Human beings are social creatures who perceive others and themselves through their social environment.
Social environment is an immediate environment that acts as a mirror for the people to perceive themselves relative to others. The dominant factor in the social environment that significantly affects our perception is the social class that has set virtual boundaries for the people to socialize within certain limits. Dominant social classes provide benchmarks for others to tirelessly struggle to achieve perceived social status. In the essay ‘No Cats in America’, a student perceives that America is the land of bliss and without any problem. Moreover, ‘Masks’ is an essay that depicts beautiful girl with a wonderful family that leaves other students admiring her social stature at school. The essays depict how social classes of these students influence their perception of others and themselves at the school and in the society. Hughes and Zanden argue that, “the essence of the sociological imagination is the ability to see our private experiences and personal difficulties as entwined with the structural arrangements of our society and the times in which we live,” (2). Social class is a social construct that classify and fit people into their respective social levels depending on the dominant perceptions of varied social environments.
Therefore, how does social class influence our perception of others and ourselves in the society?
‘No Cats in America’
In this essay, after a student watched a movie ‘there are not cats in America’ and having learned about the American dream, the student realized that America is the land of happiness and free from any life’s problems. Seeing that many Russians have gone to America in search of better life, the student who is a Philippine began longing to be in the land of happiness and equality according to the American dream. Fortunately, his father gets a job in California and he realizes his wish of being in America. Shifting to America, he is utterly surprised to note that his cultural and racial identity puts him at disadvantaged social position because at school, students mock and ridicule him.
On the first day at school, other students laughed at him when he introduces himself. The students laughed at him because his English accent differs with American accent yet he is proficient in English for he had learned in Philippines. Moreover, during lunchtime, girls desert his table because of his strange menu and eating habits. He narrates that, “in Philippine, the only way to eat fish and rice is with hands … my manners were primitive here in America, I was embarrassed at the smell, was embarrassed at the way I ate, was embarrassed to be me” (Ramage, Bean, and Johnson 168). He eventually realizes that ‘there are cats in America’ for negative social perception and interaction severely affect his studies.
The second easy portrays a beautiful girl who attracts a lot of envy and admiration at school due to her beauty and elegance.
Narrator describes her beauty comparatively and concludes that it is matchless in the entire school. “Today, she wore a pink dress with frills and lace and impeccably white tights. Her feet, which swayed back and forth underneath her chair, were pampered with shiny, black shoes without a single scuff … wise, sophisticated beyond her kindergarten years” (Ramage, Bean, and Johnson 169). The narrator admits that her beauty and elegance attracts great deal of envy from other students and particularly her to the extent that she emulates her form of dressing, hairstyle and painting. The beautiful girl paints an elegant drawing of a superb house and classy fence, which reflects her social status and beauty as well. Her mother loves her very much and always congratulates her for the little and great things she does. In contrast, other students had to paint something that closely resembles her painting as an effort of achieving her status of beauty and elegance. Unfortunately, the narrator realizes that her beauty and elegance is just but a mask because she is very dependent socially.
Moreover, she depends upon other students when doing her algebra assignment.
Social class is significant social factor that determines how people perceive social environment relative to themselves in the society with economic inequality and cultural diversity. In the essay ‘No Cats in America’, the student perceives that America is a land of happiness and equality unlike Philippines or Russian where people suffer due to constant problems in life that make life unbearable.
He longs to live in America because he perceives that America is the best place to live on earth. Comparatively, he thought that social class of America is better than that of Philippines and Russian, hence he perceives that Americans are great people. Emerson argues that, “our perceptions are always partial and subjective …they are partial because we cannot perceive everything; and they are subjective because they are influenced by factors such as culture, physiology, roles, standpoint, and cognitive abilities” (22). Thus, perception of America and Americans having higher social class gives him a false perception that he later discover that ‘there are also cats in America’ like others in Russia and Philippines. After going to America, his perception about America and Americans changes due to social class and cultural differences that portray him as a primitive student with poor education and bad eating habits. Although he perceives himself as a potential student who can equally compete anyone in class, his grades gradually goes down due to social class influence. The Americans students perceive him as a primitive student, which in turn leads him to believe that he is indeed primitive and began performing poorly in class. Humiliating experiences leads him to confess that, “I hate being Filipino! Silence filled the room, teardrops rolled down my cheeks, my parents were shocked, and so I was” (Ramage, Bean, and Johnson 168).
He cries because the American dream influences her life negatively for he performs poorly in class because other students mocks and ridicules his abilities. In the ‘Masks’ essay, the students perceive that the beautiful and elegant girl is very intelligent and sophisticated in class. Since she comes from an affluent family that gives her all that she wants, she is at higher social class relative to other students, thus she sets the benchmark for admiration and envy. Her social stature gives wrong impression to the classmates that she is not only a beauty model but also an educational model that everyone should admire and envy. Her friends try all means to emulate her dressing code, follow her hairstyle and copy her paintings for they perceive that she is the smartest of them all in the class and school just because of her social status. Knowing that no one matches her beauty and elegance status, she had great opinion of herself for she ridicules her friends whenever she feels they are trying to give her competition at school.
Smith asserts that, “people who have anxious or ambivalent attachment styles often are preoccupied with relationships and perceive others in unpredictable ways” (12). The girl perceives others as inferior and tries all means to secure her social position even though she performs poorly in algebra. With time, the students realize that they have a false perception of her since she cannot do algebra assignment on her own and that she is very dependent on others for complements of her beauty, unlike them who work independently. The narrator ultimately admits that, “I then, realized her cheerleader outfit, her golden locks, her smile were all a mask.
Take them away and nothing but air would remain. Her friends and their adoration were her identity. Without them she was alone and vulnerable” (Ramage, Bean, and Johnson 171). Her social class and identity masked and falsely magnified her abilities as student. Thus, social class influences our perception of others and ourselves in the society of economic inequality and cultural diversity.
Ultimately, basing on the two essays, ‘No Cats in America’ and ‘Masks’, they portray how social class influence our perception of others and ourselves.
In the first essay, the student perceives the American students to be of high social class and very intelligent while perceiving himself as inferior. Such perception negatively affects his studies making him to perform very poorly. In the second essay, a beautiful girl from an affluent family perceives others are inferior and thus she always ridicules others. Other students regard her as an intelligent and smart student to the extent that they emulate her dressing code, hairstyle and painting, yet she was very weak in algebra. Thus, social class can give us false perception of others and ourselves in the society.
Perception and Communication. New York: Wadsworth Publisher, 2008. Hughes, Michael, Zanden, James. “Developing a Sociological Consciousness.” The Journal of sociology 16.3, (2009): 1-23. Ramage, John, Bean, John, and Johnson, June.
The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing. Reading Notes Smith, Bernard. “Social Perception.” The Journal of Communication.