By Kameryn Gill
The issue of inequality in America has plagued American society since as early as United States history can date back. Many American citizens have strived for equal opportunity of all races for quite some time. America is supposed to be the “land of free”, but is this statement actually truthful? Are we all really free? Many will debate that equality has been achieved, that we are all given the same opportunities as American citizens, but others believe that not all Americans are treated justly.
Although the roots of the macro-level problem of civil rights dates back to the 19th century, the movement was first brought to light in the late-1940s by African Americans in the deep south of the United States, in an effort to end racial discrimination and gain equal rights under the law. It all started on July 26, 1948 when President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order to end segregation in the Armed Services. Six years later, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for open segregation to occur in public schools. Countless incidents including the murder of Emmett Till in November of 1955 and the arrest of Rosa Parks in the same year gave fuel for wishers of peace to keep pushing. The desegregation of schools was a very slow process, and during one of the first attempts to comply with the Brown decision, nine black students were denied entrance into Central High School located in Little Rock Arkansas. This resulted in President Dwight D. Eisenhower sending in federal troops to protect the black students. (“Civil Rights Movement,” 2017)
These incidents and countless others were catalyst for the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma to Montgomery March, the March on Washington, and an innumerous amount of other nonviolent protests. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, given on August 28, 1963, was a highlight of the successful protest. As he referenced America’s Founding Fathers and the Bible, he characterized the struggle of African Americans. Then closed with an eloquent sermon of his dreams of equality for all. Though the task seemed daunting at times, with peaceful protests, the movement resulted in laws to protect every American’s constitutional rights no matter the color of their skin, race, gender, and/or national origin. (“Civil Rights Movement,” 2017)
Sociologists C. Write Mills defined sociological imagination as “The awareness of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society.” Prejudice and discrimination in America is not just a personal problem for the people who are affected by it every day. The justice system in America is organized to methodically persecute black people. African Americans make up less than 15 percent of the United States population, but comprise 35 percent of people incarcerated. Data shows that blacks are imprisoned 5 times more than white people and African American women are incarcerated twice as much than white women. Although African Americans and whites use drugs at very similar rates, the imprisonment rate of blacks for drug related charges is about 6 times that of whites. (Criminal Justice Fact,” 2017) Before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed in 2010 the sentencing between offenses for crack verses powder cocaine was 100 times larger. The majority of people arrested for crack possession are African American, which meant they were serving virtually as much time in prison for non-violent drug offenses as whites did for violent crimes. (“Fair Sentencing,” 2016)
Social forces that inhibit the issue of inequality in America involve the government’s role in oppressing black people. As I previously stated, the mass incarceration of black people has made it difficult for blacks to be seen as anything but thugs and criminals. Also, the stereotypes that African Americans have been plagued with such as being ghetto, dumb, or angry just to name a few have made it difficult for blacks to be taken seriously in the work force or in everyday life. Lastly, residential segregation is another social force that adds to the inequality we see today. The black-white achievement gap persists mainly because the poorest people are concentrated in racially homogenous schools and their education is hindered by out-of-school challenges. (Rothstein, 2017) Most schools in black neighborhoods are not well-resourced, which means students are not getting the best education possible, leading to less students furthering their education, so many African Americans stay financially stagnant. This cycle continues for generations.
I think this social issue could be solved by using the structural-functional theory. The structural-functional theory sees society as a complex system of moving parts that all work cohesively to promote stability. (“Structural-Function Theory,” 2014) If the justice system would fairly convict African-Americans the same way they convict white Americans, this could solve the problem of mass incarceration. Also, improving the education in low-income, predominately black school districts, could give the younger generation of black people an opportunity to create a better living for themselves; ending the recurring cycle of residential segregation. Changing the mindset of prejudice Americans would be more of a challenge, but I think if my generation specifically teaches their children to be more excepting of people that do not look like them, we could end the stigma of inequality. It is easier said than done, but if conscious effort is made change can happen.
All in all, the macro level issue of inequality in America is a touchy and uncomfortable one that will not be changed in the blink of an eye. Our terrible history of racism and injustice has kept us as a nation from moving forward. If the government makes an effort to treat African Americans justly and we change the way we perceive African Americans than actual change can occur.