The Social Construction of Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender

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Socialization is the unequal distribution of power, wealth, income and social status between individuals and groups. This distribution is not random, it is patterned and structured. Three important axes of global inequality are gender, race and ethnicity, and class. These inequalities are on a global scale and are found in virtually all societies. It wasn't until relatively recently, however, that a caste system developed to include race and ethnicity among class and gender. Since imperialism and the conquest of the America's, a number of social changes have occurred, and, as a result, the dominant groups today are not only higher in the social order, in terms of rank, but they are considered better as well.

According to Winant, there are two main concepts of race, "race as an ideological concept," and "race as an objective condition." Barbara Fields, one of the main supporters and activists for the "race as an ideological concept" theory, explains the concept of race as "[a] concept [that] arose to meet an ideological need; its original effectiveness lay in its ability to reconcile freedom and slavery." Remember, Africans weren't the only slaves, Asians, for example, were slaves too. This created a distinction between the white slave owners and all other races, and this was acceptable because their slaves were lower than them, according to Fields theory, so it was okay to enslave other humans. Winant says that, "Sociopolitical circumstances change over historical time, racially defined groups… [achieve] mobility or [remain] mired in poverty, and so on." If race is considered an objective condition it doesn't allow for the reconceptualization of race, "one simply is one's race." Most early theories of race took this stance and Stephen Jay Gould, as recently as 1981, has made similar claims. However, it is impossible to support such a theory on a number of grounds. First, it's been scientifically proven that there are more genetic differences between a single race then there are between different races. Second, it doesn't allow for any change – certain races will always be lower than other races. There are social beliefs which are present today that place social stigmas on people who are affiliated with certain ethnicity's. Yen Le Espiritu puts forth the argument that "The exercise of political-economic domination by racial elites always involves attempts to objectify the subordinate group" by "branding subordinate groups as alternatively inferior, threatening, or praiseworthy". An example that is taking place today is that cosmetic surgery being performed on Asian-American women, as Eugena Kaw points out in her article. In particular they are making changes to their eyes and noses to look more "ideal." Is that okay though? Should one group's sense of ideal be forced upon another group? Many of the Asian-American women surveyed said their reason for undergoing cosmetic surgery was to form their own personal form of beauty. But why then did these women all undergo similar surgeries to ‘correct' how they look? Class is the one social construction that has existed since the beginning of history. There have always been those who "oppress" and those who are "oppressed", from the serfs and lords of the middle ages to the bourgeois and proletariat of "today" (According to Marx). The distinction of class today is different than it's been in the past though. It used to be based on your heritage, but today it is based on capital, the more you have the higher and better you are. Many people feel that cultures that veil women, such as Muslims, make them suffer psychological and socioeconomic consequences. Homa Hoodfar discusses how the west equates veils with ignorance and oppression in her article. But throughout historic time and place, there has been "a clear division of labour in the allocation of economic tasks between men and women." This division "has always been partly justified in terms of… biological differences."...
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