Social inequality is a noticeable fact of life in the United States and around the world. The first time I remember noticing it was when I was a little boy around 6- or 7-years old living in New Orleans. I would notice, especially in my neighborhood, that the cars driven by White people were always nicer looking and without damage as opposed to the cars I saw being driven by Black people. I asked my mom about that fact and she said it was because Black people don’t often have the money to afford repairs or expensive cars. It was one of the first moments in my life when I started to associate Whiteness with money/status/resources.
I think the ultimate origin of all social inequality comes down to tribalism. I think that in most cases that tribalism is realized in the form of racism and ethnicism. There is a slight bit of nuance though to my feelings of social inequality. I believe that a good paradigm for understanding society combines a bit of the functionalist theory and a lot of the conflict theory of social thought. I believe that social inequality is inevitable and desired. Like Durkheim I feel that society has certain essential roles that must be fulfilled. These roles are more difficult and should be rewarded accordingly. However, applying the Conflict Theory I believe that different groups(races) unfairly monopolized resources (wealth, jobs, income) and drive the disproportionate inequalities seen in minorities.
So, when considering the United States and its history of inequality, we should first acknowledge the fact that the nation was founded predominately by White men. White men “othered” American Indians and acquired their lands for the purposes of expansion. Being the dominant culture in America also means that cultural narratives and “truths” are controlled by that culture. White men enslaved Black people to physically lay the foundations of this nation. Paying enslaved people and granting them freedom and a level playing field would have threatened the elevated status, wealth and class of White people. As in the case of the American Indians, Black people where “othered” in order to justify the inhumane and brutal treatment of those people.
The elevated status of White people in the country allowed them to pass on their status to successive generations. At the same time the increased access to money and power led to almost universal political power and that power led to an ability and willingness to pass laws advantaging them and disadvantaging others. The power over messaging (Control of media outlets) allows the White culture to perpetuate negative and dangerous stereotypes. The stereotypes while false becomes cultural truths and are often internalized by oppressed groups. These groups will often act in accordance to these images and create a self-fulling prophecy of inequality. Practices like Jim Crow, lynching, denying the GI bill to Black veterans, Redlining, and other discriminatory practices also further depressed attempts for equality in this nation.
Over time these differences along with the White Affirmative action of government agencies, and the over representation of Whites in the Judicial, financial and housing industries, leaves a legacy of inequality and injustice that persists despite the progress made by Black people and other minorities.
I believe that in a Utopian world free from racism and discrimination that there would still be inequalities, but those inequalities would be spread out evenly among the different groups in proportion to their numbers in society. I feel that would be a more just and fair society. I think that the goal shouldn’t be equality of outcome but rather equality of opportunity. If we had equality of opportunity then the individual talents, traits and work ethics of individuals would be the differentiating factors. I believe that individual barriers are much easier to overcome than structural/societal barriers.