Religion, Nationality, and Race: Significance for Social Class

Is social class exclusiveness something quite different from religious or racial prejudice? Is the social distance to be measured in the one case on the vertical scale, and in the other case on the horizontal scale?

When parents object to the company that one of their children keeps, because that person is a member of another religious sect, or of another religion altogether, or of another nationality, what is the nature of the antagonism? Is it to be compared to similar objections against persons without the manners, sense of honor, habits, and ambitions befitting that particular family's standard?

A person's class status includes, roughly, the kind of dwelling he lives in, the type of people he associates with on equal terms, his etiquette, his vocabulary, his clothing, his aspirations, and to a large extent the degree to which his parents meet these same tests. (Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that a person's education should start one hundred years before he is born.)

But does a person's religious affiliation, his nationality or nationality background, and his race, also enter into his social class position? Is a black man lower in social standing than he would be if he were the same in every respect except race?

Cooley writes, for instance, that "the peaceful advent of kindred settlers, like the English immigrants to the United States (one thinks of the indented servants) creates no class divisions." 54 Heterogeneity has frequently been referred to as the basis for the rise and growth of class differences. But it is entirely possible that studies in social distance reveal that the discrimination and exclusiveness which characterize the social class pyramid are of a radically different sort than those which typify racial, religious, and nationality antagonisms.

The social classes look up to and down at each other. The lower classes pay deference and are either envious or respectful, or some combination of the two. The lower classes do not expect to be entertained by their superiors. The upper classes reap the esteem granted by those beneath them. The middle classes play the dual role of both paying and receiving deference.

Race, nationalities, and religions frequently have equal pride. The Indian looks down upon the white man, as does the Japanese or Chinese, but the whites think themselves to be superior to oriental races. The same is true in the fields of nationality and religion. What kind of social exclusiveness is it when each group looks down upon the other, and vice versa? There can scarcely be said to exist a hierarchy of religions, nationalities, or races in which each will accept a position given to it by the others. In fact, consensus fails to function in this realm.

Further analysis requires special consideration of each of these large categories: religions, nationalities, and races.

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54. Cooley, op. cit., p. 221.