Diversity In US Culture Sociology Essay
The United States is a great country, exemplified by iconic economic, ethnic, racial, social and religious diversity factors. The constitution of the country can protect a citizens' personal rights to be different than others and to pick own living style, become member of any group, or even have personal preferences within the established limits of local laws and legislations. In fact, these laws and regulations provide the maximum amount of personal and group freedom, all the while, maintaining peace and order in the society. Although the US has a range of well-planned laws and policies regarding the public, different aspects of diversity like specific cultural practices and language remain big problems.
The issue of language also assumes importance in the context of diversity. English-Only-Movement of the 1980s had a number of well-known proponents, who vociferously argued and contested that English is the de-facto, official language of the land and that all immigrants must learn it. Right now, almost 25 states in the country have enacted laws that specify and stipulate English as the official language. These states actually passed laws regarding English as the main language during the English-Only-Movement of the later part of the last century. Strangely, the federal government of the United States does not specify any such law that specifically stipulates English as the main language. Unfortunately, all official federal documents are in the English language.
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Providing classroom instruction for those students, who are English language learners, has been quite debatable and questionable. Two classical legal examples illustrate a perceived anomaly in the country today. In landmark legal case that originated in the San Francisco United School District, Lau v. Nichols, the apex court of the country stipulated the mandatory instructional support for learners of English language throughout the nation. The Proposition 227 (1988) passed by California voters recommended teaching English quickly to all students in the state. Katz (Katz, 2000) divulged that the mandate proposed revoked support for bilingual education that was planned to maintain the home language, all the while students learned English as the second language.
Human way of life informally accepts many cherished values that support the basic Protestant religious ideology, capitalism, republicanism, competition and success. However, it is very difficult to distinguish two values that are adored in the U.S - competition and success. Really speaking, almost all Americans tend to describe success as satisfaction in one's work and in service to the community (Bellah et al, 1985). The elusive issue of competition lies in both of these areas of success. In the U.S, individuals strive hard to compete with the best to get their dream jobs and to gain the best possible recognition within their own communities, as well as the environment where they work. Competition is common in all aspects of life. Competition exists in economic, education and political spheres. By quoting a lengthy series of interviews in a study in the U.S, Bellah et al. (1985) made the following observation:
"One is successful to the extent that one personally comes out ahead in a fair competition with other individuals. Most of those we talked to emphasized that they attained their present status in life through their own hard work, seldom mentioning the part played by their family, schooling, or the advantages that came to them from being middle class to start with. (p. 198)"
Ethnic groups in the US are as diverse as the country itself. Ethnic groups living here emigrated from various parts of the world and during different time spans. The culture followed by these groups was entirely different as well. They had an organized and deep structure that included primary ideologies and interrelated beliefs and set of values. Most of these groups had a history of culture that predated the arrival in the United States. For example, the history of Native Americans actually predates the later arrival of Europeans as settlers.
Different issues like assimilation into a new zone of culture, acculturation to the new area and social/economic experiences of diverse nature affected the degree with which different ethnic groups retained many aspects of their original culture after their emigration to the US. Americans with a European lineage view national values like success and upward mobility in a different manner, when compared to other ethnic groups. To quote an example, Ogbu (Ogbu, 1988) pointed out that among middle- class Euro- Americans,
"The culturally approved strategy for upward social mobility, or the strategy for getting ahead, stresses individual competition, drive, and initiative. These qualities are expected and rewarded at home, at school, and in the workplace . . . [ and] . . . also constitute an important part of the values underlying the child- rearing practices of White middle- class parents and other socialization agents. (p. 14)"
African Americans may not like to share the premium value placed on individualism that is embedded in the Euro-American culture. According to Hill (Hill, 2001), African American parents always share and imbibe the core values of the American society that includes the very strong ethical values, as well as value involved with achievement. The same author also found out through a number of research studies, that very strong and affectionate kinship bonds still exist, along with participation in mutual aid involving an extended family that eventually mitigate against a strong individualistic achievement orientation.
Upwardly mobile middle-class African American families tend to continue their strong extended family ties and kinship-help patterns. Different ethnic groups of the US share fine aspects of individualism, like independence and self-reliance. To give an example, Escovar and Lazarus (Escovar and Lazarus, 1982), reported that the relationship between one group of Mexican American mothers and their off springs support the development of dependent culture rather than independence. Conflicting beliefs, values and practices contribute to cultural discontinuity that usually exists in the national culture. For example, basic ideologies of Protestantism, capitalism and republicanism always confront negative trends like oppression, racism, classism and sexism.
Oppression as a negative cultural factor
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Visible signs of racial and economic stratification occur in the basic make-up of cities, town, suburbs and communities spread across the country. Ethnic minority groups populate most of the urban inner cities that are becoming increasingly very poor. Traditionally, the suburbs of major and medium cities remain mostly Euro-American and middle class citizens. Social class status is delineating because of suburban communities that are developing into rich and materialistic lifestyle enclaves. According to Hodge (Hodge, 1990), oppression makes up for this type of stratification and he believes that this occurs when:
"The members of a group are restricted by others so that the group's members typically have fewer rights or less power than those who restrict them. Those who restrict the group are its oppressors. Others who do not actively contribute to this oppression may nonetheless benefit from it. (p. 90)"
According to Hodge (Hodge, 1990), there are two different types of extreme oppression: (a) violent kind of oppression forced by murder and physical brutality against the oppressed, like that was involved with slavery movement, and (b) peaceful kind of oppression imposed legally like de jure segregation in public facilities (incidentally overturned by Brown v. Topeka, 1954). Hodge also believes that continuing skewed and unequal funding of public schools will lead to a low quality education standard, especially for poor and minority children that eventually guarantee that they will remain disproportionately poor and wretched. Many institutions that maintain and perpetuate peaceful and legalized oppression continue to the troublesome for the nation.
Oppression is quite dangerous and it contributes to unneeded human suffering by threatening the survival of the downtrodden and oppressed. Available data from Children's Defense Fund (May 19, 2006), highlights a dismal picture, where there are incidences of unfairly high percentages of children from ethnic minority groups that live in acute property. This report also suggests that there is genuine lack of pre-natal care provided to mothers and poor healthcare provided to children. Very high rates of homicide and imprisonment among very low-income group African American males are the other two negative factors that are affecting American polity.
Available research data from the Children's Defense Fund (May 19, 2006) also shows that more than 13 million young children live below poverty line in the US, which is a visible increase of almost 12.8% since the year, 2000. There was also a visible increase in poverty rate among Latino children (23%), African American Children (8.4%) and white children (7.75).
Hodge also believes that oppression is a cause that is deep rooted in the concepts of dualism of Western concept based on moral values of good, evil and bad. In the process of dualistic thinking, good relates to reason, law and rationality factors, while bad signifies emotion, chance, opportunity, spontaneity and nature. Inflicting or forcing unnecessary and unneeded human suffering is highly immoral even in the dualism of Western thinking. However, the justification forwarded for the pain and suffering experienced by oppressed groups relies on a distinct view of one's own group as good and those that are diverse as bad or inferior.
As per Hodge, "given dualism, it is considered reasonable to reward with more power and rights those who are seen as closer to the good; similarly, it is reasonable to restrict the power and rights of those seen as less good" (p. 97). This unreasonable logic and apart from being xenophobic, it generates such negative trends as racism, ageism, sexism and improper treatment of those with emotional, mental and physical challenges.
Race/ Racism in USA
This is a very basic and fundamental kind of oppression, where one particular group will have unreasonable power over other groups within the society. Some noted scholars define racism as something that is an institutionalized system of immense power independent of personal prejudices, but supported by different personal actions and participation that eventually result in the promotion and perpetuation of advantages for one particular racial group and a number of disadvantages for another (Blum, 1999).
To illustrate this, state governments set up laws and policies for regulating funding for schools and high school graduation requirements. More often, such laws and regulations will always have a significantly negative influence on those groups that are based on ethnicity, race and social class. People who create and implement these laws may have good intentions, but their perceived actions in carrying out job responsibilities always support and perpetuate institutionalized racism and negative influence on a particular group or groups.
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In some case, there is ample evidence that many individuals (with conscious or without conscious actions) force hurtful acts of prejudice and racism against other groups. In a landmark study, Lewis (Lewis, 2003) found that teachers in a particular school participated in discriminatory practices against students from minority groups in ways that prevented or denied full access to learning and social instruction in the classroom. There are situations in which such teachers actually ignored students' intentional acts of prejudice and discrimination against students from particular groups.
Race is an essential and required concept that supports and agrees with social stratification and empowerment of one group over the others. Carter (Carter, 2000) defines race as "the sociopolitical designation that is assigned on the basis of perceived skin color, physical features, and in some cases, language (e. g., Hispanic)" (p. 865). Carter further points out that "racial group designation has been associated with presumptions about cultural characteristics as well" (p. 865). Lewis ( 2003) stated that "racial categorizations are used to decide who is similar and different; opportunities and resources are then distributed along racial lines as people are included in or excluded from a range of institutions, activities, or opportunities because of their categorization" (p. 152).
Goldberg (Goldberg, 1990), cautioned against someone taking a simplistic view of how racism is created, maintained and perpetuated. According to the author, racism is inter-twined within a racist dialogue that pervades the entire society in different forms that are scientific, linguistic, economic, bureaucratic, legal, philosophical, and religious in nature. Goldberg (Goldberg, 1990) also stated that:
"Adoption of racist discourse has been widespread. It has been assumed across classes, nations, social and ethnic groups; in different places, at different times, and under widely varying conditions. This cannot be explained solely in socioeconomic, political, or historical terms. Such explanations are singular in ignoring a central feature: the persuasiveness of racist discourse, that is, its compelling character for agents. Similarly, the prevailing presumptions of racism's irrationality, and of the "false consciousness" of racists, stress the psychosis of the racist personality rather than his or her persuasion, conscious belief and conviction, or rational willingness. To comprehend this widespread domestication of racist discourse, the question of human agency and the formation of subjectivity must be addressed. (pp. 308- 309)"
Racist dialogue also creates an opinion of humanity that lets for classification and description, eventually resulting in many hierarchies that pin down those, who are culturally and racially dissimilar.
Lester (Lester, 1993), in an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle, titled "'Warlords' and White Lies," described modern day usages of "the vocabulary of hatred." For example, the author argued that the term warlords is "a term reserved for Asians and Africans" and that "Europeans in a similar feudal role were 'lords of the manor'- or, if especially warlike, 'knights' " (p. A-23). The term warlord is synonymous with a political conflict in Somalia, while it may refer to gang violence in the United States. On the other hand, ethnic clashes that occur in the Eastern Europe are not portrayed as tribal warfare or "white on white" violence. In racist reference, many categorical differences shape the basis for establishing relationships with those that are dissimilar. Apartheid, de jure and de facto segregation in housing and school domains are the societal arrangements were racist discourses sustain and maintain racism.
Classism in US culture
In the United States, the term society makes up of a unique class structure that maintains and reproduces itself with the active assistance of social institutions and agencies. Economic, educational, political, and social privileges are the exclusive advantages for the members of middle and upper class social groups that are not available to people from lower strata of society. Perceived discrepancies in public school funding among rich and poor neighborhood is one clear example of how the system maintains and brings about a skewed social class structure.
Children from richer families always get better quality education than those children who come from poor families. As a result, children from affluent families always prepare for jobs that allow them to retain the same social class strata that their parents get in the society. Similarly, children who come from poor background and who receive inadequate and improper education prepare themselves for jobs that restrict them to the social strata of their parents.
There are reports of an increasing numbers of ethnic minorities, who are attaining middle and upper class income and social status levels. However, the percentage of remaining in low income and low social status levels is still very high, when compared to Euro-Americans. Edelman (Edelman, 1987) argued that, "African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Euro- American children." On the other hand, Close (Close, 1993), opined that family members from ethnic minorities, who get middle and upper class status rarely get an access to all the available opportunities of power and prestige those are allowed for Euro-American counterparts.
Sexism in US society
The subjugation of women to men poses many problems in the society, as it is a pronounced form of oppression. The domination of males over females may seep into social, economic and educational structure of the country. Male attitude and behaviors reflect characters of authority, power, and leadership. On the other hand, females represent attitudes and behaviors that are nurturing and caring, and they are more suited for home and family life apart from raising children. On a negative side, society disregards or devalues their attitudes and behaviors in leadership roles in the society.
Traditionally speaking, women have always been restricted to "more feminine" and low paying jobs at the work environments. Homes and families that are looked after by single women may belong to low income group than those that are headed by single men. These perceived biases affect their socialization during their childhood and youth, their educational stages and vocational ambitions and the more common freedom of choices and options that they exercise.
Traditionally, women always fight for their political, social and economical rights and privileges. Women rights activists have been more active than ever and they have been fighting for a number of causes ranging from right to vote to abortion. Women's epic struggles for freedom and equality also includes rights to full citizenship, plus those that involve choices and preferences made in the domains of personal health. Many women activists and academicians have equated the low status of women in the US society as something that is almost equal to racial treatment of minority populations. Women from ethnic minority group live in double jeopardy in the society. They are also expected to join the women rights protest groups to improve and enhance their own social status.
A less frequent argument made by some people actually want the Euro-American women join oppressed cultural classes, who are fighting for freedom and equality. As discussed in the previous sections, ample evidences of perceived inequalities in employment based on racial and sexual parameters are easily visible in the national unemployment rate. For example, a 2002 report revealed that men with college degree earn more than women who possess similar educational qualification (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002). This report also suggested that women of Euro-American origin were on par with Euro-American men in crucial management and professional positions; in fact, this was evident even in the unemployment rate. The national unemployment rate for Euro-American men and women over 20 years were 4.7% and 4.4% respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002).
On the other hand, African American and Latino men over 20 years of age were unemployed at a very high rate of 9.5% and 6.4% respectively. In contrast, the rate of unemployment among African American and Latino women over 20 years of age was a startling 8.8% and 7.2% respectively. Racial and gender differences were not only limited to employment, but also in salaries as well. In nutshell, the accumulated data suggest us that there is a significant gain in employment for Euro-American women, but lower gains for both men and women from ethnic minority groups.
An important issue of women's rights movement always centered on getting an equal access to better jobs that paid better salaries. A research study conducted by Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005, demonstrated that the median weekly earnings for Euro-American men was much higher than that for Euro-American women and ethnic minority men and woman. This data shows that an unfair practice exists in the US that treats one particular ethnic community in manner that is highly skewed and wayward. Similarly, African American and Latino men earned far lesser wages than Euro-American women did.
Oppressing laws and legislations
Any drastic changes or transformations in the national culture always faced severe resistance. Instances of hostility, wanton acts of terrorism and racial hatred were some of the drastic measures witnessed. Past events indicate that those individuals who were involved in hate crimes and different forms of negative behavior always planned to legitimize cultural domination practices. Another form of negative behavior has been to intimidate and discredit those groups that supposedly posed a discreet threat to the status quo. History provides us many such examples. The formation of the Immigration Restriction League in 1884 and the lynching of elevens Italians in New Orleans in 1891 were two notable examples of purported intimidation and terrorism that were intended to protect the so called national culture. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 was another example of repressive piece of legislation that was proclaimed to save national culture; this oppressive legislation planned to limit immigration for all nationalities to 3% of that group's expatriate population living in the country as of the year 1910. On the other hand, the National Origins Act of 1924 actually brought down the quota of immigrants from 3% to 2% of those groups present as of the year 1890.
The Great Melting Pot Myth
There was a significant influx of foreign nationals into the country between 1870 and 1920. This influx included nationals from countries regions like Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Central America. Most of them came in large groups ever than before and they could form their own ethnic enclaves and continue to follow and profess their own culture. However, these new groups of immigrants were not ready to assimilate into the mainstream culture. To offset this imbalance, a modified and restructured form of cultural assimilation as signified by the melting pot was put in place. This new form promised that immigrants were no longer needed to leave their native culture and accept and alien and native culture.
The main idea was to form a new common culture that would inculcate the best from all cultures those were present in the society. This move seemed a big paradox! It was a very different rhetoric, while the process was almost the same. Whatever the motives were and however, they were professed, the national and institutionalized culture remained north European. Unfortunately, the people and the agencies that governed and managed the nation were Northern European in mental focus and cultural values.
Why do you think issue of language also assumes importance in the context of cultural context of US? Do you feel that using English as the de-facto standard for classroom teaching is good for the country? Do you agree with the fact that oppression in any form is detrimental to the survival of a culture? Does classism in US schools create a skewed societal structure that favors children coming from an affluent society?
Pause and Reflect
If you want to become an effective English teacher, how do you tackle the sensitive problem of teaching English to children, who come from different cultural backgrounds? Think of all those steps and plans that help you become an effective teacher after overcoming problems like racism, classicism and oppression.
Prepare a list of all laws and legislations that relate to oppression and classism in different states of US. Similarly, collect current statistics and data on gender differences and sexism in the US.
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