Through complex social interactions, humans have developed a strange way of creating and reinforcing ideas that become attached to assumptions about an individual, or group of individuals, in regard to one’s race or gender. These ideas are socially constructed, or created, by society which requires the idea to be initiated and accepted by others. This then leads the idea to become a social fact of which the adverse effects are developed as various forms of inequality, discrimination and detached sentiment. To contrast, I shall exemplify racial projects and how the gendering and de-gendering of society shapes the dynamics of our social structures through the U.S. political and legal system.
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The La Raza Studies program was initiated in 1998 and ran successfully for 12 years. It was an ethnic studies program that was held at a Tucson, Arizona High School which aimed to provide a more rounded education by giving an in depth historical background of Mexican-American culture to its students. Students who participated in the Mexican-American Studies program were found to perform better and received better grades overall during the course of their instruction.
The La Raza studies program is, by definition, an example of a racial project. According to Omi and Winant, who coined the term, a racial project is “simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial identities and meanings, and an effort to organize and distribute resources (economic, political, cultural) along particular racial lines” (Omi and Winant 2015:279). The creation of the La Raza studies program enabled students to graduate from high school and helped to propel them towards receiving a higher education. By improving graduation and education rates of historically oppressed citizens, employment opportunities and social awareness increased to those who were formerly denied access. “Every racial project is both a reflection of and response to the broader patterning of race in the overall social system. In turn, every racial project attempts to reproduce, extend, subvert, or directly challenge that system” (Omi and Winant 2015:280). Modern curriculum used to navigate solely around white American culture with little regard to other races and cultures that also played a major role in the development of US history. The students would feel as if they were destined to be a non-productive member in a dominant Caucasian society by some of the things teachers would say to them, leaving them feeling discouraged, which is the desired outcome in an actively racist society. The La Raza studies program, however, provided support that the students needed in order to succeed in the gambit of life.
Previously, the dropout rate among Mexican-American students was approximately 48%, however, the program changed the retention and graduation rate to 100% (Palos and McGinnis). The studies program changed the way students think by educating them in ways that aren’t discussed in most high school curriculum, which is what the predominately Hispanic/Latino populace benefitted from: A common ground to build self-esteem by giving the group a sense of racial and ethnic meaning.
In 2010, local politicians decided to change the type of education these students were receiving. “Projects framed at the local level, for example, can end up influencing national policies and initiatives” (Omi and Winat 2015:280). When Arizona State Superintendent, Tom Horne, became informed of the Tucson Unified School district’s ethnic studies program, his immediate reaction was to ban the program due to a misconstrued fear of group solidarity that could lead to acts of sedition. Horne proposed House Bill 2281, which would legally ban the ethnic studies program. Horne’s claim is essentially the reification of the concept of racism to those of Latino/Hispanic descent. Even though the students are considered minorities, they hold the majority in terms of student population which is about sixty percent. Sadly, the bill was pushed through by Arizona Republicans, most notably by Horne’s predecessor, John Huppenthal, who fought aggressively and claimed that the teachers were molding their students minds into thinking that all the founding fathers of United States were racist bigots which set off a firestorm of accusations against the teacher’s choices of curriculum. Teachers of the La Raza program filed a lawsuit in 2010, claiming that their civil rights have been violated. Once the lawsuit reached a local judge, the case was dismissed however, the teachers did not give up. The lawsuit reached the district court where the HB 2281 was overturned by judge A. Wallace Tashima based on discrimination in August 2017, and the La Raza studies commenced once again.
All societies around the world are not only racialized but they are gendered as well, meaning that there are established socially outward symbols that define what is considered masculine or feminine, or what type of traits belong to male or female. A gendered society is a society that is bound to all association with or dependence on gender that is tied to ideas of ones’ sex. Over the past century, we can clearly see how social definitions of gender have been reinforced by institutions through the use of mass media and other social outlets in an attempt to solidify our social spheres such as personal life, employment, clothing styles, activities, as well as certain expectations as to how one is to behave which is extremely pervasive. Often times, we look at gender as being natural because we look to the world for answers.
Our daily domestic duties are even assigned a gender specific purpose. Men typically take out the trash, mow the lawn, wash the car, and fix things around the house. Women, on the other hand, are to prepare all meals, bath the children, do the laundry, and keep the house tidy. By keeping people in these roles prevents them from contributing to develop any further skills. Our lives are organized around gender as if it were an institution itself (Lorber 1994:348). Even employment tasks are gendered, with jobs such as the administrative assistant whom are almost always historically employed as a female. With recent changes in the US economic system, more women are having to leave the home and find employment because with the rising costs of living due to inflation, two incomes are required to raise a family. At the workplace, women take on the men’s role and even though women work eight hours a day, they are still expected to come home and resume prescribed domestic roles as the caretaker of the household. “It would be less problematic for women to adopt a male model of work – to finally enjoy privileges formerly reserved for men […] (Hothschild 1997:362). Women are more or less expected to adopt an unequal system of values and benefits despite laws being passed that were designed to establish some form of equality such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
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In 2010, I worked for the U-Haul Moving Company of California for about a year. During my brief tenure there, I experienced a clear definition of the social construction of gender despite company policies stating that all employees were to be treated equal. The types of training even make it seem that all employees are treated as equals. All newly hired employees must work all facets of the site to become familiar with how the business operates. After being on the job for a few months I noticed that all the newly hired females would end up indoors doing contracts, reservations, sales and handling phone calls, and the men would regularly be outdoors. “Even more importantly, however, is a social process that derives from the use of gender as a frame for coordinating behavior” (Ridgeway 2011:418) These are the types of gender stereotypes that can be found and are a perfect model of social construction of gender and their assigned roles in action.
Given I was working at U-Haul part time, I also had another part-time job doing catering to make ends meet because I was a single mother of two whom was also attending a local college during the week in the mornings while the children were at school. “To cut back on work hours means risking loosening ties to a world that, tension-filled as it is, offers insurance against even greater tension and uncertainty at home” (Hochschild 362:1997). I needed to maintain two modes of employment because job security is always threatened in low or minimum wage paying positions. I felt as if I was working non-stop. In this specific order I would: take the kids to school, go to school, go home and work on homework or projects, pick kids up and take them to the babysitters, then go to work, and come home, cook, study, get kids ready for the next day and repeat.
The minimum wage pay I was receiving didn’t change during my year at U-Haul. I experienced inequality in my duration at the well-known moving company. There was a man named, Robert, whom was employed shortly after I was and received a bonus and promotion before I did. When I found out about his raise and position promotion, I felt indifferent especially considering how our superior was treating me. “Consequently, coordination on the basis of our shared gender beliefs creates social relations of inequality as well as difference” (Ridgeway 2011:416). I was not given a pay raise or promotion, rather I was overworked. My boss also had the audacity to shave hours off my timecard which reinforces the notion of inequality. Needless to say, I filed a lawsuit against my former employer, U-Haul, and won a settlement in October of 2010 on the basis of discrimination, wrongful termination, and fraudulent timecard manipulation. Just because certain laws are set in place to protect individual’s rights doesn’t mean that they are enforced unless someone blows the whistle to call for equality and justice.
- Palos, Ari Luis, and Eren Isabel McGinnis. “Precious Knowledge.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/precious-knowledge/. Accessed 16 April 2018.
- Quintana, Jhem. “All We’ve Learned Is White History: Mexican-American Studies in Tucson, AZ.” FEM, 21 Aug. 2107, femmagazine.com/all-weve-learned-is-white-history-mexican-american-studies-in-tucson-az/. Accessed 16 April 2018.