The myth of a “classless” American society coupled with social stratification impedes race relations in the U.S. far more than any racial differences. The never ending struggle of the “have-nots” to become one of the “haves” produces a frustration and feeling of oppression that acts as a catalyst for spawning racial tensions. Minorities see the majority of wealth in the hands of the white population and feel that the wealth is unevenly distributed. Whites hear of government programs for minorities and feel as if they are lazy or just looking for a handout. This occurs and stereotypes are formed. Combine all of this with the United States system of “dual welfare”and the perfect environment for racial strife is created.
In our “classless”society of false hope the working class and poor are continually
seeking opportunities to excel that just aren’t there. They have been led to believe that intelligence and ambition are key contributors to one’s success. This belief lays blame on the unsuccessful themselves, even if they do possess ambition and intelligence. These people are in a never ending cycle of struggle, followed by minimal rewards, which eventually produces a frustration that sometimes leads to desperate measures. Cornell West expands on this with the following statement : “. . . homicidal assaults by young black men on one another are only the most obvious signs of this empty quest for pleasure, property, and power” (Race and Racism p.123). This statement shows the extremes one will go to in his “empty quest” for a better life. This is not only happening
to blacks by blacks. It is happening to all races by all races. People hear of events like these and categorize them as a racial crime or a racially motivated crime just because the victims may be of a different race. As West’s statement demonstrates the killings
occur as a means to an end, the end being a better life. In our ever diversifying melting pot of a country, same race victim and criminal crimes are becoming less and less statistically likely anyway. Events such as these don’t occur because of race. They occur because of the frustration and desperation bred by the false hope that hard work and determination leads to success.
It is no mystery that most of the wealthy people in America are white. West again points out (Race and Racism p.124) that 86% of the wealth in the United States is owned by only 10% of the population. In this 10% the number of minorities is minute. The wealth owned by this few is there because they have kept it in their families throughout the generations. These are the same super-rich bloodlines as that of 150 years ago. These families were rich when no minorities (and hardly any whites for that matter) were. Almost everyone was working class or poor besides them. Minorities are aware of this uneven wealth distribution and this leads to resentment. Our government tries to compensate for this through special programs for minorities. When this occurs whatever groups are not receiving compensation see the other as lazy or as taking a handout. In
turn this leads to resentment. Different groups begin stereotyping each other due to the
resentment which evolved through unequal wealth distribution, which itself is a product of our “classless” system. So in turn stereotypes that Mexicans are lazy, African Americans steal, Whites cannot dance and White men have small penises, Jews are ultra- thrifty, Lesbians are men haters, Gay men all like antiques, and Asians are shrewd at
business and all stick together, are in all probability (definitely) unfounded.
Despite the fact that these stereotypes are unfounded, much of the resentment may not be. Here in the United States as much, if not more, money is spent on programs for the rich as is spent on programs for the poor. Donna Langston points this out with the following statement: “We have a dual welfare’ system in this country whereby welfare for the rich in the form of tax- free capital gain, guaranteed loans, oil depletion allowances, etc., is not regarded as welfare” (Race And Racism p.129). Here Langston compares the welfare of the poor (food stamps, w.i.c., medicaid, etc.) with the welfare of the rich (tax-free capital gain, guaranteed loans, etc.). These few examples of “welfare” for the rich are just the tip of the iceberg. Before you come to any premature conclusions consider the following.
The majority of corporations in the United States are owned by Whites. Each year these White owned corporations get $125 billion dollars in the from of corporate welfare.
This is money that could be used on the less fortunate, who are mainly minorities, but instead it is funneled into primarily White owned corporations. People hear of this and once again assume that this is based on race, thereby making it a racial issue. It’s not, it is a class issue. Billions and billions of dollars are spent each year on national defense for the United States. Who really benefits from this the most, the wealthy or the poor? Of course everyone benefits somewhat, but the rich benefit considerably more. If the United States was invaded and taken over by another country the decrease in the quality of living for the rich would be far greater than that of the poor. In all actuality the lifestyle change of the poor would probably be somewhat minimal. Consider the millions and millions of dollars that are spent each year on the United States Coast Guard (which is under the D.O.T.’s budget, and not the national defense budget) and the waterways that it protects. How often is it that you see a yacht traveling on the U.S. waterways filled with poor people or minorities? How many poor people even own a boat? These waterways are mainly used by the United States White upperclass. And what about the tax dollars spent on police and fire protection? Of course these are necessities, but who benefits more? The rich have more material possessions that can be stolen or destroyed.
And last but not least is our countries system of social security. Every race in the country pays the same percent of social security at about six percent. The only people
exempt from this standard six percent is the “green minority”. Once a person reaches the income level of $60,000 or more they top out, that’s as high as one can go. The higher the income above $60,000, the lower the percentage they pay. If someone makes 50 billion dollars a year they pay the same amount as someone making $60,000 a year, or
roughly about $3,600. So theoretically, if you were to take a husband and wife that each make $30,000 a year, the combined amount that they pay in is equal to the amount that Bill Gates pays in. There’s something about this whole system that just doesn’t seem proportionately correct. It seems like the percentage sacrificed should be the same across the board.
All the examples I have given may seem like this paper is about the wealthy and the poor, and not about racial differences in the United States. If it does there is a reason for that. The upper class or super rich, whichever you want to call them, receive more benefits than the poor. The upper class is mainly white and the poor and working class are a mixture of all races. This gives the appearance that assistance is based on race, when it’s not. It is based on class. People see these events and make generalizations and this in turn leads to racial tension. If steps are taken to make “classless America” a reality, then these racial tensions would ease.
Unit 1 : Interlocking Axes of Oppression
Langston, Donna. “Class and Inequality.” Race , Class, and Gender . 20 January 2000.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company 1998.
West, Cornell. “Race and Racism.” Race, Class, And Gender . !9 January 2000.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company 1998.