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Essay: Issues on race, religion and socioeconomic status

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Published: November 15, 2018*
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  • Issues on race, religion and socioeconomic status
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Mehrotra and Wagner (2009), state that there are six aspects of diversity: gender, race/ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, community location, and sexual orientation. In the movie Driving Miss Daisy, the issues of race/ethnicity, religion, and socioecomic status are bought to light. The movie delves into the relationship that is developed between Miss Daisy and Hoke contrary to the differences between one another. Driving Miss Daisy shows the disparities between educational standards for African Americans and Whites and how this leads to the judgment of others. Socioeconomic status and race play a key role in their relationship because it shows the true feelings of Miss Daisy though she may be judged because she is Jewish. This allows her to see the mistreatment of Hoke at points in the movie and allows her to open up to him, even though she can be difficult to understand. These three aspects of diversity played a role in the relationship that set them back for a few years but eventually bought them together when they looked beyond the outside and looked inward.
According to Mehrotra and Wagner (2009), diversity is defined as differences seen between various groups of people that affect daily lives. Driving Miss Daisy delves into the role diversity plays in our lives. This movie is centered around the relationship between a wealthy, Jewish woman and Black chauffeur in Atlanta, Georgia in 1989. Miss Daisy is a 72-year-old retired school teacher who lives alone with her black maid Idella. Boolie Werthan, Miss Daisy’s son, recruits Hoke Colburn, a black chauffeur, to drive her around because she drove her car into her neighbor’s yard. She is reluctant to this change because she wants to keep her independence as long as possible and does not believe she needs a driver.

In the beginning, when Hoke tries to drive her to the store she tells him that she would rather take the trolley because she does not trust him. For a long time, she is mean to Hoke because she does not want to be seen as the “Queen of England… [since there was a time she could not] afford them” (Zanuck, Zanuck, & Beresford, 1989). Throughout the movie, she alerts her son to the behaviors that Hoke is exhibiting and makes it known to Hoke that she does not approve of his behavior; it appears that he is turning her life upside down.

At one point she wants Hoke fired because she believes he stole from her and she already did not want a driver “eating her food and using her phone” (Zanuck, Zanuck, & Beresford, 1989). When Hoke comes to work that morning, he tells Miss Daisy about the can of salmon he ate and repays her. She is shocked and tells her son that she knew he would pay her back for it. Once they get past this hurdle, Miss Daisy has Hoke take her to the cemetery to take flowers to her husband’s grave. While there she asks him to take flowers to her friend’s husband’s grave, but Hoke cannot find it. He confides to Miss Daisy that he cannot read, and she is shocked he cannot read. She tells him that she remembers him reading the newspaper and he confesses he just looks at the paper. In that moment she gives him a quick lesson in phonics and he is able to find the gravesite to place the flowers for Miss Daisy.

As time passes on, Miss Daisy begins to warm up to Hoke and even gives him a gift at Christmas time even though she is Jewish. During these next few years Mrs. Daisy begins to open up more to Hoke and reveal more of herself. On time they were driving, the police stop them and question Hoke about the car. One of the police officers makes a comment and says “Old Jew and n***er taking off down the road. That’s a sad sight to see” (Zanuck, Zanuck, & Beresford, 1989). This is hard for both of them to hear because of the progress they have made in their relationship, but they continue driving.

More years pass by and an unfortunate event happens. Miss Daisy’s maid, Idella, passes away and Hoke steps up to the plate. He begins to make Miss Daisy’s meals and keep her home tidy; he stuck by her side during this difficult time. After this time, Hoke is driving Miss Daisy to her to the Temple, where she worships, and he tells her that it was bombed. She in turn does not believe him and takes her anger out on him. Even though she does this he is still nice to her and cares for her. At one point, Miss Daisy offends Hoke by not inviting him to a Martin Luther King dinner because “[Hoke] can see him when he wants” (Zanuck, Zanuck, & Beresford, 1989). She believes things have changed but to Hoke they have not because of the way she treats him.

Some more time passes, and Miss Daisy’s memory begins to decline. She speaks to Hoke about going to school to teach and he calls her son, Boolie, to alert him. She tells Hoke that he is her best friend. The home is sold, and Miss Daisy moves into a nursing home. While she is there Hoke and son come to visit on Thanksgiving. On this particular day, she remembers who Hoke is and asks how he is doing. He stays and feeds her the pie and it shows the relationship they have even though they have been through so much.

Mehrotra and Wagner (2009) talk about the aspects of diversity: gender, race/ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, community location, and sexual orientation. In Driving Miss Daisy, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion are touched on. According to McGraw (2001), Hoke was using socioeconomic status to determine what activities Miss Daisy should be doing; he believed that since she was a “fine rich Jewish lady” (p.47) she should not be carrying her own groceries or taking the trolley. He has preconceived notions about behaviors that those of a certain affluence should be participating in but does not take into account the type of person she is. Miss Daisy does not want to be seen as a how society viewed Jewish people during that time -rich – even with the discrimination she faces.

Education is important to the lives of many. Unfortunately, due to African Americans socioeconomic status they may not have been able to attend or complete school. Many African Americans did not have the opportunity to obtain an education due to having to work to help support the family. Noltemeyer, Mujic, and McLoughlin (2012) stated that even though schools were separate for both African Americans and Whites, the schools for African Americans were of a lesser quality due to most of the funds going to White schools in the Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education Georgia (1899) trial. This caused schools for African Americans to be closed due to a shortage of money. Another reason that Hoke was not able to learn to read was because of the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling that stated that all public places, including educational institutions, were separate but equal.

The disparities in education seen since slavery reflect the disparities socioeconomic status of various ethnic and racial backgrounds (Ethnic and racial disparities in education, Due to Hoke’s inability to read and educational disparities seen in the United States, it can be seen that separate but equal was not true. Miss Daisy had to go back to an almost kindergarten way of teaching Hoke in order for him to understand sounds. The education standards for Whites versus African Americans was very different and allowed African Americans to become chauffeurs and maids, while White people were able to become teachers and doctors. The organization of White schools and African American schools was different and did not foster engagement between teachers and students in some instances, which did not allow for achievement (Ethnic and racial disparities in education, higher than elementary school for some African Americans due to financial burdens placed upon families.

In the south, many schools were reluctant to desegregate. This was a long and slow process due to the racial tensions and outbreak (Noltemeyer, Mujic, and McLoughlin, 2012), from those who did not agree with the decision to desegregate schools. It was not uncommon during this time for Whites to have a better school system due to the laws in place and the segregated schools that allowed for better education and secondary schools. According to Noltemeyer, Mujic, and McLoughlin (2012), African Americans who in the lower class tend to not graduate from high school as opposed to African Americans in the middle class who graduate at higher rates. This may be due to families not being able to buy school necessities for their child, such as books or even provide a lunch which has an impact on education. Whereas, Miss Daisy was not subject to the educational biases against women of this time. Instead of learning how to be a wife and mother (Noltemeyer, Mujic, and McLoughlin, 2012) she was able to attend school and gain an education. Daisy’s education focused on “increased literacy and skills beyond those needed to become good wives” (Noltemeyer, Mujic, and McLoughlin, 2012, p. 11) and she was able to become a teacher.

Religion plays a role in this movie for not only Miss Daisy but also Hoke. During a drive to Temple they are stopped because of a bombing. It is clear to see that this bombing has shaken Miss Daisy to her core as she cannot fathom the possibility that an event like this has occurred. This is the moment where the importance of religion in Miss Daisy’s life becomes poignant, and as McGraw states “the stability of her identity” (p.52) was taken from her. Older adults, especially African Americans, value religion, and since slavery religion/spirituality has been an aspect of life that African Americans hold onto. One’s religion is what gets them through daily life. In Miss Daisy’s life it is seen that religion plays a huge role as she is constantly at Temple for service and at her disbelief in the attack. Mehrotra and Wagner (2009), found that many older adults turn to religion because of its benefits to one’s physical and mental health.

The role of race and ethnicity play a major role in the life of Miss Daisy and Hoke’s relationship. In the beginning stages of Miss Daisy and Hoke’s relationship she tried every avenue to get him fired. She was willing to sacrifice her safety in order to see that Hoke was fired because he stole a can of salmon from her. She was surprised by his actions when he repaid her for the can he ate and apologized. The comment from the police officer about her and Hoke being together as a “sad sight” (Zanuck, Zanuck, & Beresford, 1989) speaks truth due to some of her prejudice behavior she exhibited at points in the movie. She was projecting her prejudices, as defined by Mehrotra and Wagner (2009) as one’s views on another group of people, because of the era she and Hoke grew up in. Though she is White she is also Jewish, and she had to undergo her own prejudices and stereotypes placed upon her. One’s socioeconomic status and gender can make issues of health and daily life difficult to overcome due to prior biases that a particular person is holding onto and is unable to rid oneself of.

The indignation she showed Hoke when he said that someone who is rich like her should not be riding a trolley, is proof of the injustices she faced as a young child when people knew of her religion. Miss Daisy continually goes to religious services, and Mehrotra and Wagner (2009), found that older adults who participate in religious activities have a protective barrier from developing cognitive declines, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This may serve as the reason why Miss Daisy did not begin to show declines in her cognitive function until she was past 80 years old.

Another point in the movie Miss Daisy let her biases of African Americans get the best of her. She did not invite Hoke to the dinner with Martin Luther King, Jr. because she believes that he “knows” him and is able to see him whenever he chooses. She is relying on previous knowledge that all African Americans know one another, when in actuality this is not true. The preconceived notions that Miss Daisy has about Hoke placed a strain on their relationship in the beginning, because it seemed that she did not trust him. She was very unapproachable and mean spirited to Hoke when tried to be nice to her and relate to her experience of the Temple bombing. At one point in the movie, she points out that things have changed and contrary to her belief, Hoke states that they have not due to the mistreatment he has received from her.

Miss Daisy and Hoke showed that despite differences in diversity, a person is able to form a relationship. The issues may be daunting for some and not for others but understanding where a person has come from and their culture can help. When initially judging someone, before getting to know them, it leads one down the wrong path. Both Miss Daisy and Hoke had to realize that though they were different, they could rely on one another. They could not hold each other accountable for any stereotypes they may have had about one another, because they each turned out to be a great asset to each other. In this movie, Zanuck, Zanuck, and Beresford set out to demonstrate to the public that though this is an unlikely relationship for its time, it is possible for two people to form a relationship and, at times, set aside the issues of socioeconomic status, religion, and race to see the beauty that one holds inside.

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