The More Things Change


The United States is a country that is based on the triumph of the ideals of Western tradition; a tradition founded on the democratic principles of liberty, equality, and freedom that has given rise to variety of myths about America’s destiny, goodness, opportunity, and place in the world.   American exceptionalism, “Manifest Destiny”, and the American Dream are but a few, that describe the cultural narrative of the United States, and can be considered the yardstick by which each citizen measures themselves.   These myths are both true and false simultaneously; at times, true for the dominant class and equally false for nearly everyone else throughout our long and storied history.  Since the early European settlers arrived in the United States, the dominant class has been white, heterosexual, males, who through economic, military, legal, political, religious, and social power, have maintained their class position for more than 300 years.  The result is an American story that can be considered at odds with the experiences of so many of its inhabitants, who have been victims of genocide, slavery, servitude, discrimination, deportation, prejudice, and yet continue to struggle for the opportunity and equality proffered by our myths and laws.  Despite the progress women and minorities have made to gain equal treatment and opportunity in American society, societal norms still serve to prevent equal access to resources, opportunities, wealth, and privilege for those that differ from the dominant class majority, while American myths serve to devalue their class experiences.

Gender Identity and Class Experience

            Women in the United States have sought to improve their rights in society for more than a century, advocating for property rights, voting rights, and even the right to control what happens to their own bodies.  Gender role socialization is likely a significant causal factor in continued gender equality as traditional gender roles are taught and reinforced across societal institutions like “ language, education, mass media, religion, laws, medical institutions and mental health systems, occupational environments, [and] intimate relationships” (Fiske-Rusciano, 2009, p. 60).

A great example of the way in which U.S. institutions continue to exert influence in gender equality issues is the abortion debate.  While the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, made abortion a constitutional guarantee, the debate still rages with special interest groups, politicians, and religious organizations, seeking to influence a change in the law (PBS, 2006).  While women are treated with greater equality today than at any time in recent history, there remain significant gaps in gender equality, particularly as it relates to work, due to occupational discrimination, occupational segregation, and societal expectations for women to align to traditional gender roles (Rock, 2011).

The result of gender inequality in the workplace is a continued gender wage gap, where, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women continue to earn on average, 81% the earnings of men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).   In order to create greater gender equality and improve women’s class experience in the United States, continued efforts to close the wage gap and to change gender role expectations, particularly as it relates to childrearing, must be at the forefront of issues addressed by the modern women’s movement.

Sexual Identity and Class Experience

            Traditional gender roles, idealized into beliefs, are a source of widespread attitudes towards sexual identity, serving to stigmatize lesbians, bi-sexual, gay and trans-gender persons in U.S. society.   Kite and Whitley (1996) found a link between heterosexual’s beliefs about the characteristics that men and women should have and their attitudes towards lesbians and gay men, suggesting that the strength of dislike is related to the strength of their beliefs.  Whitley and Aegisdottir (2000) later find that gender beliefs are further used to legitimize popular myths about homosexual persons in order to justify prejudicial attitudes held by the socially dominant class.  “The social dominance perspective holds that people who possess social status and power are motivated to preserve the status quo that provides that status and power” (Whitley & Aegisdottir, 2000, p. 951).

This phenomenon plays out often in the popular press, where recently a lesbian couple attempted to enter the Dollywood theme park and were barred entry for wearing a t-shirt that promoted gay marriage (Clark, 2011).  There can be far more serious consequences for LBGT persons than being barred from opportunities, including overt discrimination, aggression, and even violence.  Stearns (2009) describes the discrimination that led to her termination as an airline pilot after undergoing gender reassignment surgery; and who can forget the violent killing of Matthew Shepard, who in 1998, was beaten to death simply for being gay?  It is likely that existing gender belief system held by the socially dominant class, namely white males, are threatened by persons whose sexually identity challenges the norm, and as result is the basis for the exclusion of lesbians, bi-sexual, gay, and trans-gender persons from mainstream U.S. societal institutions.

Racial and Ethnic Identity and Class Experience

            U.S. history can be considered a history of the triumph of the Western tradition at best and a triumph of white privilege at worst.  The social construct of racism has been present in the United States since before the birth of the country and persists today.  Non-whites, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Native Americans, and others have all suffered as victims of racism at the hands of the dominant social class (Zinn, 2003).  Racism, or the legacy of racism, continues to be a pervasive problem as ethnic minorities continue to be disadvantaged compared to the dominant social class in terms of income, wealth, and access to opportunities (Elkin, 2011; Kochhar, Fry, & Taylor, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).  In modern America, racism is often cloaked, in rhetoric, restrictive policies or laws, or fundamental myths about America.

For example, immigration reform is at the forefront of public debate with politicians and the media seeking to influence the public in a vitriolic debate aimed primarily at Hispanic immigrants.  Special interest groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, that helped develop Arizona’s SB 1070 law, are framing the immigration debate for the U.S. Congress (FAIR, 2010) despite their white supremacist origins (The Pioneer Fund, 2011; Zeskind, 2005).  The pervasive misinformation has served to fuel fear and anti-Hispanic sentiment into the dominant social class, with many concerned of the effects of Hispanic immigrant use of services, tax evasion, criminality, and overall negative impact on the U.S. economy.  In this example, the debate appears to deem Hispanics as a causal factor preventing the pursuit if the American Dream by the dominant social class.

Conclusion

            The more things change, the more they appear to stay the same.  While the United States has become significantly more multicultural and laws have been created to allow multicultural citizens to live up to the ideals of liberty, equality, and freedom inherent in our national myth, the dominant social class remains the heterosexual white male.  Heterosexual white males overwhelmingly occupy positions of power, hold more wealth, and earn more income than women, LBGT persons, and ethnic minorities and are motivated to maintain their position of privilege.  Despite the march of progress, the societal norms of the dominant class still serve to prevent equal access to resources, opportunities, wealth, and privilege for those that differ, and our American myths support the ability of the dominant class to maintain the status quo.

References

Clark, J. (2011, August 4, 2011). Dolly Parton apologizes to lesbian couple over Dollywood T-shirt incident, USA Today. Retrieved from http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2011/08/dolly-parton-apologies-to-lesbian-couple-over-dollywood-t-shirt-incident/413677/1

Elkin, A. (2011, July 27). Valedictorian sues school: Was she snubbed because of race?  Retrieved from http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/26/valedictorian-sues-school-was-she-snubbed-because-of-race/?iref=allsearch

FAIR. (2010). Federation for American Immigration Reform 2010 Annual Report (pp. 32). Washington DC.

Fiske-Rusciano, R. (2009). Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Kite, M. E., & Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1996). Sex Differences in Attitudes toward Homosexual Persons, Behaviors, and Civil Rights: A Meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(4), 336-353.

Kochhar, R., Fry, R., & Taylor, P. (2011). Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics Pew Social & Demographic Trends. Washington DC: Pew Research Center.

PBS. (2006). Roe v. Wade and beyond. Frontline  Retrieved August 12, 2011, 2011, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/clinic/wars/cases.html

Rock, R. (2011). Reflections on the gender wage gap. Essay. Colorado State University. Denver.

Stearns, J. R. (2009). A transexual’s story. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed., pp. 94-107). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

The Pioneer Fund. (2011). The Founders  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from http://www.pioneerfund.org/Founders.html

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation and sex. In cpsaat39.pdf (Ed.). Washington DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. In p60-238.pdf (Ed.). Washington DC: U.S Census Bureau.

Whitley, B. E., & Aegisdottir, S. (2000). The Gender Belief System, Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation, and Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men. SEX ROLES, 42, 947-968.

Zeskind, L. (2005, October 23, 2005). The new nativism. The American Prospect  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from http://prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=10485

Zinn, H. (2003). A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present ([New ed.). New York: HarperCollins.


Immigration lack of debate


So I am more than a little annoyed at my classmates.   In my SOC310 course, Race, Gender, and Ethnic Relations in the U.S., we recently had a board discussion on the history of immigrants in America within the context of current experiences.  I was a little late to start, and found upon joining the discussion a few pervasive myths about immigrants.  First, the entire debate centered on Hispanics, which given the SB 1070, perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, but the immigration issue is broader than that.  Second, my classmates had nearly uniform perceptions of Hispanic immigrants, namely that they cost U.S. taxpayers a lot of money because they use all of our services (Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Welfare, Social Security, etc.), they don’t pay taxes, they are criminals, and they don’t know English.  Lastly, rarely did my classmates offer citations and if they did, they were peer-reviewed, unbiased citations.

I found myself wondering a few things:

A)  Do people really believe all of the garbage in the airwaves?

B)  Does nobody question motives or check facts?

C)  Where was my professor?

The other thing that bothered me is that when I challenged class assumptions, nobody responded.  Grrrr.

Outlined below is my (perhaps too emotional) response to the prompt:

It is impossible to ignore the issue of immigration if one is to understand race/ethnic, class and gender dynamics. Discuss history of immigrants in America within the context of our current experiences.

Be sure to cite appropriate, credible sources to support your discussion.

Patrick Rock was a young boy when he traveled to the new world with parents and brothers, fleeing Cladybeg, Ireland, in County Armagh, for the promise of land and a better life.  Landing in Baltimore, the Rock’s found an environment hostile to the Scotts-Irish family, with little food, shelter, nor free land.  The Rock’s moved inland, eventually finding their way into Kentucky, Ohio and later Indiana.  Like many immigrants at the time, Patrick quickly settled in to his adopted country and defended her interests in the Revolutionary War.  Patrick’s story is much like the story of many immigrants that seek a new life in the U.S. today.

They come because the conditions in their home countries are deplorable and many choose to take enormous risks to build a better life for they and their families.  In an earlier post, I described the journey made by Alex Cuevas, my father-in-law, which is remarkably similar to story of my Great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick.   When the similarities are viewed in this context, it is clear that most overriding difference is time.  Patrick, might be viewed as a settler, a colonist, a founder of the nation, because his immigration is distant.  Alex, on the other hand, might be viewed as a freeloader, an illegal immigrant that mooched of the American system, using services meant for Americans and not paying taxes, probably committing crimes to boot.  However, future pace to 20 years from now, when Alex’s grandchildren are adults, or even 100 years from now, how might Alex’s story be perceived differently?

Immigrants have come as colonists, settlers, slaves, indentured servants, both legal and illegally (Hodson & Sullivan, 2008).   Most come to America because of market forces (Hanson, 2007).  In short, there are jobs here that represent an opportunity that immigrants do not perceive in their countries of origin.  Immigrants often occupy lower social classes due to a variety of factors including liminal legality (Menjivar, 2006), language barriers, racial discrimination and/or prejudice (Fiske-Rusciano, 2009), and employment in marginal jobs (Hodson & Sullivan, 2008Menjivar, 2006).  Immigrants, including Jews, Irish, Italians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Asians have historically been discriminated against based on their dissimilarity to the dominant class of white Europeans (Fiske-Rusciano, 2009).

Immigrants in the United States have a long history of being used as scapegoats for U.S. economic woes (Sothern Poverty Law Center, 1994).  The blame game has been used to fuel nativist movements and create restrictive policies, resulting in penalties for certain racially identifiable groups (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980).  There are a number of specific, historical examples of immigrant groups being blamed for U.S. economic woes.   The poor economy in the 1870s was blamed on immigrants that were accused of taking jobs meant for Americans and driving down wages (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980); while the Mexican Repatriation Campaign, which “repatriated” more than 500,000 persons to Mexico, many of whom from U.S. citizens, was “spurred by the economic distress of the Great Depression” (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980, p. 185).

So I suppose that given the dire economic conditions in the U.S. today, that we shouldn’t be surprised that illegal immigrants are being blamed for taking American jobs, using up all of our services, costing the U.S. $113B annually, not paying taxes, raising crime levels and being a general burden on the backs of hard-working Americans.  Of course, there is some evidence that gets in the way of the blame game.

  • “For the U.S. economy, immigration appears to be more or less a wash” (Hanson, 2007)
  • Illegal immigrants pay a significant amount of taxes and cannot receive the benefits.  For examples, as of 2005, the Social Security Administration’s Earnings Suspense File had grown to $520 Billion dollars and is growing at more than $60B a year (O’Carroll, 2006).  The ESF is a result of unmatched SSNs and the Social Security Administration believes that the unmatched SSNs are largely the resulted of undocumented workers (O’Carroll, 2006). Illegal immigrants cannot collect Social Security or Medicare, our two largest, means-tested, programs.
  • There is evidence that indicates that Hispanic illegal immigrants account for less crime than U.S. citizens (Hagan & Palloni, 1999)
  • The $113B annual cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers was developed in a report by FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a powerful lobbying group whose founders and early funding sources include overt racists and proponents of eugenics (The Pioneer Fund, 2011Zeskind, 2005).

So despite evidence to the contrary, blaming immigrants for the woes of our country is an old, familiar pattern, where politicians can divert our attention from the real reasons for our problems, and instead scapegoat minorities that aren’t able to protect themselves from the “tyranny of the majority” (Tocqueville, Reeve, & Spencer, 1839).  We have a $14 trillion dollar deficit, two wars, 9.4% unemployment, and a double-dip recession and the Wizard of Oz is telling us to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”(Fleming et al., 1939), instead telling us that illegal immigrants caused these problems.   Unfortunately, so many believe the rhetoric, and consequently, despite my family’s long and storied history in this country, my children will suffer continued prejudice and discrimination, simply because they are growing up Latino in a bad economy.

References

Fiske-Rusciano, R. (2009). Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Fleming, V., LeRoy, M., Langley, N., Ryerson, F., Woolf, E. A., Stothart, H., . . . Turner Entertainment Co. Collection (Library of Congress). (1939). The Wizard of Oz (pp. 1 videodisc of 1 (laser) (ca. 102 min.)). United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  MGM/CBS Home Video

Hagan, J., & Palloni, A. (1999). Sociological criminology and the mythology of Hispanic immigration and crime. Social Problems, 46(4), 617-632.

Hanson, G. H. (2007). The economic logic of illegal immigration. Council on Foreign Relations, 26(April 2007), 1-52.

Hodson, R., & Sullivan, T. A. (2008). The social organization of work (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Menjivar, C. (2006). Liminal legality: Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants’ lives in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 111(4), 999-1037.

O’Carroll, P., Jr. (2006). Statement for the record: Administrative challenges facing the Social Security Administration.  Washington DC: U.S. Senate

Committee on Finance Retrieved fromhttp://www.ssa.gov/oig/communications/testimony_speeches/03142006testimony.htm.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (1994). Anti-immigration violence rages nationwide. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

The Pioneer Fund. (2011). The Founders  Retrieved August 10, 2011, fromhttp://www.pioneerfund.org/Founders.html

Tocqueville, A. d., Reeve, H., & Spencer, J. C. (1839). Democracy in America (3rd American ed.). New York: G. Adlard.

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights. (1980). Historical dimiscrimination in the immigration laws. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Zeskind, L. (2005, October 23, 2005). The new nativism. The American Prospect  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from http://prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=10485