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December 13, 2012

Racial Inequality in Modern Day America

Sample Paper 3 by Lynsey Benton - Fall 2012

After watching the video "The House We Live In", and witnessing the media coverage of the occupy movements, it has been impossible to ignore the severity of inequality in America today. This inequality speaks of income inequality, social inequality and racial inequality, to name a few.

The most severe form of inequality in this country is racial inequality. The statistics speak volumes. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2007 that the median income for a white family was $64,427, compared to only $40,143 for a black family. Only 10.6 percent of the white population in 2007 lived below the poverty line for a family of four, whereas 24.4 of the black population lived below this line; that's double. Only 46 percent of black Americans own their homes, compared to 72 percent of whites. The unemployment rate of blacks in 2007 was nearly double that of whites. (Reuters)

Other than income, what does this profound inequality mean for blacks? To name just a few of the many consequences, infant mortality for babies of black women is 2.4 times that of babies of white women, reported by the CDC. Life expectancy is approximately 5 years less for blacks than whites. Women with early-stage breast cancer are less likely to receive radiation therapy after surgery, according to a study by the Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. (CNN) Furthermore, the male population of blacks that are incarcerated is four times that of their white counterparts. Public schools have yet again become increasingly more segregated- a problem that is expected to worsen. And many segregated schools struggle to gain qualified teachers and staff, leading to a high drop-out rates. Segregation of schools also puts at risk the quality of education received by non-white students, who make up 43 percent of the total student body in America. (Reuters)

Racism has been present in America since the beginning, and the United States government has systematically held black citizens back. As shown in "The House We Live In", the government made a clear effort to provide returning soldiers with affordable housing. But what this really meant was providing homes to white soldiers; this opportunity was denied to the nearly one million black soldiers. Even with the creation of the Federal Housing Administration, a mere 2 percent of mortgages were granted to black citizens. So while blacks were granted the privileged to serve for the freedom of "their" country, they were not granted the rights their country offered to whites. It wasn't until 1968 that the Fair Housing Act was signed, that blacks were given the right to purchase homes and property without discrimination. (Cheng) That said, it has been less than 50 years that black families have had the same privileges as their white citizens.

American citizens who were black were not really granted the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. This act meant that blacks were no longer required to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote. So again, as with being able to purchase homes, blacks have only had the right to vote for less than 50 years.

Africans were first brought to America in 1619, nearly 400 years ago as slaves. Blacks lived as slaves, with absolutely no rights for nearly 250 years. Slavery was not abolished until 1865, and even then, it took many more years before blacks were really free. And in a mere 50 years of "having" the full and equal rights as whites, society still seems to be in disbelief as to why they are struggling. They've had only 50 years to accomplish what whites have had forever to.

With the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008, it is easy to fall prey to the idea that inequality has been conquered; that black and white people now live in equality and have equal opportunities in our country today. A report by Urban League emphasized the importance of continuing to fight for equality. (CNN) The report acknowledged that according to their equality index, blacks are 71 percent that of whites. "The analysis shows that while important gains were made, both for blacks and whites, in each of these areas during the 1990s expansion, there was actually a loss of ground in median household income, poverty and home ownership during the 2001-2007 expansion, known as the jobless recovery," the report explained. Policy recommendations of the report include increased funding for job training programs, passing a bill that would help educate future home buyers, studying healthcare as in the criminal justice system as it relates to black inmates, funding the No Child Left Behind Act in full, and the guarantee of access to high quality education for 3 and 4 year olds.

It is easy for the average white American today to turn a blind eye to modern racism, with the assumption that equality is reality and that racism is no more. Americans today want to be part of "a colorblind society, that values the content of character over the color of skin.... but, is colorblindness the same as equality?" Looking at statistics, it is clear that our goal of equality is going to require much more action to be accomplished. In a society that has always practiced and been defined by racism, we sadly have a long way to go in order to give our equal black citizens true equality.

Works Cited

Cheng, Jean, dir. Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In. Historical Documentary. California Newsreel, 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

"Racial Inequality in the United States." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 18 Jan. 2009. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.

"Report Sees 'Sobering Statistics on Racial Inequality." CNN. Cable News Network, 25 Mar. 2009. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

December 8, 2012

The Cultural Masking of Poverty in America

Sample Paper 3 by Shane Johnson - Fall 2012

In middle school, our class was given the opportunity to adopt a family for the holidays. The process involved collecting money, toys, food, and other gifts for a whole month by all of the students in the class. About a week before Christmas I was selected along with three other students to hand deliver the truckload of goods to the family in need. We were told by selecting organization that it was a family of five living in poverty; however, when we got there we saw a different story. It was indeed a family of five, but the living conditions were not what we expected. The large apartment where we dropped off the goods had a massive TV (which at the time was exceptionally expensive and not myself nor my fellow students had this luxury at home), the woman who met us was exceptionally well taken care of (new manicure and hair styling), and the family kids were sitting around playing video games. On the car ride back from the delivery, I distinctly remember my teacher trying to insist that we had done a good deed even if it didn't seem like we had. As a 12 year old, I felt disappointed because I believed that the goods should have gone to a more "needy" family. As an adult when I think back on this event I question what poverty is in the United States, and I believe it is masked by consumerism and cultural intolerance.

The poverty line in the United States is equal to an income three times the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet, which for a family of four in 2007 equaled $20,650 (Giddens 219). There are a lot of people who believe that this line is not a true reflection of poverty. Ichiro Kawachi, professor of social epidemiology at HSPH and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School believes that: " Going to movies, eating out at restaurants, going on occasional vacations, having Internet access and a cell phone--none of these things are in the federal poverty level... What matters for functioning in society is what the average person is able to do..." (Gudrais). The same article that mentioned Professor Kawachi, also stated that a recent Gallup Poll showed that when asking people how much income they need not to feel deprived, that level has raised much more steeply than the Consumer Price Index (Gudrais). The examples in the Gudrais article show that people in the U.S. believe that having the basics (food, housing, sanitation systems, clothing, etc) are not enough to function in the U.S; functioning citizens (even those living under the poverty line) need to be consumers. However, when I ask people who do not live below the poverty line the question: "If you can afford movies, vacations, and eating out, do you live in poverty?" the answer is generally no. So why do people living below the poverty line believe they need these things, and why do people living above it think poor people don't? I believe the answer can be explained by looking at cultural sentiments about poverty and examining the power of consumerism.

Our textbook states that people in the U.S. have exceptionally negative attitudes about the poor; in fact Americans express more negative attitudes about the poor the more than any other Western country (Giddens 220). Americans believe that poverty is a condition that is optional and changeable, meaning that people chose to live in poverty and have the choice to overcome poverty if they work hard enough (Gudrais). I believe there are a few exceptions to this rule for people who are disabled, mentally handicap, and the elderly (I believe we tolerate their poverty and believe it is not a choice). But in fact, most of the working poor cannot lift themselves out of poverty (Giddens 220). The video "Race- The Power of an Illusion: Episode Three: The House We Live In" highlights how the majority of blacks in the U.S. cannot escape poverty because of the racism and discrimination inflicted on them in the past. Despite the fact that institutional racism no longer exists, there are lasting effects that impact their everyday chances of moving out of poverty. People who currently live in poverty have less access to quality education, jobs, and services that will promote them out of poverty. Even when they try to find better opportunities like applying for better paying jobs, they may be rejected because their clothes and personal appearance reflect their poor conditions (Gudrais). This reality of rejection based on general attitudes about poverty, encourages people living below the poverty line to change the perception about themselves. This perception can be change by buying goods.

If we look back at the adopted family, the class felt that a family living in poverty clearly could not own a $3000 dollar TV and afford a manicure. But, their reality was different from the fa├žade they presented. The reality was that the family could not afford groceries, heating bills, and other staples that are required for living. So why did the family not sell the TV? The TV was an attempt to overcome poverty equal to that of applying for a better paying job. Consumerism is so ingrained into our culture that like Professor Kawachi states, a functioning member of society must eat out and use a cell-phone or face the risk of complete rejection. But, at the same time this consumerism is masking the reality of poverty. The head of household must buy a nice outfit for an interview but then forgoes buying 3 days worth of groceries because if they don't they will not get the job. Once they get the job, their sub-standard education from their poor neighborhood local school prevents them getting a promotion and getting out of the neighborhood. Should the family have to choose between groceries or an interview outfit? No, but consumerism and cultural attitudes towards the poor say yes.

In the first paper I wrote for this class, I stated that classism is the easiest status to overcome because I grew up in poverty and now no longer live in poverty. However, as I mentioned in my original paper, I am the only person from my childhood who has been able to overcome this status. I wrote the paper from the perspective that poverty is a changeable condition, however, now I see that I am an anomaly and that is not the reality for the majority. My perspective was molded by the cultural masking of the reality of poverty. Consumerism and cultural sentiments about the poor mask that poverty is not a choice. Consumerism says that if a person has a $3000 TV, they can afford groceries and are undeserving of charity. Cultural attitudes about the poor state they if they worked harder and changed their lifestyle they can escape their status. Ultimately, there needs to be a shift in attitudes and less pressure to be a consumer, otherwise poverty will continue to be as inescapable tomorrow as it is today. I would like to note that even though the U.S. has the highest levels of consumption, are habits are spreading. The most densely populated slum is located in Mumbai, in the slum 1.2 million people live on less than 20 Rupees which is the equivalent of 37 cents a day (Bharucha). This is without a doubt extreme poverty. However, the slum is familiar with a well-known business man known as the Cable-Man that has managed to provide 170 cable channels to almost all of its 1.2 million residents (Discovery Atlas: India Revealed). Globalization has shown that western cultures are being adopted globally; I hope the U.S. changes its attitudes about the poor and the importance of being a consumer before they are adopted elsewhere.

Works Cited

Bharucha, Nauzer. "1.2 million in city earn less than Rs 20/day" The Times of India 1 Sep 2009: Online.

Discovery Atlas: India Revealed. Dir. William Hicklin Perf. Mira Nair Discovery Channel, 2008. Film.

Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, Richard, P Appelbuam, and Deborah Carr. Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

Gudrais, Elizabeth. "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide--and growing--gap between rich and poor" Harvard Magazine July/August 2008: Online.

Race- The Power of an Illusion: Episode Three: The House We Live In. Dir. Larry Adelman Perf. CCH Pounder California Newsreel, 2003. Film.

December 5, 2012

The Impacts of Wealth

Example of Paper 3 by Jenny Parker - Fall 2012.

In this final third of the course I noticed an overwhelming trend in the material to explain what makes individuals different in society, as compared to what makes them the same. In our articles and text we read about people being grouped by age, color, race, gender and socioeconomic status, all features that come together to form an individual or individual subgroups of society. We have moved away from looking at the larger aspects and functions of society and delve down more to the human, functional level, what separates us and makes us different from our neighbor.

A strong theme in these readings was the presence, or absence of wealth. It would be enormously blind to look at wealth on a one-dimensional level, to see it as something that a person either has or does not have. As our text states "differences in wealth often take the form of differences in privilege, which affect life chances as much as income does" (Giddens, 213). To be wealthy in the world and in America is not only to have a lot of money, allowing your basic needs to be easily met but also it is to have opportunities greater than those poorer than yourself. Being wealthy in America means that you have the potential to live nine years longer than your poorest neighbor (Gudrais). Being wealthy in America means that you are likely white and thus likely unaccustomed to experiencing hate violence and racism towards you and your family members (Giddens, 213). Finally, being white and being wealthy in America means that you own your own home, allowing you to save money and have the collateral needed to fund your children's expensive quality post secondary educations, allowing future generations of your family to continue the lineage of wealth and comfort (Cheng).

The upper and upper-middle classes of America make up about 25% of the American population, all making well above $170,000 per household (Giddens, 217). While this group of citizens lives very comfortably, with well-respected jobs, and strong voices in government, 75% of the population lives on a fraction of the poorest of the rich incomes (Giddens, 221). With the lower middle making up 40% of the population earning between $48-76,000 per household, it is frightening that 35%+ of the population could be making much less. The working class at 20% takes in $29-48,000 while the lower class at 15% of the total American population takes in less than $29,000 per year, per household (Giddens, 221). It is deeply concerning that over a third of Americans can barely meet their basic needs and that even the lower middle class, another third+ of the population struggles. The ratio of wage inequality between Americans as compared to other developed nations is astounding, the richest Americans were nine times richer than the poorest Americans, contrasted with the Japanese where their richest citizens were only 3.5 times wealthier than the poorest citizens (Gudrais).

Why such a huge difference between American rich and poor? The question is much more disturbing than just written numbers. In America, unlike countries like Japan, minorities tend to hold the lowest paying jobs. Incredibly, "in 2004, whites had a median net worth of $140,700, compared with $24,800 for nonwhites or Hispanics" (Giddens, 233). How is that possible? How can white Americans have over five times the financial value and resources than American minorities? The answer, sadly is racism.

America has a long and ugly history of racism, towards black people as slaves but also towards anyone who did not come from "pure white" lineage. The American government, than thus her people have participated in institutional racism, which handicapped non-white, "minority" citizens as their white neighbors thrived and built strong foundations for future generations. In the historical documentary film 'The House We Live In' we watched with horror as returning minority (especially black) war veterans returned home to buy homes with their GI bills and were blocked at every turn (Cheng). The fallout from this nationwide act of racism is still seen today. The opportunity for returning white veterans to purchase homes in the 1950's established their families as ones of wealth, comfort and opportunity well into the present. The ability to own a home, live in good neighborhoods with good schools, be able to invest in yourself and your children through your mortgage was a major contributor to our current inequality not only between class levels in America but also between races.

In America in 1950, about 15% of the population was nonwhite, while today in 2012, over 35% of the population is nonwhite. It is estimated that by 2050 nearly 45% of the American population will be nonwhite, certainly no longer logically addressed as "minorities" (Giddens, 329). With this growth though comes great concern. If the median net worth of current day minorities is roughly $25,000 and about 35% of the population is a minority, then nearly the whole American lower and working classes are made up of minorities. If indeed those who make the least amount of money in America live the shortest about of time (often with the most health challenges) then it is possible to infer that in America, due to a history of racism, minority citizens continue to pay the price for others old sins with their own lives.

In America, a land that claims to have traded equality for all for opportunity for all, there does not appear to have been a fair trade. In a country with great disparagement between rich and poor, and thus white and black/non-white, there is more than wealth that separates us. The hurdles placed in society by being born into a live of poverty makes the promise of equal opportunity a distant dream. In the words of African American comedian Chris Rock "when you're white the sky's the limit, when you're black the limit's the sky" (Rock). As terrible as it is, America is still holding the torch of racism that her white ancestors once lit. Until there is socioeconomic equality between races in America, minority citizens will continue to be denied the opportunities of their white neighbors in life and most simply, of life.

Works Cited

Cheng, Jean, dir. Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In. Historical Documentary. California Newsreel, 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

Giddens, Anthony, et.al. Introduction to Sociology. 7th Ed. New York, W. W. Norton & Co, 2009. Print.

Gudrais, Elizabeth. "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide--and growing--gap between rich and poor." Harvard Magazine, Jul.-Aug. 2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

Rock, Chris. Bigger & Blacker. Live Show. Dreamworks. Video. 13 Jul. 1999.