race and gender discrimination
in american institutions

In six recent articles on race relations in America, their authors assert that economic systems and the cultural institutions that arise from them determine the relationships that create society. The transformation from an agricultural economy to a capitalist one had far reaching effects on how people were expected to relate to one another. The capitalist goal of maximizing profit conceptualizes labor as a tool to be used without regard to social, historical or cultural context. By focusing o n labor as an abstract concept, the identities of the human beings that make up the resource are overlooked and ignored.

The industrialization of America severed the community ties and family bonds consistent with a small scale subsistence society. The satisfaction of personal wants and needs came not from community trade and barter, but from the purchase of manu factured goods on the market. With social ties declining, antagonistic social conflicts between groups developed. An elite class, composed of white males of European descent who controlled the industrial economy, gained the right to define dominant soci al thought in their own image.

An economic model that defined resources as things to be exploited and used meant policies to subjugate less powerful groups fit in with the Eurocentric world view. Implicit in this abstract idea, though, are relativistic attitudes towards an i ndividual's race and gender. The transmission of these ideas through our cultural institutions has given us two conflicting social views. Ideas of freedom, liberty and justice have been canonized by Americans as being the fundamental ideas that underlie our society. But, the indifferent state bureaucracy and the disparity in economic status often remind women and minorities they are not included. Throughout history, the rules and procedures of institutions have continuously altered and adapted themsel ves to maintain this dual world view.

American Conceptual Base of Discrimination

In Joe Feagan's book "Discrimination American Style", the contrast between individual ideology and context of the group define a conceptual model of why discrimination persists. The cultural values of the particular group are transmitted down t o each individual's belief system. Often, these 'vested interests' can override any neutral personal feelings towards other races an individual may have.

In a similar way, Feagan distinguishes between the intention and the consequences of prejudicial attitudes, arguing discrimination may not be the result of racist ideology but impartial circumstances. For Feagan, the scale of discriminatory gro up is critical indicator of the embeddedness of racist attitudes in society. In contrast to individual discrimination, which is directed and personalized, larger groups add 'legitimacy' to discrimination, furthering its extent. The state, through bureau cracy, gives implicit approval to many seemingly neutral, yet racist and sexist tactics. The immense scale of the state, however, distances it from the motivation of a personalized ideology.

Feagan believes the common conceptual framework in America derives from practices of internal colonialism and the privileges and traditions of a small white ruling class. Feagan's focus creates a simple, but telling, model underlying all behavi or. He maintains that the existence of institutional racism and sexism derives from this preexisting common world view handed down through the traditional models of social structure. His prognosis for the future, therefore is bleak. How can things chan ge if the basics of American society do not.

Changing Patterns and Persisting Attitudes

In contrast, Harold Baron in his article "Racism Transformed: The Implications of the 1960's" suggests that change can and has happened throughout the history of race relations in America. As in other articles, he recognizes significant shifts in the economic system as determinants of change in race relations, or as he defines them, 'race formations'. The shape of the change is caused by a dialectical process -- where opposite views merge and synthesize into new patterns of social relationship s.

Baron states that America has progressed through three phases of racial formation, separated by politically decisive moments in economic history. The Civil War was a dramatic change in social structure, affecting race relations, political power of the federal system over state's rights and the economic supremacy of industrial North over the agrarian South. A hundred years later, economic gains won during the New Deal and post W.W.II expansion, encouraged blacks to take an active role in seekin g equal civil rights status as well. Currently, global shifts in the capitalist system have increased the economic and political gaps between a white ruling class and the rest of society. As a result, minorities are being pushed into lower levels of the economic ladder, primarily through institutionally based racism and sexism.

One of Baron's most interesting points is how the current role of the state has great influence in maintaining racially discriminatory outcomes. He notes that government initiatives enacted to combat urban racism have actually served to increas e minority groups' separation from the rest of society. The state and corporate America have both adopted institutional means to increase minority dependency on social welfare. As in Feagan, Baron argues that racism and sexism, though not overt, still o ccur because of larger economic and political systems persisting and adapting through tradition.

Class Divisions and Inequality

The role of the state gets further discussion in Dale Johnson and Christine O'Donnell's article on the rise of the professional class titled "The Accumulation Crisis and Service Professionals". As in Baron, the importance for the ruling class o f accumulating increasing profits has precipitated significant societal changes through history. Most of these changes have necessitated the formation of a professional-administrative class to manage them. Social welfare needs, originally provided for b y the bonds of community responsibility, are now provided for by a newly distinct class of professionals for a fee. Those who can not afford it are forced to turn to the state. Therefore, institutional changes to societal structures have served to incre ase the role of the state in providing basic services, furthering economic and social divisions between classes.

The authors state that capitalist economic changes created two distinct groups -- a small elite ruling class and a mass of poor, mainly minority, workers. In response to ideas of cost efficiency and high taxes, the elite demand welfare resource s be reduced. The professional class, therefore, becomes the determinant of who gets the scarce services, creating tools for social control.

Johnson and O'Donnell see society approaching a critical point. Ignoring the antagonism existing between the dominant ruling class and the multiplying lower class will lead to a crisis. Those furthest from the advantages afforded by tradition, wealth and privilege will find it impossible to participate in society. The dangers of inequality are increasing for many groups in society, not just those defined by race, class and gender. The impact of this growing inequality across all groups may l aunch society into a new racial formation into the near future.

The minority group relationship to dominant power is a theme that continues through the three articles focusing on women's economic experience. The embeddedness of social norms has made it difficult for women to realize their own potentials bey ond narrow societal definitions. As in institutional racism, the three authors believe the dominance of the capitalist system has created benefits for white males at the expense of women.

The Industrial Economy and the State of Women

Ellen Carol DuBois in her book "Unequal Sisters" writes that the rising industrial economy of the 1870's caused a significant change in social structure. As the society of small independent farmers and producers gave way to wage dependency, the fortune of the working class was tied to factory labor and industrial capital. Subsistence in the industrial age was predicated on the 'family wage,' an amount large enough to support a man, his wife and their children. This condition for wealth define d only for men, as well as the traditional separation of gender roles, diminished the contributions women made to family economics during the era.

In this model, a woman's primary value was in keeping the home warm and pleasurable for her husband. Denied any other avenues to contribute, women were confined to domestic chores. The author states, however, it was often the women's labor in the home that was critical in enabling the family to even reach a subsistence level. Yet, the economic value of her work had the adverse effect of allowing factory owners to pay husbands less, increasing the capitalist's own profits and gain.

Minority Differences

The institutional barriers to gender roles and the differences between white and minority women's experiences are discussed further in Ammott and Matthaei's book "Race, Gender and Work." The authors state that although the common biases towards women's roles can be seen in all segments of society, they maintain that the socialization process is different for each culture. As a result, not all women have the same experiences of oppression. A woman's particular cultural heritage, family structu re, and marital status can increase the inequalities already present in the formation of gender roles.

Ammott and Matthaei reiterate the importance of a European colonialist world view in explaining how different work expectations are for minority groups of women. The authors state that class benefits and the relative closeness of white women to the dominant power group, white men, affords them access and advantage. In contrast, minority women's struggles with institutional discrimination put them in 'double jeopardy,' forcing their participation in the work force to lower rungs of the economic ladder.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn amplifies the experience of minority women in her article. Her concrete examples show how patriarchal and colonialist attitudes create differences between Chinese-American, Chicana and Black women's experiences of American s ociety. Whether through slavery, immigration policy, or migrant farm work, each minority group has suffered discrimination based on race as well as gender. The author states that minorities bear the brunt of political and economic measures designed to s egment the labor market and lower wage levels, thereby increasing profits for dominant white males.

The six articles consistently show how the functions of the economic system can have adverse effects on minorities. Minority women, in particular, are further constrained by a racial and gender biases. Capitalism contains within it concepts th at subjugate cultural differences and identity. The theoretical base of American culture based on capitalist and humanist tradition, stress the inviolate rights of all men of life, liberty and property. However, we have seen how domination and exploitat ion are also contained within the tradition, affecting those who do not fit into a white, privileged background.

All of the authors point out that changes in the economic system have been a necessary condition for changes in social structure. Capitalism and its related institutions have demonstrated that they can regulate market systems through competitio n and profit quite well. The process, however, has also created great inequality and instability. The laws of capitalism predict that instabilities must balance themselves out to achieve and efficient, functioning system. The question that remains unan swered is how much will women and minorities lose until this happens.

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