Posted: November 7th, 2023
A Reflection on Class, Gender and Racism
A Reflection on Class, Gender and Racism
Themes of race, gender, religion and ethnicity are deeply etched in the descriptions and definitions of the Black and female experience. The works of Charlotte Perkins, Ursula LeGuin and W.E.B. Du Bois offer a Marxist lens in exposing the dark truths of the capitalistic society, investigating class differences and highlighting how the socioeconomic system is at the core of society. While the authors adopt different strategies in documenting the Negro and feminist experience, they all illustrate how social conventions were once responsible for our understanding of race and gender relations. But a close analysis of the interplay between racism, sexism, and capitalism highlights the importance of each factor’s causal role on the other. Humans are political and social beings living in a world where economic factors shape sex and class, meaning we establish the society in which oppression occurs. While the authors’ articles focus on the relationship between class, race and capitalism, they highlight the difference between exploitation and oppression by showing that race, gender, class and sexuality are social constructs used as tools for capitalist control over the labouring population.
Gender denies women particular life opportunities and forms their basis for social conflict. Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of men and women, including norms, behaviours, and associated roles. Each of these characteristics attached to men and women affects how people live their lives depending on their assigned gender. There is no scientific basis that women are incapable of doing certain roles typically associated with being a man. Nevertheless, despite the lack of any scientific backing. Most societies have gender roles that prescribe female roles and male roles. For instance, in the Yellow paper, Stetson observes that John’s sister is “a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper and hoes for no better profession” (Gilman, 2009). This thinking shows that although gender is a social construct, it manifests itself in real ways. It often produces inequalities that intersect with other social and economic inequalities. Men pursue careers in STEM fields while women are constrained by patriarchy to do unpaid domestic work. The differences in occupation underpin how gender manifests in the real world.
Race is a concept used to justify oppressive conditions that disenfranchise Blacks and women from political leadership and financial gain. Du Bois (1903) laments the lack of Black leadership in Washington despite the emergence of highly educated and articulate African Americans. Washington continuously adopts policies and laws that prevent African Americans from running as candidates or voting to prevent potential resistance from the Black community. A growing list of evidence shows how voter requirements disproportionately affect minority communities or persons of colour. In the 21st-century, poor racial or ethnic representation in Congress implies an inability to influence the direction national politics take. Therefore, disenfranchised communities have little say over their living conditions. The approach by the status quo is irrational because there is no scientific evidence that highlights Black people should not hold political office. Race control via the political system is discriminatory because Whites, Blacks, Asians etc., all have the same physiological features and capabilities.
Class is a construct used to vindicate consumerism and how it favours a capitalist system. The consumerist culture is the backbone of the subtle oppression faced by minorities throughout America’s history. The city of Omelas defines a Utopian society where millions are kept happy permanently on the simple premise that several lost souls living on the edge of society lead a life of isolation and torture (2015). LeGuin’s works reflect on the idea of a perfect society where the philosophy of utilitarianism is defined as the greatest happiness. For instance, success in today’s society is defined by property ownership. Yet, there is little consideration of the consequences of consumption. An example is child labour in apparel warehouses. There is no moral justification for why the poor should labour and toil in harsh conditions to create luxury items for the rich. Moreover, there is no moral justification for why the rich should not serve the poor. Class is a subtle social justification for human atrocities associated with consumerism.
Sexual orientation is a social invention that an individual might or might not choose to associate with. The class readings outline that sexuality occurs along a continuum, and at its core is the exploration of individual identities. Sexuality is not just a pleasure task because it also offers a clue to a person’s personality. Repressing a person’s identity is associated with adverse mental and physical consequences. In Gilman’s story, the narrator is oppressed to a point where she is completely insane, experiencing hallucinations, paranoia and delusions because of her forced isolation (Gilman, 2009). The protagonist’s state of madness is indicative of the real-world power of compulsory marriage. Gilman is angry over the dominance of men in a society and how they structured heterosexuality as the only acceptable sexual orientation. Sexuality should be a journey of sweeping structural inequalities that prevent people from crafting relationships and identities that make them live more fully.
Lessons derived from class highlight the historical uniqueness of the social constructs behind race, class, gender and sex. The readings also outline how human interactions reinforce the constructs, reaching a point where it is the constructs that define society. Race, gender, class and sex are tools for capitalist control of the minority labour population. The objective of the constructs is to enable the continuity of the status quo. What is required to counter gender and racial inequalities is a unification of intelligence and the establishment of empathy across all skin colours. Intelligence is achieved through mass education. A highly educated society is key to sustainable change, helping address 21st-century consumerism. Bringing down key capitalist structures will play a crucial role in dismantling the institutions and practices that reinforce the traditional social constructs.
Gilman, C. P. (2009). The yellow wallpaper. The Floating Press.
LeGuin, U. K. (2015). The ones who walk away from Omelas. From the Wind’s Twelve Quarters. Orion Publishers.
W.E.B. Du Bois. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford University Press.
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