In class, we discussed the idea that inequality is integrated into every part of modern society in some way, such that it cannot be easily identified or extinguished. The analogy was that when ordering a burger at a restaurant, they do not necessarily ask how you would like it cooked (rare/ medium/ well done) due to the fact that the bacteria is ground into the meat at every level, and the only way to ensure it is killed, is to cook it thoroughly. This analogy was applied to the structural inequality and institutional racism currently in place against minorities.
Structural inequalities are biases built into the structure of a society’s social institution, and are continually reinforced by social norms. For example, African American males live, on average, five years less than their Caucasian counterparts. Although this trend spans social economic statuses (SES) and education levels, it can be partially explained by a cycle of poverty and pathology present in lower SES groups. Low income, poor education, unsteady and labor intensive jobs all typify the lowest SES class, those living below the poverty line. These folks, therefore, are more likely to live in a poorer community, typically in closer quarters with other minority groups. In turn, this leads to lower levels of physical activity (as the streets are unsafe), higher stress (due to higher crime rates), and poor education (as the schools are filled with minority students). All the factors coincide and together create a perfect storm that not only keeps these people below the poverty line, but also affects their health drastically.
To this day, there is a worsening state of health for African Americans. They continually have higher rates of morbidity, indicating that they tend to have more health problems earlier, deteriorate quicker, and ultimately die younger. A recent 2008 study showed that education is predictive of the onset of illness and disease, while income is predictive of the progression of conditions. Therefore, those with lower incomes and lower levels of education tend to not only get sick more often, but the sickness progressed much faster. Together with the fact that across all SES levels, African Americans earn less, have less wealth, and less political power than their white counterparts, this indicates the effects of institutional racism built into our society.
So what do we do with this information? That’s the present struggle. These aforementioned factors are intertwined into the fabric of our social institutions such as a meat grinder distributes the bacteria through hamburger beef. However, we cannot sterilize them as we would with the bacteria. Although there are some indications of progress, President Obama for example, the continuing pattern indicates the underlying racism and inequalities in the organization of our society remain ever present problem that must be addressed.