The U.S. Should Stop Turning a
Blind Eye to Social Class
“It is impossible to understand people's behavior... without the concept of social stratification, because class position has a pervasive influence on almost everything... the clothes we wear... the television shows we watch... the colors we paint our homes in and the names we give our pets... Our position in the social hierarchy affects our health, happiness, and even how long we will live. ”
—William Thompson, Joseph Hickey, Society in Focus, 2005
Calling what’s happening – and has been happening – in the
Officially, a caste system like the one in
But there is little doubt the
Royal Line (Elite): This is the class of leisure wealth and all-star status. It’s where our CEOs, professional athletes, Hollywood actors, mainstream musicians, congressmen and senators reside. These are the people the rest of us write about, read about, watch on TV, and emulate in fashion and culture.
MacWealthy (Privileged): This is the class of well-educated professionals. These are where the lawyers, doctors, scientists, technologists, and consultants come from. These are the high-level business people who live in the MacMansions in our teaming suburbs.
White Fence (Middle): The unique thing about the
is our ability to delude ourselves. This is the class where the workers reside and all of them think they are in the middle class – no matter what they’re income level. This is where janitors, clerical workers, fire fighters, construction workers, craftsmen, retail salespeople, waitresses, line cooks, and garbage men fall. United States
Forgotten (Poor): The unemployed, drop-outs, illegal immigrants, and those who live below and around the poverty line reside here.
Other economists and sociologists divide
Not convinced that the
Here are the average household incomes for our classes: Royalty ($250,000 plus); MacWealthy ($77,500 to $250,000); White Fences ($30,000 to $77,500); and the Forgotten ($0 to $22,500).
Education obviously plays into the structure of the
The caste system in the
More evidence: poverty is increasing in the
Yet the taste for gourmet food in the
“In a world where people pay $4 a day for a Starbucks coffee, an expensive butter doesn’t seem that extravagant,” Andy Aron, CEO of Gourmet Garage, told TIME Magazine.
We’re living in an era when it’s common to see beggars lining up at stop lights with signs asking for change and where luxury hotels have added positions with names like Pet Concierge, Soap Steward, Running Companion and Fireplace Butler (patrons can choose different scented woods from a menu).
But perhaps our greatest problem with class in the
The Royalty and MacWealthy get better healthcare, better education, access to power brokers, treated better by police and government agencies, more financial incentives from banks and lenders, and, of course, better tickets to sporting events. They even get better tax breaks and get to sit on the sidelines during warfare.
Read our essay on the threat of bottled water
Read our recommendations on fixing public education in the U.S.
Read about why we mow our own lawn
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I don't think I've ever handed out so many dollar bills in my life.
I'm not condoning pretending it doesn't exist, I'm just saying it's easy to do depending on what you see everyday.
Offie C. Wortham, PhD
We aren’t supposed to have a caste system in America! In fact, we aren’t even supposed to even talk, or think, about a caste or class system in this country! Everyone is supposed to be equal, and opportunities are unlimited for all. Doesn’t the election of a Black president prove this? Well, sort of. But there are still a few things wrong with this picture of Utopia. Merely outlawing caste, as the United States Constitution does, has not put an end to caste prejudice in the country. What else is white privilege except the tacit acknowledgement of a caste system in this country? For a white person to be “color-blind” is merely an attempt to maintain this white privilege without appearing racist.
There is only one fundamental difference between a caste and a class system. If there is a caste system in a society, and there is one in almost every society on earth, one is a member of a particular caste at birth. One has no choice or opportunity to move from one caste to another. Class is a social grouping that a person can move into, or out of. People move up and down in class all the time over a lifetime.
The caste system in the United States is based entirely upon ethnicity, or as some people say, race. Race is really a meaningless invented concept that was created in Europe several hundred years ago. According to a position paper by the American Anthropological Association, entitled Statement on "Race" in May 17, 1998:
“As they were constructing US society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each "race," linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Numerous arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought.
Today scholars in many fields argue that "race" as it is understood in the United States of America was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor.
How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The "racial" worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent.
A caste can also be defined as a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. We are born into a caste, and one does not move in or out of it. Caste should not be confused with class, in that members of a caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture, whereas not all members of a defined class may be so alike. The caste system in the United States is based upon ethnicity and racism. All white people are automatically members of the top rung of the caste system in America. This is the only explanation for the fact that any poor and uneducated white person, even if they are sitting up in some prison, still knows in their gut that they are better than President Obama, Oprah, or Michael Jordan in this society. (Please read below how white ethnics were taught to believe this.) And in one sense, they are correct.
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