The issues surrounding Race, Class and Gender in the United States have long been fraught with conflict. Rothenberg (2007) explores the themes surrounding the issues of race, class, and gender through a variety of secondary sources. The three themes that this paper will explore are (a) the formation and definition of differences, (b) historical accounts of race, class and gender, (c) and suggestions for moving beyond racism, sexism, and classism.
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Formation and Definition of Differences
A primary theme in Rothenberg’s (2007) book is the formation and definition of differences. Sections I-IV constructs the basis on how society in the United States construct differences in the areas of race, class, and gender and helps the reader to think about the meaning of racism, classism and sexism (p. 3). Section I contains readings that investigates how White privilege was developed by the construction of racial differences among the European settlers, slaves and natives to create a division of labor. Also discussed was how there developed a greater distinction among Jewish immigrants and how they were grafted into the White majority and other immigrants after World War II. Section I-IV of Rothenberg’s (2007) book also discusses the construction of gender and how differences in gender have created differences in the division of labor, pay, and gender roles and stereotypes. A great part in the development of gender identity development is the heterosexual and homosexual question. Throughout these sections I was challenged on what it means to be a White female in American society.
The way that society has formed the definition of differences among race, class and sex caused me to feel somewhat ashamed and saddened by the way differences plays a role in everyday life even when we don’t think that they do. The construction of these differences have so infiltrated American society that it permeates life in the workplace, in families, in how we interact with strangers on the street, and how we base opinions of what we think of others through what we watch, read, and even the music we listen to. Prior to reading these sections, I honestly thought that being a White female really didn’t matter in today’s society. However, after reading these sections I began to question if being white afforded me opportunities and privilege others are not afforded. Moving from a primarily “White” town in the North, to an extremely racially mixed Southern society opened my eyes to racial, class, and gender stereotypes that had been ingrained into my thinking. For the last ten years, I have attempted to diligently weed out these stereotypes and view each person as an individual regardless of race, class or sex. However, through reading these sections I realized that I as an individual and we as a nation have a long way to go. I attend a church whose main goal other than preaching the gospel is that of racial reconciliation for a city that has been fragmented since the formation of it. Honest and open dialogue among members of the church occurs weekly and as a result stereotypes are shattered and new relationships are allowed to develop. My goal in life is to be like the apostle Paul who stated, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (New International Version).
Historical Accounts of Race, Class and Gender
Another theme discussed in Rothenberg’s (2007) book is the historical accounts of race, class and gender. Section VII presents texts that “traces the legal status of people of color and women since the first Europeans came to this land” (p. 520). Through reading the various historical documents in this section, the reader is able to chronologically view the historical opinions and rights afforded minority groups through hundreds of years. Presented in section VII of Rothenberg’s (2007) book are the rights afforded to American Indians, negroes and slaves, women’s suffrage, Chinese American’s, the Dred Scott case, the emancipation of slaves, the Thirteenth through Fifteenth amendments to the United States constitution, equal rights for men and women, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Roe vs. Wade, and Lesbian and Gay rights.
After reading through the various legal and historical documents I realized how slow progress has been in the United States dealing with issues of race, class and sex. Issues with race, class, and sex have continuously been a central theme in the historical and legal context of the United States. In recent years women’s rights and homosexual rights have been central themes that have caused much heated debate, especially as it relates to the rights of the family and of unborn children. Minority and immigration rights also continue to be in the forefront of Government policy as we deal with issues of Mexican immigration, the war on terror, and the religious diversity of this nation. Public schools also are on the forefront of the American psyche as many inner city schools that serve a predominantly African American population remain inferior to their suburban “white” counterparts. Another issue that will continuously be drawing political attention in the future is the rights of the elderly and infirm as Medical costs continue to increase.
As I read through the historical documents presented in section VII of Rothenberg’s (2007) book I was struck by how these documents continue to affect us today. In Memphis for example, although through the Supreme Court decision made in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the segregation of white and colored children was deemed unequal in the public schools system, today schools remain segregated to an extent. City schools remain predominately “black”. While those who can afford to move to the suburbs with their children do, or send them to private schools. There are optional school programs in the inner city that allow for a more advanced curriculum, however, these “optional” programs further segregate even the inner city schools. The optional programs are difficult to get into, receive information about, and require families to spend a large amount of time standing in line to “sign” their children up. For those children whose parents do not receive the information, do not have the means or ability to stand in line for long periods of time, or whose children have received an inferior education to begin with and therefore do not meet the academic requirements it is difficult if not impossible to get in. It is quiet policies like these that are a continuous reminder of what Government needs to do to combat racial prejudice and unequal treatment. Although Government can change amendments and employ government policy it is up to us to keep our eyes open and bring to light ways in which people try to skirt around policies to further perpetuate prejudice and unequal treatment.
Suggestions for Moving beyond Racism, Sexism, and Classism
The final section of Rothenberg’s (2007) book discusses ways for society to change in reference to issues dealing with race, class, and sex. I found this section to be very integral to the culmination of this book. After reading so many selections that made the reader feel as if racial reconciliation, class and sexual equality seem impossible, the selections discussed in the final section of Rothenberg’s (2007) book offered hope. As Rothenberg (2007) states, “Eliminating these forms of oppression will involve changes at the personal, social, political, and economic levels. It will require us to think differently about ourselves and others and see the world through new lenses and using new categories. We will have to learn to pay close attention to our attitudes and behavior and ask what values and what kinds of relationships are being created and maintained, both consciously and unconsciously, by them” (p. 699). The reading in this section that I found to be most beneficial in how to overcome racial, sexual, and classist oppression was the selection entitled “Interrupting the cycle of oppression: The role of allies as agents of change” (p. 724-729).
In this selection Andrea Ayvazian discusses ways in which individuals in society can work to “dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit” (p. 724). As individuals continuously dismantle the systems of oppression from which they benefit as a dominant person within a category, they pave the way for others to do the same. This takes courage, insight, and planning and an extreme amount of tenacity. I realized through reading this selection that I am in a position to be a change agent and positive role model. As a white middle class female, I can combat issues in the areas of race, sex and class. I can be a social change agent. I am in a unique position to advocate for change being in an interracial marriage and have the ability to be a role model for my children and the next generation. I am uniquely positioned to understand and love my African American brothers and sisters as well as combat prejudicial attitudes of my White brothers and sisters. This selection gave me great courage to see the unique position that God has placed me in to be ally for many.
In conclusion, Rothenberg’s (2007) book, Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, presents the reader with systemic view regarding the issues of race, class and gender. Through the readings in this book, the author presents the reader with the materials to judge for themselves and formulate their own opinion on the issues race, class, and gender and how it affects them in contemporary society. These readings have opened my eyes to the systems of oppression that still remain and how I can be an agent of change to dismantle unfair and unequal treatment.
Rothenberg, P. S. (2007). Race, class, and gender in the United States (7th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
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