The nation that is today referred to as the United States of America has a varied population made up of different groups and individuals. These groups are characterized by very prominent differences in their sizes, culture, language, wealth, religion, education and race. While some of the groups have made up American society since the colonial era, others have been formed in this society in later years. Because of the nature of the American population, the issues of diversity, equality and unity have become some of the most challenging and pressing matters facing the US government today. In the US, like in any other society, race and gender have been very strong factors in determining people’s social life. Although gender relationships and roles vary between societies, gender and social inequality have been interrelated for a long time, with the male group maintaining dominance over wealth and power (Healey, 2006, p.1, 19, 23).
Social inequality and minorities
Social inequality refers to disparities in people’s opportunities in life, their ability to control resources, as well as living standards (Oliver & Shapiro, 1997, p.23). A minority group is not necessarily a small group as the name suggests, but can be made up of a large population. The term minority is used to describe a group in relation to wealth and power distribution rather than being used as a reference to any numbers that make up a group. There are several characteristics of a minority group such as the tendency to suffer inequality, or some form of disadvantage; a strong feeling of self-consciousness existing within its social unit; as well as presence of some prominent characteristics or visible traits that help to mark out the group from others, (Healey, 2006, p.12).
The correlation between minorities and social inequality is not a new phenomenon in the United States Society. Unequal treatment of minority racial groups within the US society dates back to the colonial era when the early white settlers to the US encountered the Native American Indians. These settlers discriminately treated the natives on the ground that their beliefs and related practices appeared primitive or uncivilized. Initially, groups were separated on ethnocentric and religious criteria and the aspect of color and racial distinction became prominent later with the introduction of slavery in America. For more than two centuries, the settler farmers imported free slave labor from the African continent to work in their massive plantations. As the economy advanced, it attracted more immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Middle Eastern countries, who moved to America in search of better living standards. These groups of people identified themselves with their nations of origin and have been popularly referred to as minority groups (Rudnick et al., 2005, p.13).
In the US the term minorities has been used to refer to African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics or Mexican Americans, Asians, as well as other immigrant groups that make up the American society. In the history of the US, these ethnic minority groups have continually been denied the means and the opportunity to satisfy their expectations. Since the era of slavery for example, African Americans have continually been denied full access to their African heritage, language, and education and food, while the Native Americans on the other hand were resettled and restricted to reservations that have limited amenities. Hispanics constitute the largest number of low income earners within such a well endowed world economy as the US. Yet in some states like California that are highly dependant on Hispanic labor in their economic programs, these people have been accused of drawing social amenities. Asian Americans however enjoy a better situation than other minority groups because they are well represented in the business and education sectors (Jarret, 2000, p.2).
Classification and labeling of human beings, most often done according to assumed or real genetic, physical, or biological difference has been an ongoing phenomenon in the history of mankind. This concept has continually been used to determine who belongs or does not belong to what group, to assign privilege, power and social status as well as to define and assign social roles. In this effort to make people understand their positions, the social categories of race, gender, and class have been used to create and support the existence of particular kinds of social order. History, culture and politics have been very strong concepts upon which social classifications have been established. It is under these criteria that colonialists justified their conquest, exploitation and domination of their colonies (Rudnick et al., 2005, p.13).
Immigration and colonization have been the most important factors affecting the identity of human beings globally. Native Americans, Mexicans and African Americans have had an experience very different from that found among the white settlers in the United States. These people have for a long time suffered brutal violation and exploitation by those in power, a differential situation that helped to shape the kind of social, economic, cultural, and political life that these people have been exposed to throughout the history of the US. Colonized minorities have been the most affected by the issue of inequality which has primarily been based on race and this has affected the extent to which they have been free to participate in the social, cultural, political and economic activities of US society. In 1790 for example, a law against minorities known as the Naturalization Law was passed by Congress and it denied US citizenship to colored people. The famous Slave Codes restricted the enslaved Africans from full participation in all aspects of American life. These laws created a racial foundation that separated American people into insiders and outsiders and the immigrants who later came to the US were incorporated into this racial landscape. Once inside the US, immigrants came to learn the real meaning of racial separation in this country (Rudnick et el., 2005, p. 13-14).
Inequality seems to be the worst problem affecting minority groups with the pattern of disadvantages ranging from wealth, political power, jobs, healthcare, housing and police protection among other areas (Healey, 2006, p.12). The United State’s Constitution’s First Amendments and Bill of Rights were laws designed to protect the White Americans but noticeably excluded Native Americans and African Americans. They could not enjoy US citizenship, the African Americans due to their skin color, and the Native Americans because they inhabited a land that was not legally theirs. Even the Supreme Court and congress had failed to address the plight of African Americans since the era of slavery. Blacks were excluded from all aspects of social and political life and ever since, they have been involved in a long fight for recognition through the Civil Rights Movement. Although the Supreme Court Decision of 1954 sparked an awakening in US social life that sought to improve the minorities and the situation was improving, racism continued to be a major factor in the decision-making process of the authorities (Jarret, 2000, p.14-18, 22).
Laws, political issues, and policies which are an integral part of this nation’s history have continually determined the level of interaction between minorities and the rest of the US society. Institutional barriers that were the brainchild of racism and social inequality have ensured that the minorities continue to have limited opportunities in production and benefits of US society. Poverty is a norm that is highly associated with minority groups because their limited opportunities in education leads to low literacy levels thus denying them the necessary skills that would enable them to keep pace with rising demands in the professional labor market. These groups have experienced the full impact of racism, the factor that contributes to their limitations in political power, job discrimination, unequal pay and inferior or no training at all (Jarrett, 2000, p.5-6). Minority groups in the US have less number of resources as compared to the dominant groups, although prominent politicians and economically successful members are still found within these groups (Healey, 2006, p.17).
The US laws have been designed with the purpose of protecting human life, controlling people’s behaviors, as well as protecting their property. But ironically, these institutions of law and the country’s policies have been the major mechanisms used to conquer, remove, enslave, disenfranchise, and discriminate against ethnic minorities. Such a move has resulted in the creation of a seemingly permanent class of people who do not benefit from residing in the wealthiest nation in the world. The laws have produced political processes and regulated policies that have adversely affected the minorities. African Americans were only freed from slavery to get into racial discrimination; Native Americans live as tenants in their own land; while Mexican Americans live as second-class citizens in a land that was once their own (Jarret, 2000, p.13).
US government policies have been a constant hindrance to minority groups especially the black community in their efforts to acquire and accumulate wealth, an aspect that began with slavery and has continued throughout the country’s history. Beginning with the slavery codes to local orders preventing blacks from holding certain working positions, and later the State Welfare policies that prohibit wealth accumulation, the black person has continually experienced strong barriers towards his economic self-sufficiency. Historically, these government policies have favored certain sectors of the US population while ignoring others. Even in the modern state, government welfare policies have racial zed citizenship, economic status, and social organization such that the African Americans continue to suffer within a subordinate and impoverished position (Oliver & Shapiro, 1997, p.4).
The US health care system receives the largest allocation of government funds than any other developed nation and yet this system reflects multiple deficiencies in provision of health services to the minorities. Inefficiencies, inequities, inaccessibility and inadequacies mark a system whose style of funds distribution and health care programs’ implementation favors the more economically and politically advantaged at the expense of ethnic minorities. Even their research program implementation and policy objectives fail to reflect the health care needs of the minorities, a move that has been viewed as deliberate. Minority representation is very minimal in this profession largely due to lack of stipends and scholarships to assist minorities to access such kind of training. In the housing sector, systematic bias is still visible in the system of delivering housing, with ethnicity still playing an important role in determining who lives where (Jarrett, 2000, p.7, 9-10).
Social mobility is a direct result of education and trade or commerce as opposed to a strong political system as many tend to believe. The education and commercial systems must therefore be designed in a way that ethnic minorities are able to enjoy equal opportunity as the white majority. All types of amenities must also be equally and democratically distributed with special attention and respect being given to ethnic needs in order to uplift their status (Jarrett, 2000, p.11). To close the racial or inequality gap, it is important that policies be incorporated which address the African American situation as well as all other minority groups holding the bottom position in the US social structure. Redistribution policies are most difficult to implement through a consensus but would greatly help to create a more morally upright society (Oliver & Shapiro, 1997, p.9).
Healey Joseph F (2006). Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Jarrett Alfred A (2000). The Impact of Macro Social Systems on Ethnic Minorities in the United States. WestPort: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Oliver Melvin L. and Shapiro Thomas M (1997). Black Wealth/white Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. London: Routledge.
Rudnick Lois L., Smith Judith E. and Rubin Rachel (2005). American Identities. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.