With regards to economic oppression, how have prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory structures operated currently operate to keep groups in the bottom ranks of the stratification system?
I think that the presence of prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory structures can be linked to an economic system that requires specific individuals to occupy space in its bottom level. Part of this might lie in the nature of capitalism itself. In both its theoretical foundations and its modern globalized version, capitalism is predicated upon individuals who are successful and individuals who are not. Those who are not as successful in the capitalist system remain at the bottom of a stratified system. The free market system is shown to be one where "social tendencies; i.e. the logic of capital and domination by corporate and commercial interests of the world economy and culture" are abundant. This condition is one where there are individuals who experience a narrative at the lower end of its structure. While there is freedom in such a condition, it does not remove the reality that there are individuals who exist at its bottom. Accepting this premise is critical in understanding the presence of bottom ranks of a stratification system. Regardless of its intent, the mass exporting of capitalism in the form of globalization around the world has developed such a configuration. Individuals who are wealthy are fewer than those who are not.
Since there are individuals who will exist at the ground level of the economic system, the question becomes how choice is made as to who exists at this level. The notion of specific groups that occupy this level can be heavily influenced by prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory structures. Part of this comes from how those in the position of power are able to have their beliefs accepted as normative behavior. For example, those who occupy economic and social power are able to replicate structures and conditions where there is a consolidation of their power. Since some of these attitudes are prejudicial in favor of advancing those in the position of power, structures become more reflective of the dominant group. From this, one can see where prejudicial attitudes help to create discriminatory structures. It is for this reason why one can see a hardening of social stratification becomes the result of such attitudes and behaviors. Different versions of this exist around the world. Structures such as the media are critical in being able to normalize prejudicial attitudes: "Mass media have played and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, the media have fostered a distorted and pernicious public perception of African-Americans." This is one example of how prejudicial attitudes feed into discriminatory structures, helping to enhance economic oppression.
Prejudicial attitudes can take on many forms. It can exist in the form of racial/ ethnic, gender based, or any form of discriminatory behavior that validates the normative behavior of prejudice. There is an attitudinal understanding that helps to create the bottom level of social stratification. Since one has already accepted this reality exists under the presence of capitalism, prejudicial attitudes are adopted to justify it. In doing so, there is no questioning of the system and replication of success for those in the position of power continues. Transformation of economic oppression exists in being able to open this discussion.