Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dominant and Subordinated Groups

(This is a collection of my experiences from training. Start at the beginning for more information.)

Back over a week ago, I introduced the topic of dominant (“normal”) and subordinate (“targeted”) echelons of diversity, and how we as individuals among a sea of people are ranked in said categories by genetics and societal norms, despite our awareness or desire to be ranked a certain way. While one may argue that there are more aspects of diversity that these two echelons compose than just the eight I mentioned (ability, age, class, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, and sexuality), let’s delve deeper into discussion with these as examples. Recognizing our membership in dominant and subordinate rankings of diversity is the first step in owning our privileges and ostracism in society. Let’s go over these eight aspects with examples:

Ability: the physical and mental capability for individual movement and mobility without outside aid.

The example I gave earlier involved a wheelchair-user: albeit the optimistic nature of the person to work his way up in the world and the facilities stemming from good upper-body strength that will assist him in getting around permit this person to claim he is dominant in society by his own standards, the fact is that wheelchair-accessible routes are few and far to come by, that laws were required to change access standards and build this paucity of routes, and that roads and buildings typically have been and are currently designed to appeal to a public that can walk, i.e. the dominant, functioning group. A wheelchair-user is a victim of socialization, where what is considered “normal” by others contrasts with the inherent needs of the individual. Here, the perception of a dominant trait contrasts with the reality of the targeted group situation.

Being made aware of his membership in a subordinate echelon of ability, the wheelchair-user can now better understand his own background and his biases when addressing issues of diversity.

Age: the level of maturation of a person and how it effects an impression on others.

Most interesting about age is the fact that every member of a society will progress through intermittent stages of dominance and subordination as they get older, which is often not the case with other aspects of diversity that are dictated solely by chance, such as race or gender. We can use a growing child as an example:

As a young girl up through her teenage years, she is subordinated by society because she is not fully aware of the consequences of her actions and too immature to know better. Her voice is not important to political leaders because of the absence of voting power, while her parents and teachers will invariably know the correct choices to decisions she makes by their wisdom that comes with age. She is the future of our nation but needs constant care and maintenance to make it that far.

Past these awkward years, she becomes an adult, possesses the faculties to make informed choices about her life and to grow from experiences individually without an outside mentor. She has a representative voice, is considered capable of sustaining herself, and has accumulated enough wisdom to maybe initially be seen as wise. She is in a dominant group and more productive than she will ever be in her life.

Fast-forward a few decades, and she becomes a wizened old-lady who is expected to retire and watch The Price is Right every weekday morning. She is past her prime. She is wise beyond her years yet will inevitably need someone to care for her. Her age-group is the most vocal in terms of voter turnout only because she has nothing better to do with her time. And besides, her ultra traditional ways do not represent a new, growing America.

These were generalizations that society can make about a person going through stages of life, and are what society bases many such decisions on, as we can delineate through additional analysis of other facets of diversity.

Class: the socioeconomic status that dictates a social hierarchy.

Simply put, if you are reading this on your own computer at home, you most likely constitute the dominant level of class diversity, because you or your family can afford these voluntary items and services like computers and an internet connection, choices out of the reach of many poor families. Society expects its members to be able to pay for the food, clothing, and well-being all of their families require, and if for whatever reason a family cannot meet this norm, it is considered dysfunctional, and it needs government assistance mainly due to a lack in work ethic and proper expenditure planning. Those who accept welfare and other forms of monetary aid from the government are often considered inferior by those who can succeed without the aid.

Race and Ethnicity: the inherent physical and cultural characteristics that largely shape the experiences of an individual.

Another simple pair of aspects to analyze: if you are Caucasian, you are a dominant group in our society, whereas non-Caucasians fall into the targeted group. I have found that this is often difficult for Californians to understand, particularly college students, because we are so used to seeing large Hispanic and Asian-American populations in our communities. This large presence that we are accustomed to, however, does not dictate that the rest of American society views these groups favorably, or as normal.

For starters, underrepresentation is a tribulation many groups deal with constantly, even here in California. The Fall 2005 ethnic distribution at Berkeley showed that, not including the large representation of Chinese and Chinese-Americans (~20%), each separate and individual Asian ethnicity makes up only ~3% of the population at Cal. Together, that does correspond to a grand total of 40% Asian-American identity on campus, but many tend to conflate this with a very large representation of Asian culture, when in fact each ethnicity under the Asian/Asian-American title, with inherently different cultures and norms, has a relatively small voice compared with the 31% Caucasian presence.

Also compare this presence with the total African-American/Black voice, which hits only 3.5%.

Of course, one might argue that the same could be said for Caucasians, that the ethnicities and cultures of the various European nations which compose this set of students are similarly represented in small numbers. The difference is that, because Caucasian culture is the dominant group in American society, well-represented in the media, in the government, and in the workforce, there is little need for Caucasians to coalesce and push for representation, nor is there a significant desire to support the individual ethnicities that compose the Caucasian title because of said representation. Our voice at Cal is 31% strong, much more powerful still in America as a whole, and so the small number representation of various European ethnicities is essentially counteracted by our membership in this dominant group.

For those few that identify strongly with their European ethnicity and believe they are underrepresented even when admitting their membership in the dominant Caucasian category, I would be willing to agree to a certain extent. While European ethnicities can be very important to Caucasians, and Greek representation, for example, not readily seen, neither at Cal nor in American society, the key difference is that we as Caucasians still owe certain characteristics to the “normal” echelon of diversity, which Asian/Asian-Americans and African-Americans do not possess. Being White brings with it substantial privilege and power, no matter what nation you hail from.

I will continue with gender, religion, and sexuality (not sex drive) sometime tomorrow.

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