In many ways these topic papers are the heart of the class by providing an opportunity to write about how issues brought up in class reflect in your life. This is a guided essay so be sure to answer all of the questions below. You should remember that the most important part of the exercise is for you to analyze your experiences in context of the broader social issues raised in the question. Be sure to tie your answers into the readings, class discussion, or other class materials.
You will write a minimum 5 page (double spaced) response by the next class after it is posted. This requirement will be minimally satisfied with a response that demonstrates that you understand the sociological issues in terms of concepts from the course material. Their tone should be informal, but use a spell checker and avoid serious grammatical errors. Personal experiences, opinions, and attitudes are encouraged in the commentaries when used as examples for or as a framework for sociological analysis.
In class we have discussed the four most prevalent forms of stratification in American society: social class, race, gender, age. We, as a society, like to think that we have made progress from the events shown in the videos, but then there are critics who question how much progress we really have made. We recognize that these are social constructions, but these constructions often highlight differences that become the basis for justifying differences in power and privilege. For example, does the constant joking about gender differences really reflect continuing power imbalances as we saw in the videos and “joke” about the “two sides of the story” (a copy is available in the course content area of MUOnline)? Has racism actually declined since the civil rights movement or has it simply changed form? Are the dominant groups finding new and less blatantly racist and sexist ways to segregate, like accepting middle class minorities or women who “think like us,” while still rejecting lower class minorities and women as criminals and “welfare cheats”? Are minorities getting fed up with institutionalized racism and self-segregating, especially in ethnicity-based student organizations (Organization of African students, Vietnamese Student Association, Indian Student Association)? Do these promote racism?
To answer this I want you to start with your own life and experience. First discuss one example of how you have seen each stratification form constructed, specifying how (not what) you were “taught” or had demonstrated to you that the differences in social class, race, gender, and age implied that there also existed a difference in the privileges that each group should have. Be specific. Another way of framing the question is: what experience taught you your social class, race, gender, or age, and that those had meaning? (Think of this as an “ethnographic observation” exercise where you see meaning constructed.) For example with gender, were you or did you see anyone ever “corrected” for acting out of gender expectation?
I will note that for these next questions, your grade will not at all be related to whichever side you take on the issue, only on whether your response is coherent. I want you to think about and be able to articulate your views. State facts where you have them but remember that values can be as important as facts in an argument. For example, if your baseline value is that government should have no role in guaranteeing equality or equity, then a factual argument that government can be effective is not relevant. Be aware and to the extent you can, state which parts of your argument is on values and which is on facts.
Secondly, offer an argument for or against the proposition that self-segregation (e.g. student identity support groups, retirement communities, organizations that separate sexes, and organization that require high payments) exacerbate the problems of stratification and distrust between groups. Perhaps another way of answering the questions might be “at what point do these groups turn from having a positive effect on society to having a detrimental effect?”
Thirdly, how do we resolve these issues of inequality? One solution that has been tried is laws against discrimination by race, age, gender, or ability and even Affirmative Action, in which organizations are required to demonstrate that they attempt to seek out and hire enough qualified minorities to achieve a balance reflective of the job pool. How do you think that the affirmative action policy is supposed to work, and in what way is it reaching or failing to reach the goal of racial equality? If you feel that it isn’t working, how can it be changed to make it work? In what way does your gender, age, racial and class background contribute to your answer to that question? Check out this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratified_sampling for more information.
Finally, and this is for everyone regardless of your race or ethnicity, in what ways do racial categories enter into your interactions with people of other races? In what ways do you feel more comfortable with people of your own race than people of other races? How would you respond if someone from another group labeled your answers as racism?
Hint: To understand the “social construction of social class, age, race, or gender,” you need to separate out the biological characteristics of race and sex from characteristics which we as a society attribute to them. These include what we consider stereotypes. Examples might include people talking about differences between men and women. Remember however, this is about stratification, so be sure your examples include subtle or overt implications that gender and race is important and contains meaning about how people should act.
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