Class Vs Race Essay

6930 words - 28 pages

When asking the question, “Race versus Social class: Which really matters?” there are several important concepts that must first be addressed in order to approach this very complex query sufficiently. First, what do the terms “social class” and “race” signify? Also, in determining which really matters, the context of this question is crucial, in other words, to WHO or to WHAT or WHEN or WHERE or HOW each of these terms matters. All of these more specific questions are directly relevant to the answer and each may produce a contextually different explanation. So let’s define the terms we are evaluating and comparing and at the same time attempt to identify which really matters and in what context.
What is social class? Generally, social class is the status group by which we are identified within our society. Dictionary.com defines social class as “a broad group in society having common economic, cultural, or political status.” As this definition illustrates, social class is tied to status and status is typically associated with lifestyle, prestige and achievement. While a primary basis of social class is economic, there are other significant factors which determine class. These factors can include cultural, political, occupational and social components. The importance of varying social class tiers has also tended to be fluid throughout history and the tendency to value this hierarchal class system has been more relevant at certain times and in certain places than at other times. Changes in social class can be affected by the economic stability, cultural growth and political climate that occur during different times throughout history. Historically, concepts of social class and social class structure have been affected during times of change in the United States. Significant changes in the economy can lead to restructuring among various class types which would otherwise not occur. An example of this is the period in United States history known as the Great Depression. Mass dire economic circumstances proved to be a class equalizer when the wealthiest of families who were considered to be in the upper tiers of the class hierarchy experienced dramatic changes to their lifestyle which necessitated struggling alongside those “lower class” groups who had previously and would otherwise have been beneath them.
Another fundamental aspect of “class” is that it is a universal phenomenon and thereby manifests itself all over the world. As such, the tendency to subject members of society to a certain class status or label within a social system is not a concept that is specific to the United States. An illustration of this is Great Britain’s famous class system which has traditionally been divided into three classes. These are: the upper class/ruling elite who are aligned to the monarchy; the middle class who are people born into wealth but not on the same class level as those with “good breeding;” and, the working class who provide...

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