Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Status and Equality in the U.S.

In American Culture Patterns, authors Stewart and Bennett argue that "most Americans see themselves as members of an egalitarian middle class" and everyone is presumed to have "equality of opportunity" although "not everyone is presumed to be of equal talent and ability." Of course this is why some people are so in love with the U.S., and of course this isn't true. Most people in the U.S. think they are part of the middle class, even if they are far more privileged. And most people think of their money as completely self-earned, even if they were born into an already wealthy family. Both of these show the value of "equality" in the U.S.. The authors contrast this with other countries, such as Germany, Great Britain, and Japan, in which social status can allow or deny a person the ability to wield more influence. But since when do wealthy Americans not get to "wield more influence" than poorer Americans? The U.S. emphasis on equality is extremely superficial because when people think about their peers, they are probably thinking about the people that live in their neighborhood and travel the same social circles. So this emphasis on equality really only masks the inequalities that exist.

In Mexico, people tend to be more aware of their social status. Poor people know they are poor and are more likely to talk to you about it, even if they know you of from a wealthier class. The Spanish language also perpetuates inequality between classes. Their are two different forms of "you," and which one is used can often depend on whether or not you are speaking to someone of a different class than yourself. For example, the owner of a house would never refer to their cleaning person with the more respectful and distant "Usted," but the cleaning person would be expected to use that when they were talking with the homeowner. Therefore, in an interactions between these two people, they are both aware of their respective classes.
So I am wondering which is a better way to look at class differences. In U.S. we tend to ignore class differences, while in many other cultures, they are much more prominent. But to what extent does hiding class differences ignore structural problems and possible solutions? And to what extent does openly talking about class perpetuate class differences and stereotypes?