Reflecting on the Legacies of Social Inequality

Prompted by a weekly discussion question in a sociology class at Washington State University by Professor Caleb Cooley.

1. The lives of social institutions and other social things are often much longer than our own human lives. This week, reflect on how the legacies of social inequality based on race and ethnicity have impacted your life. What social things related to racial inequality have we inherited from the past? How does the history of racial inequality in the United States affect the present (and your experience of it)?

This is a difficult thing to speak of because of the perceived whiteness of this skin color and super-bright-white blond hair which basically renders mute any story I have to share regarding my family, as it is not in the common narrative. I have a large Native Mexican heritage in my family, and this, the family is very specific in rejecting association with Spanish ancestry. These people escaped their situation in Mexico generations ago, and ended up in the Northeast. I remember meeting some of this family, and they had about six or seven people living in about maybe 600 square feet. We lived so differently, my father worked at IBM, he was hired because he worked at General Dynamics in the submarine yards in New London, and before that he worked directly with sonar, which still was very secret aspect of military strategies during the late stages of the Cold War. 

My mother worked in retail, and she never really shared much about the pressures she faced, yet one of the stories she shared was that my great-grandmother refused to teach any children Spanish, nor any grandchild. She wanted assimilation, as they also lived in an Italian neighborhood. My uncles became very tough, really adopting the masculine stereotypes, and my aunt fell out of general society, the eldest, while working also in retail. Much later, in high school, I had always wondered why my mother never went for district manager roles, though everyone liked her and corporate spoke highly of her abilities. I think the implicit bias held so strong, and it impacted me too. I felt what my mother felt, that we could be taken advantage of. My sisters both look “token” Hispanic, and people think I’m adopted. Now throw gay in there, and it’s a mess, our entire family has struggled tremendously, my own father did experience reverse discrimination at IBM, there was a potential lawsuit, his boss lost his job as a result of unearthing emails, and documentation of exchanges that proved it. It’s as if I live in an alternate universe of such a tiny slice of odds, that it’s hard to believe.

Serving in the U.S. Military, in the Army, where it was said, “we’re all green”, really helped, yet I was oblivious to much, and saw some hints of discriminative behavior even there, but I was shielded from the general discriminative behavior world wide. The Army really tries hard here, as we have to be a unit. Regarding coming out of the military, I was again shielded in Intelligence, the field seemed to pull from every ethnicity to get good people, though it was largely ethnocentric in hindsight. Moving to DC, living in the martial arts dojo, I was exposed to so many cultures, so many ethnicities, and races, it was so comforting and great. That said, I saw the effects of this, I heard stories of riots, I met professors from Howard, American University, Georgetown, and GW that had their takes, and professors from around the world. I saw the wave of Nigerians come, and work the low-paid jobs, and then waves of people come in from the Middle East, one was even a Forestry Director for the government of Pakistan, yet he was driving an Uber. 

Regarding inequality, I feel what I wrote in the essay submitted — this whole side effect of uneven distributions in resources about the globe, and distributions of peoples, weather patterns, ideas leading to inventions, or ideas leading to insight and meditation, and then weapons… I can’t say it isn’t or is fair. That said, I think the founders of Democracy were operating in an environment of real suppression and trying to move the needle forward, but only so far as they’d be allowed to move that needle by prevailing society. To this truth, I’ve met a close friend through the dojo that is black, and he wants that to be heard, and he teaches law, but even in his own community he is branded a “sellout” for thinking that the founders tried to work within a segregative system, and were just as much part of it as others.

Lastly, I think, and this is the real issue — I think it might be possible, and this is a matter of national security, that there might not be enough resources to take care of so many. It’s not in the food production, it’s in the transportation, the logistics, and knowledge about really truly what it takes to make for a happy self-actualized human. What if happiness is living on a block with a house, with trees, plants, and a garden. What if happiness turned out to require free time? What if there really truly, honestly, wasn’t enough work to go around? Then what? What’s government to do?

This is a terrifying thought, though a thought I bet sociologists must deal with, square in the face of. What do you do? Wait and hold out, praying that the next generation will figure it out, and that thousands of years of bandages to stop the bleeding occasionally can finally be taken off with minimal pain? This is tough, really, truly, absolutely tough. The biggest problem I think is… we were born into a world unequal in resource distribution… how do we set the glidepath to equality, in the most fair, and equitable way knowing that there might not be enough? Besides, if a billionaire, whose majority of wealth is in investments were suddenly to take 100 billion out of the markets, that would crater the market, and all the retirements funds would fall, most likely triggering… well, we’ve seen panics before.

The system isn’t working, it truly isn’t, yet somehow, I’m surprised perhaps, that we’ve made it this far. Congratulations is in order, and please do, share gains with others, and no, I don’t mean loans. That’s not sharing, that’s expecting more in return for what is given — and that therein might, just might be a root of many problems.

Roy Æ Hodges