BU CAS SO 100 - The Inequality of Opportunity In America

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The Inequality of Opportunity In AmericaWritten by: Stephanie Anne KubotaBoston UniversityPrinciples of Sociology (CAS SO100)Professor Julian GoMarch 27, 2014Word Count: 12021President Obama’s second Inaugural Address used soaring language to reaffirmAmerica’s commitment to the dream of equal opportunity. However, according to theobservations of sociologists Lane Kentworthy, William Wilson, and Loic Wacquant, thedisparity between aspiration and reality could not be any larger. Despite the proliferationof jobs created during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s and the affirmative actionimplemented after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, the wealth gap betweenwhites and African Americans has expanded over time. Today, the United States has lessequality of opportunity than any other developed nation in the world (Kentworthy 2012).Under the legacy of the historically silenced racial discrimination, a new hegemony ofnegative stereotyping has come about in the form of class bias (Conley 2013: 362). Thus,the adage, “If you work hard enough in America, you can be anything you want to be” isevidently false. The inequality of opportunity has increased through racial history andclass discrimination. This is demonstrated in education, employment, and criminality inblack citizens. The lack or poor quality of education is one of the biggest factors that hindersuccess. Minority and lower-class students are disproportionately enrolled in the weakestpublic schools. These are institutions that do not have the means to purchase updatedtextbooks, hire the best teachers, and offer enriching extracurricular programs. Childrenof minority and lower class are the subjects of less favorable teacher expectations,whereas white and wealthy students are the beneficiaries of the cultural capitalaccumulated from their mere socioeconomic standing (Conley 2013: 521). EconomistJames Heckman claims the gap in cognitive skills between children from poor and2affluent homes is already present by the time they enter kindergarten; Sean Reardon ofStanford University’s School of Education found that this gap continues in the averagetest scores between elementary and secondary school students (Kentworthy 2012). In addition, children from affluent families are given educational opportunitiesduring summer vacations that supplement the academic school year. Unlike children whogrow up in single-parent households, higher-income and more educated parents couldafford extra tutoring, enforce study habits, and be better abled to help with homework forstudents who are lagging behind. But income alone cannot justify the entire achievementgap; theory suggests African American students hesitate to excel in school because oftheir fear of being accused of “acting white.” Years of oppression and questions aboutinnate intelligence have led blacks to doubt their own intellectual abilities, and tend toassociate learning and school with being white (Conley 2013: 525). In a society thataspires for equal opportunity, every American should have the same 20 percent chance oflanding within the five levels of the income ladder. Nonetheless, intergenerationalmobility research shows that there is a 30 percent chance of upward mobility inadulthood for a child born into a family that falls under the bottom percentile, comparedto the 80 percent his counterpart would have from the top (Kentworthy 2012). Subsequently, opportunities for employment may also lead to upward mobility.Nonwhites, especially African Americans, lag behind on a number of social outcomessuch as income and corporate attainment. Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployedand are half as likely as whites to hold a professional or managerial job (Conley 2103:363). On the one hand, there is a growing low-wage sector populated by poorly trained3and educationally limited African Americans; and on the other hand, there is an increasein talented and educated blacks experiencing exceptional job opportunities comparable tothose of whites with equivalent qualifications (Wilson 1980). These two opposingdevelopments support the fact that the discrimination against race has shifted towards theeconomic subordination for the black underclass. Herein, it becomes evident that theblack underclass is falling further behind the middle and upper brackets within thedeveloping community. Although one third of the entire black population is in the underclass, under-represented whites, Latinos, and Native Americans could also play victims of classdiscrimination in the capitalistic American society (Wilson 1980). This disregard of otherminorities demonstrates the historical disadvantage of the negative stereotypes towardsthe black underclass and the way this disadvantage has accrued over time. Thus to saythat race is no longer significant – implying that the opportunities of blacks have less todo with their physical appearance than with their economic class affiliation – ispresumptuous. In fact, Devah Pager’s study of “The Mark of a Criminal Record”discovered that not only is a criminal record more pronounced for blacks than it is forwhites, but also that whites with criminal records have a 3 percent higher likelihood ofgetting hired than blacks without criminal records (Pager 2003). Thus, Wilson argues thatthat the occupational climb of the black middle and upper class could only be temporarygains; industries could return to their old racial practices when the economy experiencesprolonged recession or the government presents less pressure from affirmative action(Wilson 1980).4Lastly, the association between the black underclass and criminality adds to theirdisadvantages to climb up the socioeconomic ladder. Although the ethnic patterns ofcriminal activity have not fundamentally changed in the past four decades, LoicWacqant’s study on racial inequality and imprisonment in contemporary America foundthat there has been a rise in incarceration rate for African Americans over time. Byhistorically affiliating the ghettos as a home for the “poor, mentally ill, homeless, jobless,and useless” thereby essentially makes black neighborhoods a pseudo prison. Herein, it ispredicted that one


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BU CAS SO 100 - The Inequality of Opportunity In America

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