are automatically considered Black or African American. Although Susie Guillory Phipps tells us she is majority Caucasian this law still classifies her as being Black and she unsuccessfully attempted to sue the state to change her vital records. There are many reasons why the government still requires race on legal paperwork. Some argue that some sort of racial classification system is required.
One reason may be the government funded subsidies some companies receive as a result of employing a minimum amount of minorities. From a personal viewpoint, race matters because it is a way that people identify culturally with one another. Another reason may be from a biological perspective some diseases and/or illnesses may be common amongst certain races, therefore it would be beneficial medically to be aware of such traits. Women Without Class (Bettie) also identifies various races for the sake of case studies that were researched by the author. The female students identified culturally with one another but sometimes overlapped identities to interact with one another. As in the example of the student Starr who was from a working class background, however she identified with the cultures of the Mexican American “cholas” after moving to Waretown.
This is an example of an extreme case in which the person felt the need to choose one particular group to socialize with because she did not feel as though she had much in common with the other non-Hispanic working class students she chose to interact with this social hierarchy. She gave in to conformity from her past actions to better fit the desires and social realities of her newly acquired friends. Gender is another social aspect that many people use to classify each other. It has been said that had it not been for ourselves questioning or labeling gender, it would not exist at all. “The Social Construction of Gender” written by Judith Lorber argues gender construction begins being cataloged after viewing the child’s genitals after delivery. Upon birth babies are treated differently based on sex and/or gender.
An unintentional yet major classification occurs as soon as the baby is placed in his or her incubator. Nurses and other medical staff wrap the tiny babies in one of two colors – pink or blue. It has even been researched that our speech and tone changes according to the babies sex as well. If we see a baby boy, for example, we quickly begin to daydream of tossing the old pigskin around in the yard or rough housing the baby. For the baby girl, however, we speak in softer high pitched tones and fantasize about planning make believe tea parties with baby dolls as guests. In essence, Lorber believes that gender behavior is learned and is being taught – not necessarily an expression of how we see ourselves. Another gender specific study was examined in R.W. Connell’s “Gender Relations”. In this article we learned of 2 separate studies conducted.
Barry Thorne’s research in which teaching roles in American elementary schools were mostly comprised of females and playgrounds were divided based on gender. The second study was performed by Dunbar Moodies, who researched South African mines that were, not surprisingly, dominated by the male workforce. Another theory learned in Connell’s article was that of trailblazing British feminist – Juliet Mitchell- who taught that there were four elements of gender that subjugate women. Those four facets were believed to be: production, reproduction, socialization, and sexuality. It is also demonstrated in more current literary findings unrelated to gender.
For example, Black Picket Fences addresses racial stereotypes, but it also depicts women’s roles separately from male gender roles. Each story that is told from first person shares a journey that taken either from reformed bad boys or girls that have strayed along the beaten path and hooked up with the guy from the wrong side of the track. The males were sometimes peer pressured into joining gangs from lack of responsible male figures and as a result may have performed illegal acts. This clearly represents gender assignments. Intersectionality involves both social and cultural relationships that overlap between race, class, and gender. Perhaps the most obvious portrayal of this theme is
Section 2: Biology and Families
In Conley’s article “The Starting Gate” regarding the correlation between low birth weight babies and race it was determined that social standings in society is not based solely on genetics and biology. Instead we learn that other factors may influence our place in society as well. Things like our educational backgrounds and what occupations we choose to support ourselves combine with aspects that are outside of our control, like birth order and race, to decide the social class we will inherent. Women Without Class discusses the concept of some students becoming “upwardly mobile”. This concept is important because it shows how race and parental occupations sometimes do not decide what social class a person will be invited into. The “upwardly mobile” students were not necessarily white, and had parents who were blue collar workers as opposed to being a lawyer, doctor, etc…yet despite all of this; they were still able to join the social cliques of the elite.
These girls were also able to develop a strong sense of class awareness. In fact, Lareau’s “Invisible Inequality” even states that race has very little to do with class social standings. The data collected from this investigation examines parenting styles all socioeconomic backgrounds from either Black or White families perspective. The researchers were able to map the connections between parent’s resources and their children’s daily activities. Middle class families, regardless of race, tended to take a more traditional approach to child rearing in comparison with lower class families who relied heavily on outside play and extended families for activities. Middle class parents also stressed language development and use of reasoning skills. These parents enroll their children in various age appropriate organized activities that govern family life and create massive effort for mothers. The parents view these activities as passing on important life skills to children.
They asked leading open-ended questions that required insight and thought provoking answers. Whereas, working class and poor families believe that if they give a child love, food, and a safe environment they will grow to become responsible adults. They also participate in little organized sports or other activities and have much more free time. Working-class and poor parents issue many more directives to their children and some place a great deal of stress on physical punishment. A great example of this is the research of Harold McAllister, a 10 year old from a lower class black family. Harold’s mother asks very little questions of authority figures (such as the family doctor) and does not encourage Harold to be cognizant of his body and any health related questions he may have. He plays outdoors with his older cousins and occasionally attends church. For the most part “Invisible Inequality” is full of descriptions of race versus class status.
However, with regard to birth order and geographic locations determining social status, it is also briefly mentioned in “Invisible Inequality”. For instance, when we are introduced to another research subject’s family, upper middle class black family – Alexander Williams, we learn that both of Alex’s parents are from small Southern towns and come from large families. This slight mention is yet another example of intersectionality as well. A more extreme example, genetically speaking Ms Phipps (mentioned previously) was considered legally Black; however her social status did not classify her by her race. Phipps identifies with the White race. The case illustrated the inadequacies that claim that race is merely skin color. We have all witnessed or been aware of racial conditioning at one point or another.
We make assumptions based on race and classify a person’s race immediately according to their physical appearance. Biologically speaking, there are many factors that influential in determining a persons birth weight. Low income families have less medical care and are exposed to certain agents that prohibit normal growth of the fetus. Also contact with second hand smoke and lead based paints, etc. have been attributed towards low birth weight. Another factor involving biology is the responsibility many women from different racial backgrounds face.
White women, for example, have long been expected to remain wholesome and keep the family bloodlines pure. Pressure to remain a virgin until marriage and pre-marital sex were heavily stressed among white women. This forced racial conformity as a means of biological deterioration for the white race. In conclusion, all of the articles and readings discussed previously support Conley’s summation that both genetic and biological starting points do not fully determine our social standings in class. Rather, they work cohesively with other reasons to establish these relationships.
Section 3: Working Class & Middle Class Identities
Although class is especially important I would agree that other issues are becoming increasingly just as important if not more. Factors such as race and or gender influence personal outcomes. Both Women Without Class and Black Picket Fences provided various examples to support this theory.