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On the subject of inequality, it is difficult to define within limitations what inequality is, why it exists, how it affects individuals of a community and ways to counter it. In simple terms, inequality exists because individuals in society have different levels of access to resources like food, water, education, health care, etc within a society. This is what creates a difference between people who are rich or poor, well-educated or not, possess more wealth or power in political circles and many others.

These differences in status, existing since the very beginning of time, are now an undeniable truth and a universal element of the very fabric of society in every community, be it at a micro or macro level, spread all over the globe. In this essay, we will see through a number of approaches how they affect society, and how they’ve proved to be a hindrance in developing and nurturing better relationships between people on opposing ends of the social pyramid. In this context, the social differences can be categorized and explained through the unequal levels based on race, ethnicity or gender.

Race, from an anthropological perspective, is simply a social construct. As anthropologists explain, it means that although there are discernible physical differences between ‘races’, they can’t be extrapolated. So if one refers to the term race as pointing differences between groups of people based on their observable characteristic or trait is alright, but there is no reason to extrapolate these differences to mental capabilities. Still the term race has over the centuries connoted mental, moral and cultural differences between the people and not merely physical differences and has been used by racists in quite an offensive way.

The phenotypical differences may give rise to other traits but culture or acquired learning, and not innate ability, is the deciding factor which can successfully account for the wide-ranging differences between groups of people. Thus according to anthropologists, biological determinism is a limited theory and the nature vs. nurture debate heavily tilts in favour of nurture. It is important to emphasize the proclivity of diseases or other physical abilities and not just phenotypes can be biologically determined and some are documented: we demonstrate here that from both an objective and scientific (genetic and epidemiologic) perspective there is great validity in racial/ethnic self-categorizations, both from the research and public policy points of view [1].There is also scientific justification for this division of inheritance of traits in physical (innate) and cultural (acquired) traits as pointed out by Lahn and Ebenstein: These polymorphisms can affect traits such as pigmentation, dietary adaptation and pathogen resistance (where evidence is rather convincing), and metabolism, physical development and brain biology (where evidence is more preliminary) [2].

After seeing that pro-racist arguments have little to no scientific reality we are still confronted with racism or racial inequality: discrimination based on race where race is rather perceived as a social construct and not an objective reality. As Brace points we have to look at the differences in IQ between races not as an evidence to the existence of races but as a woeful reminder that perceived differences in race can lead to a long and persecuted history of one group by another based on phenotypical differences which in turn leads to the disparity [3]. It is this discrimination based on perceived racial superiority which has bred inequality and injustices across the globe, be it in the United States of America before the civil rights movement or in the Republic of South Africa during the apartheid era.

Racial inequality is one of the leading factors in society’s bad performance in socioeconomic indicators as well as producing negative cultural externalities. Societies which are more racially equal tend to do better than those which are not [4]. The inequality among races breeds resilience among oppressed races and eventually leads social disharmony but Wilkinson demonstrates that a racially unequal society not only has bad social factors but also has to contend with stunted economic growth, among a host of other economic factors.

A historical solution to racial discrimination has been affirmative action - the policy of giving quotas on the bases of race to marginalized groups which have been persecuted over time. Although we acknowledge that certain groups have been historically marginalized: be it blacks or women - it is imperative to not discriminate even when one’s intentions are good. For there is no specific agreed upon time up to which affirmative action is agreed to continue, neither does it ensure quality in any institution, rather it most likely reduces it. But most importantly racial discrimination is a cultural phenomenon and as such its solution should also be cultural one and not a top-down forced and institutional one. Furthermore, Staiger analyzes it and concludes that this top-down approach can lead to dangerous, unintended and in his case contradictory results [5].

Thus race, although a slippery term, can be used to describe discrimination of certain groups on perceived differences which are essentially in culture’s domain but are thought by racists as heritable along phenotypical distinct populations. The best way to control or limit racial inequality is through justice and awareness campaigns and not on current policies based on affirmative action which can lead to unintended consequences.

Racial discrimination is not just institutional. In fact it is imperative to note that much of racial hatred is covert. After the civil rights movement in United States and outrage over race-based discriminatory policies, even racists are not too keen to be ostracized by being overt about their intentions. It is the need of the hour to engage anthropologists and implement some much needed cultural measures rather than the top-down approach we observe today. One may say that it is the next phase of eliminating racial inequality. Such measures can prevent children from becoming racists, especially if the parents are racists and the future generation can avoid the outright racial violence. These measures can range from general awareness campaigns to doing fieldwork in racists stronghold by anthropologists such as Alabama or Mississippi in Southern United States.

On the topic of gender, first of all we have to answer the questions - What has caused the difference in men’s and women’s behavior? Is it due to human species’ long struggle for survival, or is it due to cultural mythologies? All these questions are essentially what Frances Mascia-Lees explains as, “gender can be understood as the meanings that a particular society gives to the physical or biological traits that differentiate males and females”.  Gender and Anthropology focuses on this central question and anthropologists interested in finding determinants of gender inequality try to find explanations of these practices.

Generally speaking, gender inequalities are all those ways in which a person gets affected from something based on his or her gender. There is a great debate in anthropology and other fields over the nature vs. nurture controversy regarding prevalent gender inequalities. Supposed natural differences between sexes have been used historically to rationalize and continue systems of oppression and even to determine social policy. For example towards the end of the nineteenth century, it was erroneously concluded that men were naturally superior to women in intelligence because of their larger size of brain. The mental difference that Darwinists claim to exist between the genders is of such a dimension that some evolutionists even divided them into different physical species: men being Homo frontalis and women Homo parietalis. But such hypotheses have now been discarded considering the biases and assumptions employed in these researches. For instance taking Darwin’s view, who described women as inferior, has been discarded because his theory of natural selection was based upon evolutionist preconceptions, and not on any scientific findings.

In anthropology, one of the most important approaches on this issue was taken by Engels. He presented a theory called “The Materialist Orientation” concerning gender oppression. Engels took the idea of oppression from Karl Marx’s work on class oppression and formulated his ideas about gender oppression. In his study, he focuses on how material conditions of life and economic factors have affected gender stratification.

Marx and Engels proposed that “society’s economic base, or infrastructure, determines its superstructure .i.e. the legal, political, social, and cultural institutions, that developed to ensure the continuation of the economic status quo”. Engels took it as a starting point and claimed that the movement away from the communal ownership of property found in early societies towards the private ownership associated with class societies corresponded to the movement from higher to lower status for women. Engels explained this by mentioning the ancient matriarchal societies where women had a greater status. He tried to introduce the concept of lowering of the status of women as the modes of production changed from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies, and also the status of women on the basis of her role in subsistence.

But Engels theory has been questioned on certain points like did matriarchies actually exist or not, as Haviland in his article “ Kinship and Descent”  by providing example of The Hopi society in Northern Arizona, argues that even in the matriarchal societies, it is the role of one’s mother’s brother which is dominant. Also do women fare better in society where they are put at the centre of social organization etc, which poses the focus for another debate which is not completely relevant right in this case.

Gender oppression can take place against men too, but as the present day era is patriarchal, that is a male dominated era; one finds most cases of female oppression based on gender. Sexual harassment is one type of gender oppression which women can face at working places. But it is not always sexual in nature. The wage gaps between men and women, lack of job security due to pregnancy etc, are some other ways in which they can get oppressed. Empirical analysis of gender discrimination in labor market in Australia has showed that women receive a lower wage than men with similar productivity-related characteristics, with the unexplainable portion of the gender wage gap resulting in wage deficit of nearly 10 to 20 percent.

There are two main categories of gender discrimination. First is disparate treatment which includes all those ways in which treatment of the employees differs on the basis of gender. The examples given above come under this category. While the second type of gender discrimination is disparate impact. It is a relatively more complex concept. It regards company policies that exclude one gender from a job or from promotion based gender when policies are not designed to do so.

In the US, one needs to sign a gender equality clause before starting a business, and their license is cancelled in case they are not able to do so. Moreover, pregnant women are to be considered as temporarily disable, so there job cannot be taken away on the basis of this. So now we can see some of the steps taken by the US government to overcome the issue of gender inequality, as it is very important for the stability of a society to work on the principle of equality. Taking the example of our own country, the Gender Justice and Protection Project has been initiated by UNDP Pakistan, where sexual harassment complaints could be resolved. Hopefully, this will lead to a better future for the oppressed classes, in this case the women, in our current society.

Moving on to the topic of ethnicity, ethnic groups are distinctive on the basis of national origin, language, religion, and culture. The contemporary world is replete with examples of newly constructed ethnicities, given the encounters of different ethnicities with the growing age of technology. According to anthropology, ethnic groups are formed when groups of people from different cultural backgrounds come into contact with each other.

Ethnic inequality arises primarily due to intolerance and lack of understanding and cooperation between cultural groups, which lead to a prejudiced form of thought. Prejudice is basically a prejudged attitude. Generally, prejudice refers to negative attitudes, but one can make the case that prejudice also includes positive attitudes.  Prejudice refers to any rigid and irrational generalization about an entire category of people. This prejudiced form of inequality leads to multiple problems in between ethnic groups living in close vicinity such as discrimination, prosecution and perhaps even exterminations in the worst of cases. A method of eliminating these tensions can be done through the judicial system. Affirmative action was first used by LBJ in an executive order in 1967 regarding employment with agencies in the federal government. The order said: "The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

Farley (2000:492) notes that the fundamental argument for making special efforts to hire more minority workers (or to admit more minority students to colleges) is that this practice is the only way to undo the harmful effects of past and present discrimination.

Taking the example of the Anglo Mexicans, their relationships were mostly cooperative with little stratification. Prejudice was the way of explaining exploitative behavior toward Mexicans and a traditional attribute of American South. In inequality cases with all three ethnic groups there was one similar thing, contact with the white people. Through wars, revolutions and annexions the whites got the chance to influx in originally Mexican territories, causing hard competition for land and resources. They already had reach experience of communication with other ethnic groups in this perspective, so they managed to outnumber and overpower these people as well. All factors that had caused inequality before between ethnic groups were present at that time.

Due to many reasons, such as white dominance and economical and political instability in Mexico itself, Mexicans were left no choice but to live the way the white people wanted them to. They were exploiting them and their land. Chicanos were used as a cheap labor power in places not acceptable for whites themselves. So the competitive pattern could be considered to be rigid competitive close to paternalistic. Considering all the facts today, this situation with labor exploitation still exists, and is only partially inherited, because a considerable part of this ethnic group are illegal immigrants, which gives the opportunity to others to use them for the purposes of a cheap labor.

Historical relationships between the British whites and others were formed (such as the black-white relationship) on the basis of ethnocentrism and exploitation. Although it was not the exploitation of Natives labor, but their free will and their land, which occurred as a result of competition for their survival. The British made attempts to enslave the aborigine population, but they were quickly abandoned.

Ethnocentrism of the whites was supported by their religious beliefs, which were used to justify the order of things that occurred. Through the passage of time, Native–Americans were overpowered and forced to give up their territories in exchange for prison-like reservations by the growing population of whites. Later they were even made to live their lives the European way in their own communities since their own way of life was considered inferior and so the Europeans naturally considered themselves superior in all aspects. Somewhat similarly, white paternalism and general effort to press Indians to surrender their own culture, and adopt the white man’s ways had always been a key part of European colonial, and later, is supported by the American policy toward Indian people (Farley 2000; p.127, 128). They were not regarded as U.S. citizens, and they were allowed no input into the running of reservations either, although reservations were supposedly their land (Farley 2000; p.115). This shows that as a result of the inequality some people become marked stereotypes and reaction to them changes with their status in the world.

Ethnic inequality within a nation can end up causing disturbances on a large scale since, despite the affirmative actions being supported globally, there is far less application and our innate compatibility with other cultures and different religions often results in strife.

In pre-partition subcontinent, we observe the constant bickering and conflicts between the Muslim and Hindu communities, which at some point began to turn in to the subjugation and prosecution of the Muslim minority as the relations worsened. As a long term effect of this ethnic strife, not only was the subcontinent weakened significantly enough for the British to take control without any particular use of force, but which also led eventually to the splitting of the nation and creation of India and Pakistan, which was prompted through a movement by the Muslims for a separate nation. Even after the formation of Pakistan, ethnic inequality took form in the political intrigues of the nation, when West Pakistan tried to dominate the political control over East Pakistan, and once again the unity of the nation was challenged, finally leading to a civil war in 1973 in which, due to India’s intervention, the nation ended up being split. This happened as a result of the internal strife within the nation which caused it to be weakened towards outward intervention.

In the prior cases we saw a conflict happen and then resolve itself with a clear outcome. In a worse case, a similar ethnic clash can lead to long-term and lasting zones of conflict within a nation, such as the Gaza strip, the everlasting conflict between Israel and Palestine which is even now ongoing without a clear resolution in sight. The situation has deteriorated to the point that some leaders are feeling that the conflict is being used and manipulated by different parties in order to perhaps achieve their own twisted ends. As a PLO chief has said: “It's impossible to say who has guns in Gaza anymore.” (Saeb Erekat)

From all the examples provided and throughout the course of history, it can be easily seen that in our world today, all forms of ethnic inequality have become so attuned and integrated into our societies that it is almost natural for the stereotypes and discrimination to exist.

To sum it all up, it can be easily seen that inequality has existed in every known social setup, be it an egalitarian or a stratified society. And it has also been observed that a greater level of social inequality poses a greater risk to the delicate balance that exists between members of the social pyramid. But unless we come up with a practical solution for countering this dilemma quickly and effectively, it is a sure thing that as this has continued throughout history and already as it exists in our present day world, it will keep on worsening. The facts every year show that the pattern is going from bad to worse and the gap between the rich and poor is widening slowly but surely. Also from what we can easily see, this level of inequality in society, be it in the form of race, gender or ethnicity, seems to continue into the coming future. 

“To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race, ethnicity or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow.” 
                                                  William Faulkner – Essays, Speeches and Public Letters.

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