Concept of Human Social Stratification:
When we embark upon the study of social stratification, we are not requiring the reader to dabble into the intricate problems relating to classes and class-war as Karl Marx would have envisaged it; the sociologist is concerned merely with the fact that inequality exists in every society and that certain other factors necessarily present themselves for consideration in the context of such inequality.
It is not being denied that there are certain societies in the world today in which the principle of equality of men is being sought to be applied with scrupulous care, and also that there are certain other ‘socialistic’ societies like ours which hint at building an egalitarian society without necessarily reducing the distriction between man and man to a nullity.
Ever since Rousseau inspired human thought with his ‘social contract’, the concept of establishing human society upon the general will of the people gained importance and Marx’s thoughts were, perhaps, a necessary advance upon such lines of thinking. Socialist thinkers observed that the reasons behind the distinctions between man and man lay in factors like power, status, economics and ethnic or racial differences.
Political thinkers stressed the need for changing the political machinery in the state so that with the introduction of democratic ideals all necessary evils of inequality would disappear. The Athenian principles of direct democracy are perhaps applicable now to countries like Switzerland, but particularly under the influence of great English thinkers like Cromwell, Burke, Dicey and others, the institution of indirect democracy has been established in a good many countries of the world.
It has always been maintained by political thinkers that the ills of society lay in the political system and, once these weeds are removed from the stream of society, the flow of life would be natural and spontaneous; in fact, according to them, all economic ills and disparities were expected to be removed once the citizen asserted his right of ‘no taxation without representation’.
In our country, we have our Constitution adopted after Independence for upholding democratic principles, and the different Articles promised to the citizens seek to establish equality among them. Several specific provisions have been made to -ensure that all public offices be thrown open to all citizens and that all public places like temples, parks, restaurants, tanks and washing places shall be open to all citizens irrespective of their caste, colour, creed or religion.
Article 14 of the Constitution promises equality of all citizens before the law and prohibits discrimination; and different provisions have been made for the protection of citizens coming from backward communities or from minority communities and, on the one hand, measures are to be taken for their upliftment and, on the other, their exploitation is to be effectively stopped.
In our country, we are deeply concerned with the development of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and the laws and the policies adopted by the different Governments in the past three decades express this concern. In the United States, the Americans are deeply distressed over the ‘negro question’, and not all enlightened Americans are against the policy of integration of the two races. All these are a sinter to the fact that there are certain built-in classes in societies; and even if we take a Utopian society as an example in which the elements are homogenous and classes are non-existent, in such a society too one would notice differences, at least, (hose differences that are based on individual functions.
Perfect and idealistic equality among man is not feasible; nature-based differences exist everywhere. In India, the present administrative set-up ensures only one type if equality, and it is that of opportunity. Citizens will all be given the opportunity to make their advancement in life, but the rest will depend upon their respective merits.
Even in Communist countries, which do not believe in economic classes and their differences, some distinction is maintained between the respective functions of [man; and the sociologist does not consider that even such societies are classless. Material and financial interests are not the only factor causing a distinction between the classes.
In the olden times, superiority of man over man was determined by the sheer test of brute force, and he was the true leader of the tribe who could destroy a large number of adversaries. Later, when religious beliefs dominated the human mind, religious leaders applied sanctity to birth in esteemed families and feudalism became the order of the day. Hence forth, economic factors have remained at the base of class distinctions with the only difference that, in modern times, the determining factor for social superiority has changed from the concept of high birth to the actual capability of acquisition of wealth.
The truth is that modern society allows more of mobility to its members and the highest rung in the ladder is not reserved for hereditary institutions but for industry and the application of one’s own skill. In Marxist terminology, in the truest sense of the word today the upper class is constituted by the bourgeoisie, the middle class people of the yester years.
Today’s aristocracy is neither the royalty nor the nobility; it is the common man’s aristocracy that has reared its head everywhere, and the measuring rod for determining superiority is the acquisition of industrialized wealth. In capitalist countries, power is concentrated in the hands of the industrialist to such an extent that he is in a position to control the political machinery of the state.
Sociologists like Kingsley Davis are of the view that society must of necessity be based on occupational differences. Human occupations cannot be of the same nature and cannot exact the same degree of skill in each case. Besides that, even for any given activity, the display of skill by different individuals engaged in it cannot be uniform.
Hence, an automatic principle of division applies and the more competent is earmarked for the jobs that require a higher degree of skill, while the less competent find themselves grouped in very ordinary or even menial activities.
Certain types of professions require a very long training period and, when the training is over, quite naturally the persons engaged in such professions earn higher rewards than the persons who apply their skill to untrained activities. Besides that, today the emphasis is more upon the intellectual skill, rather than on the physical one; and, therefore, a manual labourer tends to earn less than the one who has to exercise his brain faculties in order to earn his living.
Some men engage in occupations that associate a high degree of risks with this jobs and, necessarily, their returns from society are higher and their prestige loftier. All this goes to show that even occupation wise there would be differences between man and man, although we concede that today’s occupations are closely related to economic factors; and economic differences must result from occupational differences.
According to McIver, these differences are healthy for society in the sense that if all were uniform in their thoughts and activities, there would have been no scope for any development in knowledge, whether scientific, philosophical, literary or cultural.
Individuals differ from each other, physically and mentally, and there are differences based on age groups and sex groups; but these differences do not account for stratification. When groups of individuals are placed in a class that has not been outlined by nature, social differences would arise between them. Thus, if individuals are classed as men and women, tall and short, fair and dark, and intelligent and I mundane, no social differences are made between them.
Social differences arise when they are placed in different classes in such a way, that, the very fact of belonging to a class will determine the nature of the rank they occupy in society and the power they can wield from their respective positions. This is the very basis for the concept of social stratification. Understood in geology, the term stratification relates to the composition of the soil and the fact that several layers, one on top of the other, from the earth and regulate soil behaviour.
Stratification in geology is only a physical fact and it has no bearing upon relative values except for the purposes for which the soil is used. Stratification in a society is not a physical fact and it is very- much concerned with the relative value of each class in such society, and such value is not always intrinsic.
When stratification is based on hereditary principles of division, the values are imposed by certain standards that are held to be sacred by the majority in the society, as when we divide the classes into the royalty, the nobility and the commoner’s ranks. Today, when the principles of hereditary classes are on their way out, class distinctions are being made on the basis of wealth, and relative merits and demerits are all adjudged by applying this yardstick.
‘Stratification’ is a process of differentiation which places some people in a rank that is higher than that of others. The concept of stratification is based on the concept of inequality. All societies rest upon the differences in the ability of persons and upon division of labour, and we have already considered the possibilities of drawing different rewards for different types of efforts. Certain questions necessarily arise out of the understanding of such inequality.
The first question that the sociologist will raise in this regard is whether or not these differences relate to the quality of the individual, that is, his capability. Secondly, he questions, whether or not these differences can be reduced to the minimum by the state by adopting certain measures; and thirdly, one would like to know in the modern world how far the principles of inheritance and heredity should be permitted to foster and develop these differences.
For example, in India, the caste system is a model of almost permanent stratification, based rigidly on inherited inequality. The religious texts offer the explanation that the highest of humans are the Brahmins, born out of the Creator’s mouth, who would perform religious functions and maintain their purity.
The Kshatriya comes next and, being born of out of His arms, he would perform military duties and those of governance of the country. The Vaisya, born from the Creator’s thighs, are still lower in rank, and his duties include those of tilling the land. The Sudra not only originates from the Maker’s feet but, being traditionally required to do all the lowly and menial jobs, he heads that group which falls next in the category of the ‘unclean’ and the ‘untouchable’.
In recent years, the laws made in the country have somehow been able to relax the barriers between the castes and the position of the untouchable has been particularly sought to be improved by proscribing any act that admits or encourages untouchability; but the entire system is so ingrained in Indian thought and culture and some super human effort with the help of technological changes would be required for completely eradicating it.
Sociologists may differ as to what causes inequality among men, but certain factors seem to be very pertinent in the making of the stratification in society: First, the status enjoyed by an individual will necessarily make him distinct from his fellow- beings; and when the status comes to a person by way of inheritance, it carries more of respect. Secondly, power divides society into classes; and the ruling class enjoys greater privileges than those that are applicable to subjects.
Thirdly, economic factors cause differences; and whether we follow Karl Marx or reject his ideas, these factors mould almost every other factor today in determining the nature of stratification m society.
Features of Stratification:
Without, therefore, going into the question as to whether or not stratification is desirable, one may take into account some of its features as are stated below:
(1) Social stratification is ‘universal’ and is to be found in every society.
(2) The factors relating to differentiation may either be ‘ascribed’ or inherited, as in the cast of the Hindu Caste system; or it can be ‘achieved’ by applying personal skill as is the case with societies that make room for social mobility.
(3) Stratification may accommodate the principle of ‘co-existence’ or it can be conflict-based. For several centuries in India, the different castes existed side by side, without much of conflict or confrontation upon the point. But in some societies, the classes have ever been in conflict with each other till some thinkers advocated tolerance of, each other’s ways, as was the case with the Patricians and Plebeians in the Roman society.
(4) Stratification may be made ‘vertically’ or ‘horizontally’. Vertical stratification means that the different classes are placed in degrees of vertical ascendance and descendance, just as in a ladder the different rungs show whether the one climbing it occupies a higher or a lower position. Horizontal stratification is more or less a subdivision within the same rank or station of life.
It helps to understand the distinction between different sets of persons who may be altogether belonging to the same stratum of society. There may be artists, lecturers, bank clerks and lawyers, all belonging to the middle class. Stratification in society necessarily implies the formation of different groups in a society that would enjoy different degrees of power and privileges.
Each such group becomes a ‘social class’ and, as K.B.Mayer states in his Class and Society, class affiliation gives a clear direction to society in as much as it becomes the basis of collective behaviour and organized action. Class interests command the loyalty of its members and incite hospitality with outsiders. In this regard, they shape social relationships not only for the present, but for future times also.
According to McIver and Page, a social class is any portion of a community marked off from the rest by social status. They hold that ‘status’ is the criterion of the social class. Ogburn and Nimkoff follow the same line of thinking when they hold that people in a society may be said to belong to the same social class when they act as a group established with the same status.
Ginsberg points out that member of a social class are a group who observe equality among themselves and their educational or occupational qualities make them different from other groups.
Therefore, being a member of social class involves the framing of a mentality along the following lines:
(i) The members of the class should regard each other as equal, and
(ii) There must be a consciousness as to their difference from others.
‘Social classes’ appear in societies that are changeable, that are dynamic; the caste, however, is symptomatic of a static or a closed society.
The status that a class enjoys may be endowed upon it by birth, as in the cases of nobles and persons born in royalty; or it may be acquired with the help of wealth, political power occupation and even for reasons of racial or ethnic differences. Whatever it may be the system of the class has in it the hierarchy of status groups, the recognition of the superior class and the inferior one, and some kind of permanency in the structure itself.
In societies like the English one, the class is still determined by birth; the division between landed aristocrats and commoners has not yet been eradicated by social changes. In the United States, however, classes are based on income distribution and the distribution of economic power. The social class is divided along occupation lines, each class being determined by the nature of its possessions, residence and tin wealth that it enjoys.
Since the American society enjoys class mobility, there are no fixed barriers between classes, though the class may be clearly related to ethnic, race or nationality distinctions. The truth is that after the bourgeois revolution spearhead by the middle class, and after the redefinition of ‘wealth’ as the purchasing power rather than the quality of land-holding, a sort of ‘open class’ structure has emerged in many countries, and wealth has undermined all other factors that may cause the distinction of the class.
Though occasionally factors like lineage, colour, national origin and religion tend to create social classes, the factor of wealth has penetrated all kinds of social division and has provided a common standard of social classification and this standard has introduced the new system known as ‘plutocracy’. Plutocracy can be taken as a system in which wealth determines the ruling class.
Even in country like India, plutocracy is having its due share of respect although, side by side with the concept of wealth distinctions, one finds the application of caste principle. For example, even though a ‘bania’ or a trader amasses huge wealth, he will n enjoy as high a status in a village as the local Brahmin priest will do; and the former, for all his pretensions to an acquired status, will be debarred from participation on auspicious occasions. However, even in our country in which class values are very deep-rooted the changes are being noticed and wealth is gradually becoming the most dominating factor.
An important characteristic of the social class is its consciousness. ‘Class consciounous’ is not the same as the community sentiment since the latter does not make grades like the hierarchical system that one finds associated with the class. This consciousness is aroused by a feeling of superiority, and the higher class therefore imposes a barrier upon the lower one.
A family belonging to a higher class becomes used to the advantages and the privileges that it has been enjoying for generations, and the attainment of such privileges becomes well nigh impossible for members who do not belong to that class. These privileges and rights affect the very way of life of the class, manifested not only in the possession of wealth but in the occupation that it follows, the type of education it prefers and in the very outward mannerisms of every member of such class.
For example, when people talk of intermixing of the different classes, the sociologist discovers the complexities that go with the situation. First of all, the stronger the consciousness of class distinctions, the greater will be the gulf of difference between two classes and one can not quite envisage the question of intermixing.
Occupational needs may bring the classes together, but the member of the lower class will of necessity be hostile and distrustful of the higher class incumbent, or there will be the show of a high degree of respect and subservience in the former for the latter. The higher class individual will be arrogant in his behaviour towards the inferior; emphasizing the fact that money-wise he is in almost an incomparable position.
Occasionally, he may be unduly deferent to the inferior perhaps in order to show with ostentation that he believes in humanism. In India, this class consciousness has at different times led to bitter class hatred and the irresponsible behaviour of the nouveau riche is not one of the least factors that account for it.
The higher class ipso facto does not associate itself with high cultural standards though the higher class has often helped in the advancement of artistic and literary standards as in Athens in the 5th Century B.C, in India itself under the Great Moghul Emperors or under the Zamindars, who were not infrequently regarded as such merely because they could add sauce to the food that his British master took.
Today, the emphasis is upon the pseudo-culture; and there is amusement in the pitiful plight of the fantastically rich who has his living room replete with objects of artistic or antique value, though he cannot distinguish one from the other. No doubt, there is a tendency among the rich to vie with each other over the possession of art treasures, but this race for possession of the valuable in no way expresses any love for culture. McIver very rightly points out that the very basis of class distinction is power, and ‘power and cultural attainment cannot go together.
The intensity of ‘class consciousness’ may depend upon the presence or absence of certain factors within the class itself. First, if social mobility in a society, that is, the possibility of changing over from one class to another, is non-existent, or at least ridden with hurdles, class consciousness becomes strong. Persons belonging to the higher class enjoy social, economic and legal privileges and they violently oppose any extension of such privileges to those that are inferior.
But if social mobility is relatively easy, class distinctions become a mere technicality and class consciousness does not rise very high. Secondly, if different classes carry different social cultural ideals, class consciousness becomes prominent. In mediaeval times, society was divided into three classes; the division was between the priestly class, the aristocrats and the commoners.
Their respective ways of life were different as were the legal rights enjoyed by them. Each class bore a measure of hostility towards the other and it affected the respective sentiments of the classes. Thirdly, if the objectives of a particular class are directly opposed to those of another, hostile sentiments are generated in the usual course and class consciousness becomes high.
Karl Marx considers that there is a struggle between the classes along materialistic lines and that, from the point of view of the proletariat, abolition of private capital is the principal objective. Hence, the interests of the proletariat are opposed to those of the capitalist, and the clash of these interests is reflected in the labour — management duels of the modern times in industrialized societies.
Marx’s concept of the classes is based purely upon materialistic differences and, according to him, nothing but economic factors guide and shape the two classes that he can think of. Several sociologists have criticized Marx’s division of social classes. While admitting that materialistic differences do cause class distinctions, McIver and Page point out that restricting one’s attentions to that factor only would not result in the forming of a comprehensive idea about the subject.
They feel that other factors too govern class distinctions. The Hindu society alone can, with its caste system, show that money power is not all important. The Brahmin was never a rich man, but he always gained more prestige in society than the trader who was a bania and therefore, of a lower social class.
Similarly, if it is admitted that social classes are characterized by their respective class consciousness, the mentality that causes in the consciousness becomes an important factor in the class division, and mere purchasing power cannot be the be-all and the end-all of the matter.
For example, even if a member of the higher class is impoverished, his fellows will still regard him as higher than those who belong to an inferior class; and the latter class too will not straight away be able to admit such a person into its fold. There is yet another reason whit the Marxian theory is not accepted by several sociologists.
Marx finds the conflict between the capitalist and the working class as all-pervading in society; he fails to note that in the industrialized countries today ways and means have been devised and, in fact, found out for enabling co-operation between the two groups. Cooperation between these groups is not envisaged by Marx in his writings.
In almost all industrialized societies today, there is the ‘middle class’ that stands between the rich and the working classes. Marx admits in his writings that the middle class exists but, according to him, it belongs the class of proletariats. He considers that this class is a temporary obstacle to the two-class system and, in truth, the middle class is a part of the bourgeoisie that has chosen to side with the proletariat since it realizes that, in the ultimate analysis, the proletariat will win in the class struggle.
Marx’s views about the middle class do not fall in line with actualities. Surveys made in the United States show that the population in that country is quite conscious of the fact that besides the upper and the lower classes there is the middle class, comprising of professionals, executives and ‘white-collar’ people, including the college teacher, the physician, the lawyer, the engineer and others.
The American Journal of Sociology (November 1964) grades these occupations and finds that the physician ranks higher than the college professor, who is followed by the lawyer, the dentist, the country judge, the civil engineer and the banker, others following in their respective grades.
McIver says that the American middle class rises with the consciousness that there is a competitive system in their society which allows a room at the top to the industrious, and their attitude, on the one hand, is to reject the hierarchical pattern and, on the other, to identify themselves with the ‘every day citizen’.
In India, the feudalistic pattern of society has in, at least, the past century given way to a restructuring, and the process has perhaps gained speed after independence. However, there can be no denying the fact that the British came and added to the already existing class of the ruler and the ruled a new class of clerks or ‘babus’ who aided the secretariat. With the spread of education, the professions and the services became occupations to be taken into account, and a new class emerged in the society.
The middle class has earned its distinction not by amassing wealth, but by making distinct contributions in the fields of art, literature, science and technology, and politics. The prestige and the status that the Indian middle class has gained for itself has no relation whatsoever with the amount of material wealth that it has in its possession. The individual belonging to the class reserves his berth in this class by virtue of his education and professional distinction.
Some people belong to this class only because they follow a certain profession or occupation. A physician, a lawyer and a teacher are all members of the middle class, even though some of them have a lesser earning capacity than others have, and the earnings of some are less than those of some labourers.
This feature about the middle class is explained by the fact that there are certain occupations which the society regards as noble and honourable, and the additional factor of money power is not made the essential criterion for making the class distinction with regard to such occupations.
However, in the modern world, ‘purchasing power’ determines the control that one may have over others’ and, besides status, possessions are fast becoming a determinant of the social class. Persons belonging to the middle class note the fact that while certain types of education and training bring moderate earnings, other types help professionals to earn massive amounts of money, as in the cases of doctors, lawyers and engineers. Besides that, the class of industrialists is also taking into it members of the middle class who turn rich by engaging in industrial activities.
There are the ‘upstarts’ and the ‘nouveau riche’ who have jumped several rungs in the social ladder and have acquired high position and status for themselves. As a result, the middle class has further ramified itself into their sub-classes, the upper middle, the middle and the lower middle. The re-orientation in the middle class has not stopped with this process only; it has taken the shape of a very pathetic psychological turn in the wake of a rat-race for competitive acquisition of wealth and prestige.
The desire of every middle class individual is to be as near the upper middle as possible, and the upper middle has almost mentally equated itself with the rich. The model for both in any case is the rich class and there is a feverish race for ‘aping’ the model and ostentatiously trying to adopt a way of life that suits the affluent. Quite naturally, therefore, the resources are being strained and the means for collecting them are no longer remaining ethical.
The lower middle class alone in this group is desperately trying, in spite of heavy taxation in the country, to maintain its identify from the poor, though these people are quite often found to be at a greater disadvantage than the working class in the country. The upper middle and the middle classes still retain their footings in the city itself, though in centres like Bombay and Delhi the locality to which they are pinned will loudly proclaim the accurate division of their social class.
The lower-middle class has been thrown out of the metropolis into the suburb, which has in India become the shelter for the man of modest standing. One may contrast with this the United States suburb which earns its own prestige on account of the fact that even the well-to-do like the blend of technology and fresh air in it.
With 45% of the Indian population still living below the poverty line, that is, on an income level of Rs.20 to 40 per head per month, the size of the Indian middle class is small and that of the stellar rich is almost microscopic.
Whatever the shape of figures relating to yearly national income may be, distribution of income does not present any picture of prosperity in the country in the context of the cost of living index, though some small sections of the Indian population carry at all times in their pockets prosperity of a size and dimension that is international is standard.
The following table shows the standard of living in India in the context of certain selected countries:
The following table explains the position of belongings in the different communities, taking India in the context of some countries of the world, as also the level of amenities available to the population of the country concerned:
Even if we look at the tables and appreciate the average figures, the true per capita picture in India will in truth be far worse in view of the unimaginable concentration of wealth in the hands of few and the near destitute condition of an abnormally large section of the population.
The middle class in India seeks to hold for each family of the class a motor car, a radio and a television set, a Frigidaire and some of the electric and electronic gadgets that save labour at home, since domestic servants are becoming an expensive affair for maintenance on a scale. Governmental measures in the lines of taxation and other matters is a clear indicator that the official machinery would encourage the two classes only, the rich and the working class or the ‘Janata’ class, as it is called here.
The Railways are an important indicator in this’ regard; the amenities provided by it are either first class for the affluent, or the second class, which is for all. The Union Government, however, has expressed its intention of changing all railway accommodation and amenity into those of one class only, and that is the second class with, of course, improved facilities.
The Classes in the United States:
The United States can boast of the absence of feudalistic pattern in its society, though the hierarchical structure that is so akin to that pattern is very much existent in it. The American people divide themselves into the upper class, the middle class and the lower class.
The society is ‘open’ in nature and mobility is very hi^; that is, the chances of a person belonging to a class to change over to a higher class are very high, and the society is open to talent. Birth is one of the factors, but a factor of least importance that determines the class.
The factors that count in class distinction in the United States are as follows:
According to publications made by the United States Bureau of Census in Oct 1971, only 11.3% of United States families lived in 1970 with an income of less than $ 2000 a year; and about 24.9% lived with an income that was less than one half the median income, which was fixed at $ 335 a year (in 1970).
But the general standard of living is high and, out of the total income of every five families, while the lowest-income family accounts for only 5.5% of the income, the highest- income family has for its share 41.6%, and in between the 2nd, the 3rd and the 4th families have respectively the shares of 12.0%, 17.4% and 23.5%.
The overall life style, from the point of view of possessions, is on the higher side and, at the summit, one finds that the highest 57o of the United States population receive 177o of the total income in the country but hold not less than 38% of the country’s personal wealth.
Occupation is a very important factor in the U.S. social class, determining not only its intrinsic value but also the income, the education, the residence and the family background of the incumbent. We have already stated that occupations have a grading in that country, placing physicians, college professors, lawyers, dentists, country judges, civil engineers and the bankers high in the list of different occupation.
To the American, occupation is very essential to stratification. It helps to determine the class position along with membership in voluntary associations like clubs. According to Max Weber, people like to associate with equals and superiors and, in a social class the members seek to exclude inferiors while they themselves get excluded by superiors.
The association that a person belongs to determines, his class and every association as such becomes a kind of a closed group not permitting entry to the person of the inferior status.
Power is the ability to control the behaviour of others; and the power potential depends upon the resources that a person can command. Money power becomes the strongest resource in the modern world though, in some cases, the power of sheer physical strength, as among gangsters, and that of love, affection and idealism, as among family members, must not be ignored.
Power relationships influence society in all ways and, in the United States, there is an understanding that a power elite of economic, political and military Masters is ruling the country. The placement of an individual in society necessarily reflects upon his power position in it, and power inequality is closely connected with status inequality. Those who enjoy power in the United States not only come from elitist families but also exhibit an upper- class style of living, besides possessing wealth and professing higher occupations.
According to C.W.Mills, when several elites tend to become similar and to develop common interests, they combine their power to be able to control the common mass. They do not engage in conflicts among themselves which would destroy their own position. Pluralist thinkers do not accept Mills’ elitist view, and they maintain that powerful groups are at cross-purposes and they involve the populace in shifting coalitions over different issues.
Power necessarily adds to prestige and status, and status is closely associated in the American society with occupation. If life-style values can be purchased with money, prestige can also be traded and, consequently, status can be acquired. The problem arises when even though one has obtained the necessary stratification-goods and has bought the life-style values, he does not enjoy the status.
The condition is known as that of ‘status – inconsistency ‘ which can bring much of frustration to the individual. For example, in the American society, a Negro who has risen to a very high position in his occupation may not be accorded much of respect by the whites and, as such, the black man may suffer from status inconsistency.
Sociologists maintain that if group boundaries are impermeable that is, if in any society it becomes well nigh impossible for an individual to cross over from one group to another the inconsistency of status will be bound to prevail in it. In the traditional Hindu society, impermeability of group boundaries is high, and it is very frustrating for a person of lower caste when he finds that for all his industry and hard work he cannot reach the top.
(e) The Ethnic and Racial Groups:
Ethnic or racial differences are a very important factor in the United States relating to the division of society into classes. The word race as used in the present times cannot stand for the different clear divisions, such as Caucasians, Mongoloids and Negroids, made by anthropologists.
In all countries, the population is a mixture of some types and, when one refers to a race in the sociological sense, the ‘factor of race-consciousness’ becomes all important. Each ethnic or racial group stands with a cleat consciousness of cultural and social affinities among the members of the group.
The group, at the same time, faces some discrimination or prejudice in relation to certain others groups. Historical conditions to a great extent have moulded race group relations, and group attitudes have their impress upon personality traits and character. Though countries in South-East Asia, China, Russia and American States show exemplary race-adjustment qualities, conditions in the United States require the serious attention of sociologists, humanists and the very administration of the country itself. Apart from the negro population, the American community has groups of American Indians, Jews, Filipinos and other Orientals.
The United States and the Soviet Union have certain common problems relating to minority segments of the population of each. The Soviet Union has nearly 200 ethnic groups, speaking almost 150 languages. It has Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Moslems and persons belonging to different Far Eastern religions.
The Revolutionary Programme adopted in the country makes allowances for these minorities and allows an independent development and presentation of traditional cultures. However, in effect, the authorities encourage acculturation to the Russian pattern. The problems in the United States are more complex.
The majority groups and the minority ones have different shares of power in the society, and the relations between the groups very naturally take the shape of hatred, suppression, competition and conflict. Minorities understanding that they are excluded from full participation in the social organizations, and they are hardly expected to accept the positions that are assigned to them.
It has also been suggested by some that when the minority groups are kept in segregation and despised by the majority, they develop ‘negative self-images’ which, in fact, incite them to derogatory conduct. All these problems face the American society.
The figures published by the United States Bureau of Census show that the Black population in that country was 757,000 in 1790 A.D. and that number represented 19.37o of the total population. Today the black people account for only 11.3% of the population, although the number in the year 1970 has risen to 23,801,000. Besides the Negro population, there are 9.5 million foreign-born whites, 6 million Jews, 5 million Mexicans, 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, 800,000 American Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Cubans and immigrants from other countries.
However perhaps because the Negro population forms the biggest minority group in the U.S., it is subjected to discrimination and prejudice even by members of other minorities and particularly by the Whites. McIver and Page point out that besides the historical truth and the black man came as the slave, the physiological differences between him and the white man account much for feelings like dislike and hatred against him.
The colour of the skin has a special significance for the Anglo-Saxon and all those who trace descent from him, and colour bar is one of the primary factors that determine race relationships for him. Perhaps physiological differences show external differences and do not always point out cultural differences and values opposed to each other.
‘Cultural differences’ imply difference of basic social values, and peoples with different values naturally tend to form themselves into rigid groups for the purpose of protecting those values and also for maintaining their superior distinctiveness. Unless the social organizations encourage ‘fair play’ in public life, the ethnic group hostilities become a very disturbing factor in the community.
It is true that the American political and economic organizations allow even to the Negro the opportunity of individual attainment so that individuals may try to improve their lot, but attitudes of prejudice and hostility may prevent even a workable integration of the different groups.
Studies made by social anthropologists like W.Lloyd Warner upon race groups in the American society reveal certain features. First, the colour of the skin helps status in society. It is not a mere coincidence that more Whites enjoy higher social and economic positions than the Negroes. Secondly, even though the upper, the middle and the lower classes exist for both the black and the white communities, the black class at any level is of much lower status than that of the white counterpart.
This feature is the outcome of certain chain sequences in the social order; since the white man can have better schooling, he can easily enter the better occupation and his opportunities for advancement in life remain better. Quite naturally, therefore, frustration results from the deprivation of opportunities and baulked energies tend to make an outburst in the form of unseemly behaviour.
Underworlds and sections of delinquents appear as a logical consequence of discrimination and prejudicial attitudes. Lastly, new problems arise with the emergence of the new generations of the minority group. Problems of miscegenation or the hybrid growth tends to cut across group lines, and the mulatto introduces a new element in the problems of race relationships.
On the question of integration of the different social classes, the State machinery has in recent years taken certain concrete steps. Since the 1940’s the State has been adopting a formal policy of integrating racial and ethnic groups. The Supreme Court first held in 1948 that restrictive covenants in property contracts under which properties could not be sold to minorities were not enforceable. Then in 1954, the Court declared as unconstitutional the system of segregation in educational institutions.
The Government adopted the Civil Rights Act in 1964 according to which discrimination in public accommodations and in all programmes receiving federal assistance was prohibited. A commission was set up for considering Equal Employment Opportunities for the different groups.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized the Attorney-General to take certain measures for preventing discrimination among voters. The Supreme Court observed in 1969 that the process of desegregation in educational institutions following the order of 1954 has not taken due speed and that the schools must desegregate immediately.