Stigma: A Social Psychological Analysis

By Irwin Katz | Go to book overview

Preface

American society's treatment of various minority groups is often ambiguous, even contradictory. Blacks, for example, are protected against job discrimination by Federal laws and regulations that may even require employers to take affirmative action to correct racial imbalances resulting from past bias in hiring practices -- yet these same blacks are still excluded from major sectors of the housing market. In the domain of public education, Congress, the courts, and the executive branch have vacillated for over a quarter century on enforcement of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling against racial segregation in the schools. As regards the physically and mentally handicapped, sweeping Federal legislation that mandates free schooling for all disabled children in the "least restrictive educational environment" was passed in 1975, but the main burden of paying for this ambitious program was left to the already impoverished local school systems.

How do we account for such inconsistencies in public policy toward the disadvantaged? In instances where the civil rights of minority groups have been neglected, their relative lack of political power has no doubt been a factor, particularly when their demands have threatened the interests of the majority. Prejudice also plays a role. To be black or handicapped or very poor is to be marked as inferior and deviant, and therefore undeserving of the same full consideration that is given other people. To the extent that this attitude is held by the electorate, it remains relatively easy for legislators and other public officials to temporize on matters of equal opportunity and the like. Yet in some respects the Government's actions in behalf of minorities seem to go well beyond what would be dictated by purely political considerations. Although generally unpublicized, Federal outlays for antipoverty programs increased substantially during the 1970s, perhaps doubling after the figures are adjusted for inflation. It would

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