Social inequality (chapter 4 of text) is an underlying factor in any of today’s modern issues regarding race relations in the United States. In the October 17, 2008 Newsweek story entitled “Issue of race grows with likelihood of Obama win,” (by Liz Sidoti) the issues regarding race are hinged on the hope for a better social existence that is often held by most persons in their bid to elect a president in any era. Social inequality is intimately linked to the idea of social status, as it is the discrepancies between or among statuses of different citizens of a country that creates the phenomenon of social inequality.
Social status is characterized by the ranking of a given individual or group “with respect to some socially important characteristic” (Author, YEAR, p. 46). One particular socially important characteristic that is relevant to racial barriers within the United States is money and the amenities that go along with this. Many (if not most) types of social inequality are very pervasive and are passed on from one generation to the next, such as via inheritances. Because race is also passed on from one generation to the next (genetic), whenever the two connect they often are prone to remain inextricably interlocked for a long time into posterity.
The fact that Barack Obama may in fact become the first non-white president of the United States places in the hearts of many Americans of color the hope that he might be a strong advocate for their improved social status. The functionalism approach to this question would likely see the structure of blacks (or non-whites) at the bottom of the societal ladder as serving the function of generating next-generation working class persons to perform the labor aspects necessary to the perpetuation of the economy.
Conflict Theory ties into this in the way it emphasizes how the group or class into which an individual is born or socialized grants him or her the ability (or inability) to influence the path of others. Historically, the privileged class (mainly whites) has operated as slave-owners or employers, able to influence the extent to which the underclass (largely blacks) were able to self-actualize. To a large extent these theories explain the problem, but they hold no explanation of how this problem can be overcome.
Symbolic interaction, however, does hold some explanation as to why people would struggle to free themselves from the socially unequal roles handed them via the functional class system. The creativity and individualism of people incites them to find ways to rise above these barriers. The text speaks of “economic, social and cultural enclave” into which immigrants to the United States have been historically placed (Author, YEAR, p. 67).
The Sidoti article is grounded in the idea of minorities’, especially blacks’, creative and interactive attempt to shake off the social inequality that has been their lot since their initiation into slavery upon introduction to the United States hundreds of years ago. The Sidoti article speaks of the surfacing of commentaries and debates on the issue of race in relation to the Obama/McCain campaigns. Some have been arguing that Obama has been exploiting his profile as a Black person in order to rally the votes of the racial minorities in the United States.
While the Obama campaign has denied these accusations, the fact remains that “his candidacy has energized minority voters in ways never before seen” (Sidoti). These minorities have often seen themselves as marginalized within a society that has granted its most privileged statuses to people of European heritage. Historical issues of segregation (the exclusion of non-whites from privileged social milieus) have also been cited within the article as being referred to by members of the campaigning parties.
The precarious nature of race relations in the United States rests on the previously mentioned idea of exclusion, which is defined in our text as a “mechanism by which those in powerful status groups keep others from gaining power” (Author, YEAR, p. 47). Another campaign question is triggered by this: that of Obama’s chances of being denied the election based on negative feelings of whites toward his color. The writer of the article has cited statistical evidence stating that 40 percent of white Americans have negative views of blacks.
If this is the case, then the election itself, while being an important democratic tool, might act as the mechanism of exclusion for Obama and by extension the black race his color represents. The big question of the election, should Obama win, has become one of whether his presidency will have the effect of soothing or aggravating race relations in the future. In other words, would his presidency provide a socially interactive means of reconfiguring the formal and conflicting aspects of the American social structure?