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Social inequality is inevitable in every community. There will always be individuals that have more social status than other. Historically, this gap has been perpetuated by numerous factors. Communities maintain these racial and gender differences through laws and policies. Aside from mandates, inequality becomes a part of socialization and social reproduction. The media has a crucial role in advertising which only widens this gap of inequality. All of these factors lead to developing individual and mass stereotypes which affirm the inequality within a community.
Laws are created to establish the groundwork on which societies and communities are to be built. At times, however, they do serve as catalysts to promoting inequality throughout the same society. A society’s decision to enforce separate public facilities, as was the case during the 1950’s and 1960’s in America, is an example of policies designed to promote social inequality. Laws, both national and international, have been designed to continue this concept of social inequality. Decision makers, though, paint a much different picture when discussing these measures. There excuses could be that these laws are needed due to risks of harm to a society’s population. Furthermore, policymakers continue the support for these laws using the same premise.
In order to understand this key area, Adler and Sanchirigo (310) discuss the connection to this area, ex ante laws and ex post laws. Ex ante laws are those designed to affect the desired outcome while the social conflict is still in the risk stage. Ex post laws, on the other hand, retroactively seek changes. “One important difference between the ex post and ex ante approaches is this: the ex post policymaker is willing to go farther than her ex ante counterpart in alleviating hazards that expose many to risk, but few to actual injury. Both policymakers may find intervention worthwhile for the usual reasons: externalities, market failures, paternalism, etc. But in the narrow incidence of actual harm, the ex post policymaker sees an additional equity’ problem deserving of additional attention, which her ex ante counterpart, focused as she is on the relative equality of prospects, does not recognize. This will induce the ex post planner to push harder for costly prevention measures that avoid or negate such solely ex post inequality,” state Adler and Sanchirigo. (351). Therefore, ex ante justification for not allowing African Americans the same facilities as others would be that doing so prevents certain actions or reactions that adversely affect the given society. Ex post justifications would state that since risk turned to reality when a societal norm is broken, African Americans must use separate facilities.
Moreover, social inequality is a product of the process by which learning of an individual’s culture takes place. Also known as socialization, this process produces the ways in which people will view inequality and its affects on society. Therefore, inequality remains if society’s members are taught that separate facilities are used based on social conditions, such as race and gender. The members of society have no idea of the problems with their way of thinking or how they act. Since their thoughts and actions are connected to the learning process, there must be a system established to unlearn. Once this process takes place, there is no reason to believe inequality could not be handled. In addition, socialization is a process that happens through all concerned parties of a given population within a society. Thus, parent, teachers, and other students must be very involved in the unlearning of social norms and laws which prolong inequality.
Socialization has its greatest affect with respect to education. Since the interaction between students and teachers as well as student themselves is very influential, it only stands to reason that the most profound inequalities are found in the school walls. Costello explains, “According to a persistent stereotype, African American women are insufficiently deferent and are matriarchal. Hence, a female law student of African descent is caught in a double bind: penalized professionally for her gender when she appears feminine, but penalized due to her race when she does not.” (142). Perhaps these stereotypes are not taught inside the classroom, instead they are viewed as taboo for discussion and resolution. Even if this is the case, a society which stands by and continues to allow this has the same responsibility as those which actively teach this mentality. Unlearning is also a process of socialization and it begins with educating citizens on inequality.
Even though laws and socialization are present in all known societies throughout history, only recently has the media created such a prominent role influencing society. However, that influence is so widespread that is seems to be making up for the past. With technological innovation in electronics and communications fields, the media has been able to sustain inequality through a number of ways. The images shown on television of inequality sends the same message as telling the students that racial inequality must remain intact so that risks do not turn into reality. Again, the fact that so many homes own a television set and computer carry on this state of mind. The same can be said for those homes that have neither television nor computer, but own a radio.
Additionally, some people believe that a picture can tell a thousand words, or so a famous euphemism goes. Like radio messages, images can evoke emotions in people that are acted upon. Lippmann clarifies, “The pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, purposes, and relationships, are their public opinions. Those pictures which are acted upon by groups of people, or by individuals acting in the name of groups, are Public Opinion with capital letters.” (18). Since, public opinions fuel social inequality, images and radio are highly influential. This influence can be highly dangerous because oftentimes society does not realize what it is taking in. Berger emphasizes, “We are now so accustomed to being addressed by these images that we scarcely notice their total impact. A person may notice a particular image or piece of information because it corresponds to some particular interest he has. But we accept the total system of publicity images as we accept an element of climate.” (131).
Besides the media’s role in socialization, they also help to affirm stereotypes which maintain the actual inequality in society. These stereotypes affect responses to the larger community and belief in the much larger social order. Stereotypes, in particular to other forms of social inequality, repress social change to the existing forms of inequality. Although stereotypes serve the basic function of making people feel superior to others or releasing frustration, there is a belief that they are also a part of a broader context in which they justify social inequality. (Wachtel, 48). The existence of the cause and effect relationship of stereotypes as well as other agreements is undeniable. For example, people often say that someone can be poor, but happy. Also, they can labeled rich, but unhappy. Therefore, economic inequalities present within a society are justified, since happiness seemingly has no price tag. Thus, the social change needed is disregarded and the perpetual cycle of inequality remains.
Stereotypes are common ways in which inequalities in any social system become self-perpetuating. Societies are much more likely to support status quo following exposure to complementary stereotypes, regardless of the fact that stereotypes strengthen inequality. (Brezina and Winder, 414). Traditionally, stereotypes have been used for focusing the blame on a victim for various perceived violations of social norms. Currently, stereotypes demonstrate a justification to the current social order of a given society through compliments. Consequently, stereotypes have become more appealing to larger populations within societies. Those inside a given society might not witness this occurrence; however, outsiders would not have a difficult time.
Furthermore, stereotypes serve little purpose beyond establishing prejudice to create a self-affirming function for individuals. Conversely, it stands to reason that providing people with another means of accomplishing this should reduce their desire to make stereotypes. However, Wachtel says this isn’t the case. “Although people should reduce this desire, we often find that they only build on this desire as a means of coping through ongoing personal problems,” he says. (49). This approach can be added to the laundry list of others, to include: frustration and aggression theory, scape goat theory, and the downward social comparison theory. (Brezina and Winder, 419). Stereotypes provide the user with the needed information to restore their positive self image. Given the frustration and aggression theory, stereotypes serve to release those feelings which adversely affect the user. The scape goat theory is simple. Stereotypes are used in order to blame the victim of violating a social norm. The downward social comparison theory states that stereotypes are the basis for making social comparisons between groups within a society. Only a self affirmation perspective suggests stereotyping serves an internal function that is individual in nature and not shared among society. Of course, this thesis does share some assumptions with the aforementioned theoretical positions.
Inequalities are an inescapable portion to any society. These inequalities, however, do not have to perform a destructive function. The theories out there for social indignation of other groups are many. The theories seek to explain why societal members constantly hold prejudice against one another. However, these theories do not attempt to solve the social inequality problems or even to provide relief for those being persecuted. The laws and policies of a society also perpetuate the cycle. Since they allow these prejudices to continue, the offenders may carry on with whatever that pleases them. On the other hand, though, there is not legal recourse for the victim. At least, the legal recourse falls on the ability of the victim to convince there has been a legal violation. The socialization process is the beginning to social inequalities. Since most of this influence can be found within the classroom, it stands that the classroom must also begin the unlearning process. Preventing the unlearning process, though, is the powerful affect of the media in this process. Through advertising, people often unknowingly, play into the hands of social inequality by allowing the images and audio bites to persuade their decisions. Finally, people also develop and perpetuate stereotypes through this process. Stereotypes do affirm the actual inequality present in a society. Although there are a multitude of purposes for stereotyping, perhaps the most widely used is self affirmation. People can always make themselves feel better by degrading others, then, they wake up and feel the same.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books, 1972.
Brezina, Timothy and Kenisha Winder. “Economic Disadvantage, Status Generalization, and Negative Racial Stereotyping By White Americans”. Social Psychology Quarterly 66.4 (2003): 402-20.
Costello, Carrie Y. “Changing Clothes: Gender Inequality and Professional Socialization”. NWSA Journal 16.2 (2004): 138-56.
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Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1922.
Sanchirigo, Mathew D. and Chris William. “Inequality and Uncertainty: Theory and Legal Applications”. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 155.2 (2006): 279-377.
Wachtel, Paul L. “The Roots of Racism: A Psychoanalytic Perspective”. Black Renaissance 5.1 (2003): 45-50.