Friday, March 9, 2012

Sharing the Pie in the Land of Opportunity

Even though we all share the same biological make up, we cannot avoid the fact that significant differences, whether physical and cultural, exist as part of the human experience. Historically, human beings have moved around more often than any other species. Inevitably they have come across elements which are perceived as a deviation from the things they consider to be normal based on their standards and acquired values.

Socially developed behavior and the constant contact with outside groups intensifies the perception of such differences and creates the awareness of how they are perceived by others and where they fit in the scheme of things as part of the new group, organization or society. Physical characteristics, foods, habits, religion and having a history of being part of a group, which are located on a different and less resourceful geographic region, are all factors which characterize one person as different and put them at a position of disadvantage in comparison with the dominant group.

The bottom line is that there is one group which is in a position of power and controls the laws, the environment and all the available resources and an opposing group or groups which are subjugated and stereotyped and treated as second or third class citizens. These second class elements are often seen as a threat as they compete with the dominant group for scarce resources. Sure enough, the dominant group will make everything possible to keep the outsider away from the resources and prevent them from eating the “cake” or being part of the game, which they believe, is a privilege of the dominating group members.

Turns out that from the perspective of an outsider who is less privileged, in terms of resources, he always focuses on the bright side of things and sees the changes and inconveniences as the price he has to pay in order to hold the opportunities to produce a better life for himself and for his family. However, for the dominating group, the newcomer spells trouble as besides competing for limiting resources and bringing the “bad habits” of his culture with him would likely disturb the environment.

Obviously, when two distinct groups come together they form two opposing forces which basically compete for the same fundamental thing, which is, access to limiting resources. For the first it could mean an opportunity to guarantee survival. For the dominating group it is in their best interest to keep newcomers out of the mainstream of opportunity in order for the protection of their valuable assets and service and keep their influence intact. That is when the conflict begins and causes disproportionate dimension at times.
Religion could play a role in determining the ethnicity of an individual. However, that may not be the most relevant factor because religion can be changed and a person may gain a different perspective in life and decide to adopt another ideology or religious principle. For example an individual who was born Catholic may very well decide to adopt Buddhism teachings and that may not cause a great impact on his ethnicity.

Despite that, there are things which are innate and cannot be changed. Physical characteristics for example can never be changed no matter how hard one tries. For example, an individual who is born with dark skin will never be able to suddenly become white. Or if the individual was born in Asia or Africa he will carry those characteristics, which are unique of people from those particular regions, for the rest their lives.

Economical, social or political power may be key elements that contribute to the construction of racial and ethnical differences. Physical characteristics are a meaningful aspect which is used to classify people in the ethnic scale and place them either in the lower or higher end of opportunity. The individual who is in the bottom is prevented from actively participating in the life of society to their full potential.

On the other end are those ethnic groups which are perceived as being more privileged on the basis of the whiteness of their skin and on the basis that they were here first. Competition for resources and the drive for privileges often motivate those of social construction of racial or ethnic hierarchies. The individuals, who feel left out for being in the bottom of racial or ethnic classifications may eventually develop a heightened awareness and fight for ways to raise their status. The less fortunate people develop a sentiment of group identity in order to challenge the social constructions of privilege.

It is quite interesting when we go back in time and think about the early stages of ethnicity in this country. At around the 1820’s the United States started receiving a massive wave of immigrants who landed here coming from every corner on the Old World, looking for a fresh start. Germany contributed to a large sum of immigrants, they also came from places such as Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, and Russia just to name a few. During the first 100 years (1820 to 1920) the population of the United States expanded from 10 million to a 100 million people obviously thanks to such massive population of unskilled immigrants who spilled out of Europe as a result of the Industrial Revolution expansion.

 These people were viciously rejected and discriminated in every sense of the word before they finally blended in and adjusted to the new society. The feeling of rejection was shifted or alternately focused on blacks in the South as slave trade was going at a steady pace, on the wave of Mexicans who moved into American soil, on the indigenous people who were perceived as a grave threat and had to be eliminated and finally, on the thousands of Chinese immigrants who arrived in California starting around the 1850’s to work on mining and railroad systems.

Despite the fierce inclusion resistance, especially in the early years of this nation, all those racial elements came together to add up and form a vast pool of ethnically diverse population contributing to the mold that we have become today, basically a nation of immigrants. Two types of assimilation resulted from the merging of different groups; the melting pot and the Anglo conformity, which turns out to be the dominant value in this country. Regardless of whether one is White, Yellow, Black, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, the bottom line is that they are all entitled to claim their share of the pie in the “land of opportunity”. However, one has to wonder how much access they have and whether their efforts are really worth it.
Work Cited

Healey, Joseph F., Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class, Fifth edition

The Sociological of Group Conflict and Change

Pine Forge, 2010/2011 update. Print

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