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Book Review:

Race, Class, and Gender in the United States

Leigh Anne Haygood

August 10, 2010

Liberty University

HSER 509

Dr. Nicole Cross


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Rothenberg, P. (2010), Race, Class, and Gender in the United States. New York: Worth
Publishers.

Abstract

Rothenberg paints an oppressive picture for women, the financially oppressed and minority

members of society. The author presents compelling essays of race, gender and class which

examine the social construct of each issue. Race has been defined as the primary determinant of

human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a

particular race. This has produced the view that Euro-Americans’ social, cultural, and economic

advantaged position must be maintained at the expense of others as the normal life. The

influential power of race, gender and class are explained and illustrated through the collection of

essays. The dynamics of power are divided based on different social classifications.
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Concrete Responses

The essays included present a compelling but biased study within the context of class,

race and gender. History shows racism has been clearly practiced in the past; however much has

been done to correct the unbridgeable and immutable differences in race, gender and class status

in the United States. Rothenberg emphasizes, in the collection of essays, past views of Euro-

Americans’ superiority in intelligence and abilities over darker skinned races. Throughout the

history of the United States, discrimination against race and gender has been documented thus

creating various classes according to race and gender. Racism has been defined as “a belief that

race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce

an inherent superiority of a particular race” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). While

discrimination is described as being “the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect

are responded to differently” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). Discrimination

encompasses a much larger circumference than racism.

People v. Hall, 1854, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857, and Bradwell v. Illinois, 1873 created

a class difference in the ruling of each case between Euro-American males, Indians, Negroes,

Chinese and women (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 495).

Skin color differences have been thought to explain intellectual, physical and artistic

differences, thus justifying varying treatment between racially different individuals (Rothenberg,

2010, p. 17). A person of property was considered of superior intelligence and character

(Rothenberg, 2010, p. 8). The claim that race is a social construction takes issue with the once

popular belief that people were born into different races with innate, biologically based
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differences in intellect, temperament, and character (Rothenberg, 2010, p.10). Michael Omi and

Howard Winant maintain that “Race is more a political categorization that a biological or

scientific category” (Rothenberg, 2010, p.10). Racial distinctions can be correlated with

economic and political changes in the society of the United States.

In California, 1854, the state Supreme Court ruled in the case, People v. Hall that

Chinese Americans should be barred from testifying against whites as Indians and Negroes had

previously been barred with a California statue. The judges “marked [Chinese-Americans] as

inferior, and ...are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point”

(Rothenberg, 2010, p. 495). Orientals and Hispanics were regarded to be naturally suited to

perform brutal, sometimes crippling, farm labor which whites were physically unsuited to

perform. In 1857, the United States Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford stated that

“Negroes were never considered a part of the people of the United States (Rothenberg, 2010,

495).

Gender refers to the particular set of socially constructed meanings associated with each

sex (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). Men and women have been portrayed as polar

opposites with different abilities. The notion of difference itself is constructed and suggests that

the claim that women and men are naturally and profoundly different reflects a political and

social decision rather than a distinction given in nature. In 1873, the Supreme Court ruled in

Bradwell v. Illinois that women could not practice law and added further degradation arguing

“that women belong in the “domestic sphere”” (Rothenberg, 2010, 495). Every society has

different options on what constitutes a woman’s gender role verses a man’s role. While Roe v.

Wade, 1973, is considered a significant stride forward in women’s rights, the after effects of the

abortion rights given have for open debate on the benefits this case has brought to the women’s
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movement. Spiritually, man and wife should be as one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and a helpmate to

each other (Genesis 2:18), not in competition with each other for power.

In the past, attitudes against races and gender other than Euro-American males have

restricted the right to vote, own property, and even extended to the forced evacuation of

Japanese-Americans into relocation camps. Clearly, discrimination has existed in this country;

however, “the twentieth century has seen the growth of large and diverse movements for race

and gender justice” (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 497). However, Rothenberg’s emphasis on race and

gender portray differences as unbridgeable and immutable, regardless of any social programs or

education.

Reflection

Rothenberg’s collection of essays is informative of historical discrimination and the

opinions of a number of authors; however, there are two sides to every story. Rothenberg has

presented only one side of the race, class, and gender issues in an angry fashion. All evil has not

been created by Euro-Americans. Pem Davidson Buck states that northern Whites looked down

their noses at the Irish in the same manner they looked at free Blacks (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 35).

This created a “psychological wage” (Buck as quoted by Rothenberg, 2010, p. 35), instead of

monetary gain, such as the employee of the month or assigned parking places (Rothenberg, 2010,

p. 35). Calvinism taught being poor was a punishment from God while success was a sign of

being righteous with God. This further created differences in class among the American society,

including discrimination of women, people of color, and homophobia. Differences between rich

and poor, white and black, men and women are socially constructed as innate differences among

people. Then they are used to rationalize or justify the unequal distribution of wealth and power

that results from economic decisions made to perpetuate privilege. The status of various
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occupations and class positions they imply often changes depending on whether the occupation

is predominately female or male.

This particular discrimination also led to more domestication of women. Status began to

be calculated if a woman could “stay home” (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 36). If a woman was forced

into the labor force, the family didn’t meet the cultural requirements for white privilege

(Rothenberg, 2010, p. 36). The categories of gender, race and class reflect culturally constructed

differences that maintain the prevailing distribution of power and privilege in a society.

Constructed differences are altered in relation to social, political and economic changes.

The argument seems to fluxuate between racism and culturism. If cultural status is lost

due to a woman working, that has very little to do with to which race she belongs. As stated in

Buck’s essay (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 36), native men redefined themselves by” their class position

as skilled mechanics working for better wages under better conditions” (p. 36) due to the

ownership of their trade tools and their hard work ethic (Rothenberg, 2010, p. 36). Again this is

cultural rather than racial. Any craftsmen, no matter what color his skin, can buy the tools of his

trade to better his position. Rothenberg tends to be angry at this country’s struggles against

racism, class and gender. She has collected many angry essays to support her racial and feminist

opinions but has not shown more than a minimal reference to how far this country has progressed

for all races and genders to be “We the People of the United States” (U.S. Constitution, 1776)

forming a more perfect Union under God.

Action

This book has given me much food for thought. During the reading of this book, I have

been more consciously aware of the different races and cultures in my workplace. While I don’t

agree with Rothenberg’s apparent view that racial and gender discrimination continues in our
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society today as it has throughout our country’s history, I do see a tendency towards a reverse

discrimination. Since my husband joined corporate America almost two years ago, I’ve watched

him miss promotions, even though he is very productive and conscientious in his work, so that a

minority, usually a woman, could have the position, even though her employee record is full of

criticism of her work ethic. White males continue to be punished today for the actions and

attitudes of their forefathers even though most do not hold those same discriminatory beliefs.

While I am not unconscious of race, I do not identify an individual as part of a particular

race in my first impression or description of them. As I have illustrated with my students, no two

people whether light or dark skinned are the same color. The biggest wish I have for my

students is for them to be able to unzip their skin so that color is not visible to each other at all.

As future medical assistants, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians and nursing assistants,

these students need to see past race, gender and even class. As a teacher, I strive not to make

decisions based on race or gender. Class is not an issue for me in the class room since all

students dress in scrubs according to school dress code.

Lao Tzu said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and

you feed him for a lifetime”(n.d.). I am a firm believer that regardless of race, gender or class

that our country was founded to give everyone an equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty and

happiness with hard work and education. If I can give my students a sense of work ethic along

with the academic and technical skills they need, I will have given them the tools to succeed

financially and in their chosen professions.


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References

discrimination. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination

gender. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender

Lao Tzu. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from BrainyQuote.com Web site:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/laotzu121559.html

Mount, Steve. (2001)"The Constitution of the United States," Preamble. USConstitution.net.

U.S. Constitution online. Retrieved August 12, 2010 from

http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html

racism. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved August 8, 2010, from

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism

Rothenberg, P. (2010), Race, Class, and Gender in the United States. New York: Worth

Publishers.