Written by Erika Fusco
Growing up in the US, we all know how influential our peers can be. In elementary school your friends start wearing Limited Too so you beg your mom to go into Limited Too with you (even though you were fine wearing Old Navy). In middle school you can finally fit into an amazing hand-me-down dress your sister gave you for the dance, but everyone is going shopping and wonder why you would ever want to wear a hand-me-down. Finally, in high school your chillin’ taking the bus to school then all of the sudden everyone starts driving and you’re the freak riding the bus.
These events in and of themselves of very minor, but when they happen every day they begin to shape who we are. What happens when we don’t fit into the “norm” what if we feel different from all the other girls, we can’t afford to have all the clothes that the popular kids do, or we can’t wear the same makeup as some of the other girls? What do we do then? That’s when we get called a tomboy, or told were poor, or that we’re too dark. Our societal norms affect kids and adults, they create a hierarchy for what we think people should be and make it easy to categorize people as male or female, rich or poor, and black or white.
Dichotomized categories remove the individuality of us and make it very easy for others to make flash judgments and open the door for oppression. The irony of these groups that we like to live our life by is that they are entirely made up. Race, for example, is an entirely made up idea that cannot be traced through ancestry. This is because the idea of race in America was only created a couple hundred years ago. When slaves were brought to this land they did not identify with each other as being “black”; they all came from different ethnic backgrounds and these are what they identified as. The terms black and white were subtle ways for early Americans to oppress African Americans. This oppression is still alive today and not just in the black community; it happens to Asians, Hispanics and other minority groups as well. Basically, the oppression felt by black people and other “racial” groups in this country all stems from a made up system created by our forefathers. Gender is another made up societal categorization that stems from the industrial revolution when men began working outside of the home. This is when women became “homemakers” and gender roles were put into place. Likewise, class stratification is a created by a combination of our schemas for different racial groups and gender norms. I think it’s about time we let go of these categories because all they do is lock our society in the past.
A person is defined by the infinite number of social classes that we as a society like to place them in; some of the most apparent groupings are race, gender, and class. All of these categories are intertwined in creating our schema of a particular person. A black woman is not just seen as black. She is seen as a woman, who based on her race many will assume is poor. Alternatively, if a white person is seen they are automatically assumed to be wealthy. This generally goes for white women and men, however there are other categories a successful white woman is placed in such as a gold-digger, or a bitch. Our society is so rooted in these groupings that the institutions that run our government only lay in favor to help white men. Often times if a court ruling comes down to the word of a white man or a black woman the jury will side with the white man. We are starting to see a flare up of powerful women of all skin tones in the media. Shows such as Scandal, Game of Thrones, and Mindy Project are positive depictions of powerful black, white, and Indian women in TV shows. This spark of powerful role models is an amazing beginning to eliminating some of the negative stereotypes that come with gender, race, and class but there are still many strides to be taken until we reach equality.