Inequality and Ascription: Race, Ethnicity and Gender.

Amanda Buonagura

Chapter 14 Inequality and Ascription discusses race, ethnicity and gender. The first concept revolves around the idea that the industrial revolution  brought upon changes in the social hierarchy, and while money is supposed to be an equalizer, a dollar is not always a dollar. While a dollar bill is always 4 quarters, 10 dimes, 20 nickels and 100 pennies, it has different value for different people. It seems that based on research in this book, everyday items such as milk and bread tend to cost more in less wealthy neighborhoods than in the wealthy areas. Also, less wealthy people have to work longer hours and make less in wage than those who are wealthy. A lot of wealthy people enter the world with money from parents or relatives, money that has been passed on from generation to generation, so they have a head start automatically than those who are brought up with nothing and have to make their own way in the world. Wage is not always equal. According to the book, men always out earn women (in any race) and whites always out earn Asians, blacks and Hispanics. Also, when it comes to taking out loans, banks base their lending on more than just money and credit history, race plays a role in their decision making. Reverse redlining is when people of color are given less advantageous loans  even with good credit history – they are sold subprime mortgages and must pay higher interest rates, as would a person with bad credit.The lenders consider this a method of protecting themselves from loaning money to an unreliable person, but they are going ahead and assuming that all people of color are unreliable and will not have the money to repay their loans, when this is simply not true. But if white people continue to make more salary than blacks, they will have the ability to pay back loans easier. It is a vicious cycle that continues to get worse.

There is a difference between the word prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice literally means prejudging, and it is based on inaccurate information and stereotypes, attitudes and beliefs that manifest. over time. It can be considered more of a learning experience, since your outlook on something may be affected by something you have seen in the past. Discrimination is more extreme and involves behavior. For example a person practicing discrimination would not only dislike a person of a specific race, religion, or gender, but also do things like refuse to hire them based on that criteria. There are five levels of discrimination according to the book: verbal rejection, avoidance, active discrimination, physical attacks,  and the most extreme one, extermination. Verbal rejection includes using derogatory words to insult a certain group of people. Avoidance is not interacting with these people. Active discrimination is excluding these people, either from situations such as jobs, housing, or just recreation. Physical attacks involves the use of violence. Extermination involves the most severe actions, such as lynching, massacres, or genocides.  A good point that the book brings up is that discrimination and prejudgement can go more than one way. Generally, in society we think of white people being the prejudice people against blacks. But a good way the book describes how this is simply not true is “if a black person joins a black group, they are considered an activist, but if a white person joins a white group, they are considered an asshole”.  It is very possible for discrimination to go in several different directions, weather this be blacks against white, Jews against Catholics, women against  men.  It is true, however, that the group of people that may experience one of the worst cases of prejudice/discrimination are black people, based on research. White people do not truly realize what it is like to be discriminated against on a day to day basis. For a black person, they cannot simply walk down the street past a mother and a child without the mother grabbing her child’s hand in concern and maybe even crossing to the other side of the street, or go shopping at a store without being followed by security for the idea that they are shoplifting. The pyramiding effect is the cumulative impact on a black person from facing racist encounters over the period of months to years and eventually over an entire lifetime.  Discriminatory acts may make them feel less worthy and though they can manage to deal with it day by day, it makes a profound impact over time on how they view themselves as human beings on this planet.

The term “minorities”, meaning people who have been singled out as ‘different’ is a term that was first applied in 1775 by Johann Fredrich Blumenbach, who created five different categories of Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, American, and African/Ethiopian. Though he stressed the unity of humankind was the best way for society to function properly, he was aware that minorities did exist among the groups. Polygenism is the 19th century belief/idea that different races evolved from different origins , and it is used to justify discrimination against minorities.

Gender discrimination is another major part of society. The words gender and sex are commonly used interchangeable, yet they have very different meanings. Sex is a physical and biological aspect while gender reflects social expectations that men and women are supposed to have. For example, women are stereotypically known to be more nurturing, maternal, passive, and be interested in shopping and clothes and makeup and shoes,   and men are known to be more aggressive, dominant, and be interested in cars and sports and electronics. However, according to research done by an American anthropologist named Margaret Mead, who published Sex and Temperament in the Three Primitive Societies our innate biological differences only say that females and males have different chromosomes and genetic makeups, but societal differences that we are brought up and accustomed with are what leads us to believe in these stereotypical differences amongst males and females.


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