Wednesday, April 27, 2011

...To you all

Hi kids -- in the spirit of Phylicia's post here is my ode to you all.

I will admit that I am often really critical of Rhodes, and that my own relationship with this place is very, and perhaps, unjustly harsh. Much of that, I think, emerges from coming to grips with the way in which this place screams PRIVILEGE. Part of my struggle with recognizing the degree to which I am involved and benefit from the privilege of going here, and the privileges which allowed me to come here, is finding a way to stop letting it Rhodes be a privilege which I am ashamed of and rather have it be a force which motivates me.

In light of this, I think that the discussions that we have had this semester have not only brought to light many of the contours and realities of this privilege, but have also have really reaffirmed my belief in the quality and power of our education. Frankly, on very few occasions have I encountered an open, and lively discourse which not only challenged so many of my assumptions about race, but as importantly, about the sorts of unfounded assumptions about the types of things that people care about in this community. Basically, I had allowed cynicism to blind me to the reasons why I came here, and to the reasons why I love my education, my professors, and the fellows students here.

Also, I really appreciate the humor and grace with which everyone received criticism and challenges to their ideas. Especially when talking about issues which touch off so many known and unknown injuries, like race, it can be easy to come to an impasse. I hope to channel the same spirit of openness and willingness to assess myself critically in the conversations that I have now that I have to pretend like I am an adult. But mostly, it has been utterly refreshing to sit down with a group of people, most of whom I don't know or don't know well, and transform the way I think about race not through reading a text, but through conversation. It's been a strange and (dare I say) fun four months.

peace & <3

Homosexuality vs. Race Relations

Last Wednesday, a bill was approved in the TN State Senate that, if passed, would forbid public schools from mentioning homosexuality at all until students were in 9th grade. More details can be found here. As my anger gradually subsided, I began to draw a parallel between the education surrounding race relations and gay rights. We've mentioned before that perhaps schools should teach children to deny racial differences at an early age. While discussing the bill with a friend, I said that I thought ignoring homosexuality would only breed intolerance. She said, "Well, isn't that the point?" I think this is really interesting - could limits on freedom of speech keep important conversations from happening that lead to a distressed social climate? Is keeping children unaware of homosexuality in schools similar to ignoring racial stigmas? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Rise of Racism in Israel?

Hey here is a interesting article from Al Jazeera about growing and outspoke anti-muslim/anti-arab racism in Israel (read me!) The article argues that while there have always been levels of anti-muslim racism, these sentiments are on the rise in the current public discourse in Israel. This ties in nicely with some of the issues brought up in last week's presentation and also with our discussion of whether new cultural/religious racism represents a more advanced stage of racism.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Recalling America's obsession with naming, I've become curious to know what happens when people are falsely claimed as something that they are not. For instance, I believe one finds it insulting to be called a Mexican when they might be Latino or Hispanic because they speak Spanish, or even when Japanese, Philippines, and Koreans are mistaken for Chinese because of there tight eyes. I remember in high school I would be corrected all the time for assuming my classmates were Chinese when they were Korean or Japanese. And often times, but rarely, I mistake Native Americans for Asians. And even when African Americans are taken as Black Americans. I assumed once that my friend Jew because of her nose, it turned out that her father was hardcore Jew before marrying his wife and converted to Christian. I even thought once that another friend was Hispanic because of her accent when she was white and Italian, and another who's Italian for her dark hair. My point is that yes, as we discussed America has a problem with trying to name and classify groups of people and often, because of stereotypes and ignorance we more often than not wrongfully assign cultural identities to people.

Is Education Enough?

Throughout the semester, we have discussed how racism is deeply entrenched in our society. Although not everyone is the “frothing at the mouth” type racist, people implicitly react to others who have a different skin color. In my social psychology course, we had a guest speaker who discussed white privilege; according to him, an individual’s amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, shows increased activation within the first 20 milliseconds of interacting with a black person. However, this effect is not demonstrated when one interacts with a white person. Although the participants in this study were not seemingly racist, we are products of our society; “racism produces racists that reproduce the racism that produced them.”

Although we are now aware of this viscous cycle, the question remains, how do we break away from it? In class, we discussed that education, beginning in elementary and middle school years, is key in confronting racism. However, this must be done on a societal level rather than an individual level. Perhaps the government should mandate a nation wide curriculum that educates students on racism, including the consequences of both oppression and privilege. However, is education enough? If behavior predicts attitude more than attitude predicts behavior, then education alone is too shallow of a solution.

Again, according to social psychologists, the contact hypothesis predicts that increased contact with people who are perceived as being different will lead to more information about them and, consequently, less rigid stereotypes. However, this hypothesis will only reduce prejudice under five conditions:

1) Mutual interdependence and a common goal

2) Equal status

3) Informal setting where in-group members and out-group members interact directly

4) Repeated exposure with many members of the out-group

5) Social norms that promote equality

Is there a way to incorporate these conditions in school-systems? Even at Rhodes College, an institution that offers courses such as philosophy of race, there is very little interaction between white and black students. Since the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, schools have been desegregated for nearly sixty years. However, the consequences of segregation are still lingering. The contact hypothesis makes me believe that school systems across the United States should strive for greater diversity and greater interaction between students of different color. Although I understand that this is easier said than done, I do believe that this hypothesis, along with its conditions, demonstrate that education should not stand alone against racism.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Black Disadvantage, White Privilege, and Civil Rights

In thinking about our recent discussion on black disadvantage and white privilege, I am reminded of the debate that occurred during the civil rights struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s regarding integration vs. separatism/black nationalism. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s the mainstream sentiment of the civil rights struggle was that integration of the races was the ultimate goal of black Americans. The idea, essentially, was that blacks were denied many of their basic rights as American citizens but that this could be rectified if both races were at the same level. As we have discussed in class, however, whiteness is the norm in America; thus, as the ideology and rhetoric of many black Americans began to reflect in the early ‘60s, the unspoken implication of integration was that blacks needed to be brought into the fold of white America. In other words, integration of the races was really assimilation of blacks into white culture and society, something which Dubois had criticized decades earlier.

Therefore, black leaders such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael argued against integration by way of assimilation and in favor of the development of a strong black self-identity and real black political power – ideas that were combined in Carmichael’s introduction of the phrase Black Power in 1966. Basically, Black Power activists maintained that white society was, in many ways, corrupt and wholly undesirable as an end for black liberation. Carmichael argued in his 1967 book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, that real integration of the races could only be achieved if whites focused on fixing the many ills of their society.

Comparing this history to our discussion of black disadvantage and white privilege, I see the focus on black disadvantage at the exclusion of white privilege to be akin to the philosophy of integration through assimilation. It reflects the belief that if whites could only accept blacks into mainstream society and stop actively oppressing them, then racism would be a thing of the past. Clearly, this does not reflect the entire picture. As we discussed, racism in America is also maintained by the “invisible” system of white privileges. White Americans must come to terms with their privilege if the myriad problems of racism in our country are ever to be overcome. In other words, whites must recognize and address what is corrupt and sick in mainstream American society if the races are ever to be truly equal.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Are there privileges to being oppressed?

We had a guest speaker in another class. She discussed feminist views and the way that oppressed groups are trying to come out of their oppression. An interesting point was discussed when thinking about the military and women. As of right now, women are not a part of the draft and women are not allowed on the front lines. A generalization, but true generalization, is that most women are not pushing for women to be allowed on the front lines or for women to be included in the draft. While women are considered an oppressed group this is one example of women being spared from negative aspects that are a part of the oppressive group (i.e. men). Another such example that was brought up was chivalry. Chivalry is a privilege that many women get to experience and that many may not realize is a privilege. This privilege is a part of being the oppressed group, in the way that it is because of their gender that they are getting this treatment. So my question that I would like to ask you all is can you think of ways that other oppressed groups may have privileges that are available to them because of their oppressed status? Also, can you think of the ways that the oppressed groups, such as women in this situation, can overcome oppression and overcome privilege? What would you say to those who want to keep the privilege and get rid of the oppression?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why don't we care?: Racism and the Drug War In Mexico

Recent news about the second mass grave -- with 145 bodies and counting -- found in recent months the Tamaulipas town of San Fernando (article here) and others things I've been reading have gotten me interested in why we are not talking about the 40,000 people who have died in the drug violence in Mexico in the past 5 years. How is it that this massive humanitarian crisis literally on our borders -- many of the causes of which lie squarely in our own country -- is not at the forefront of our national discourse? I'm not saying that there is no coverage of the drug war in the press -- there is, and some of it is really good -- but more so I am trying to understand why there seems to be an larger apathy and shirking of responsibility by our government and by ourselves as citizens. Part of the answer, which is especially relevant to this course, is how the violence and its victims are framed as racial/ethnic other. I think there is a really important link between the ways in which stereotypes about Latin American people, ( particularly in this case, people of Mexican descent) which is perpetuated in our discourse on immigration and the interest (or lack thereof) in the drug violence. One stereotypical image is the macho, Latin american drug cartel leader -- the American War on Drugs in countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico over the past decades has linked Latin American people with drug cartels and violence in a very powerful way. Perhaps part of the story is that this general association of drugs with non-white peoples makes it easier to devalue and ignore the thousands being killed by drug violence. It creates a distance between "us" and "them" because this violence, criminality, and drug trafficking are have been linked with Mexican people. The types of racist logic which are so blatantly seen in our public discourse against Mexican and Latin American people make it easier to shirk American culpability in the violence across and on the border. Our drug consumption, our drug policies, our weapons, our money. Racism is one of the reasons (but, by no means the only reason) why these glaring facts about American contributions to the violence in Mexico keep going unrecognized.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

White Privilege and Passive Participation

In class on Thursday, we spoke of Whiteness studies, saying that this was a new area of study causing people to broaden their views of black oppression to include white privilege. This referred to the structure where we once focused on the perpetrator, the victim, and the wrong and suggested that these items should not be the only focus. Now an additional variable, the beneficiary must be inserted. Here you have a model that includes the perpetrator, the victim, and the beneficiaries who benefit every time the perpetrator succeeds in devaluing the victims. In this new structure, the problem of passive participation is now placed under the microscope as we examine white privilege. We explored the way in which white privilege remains an issue because some white people do not acknowledge the fact that they benefit from it. Another issue was the tendency to separate one’s self from the issue of black disadvantage because of the comfort of knowing that you are not actively trying to participate in its perpetuation. However ignoring this or failing to acknowledge this as a problem does not change the fact that you are still benefiting from white privilege and thus aiding the perpetrators by refusing to acknowledge such unearned privileges for what they are. But should you actively try t overturn the current social structure? What can you do? Would you actively refuse to receive the benefits of white privilege? And how do you regulate such instances? /During class we came to the conclusion that there are some ways with which we can begin to overcome such issues. It was unanimously decided (I believe) that first people must recognize this phenomenon as white privilege (Yes. I will now belatedly define this here.) which refers to the unearned benefits gained by white individuals which are usually gained at the expense of others. Consciousness must be raised of the subject. People should be taught that racial categories have no biological or scientific foundation and educated on white privilege. How should we go about this education? It was suggested that we should have different races in school working together to reach common goals from a young age. This alone will not be sufficient to overthrow the current social structure, but is this a good starting point? /On a side note, I have heard much debate over an “old south” party recently. I do not know much about exactly what group on campus that it was held by, but it seems that some black students had issues with it. It is apparently some sort of tradition to hold this function annually, but certain individuals find it to be disrespectful. What seemed to exacerbate the problem was that it is usually held on or around Martin Luther King day. I do feel like this was an unnecessary function and it was strange to me how the enlightened students of Rhodes felt like this would not make a portion of the students on campus uncomfortable. Again, I do not know much about the issue, but it was an interesting topic of discussion that I thought I would present. Does anyone else feel like it was disrespectful to have this party? I’m interested in seeing what you all think of this. /(The slashes were my attempt to separate paragraphs...I wasn't allowed to skip lines for some reason.)

White Privilege vs. Black Disadvantage

We talked about white privilege vs. black disadvantage in class. And I was on the fence about whether or not it would be more beneficial to talk about white privilege or black disadvantage. I think white privilege needs to be talked about because as we discussed in class there are so many white people who are not aware of their white privilege and it needs to be brought up to the forefront. On the other hand, I think that black disadvantage is easier to recognize and I believe that it needs to be addressed as well because there are certain disadvantages that many face that is not recognized. While reading the Invisible Knapsack article, I must admit, as a black woman, I was annoyed at her attempt to write down these fifty things. She wrote down fifty advantages to being white, things that I have never thought of because I am not white and I asked the question of whether or not writing down these advantages serve a purpose, other than knowing what you have an advantage to do. I want to pose her question again, will whites be willing to end it or lessen it? I don't think it serves a purpose, I can, as a black woman, sit and write 100 disadvantages of being black and say this will open my eyes and others to see how am being discriminated against, but what is the purpose? Will I do something after that to stop it and will others stop changing these disadvantages just because I brought them to the forefront. As we discussed in class, there needs to be a constant reminder and correction about privileges and disadvantages and it not these unearned privileges and disadvantages will continue.

Racial Preservation, Maybe?

In class, we have been doing a lot of talking about how to view race from an eliminativist point of view. We have often brainstormed of ways to get rid of the system of thought that perpetuates a racial realist viewpoint. Yet, we haven't thought of this phenomenon of race in all ways possible. I've been doing some thinking this week and I came up with the question, "But who are you really?" Over the years, people have come to grow comfortable with their racial identities, because they are so deeply embedded in our society, and some even use race as a defining characteristic of their being. Instead of focusing on the elimination of race-focused thought, let's focus on the perpetuation of race-focused motivation. If indeed race was no longer believed to be existent, then what would happen to the ego and confidence of the poor woman who is barely making it, but can say "I am an independent, STRONG BLACK WOMAN."She would no longer be able to magnify her strengths because "blackness" would not be recognized. Even though there are definite negative aspects to the preservation of racial categories in the sense that they attribute to the maintaining of the perception of an essence in each of us, I believe that there are also definite positive aspects to each of us having a racial group to belong to and uplifting ourselves through our common history. Everyone wants to belong, and evven if race didn't exist, I strongly believe that humans would find a differet way to distinguish themselves from one another. SO.....rather than eliminating the belief in or existence of racial categories, why can't we just remove the harmful and biased artifacts within them?

My Farewell to Rhodes College

Approaching my last few weeks of undergrad I must say that my experience has been bitter sweet. I decided to write about this in my philosophy of race class because I feel like my race and class has played a part in shaping my perception of Rhodes College. When coming here , I experienced a complete culture shock. Although, I went to school with a few white people we were all of the same class and they were use to being around people like me (blacks), there was still a big difference in my experience in high school compared to my Rhodes experience. As the only black on the volleyball team my freshman through junior year, I gradually grew more comfortable and confident in who I was. I always felt that whenever I was myself around white people it made them uncomfortable. By being myself , I am referring to talking the way I talk being a native Memphian and even down to the small things such as swag (the things I wear, my body language, etc).

There were times that I felt like I had to transfer ASAP or else .....

Then there were other times, when I felt as though there were some advantages of being at an institution like Rhodes. I can say I have met some great people (some whom are like me and others who are completely different. Not just referring to race but philosophies of life, worldview, religious preference, etc). I will say I appreciate the black community and the faculty and staff for keeping me grounded in hard times. offices such as the multicultural affairs office served as a coping mechanism when going through hard times. The multicultural affairs office during after hours is a safe space that lends space to the development of many peer support groups. We have had many discussions in the office which has created and molded me into an accepting, understanding person in many aspects in my evolution as a social being in America. I also want to thank the faculty and staff. Professor J , I WISH I WOULD HAVE BEEN KNOWN ABOUT YOU !!! YOU ARE THE BOMB ! You have served as a prototype for a great professor in my opinion and this class has taught me so much.

My white counterparts.... THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU ... you all have opened my eyes up to so much on so many levels. I appreciate you all taking a class such as philosophy of race and actually taking part in a discussion that you as a white individual could do just fine without. Thank you , I wish all of Rhodes was like you guys. I have learned so much and gained an understanding of so many structural factors than can serve as obstacles at times of us understanding or relating to eachother. This class goes way beyond the classroom for me. Thank again to everyone and thanx for taking the time out to read this .....

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Compromising Factor.

I remember Chloe saying in the class the other day how she is half white and native American, but people would know that because they automatically assume that she is white, when truth is she is not entirely. I found it interesting how one can be half black and white, but still be considered black; that if any part of one's pure whiteness were diluted by a hint of black, they would automatically be considered black, and my question is, why is this only for black and white? Clearly, by her description of herself she is not purely white, so why then can she not be considered her other half, native American, when her so called "purity" has been affected by her native American heritage? Why is it just that black is only now considered the compromising factor in one's identity and not those such as native Americans who were also once enslaved just as blacks?

White Privilege at Walgreens on Union and McLean

Last semester, I took Counseling Psychology. One of the first topics we examined was White Privilege. As a class assignment, we were asked to go to a nearby pharmacy and find greeting cards, magazines, bandages, make-up, and stockings for an African American woman. The experience was eye opening to say the least. I had gone to the same Walgreens that I have shopping at since freshman year, yet I had never noticed the lack of variety and price discrepancy for African-American products. I discovered that Hallmark offers a line of greeting cards, called “Mahogany,” that is specifically intended for African Americans; however, this section was noticeably smaller and distinct from the adjacent aisle of greeting cards. Moreover, I could only find two magazines for African Americans out of the plethora that were offered. The task of finding such magazines was difficult considering both were on the bottom shelf. The bandages, stockings, and make-up for African Americans were more expensive than the products offered for Caucasians. For example, Covergirl sold dark foundation shades for $10.79, while the light foundation shades were $8.79.

Considering the Memphis population is approximately 60% African American and 30% Caucasian, I was stunned at the limited selection of African American products. In addition, each African American product was labeled in reference to skin color, such as “Brown Sugar” or “Mahogany.” Such distinction from other products perpetuates the normative value of being White in our society. In addition, it is unjust that African Americans pay more for products simply because of their skin tone.

After reading the article on White Privilege, I was particularly struck when the author wrote, “whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’” (McIntosh, 1). However, allowing “them” to be more like “us” seems like an impossible endeavor; the difficulty about white privilege is that it is often unrecognized. Thus, people will not be able to afford such privilege to minority groups. On the other hand, denying white privilege seems to mimic the “colonizer who refuses” dilemma; is it possible to escape white privilege in our society?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Betraying" Your Race

In Thursday's class we talked about Charles Mill's book, "Blackness Visible" and the "Oreo" case study. We talked about the various ways to determine one's race. We spoke about first, Bodily Appearance in terms of how someone looks on the outside for example hair, skin color, etc. We also talked about the last way of determining a race through self-identification, which meant how someone described oneself. In class we got into somewhat of a debate between one who is African American and says that they are white and a transgender. In the case study of the African American who tells people that he or she is white, people spoke out saying that in a way this was going against and "betraying" their African American race. In a case of a woman trying to be a man, there is something biological attached so one would say that this is a different issue. How are these situations similar or different? We socially have attached a racial signifier of being black to a African American trying who claims they are white, and we do the same to a woman who says that she wants to be a man. In a way the situation of the woman wanting to be a man wouldn't be the same because she wouldn't really be upsetting the female population of the world? What are your thoughts on the comparisons of these two situations?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Error Theory?

In Charles Mills' book, Blackness Visible, he identifies several different metaphysics of race. He places these theories under two different categories of thought, objectivist and anti-objectivist. The objectivists believe that things exist independent of human experience or knowledge of them; the anti-objectivists believe the opposite. One of the theories Mills places under anti-objectivism is error theory. Error theory grants no truth or realness to anything that has no scientific basis. To me this sounds a lot like it should fall under the objectivist camp. Science is objective in the sense that things we hold to be scientific facts are true regardless of individual human beliefs about them. As Dr. J said in class it is as if the error theorist is a racial realist who believes race doesn't exist. Racial realists say that race exists, whether or not we recognize it does, as racial essences or natural kinds; the error theorist would say that race does not exist, even if we think it does. Its seems that the distinction Mills made between objectivists and anti-objectivists is also a distinction he wants to make between those that believe race exists and those that don't. I think it weakens the elliminativist's position to say that those who believe race doesn't exist believe in a sort of subjectivism. There are surely a great number of eliminativists who believe race to be something that doesn't exits objectively, but Mills doesn't recognize this, at least in his metaphysics of race. To me, at least, basing beliefs in scientific facts is objective.

Decisions: Black Students Decisions to attend PWI rather than HBCUs

When graduating from high school many African Americans are faced with the decision of attending a historically black college or a predominantly white institution. When considering which route would best suite them many factors come into play. Who would I feel most comfortable around? Which route will better accompany my future success? Which schools have the better reputation? Which school would I qualify for the most money? These questions all bog the minds of African American high students all over the United States when considering colleges. Relativity to culture is a serious factor that contributes to the answers to these questions. As a senior at a predominantly white institution, I can personally say that attending a historically black college may have had a more positive impact on my growth as a college student: academically and socially.

As a sociology major, I am very interested in the cultural aspects of any environment or atmosphere. The dynamics of a college campus seemed to be key in determining the major contributors to students of color’s success in college. There is always a constant negotiating of identity and success in the African American community. The constant negotiating varies according to gender and class within the African American community. As an African American student in college, many times I question how my academic success can be impacted from other factors aside from my capabilities. I felt as if this would be an interesting topic to research by looking into academic success in historically black colleges, compared to private white institutions. Rather we all accept it or not, our environments have a tremendous impact on the way we perform or go about things. While many African American students are now present in higher education, the numbers have fluctuated tremendously over decades. While there was once a sense of urgency in the African American community to attend college, that urgency has sort of come to a halt. Due to the social positions of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, when offered the opportunity to attend college many African American ceased that opportunity and took great advantage of it.

Over the weekend , I got a great opportunity to conduct interviews for my senior project on Tennessee State University's campus (a historically black college). I also had an opportunity to visit Fisk University while I was in Nashville. All the students at these schools said that the thing they liked most about their school is the shared sense of community and support by faculty, staff, and the student body. This was very interesting to me and it even made me question my views on this ohhh sooo great school "RHOOOODDEESS COLLEGGE". I 'll leave it at that. Comments......

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Changing Face of America

This short article from yesterday’s New York Times outlines our country’s changing racial demographics. According to data gathered by the Brookings Institution, white children, who are currently the majority, will be a minority by 2019. This is even earlier than the 2023 date that was predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Even more striking is the statistic that the median age for whites is 41, while the median age for Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic, is 27. This means that not only are whites going to be a minority population in the U.S. by 2041, but they are also going to be an old population. Of course, this poses a number of interesting questions regarding race relations in America.

To begin with, is it likely that racism, or perhaps more pertinently white privilege, will decrease along with the white population? Both racism and white privilege seem to be grounded largely in the outdated belief that to be truly American is to be white. Of course, even today this is an absurd notion but it is still reflected prevalently in our societal norms. It seems possible to me that as whites become more and more of a minority, the unwarranted nature of white privilege will become increasingly harder for whites to ignore. Granted, this does not necessarily mean that whites will give up their privilege. As we saw during the Civil Rights struggle in the ‘50s and ‘60s, for instance, whites often react violently when their privilege is challenged. There is probably little coincidence that there has been an upsurge of racial antagonism against Hispanics over the past few decades – numerically, they are the largest challengers to white privilege…

It is also important for us to consider whether or not institutional racism will change along with the changing demographics. By this, I refer largely to the de facto segregation that exists in cities throughout our nation. As whites have decreased in their majority status over the years our cities have become more, not less, segregated. Take a look at this article for more information on this topic:

Not a single one of these cities is in the South! This does not bode well for our nations racial future. It seems that even though whites are a shrinking portion of the population, we still persist in separating ourselves from other races. If this trend continues it seems that there will be a growing inconsistency between the size of the white population and the wealth and power that it holds.

These are just two of the major issues to consider. What do you guys think? What are some other issues to think about and what are some further implications of the two that I brought up?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Religious Ties

Ferrell’s post, Race = Religion, raises some interesting points. Neither race nor religion naturally exists in nature; they are social constructs. The content super-imposed in these invented identities is just as superfluous. What does it mean to be a Muslim? To worship Allah the way a Muslim is supposed to. What does it mean to be a Christian? To believe Jesus Christ is the savior. What does it mean to be Jewish? To believe in the God the way Jews are supposed to. But neither Muslim, Christian nor Jew naturally exists in nature. Each identity arises out of a social doctrine. Examined in an a historical context, the regions are completely interchangeable. They promise to be the divinely right way to live—and that’s their appeal.

Yet it’s baffling how peoples acting on the same impulse to live piously in the Lord’s eye can come to such strife amongst each other based on religious differences seemingly so irrelevant to the ultimate objectives of their faith. It seems strange to me now just how upset my family would get if I became Muslim. And Islam requires much devotion. I am amazed at how such an insignificant tag can ostracize communities and peoples to the extent that it does.

Even stripped of all socially constructed identity, humans are not created equal (except in the most basic sense of humanity). I try to image peoples of various ethnicities striped of all social connotations, and still my tendency is to group similar appearances together. Race is purely physical, religion purely spiritual. Race is easier to physically observe, religion is easier (in theory) to change. When socializing with new acquaintances, we tend to first seek out individuals similar to ourselves. Religion is always a haphazard topic in conversation because it has the potential to raise controversies. Individuals become divided based on what they believe and who agrees with them. It is all too common in America for a Christian to disdain an Arab because he thinks he is a Muslim, only to find out he is also a Christian—at which time he is instead received as a worthy brother in Christ. And it also all too common for such a Christian to take for granted the Christianity of a fellow white person, who may well indeed be atheist or Muslim.
It could be said the white person, then, has the religious and well as the racial advantage. In being white, his racial identity is absent, it is the norm. Likewise, it is assumed that his religious ideals are in the norm, at least more so than non-Caucasians. Do people agree? Is it the case that Christianity in America also favors whites? Whites are more often assumed Christian? And this assumption serves to unconsciously unify white people and further ostracize individuals already different in appearance?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Basis of Self-Valuation

In considering the problems which arise when assessing the context and discerning the meaning of the term race. In part, the problem of racism seems to be based on presuppositions about basic abilities and capabilities of a given group (or person whose appearance places them in the bounds of a group). There seems to be an implicit mechanism by which people learn to associate certain traits with praise and others with disapprobation. Some characteristics which are valued come from factors which are in no way earned or deserved, and yet people often assume a level of self-worth from things which are given them. This stems from a psychological bias which many harbor, in which one's personal success or fortune is attributed solely to one's own work and merit, and another's failure is presumed to be the result of his/her personal failings.

It seems interesting that racism relies primarily on a flawed assessment of value based on a situation which one was merely born into, through neither right nor any fault of one's own. In examining racism, this single base concept should alone be enough for some to wish for a complete (if that is even an appropriate term) elimination of the concept.

Modern Day Negrophobia

As I sit in the Atlanta airport, once of the most diverse places in the world at any given time, I can’t help but wonder what those who sit around me think about me. If anything at all. What stereotypes do I meet? What stereotypes do I defy? Do I even meet any stereotypes? The thoughts that go through a minority in a majority world. I wish I could say that my fears were unjustified, but recent experiences have taught me otherwise. One of my good friends, who shall remain nameless, experienced what I would call a modern-day form of Negrophobia. For those who don’t know what Negrophobia is: it’s the fear of the figure of a Black person and the Black culture as a whole. Regardless of what type of person I am, someone who has Negrophobia will fear me before I even open my mouth or get a chance to defend myself. People latch onto the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and just plain ignorance.

One thing that seems to strike fear into the heart of white, middle class parents, are the words: “Mom…Dad…I’m dating a Black guy”. A lot of parents automatically assume the worse, that their daughter is dating one of the guys that they see on the nightly news, or in rap videos, or roaming the streets with their pants down below their ankles. The list goes on and on. Clearly, this is not the case with a fairly large group of Black men, but due to these standing stereotypes, people go with what they hear and no necessarily what they know. Negrophobia. In it’s most modern form. So Black men who don’t fit that stereotype are forced to fight an uphill battle.

One of my good friends asked me one day if I blame those Black guys who help promote the stereotypes and truth be told, I do lay some of the blame on them. I often find myself thinking, “if we didn’t *insert negative Black stereotype here*, then we wouldn’t have nearly as many racial problems as we do”. But the acts of a select few should not condemn the entire group. Just because the guy over there carjacked someone and he looks like me, doesn’t mean that I am going to do the same thing. In today’s society, one that we like to label as progressive, people are still narrow-minded enough to stereotype almost everyone they meet. And to think I used to assume that Negrophobia was an outdated term.

Race = Religion

So it occurred to me during the class on Sartre that race is a lot like religion. They share many things in common and both cause a lot of harm in the modern and ancient world.

How is race like religion? Well, this thought occurred to me when we were constantly saying that race has no basis in nature. Since race as we know it has no basis in nature, then we know it is not anything on which we can base our assumptions. Race is simply a social construct. Of course, this social construct has an impact on our lives and society because people ignorantly think that there is such a thing as race in nature. They base their assumptions on what they think is a fact in nature. The many racial stereotypes are based on genetics, for they claim that all persons of a race have inherited some trait such as laziness, stupidity, or ignorance. These claims have no basis in genetics or nature, of course, so we disclaim them on those grounds alone. We can find nothing in the genetic make-up of races that accounts for our differences.

So why do we insist on this point so fervently, while holding on to religion? There is absolutely no base for religion in science, yet people still cling to religion. Just as is the case with race, we can find zero evidence for religion in nature. Therefore, we should not believe in it. It is a silly leftover from past ages that were less informed about the nature of the world. It functioned primarily as a tool of power by those who were evil enough to exert it over others. Does this sound familiar? Just as people used race as some unfounded "scientific" fact to treat others like dirt, they also used religion to deny basic human rights to others who they deemed inferior simply on the basis that they were different.

I hope that in this post I have made one point clear: religion and race have the same unfounded basis, and that if you are to make the claim that there is no anthropological basis for race, then you are required to make the same claim for religion.

"The N-word": I know I can't use it; I don't want to use it, but why?

Earlier this week while commenting on the post “‘Nigger’ Versus ‘Nigga’: The Contextual Framework of a Historical Term,” I found myself struggling to find understanding because of realization of my own limitations due to my positioning. What I realized was that although I knew the use of this word was bad and disagreed with its use completely, I could never know the true gravity of its use. The reason for this is embedded in the fact that as a white male, I have had the privilege of belonging the most generic category that in larger terms has always been recognized as the norm. But where does the strong tug inside me come even when I try to type “the n-word” that keeps me from even spelling it out on paper?

I began thinking about this and one solution I thought of was that it a result of my own socialization to be a racially sensitive white male. What this means is that I had been told by my parents and those around me that the use of this word was unacceptable before I really had even learned the word. The word never had a chance to become a part of my vocabulary because it was introduced to me maybe in a book or on TV in which case the medium was either educational (even covertly) as to the negative aspects of the word or if it was used negatively my parents told me not to use the word. These lessons or instructions may have been accompanied with a story of someone else’s struggle with the use of the word, but more likely a broad stroke in regards to the negative connotation historically of the word.

Regardless of how my socialization occurred, the way that I feel that this lesson was internalized was in an “inner-directed” manner, which means that when I interact in my world today, I do not even consider the use of this word due to a tug at my inner morality. Like I said, I could not even bring my self to spell out the word in my first post and even in this one I justified my use of the “n-word” in the first sentence because it is quoted as a title. One thing I would like to point out here before I precede with my question is that I am not trying to come across like I am on a high horse by any means through my lack of use of this word. Instead, I am questioning this inner drive and examining it because in reality, I cannot ever fully comprehend why “the n-word” is so bad. I have never been the subject of the racism that follows the use of the negative use of the word, and on the contrary, it has never been socially acceptable for me to use the word in a lighter manner like I have heard it used. My only personal interaction with the word where it was said to me was by a black co-worker of mine at a restaurant who called everyone on the staff (white or black, including myself) by the "n-word" in the same way that I would use the word "bro" or "man." This did not bother me but rather left me very confused. He told me it was no big deal and not to worry about it, just never say it back. I kind of just accepted what he said as authority on the subject because he controlled the situation as the producer of language and its meaning in our interaction, and also since he was black, there was kind of an understanding that the white workers just had to take his word for it. I mean, who were we to correct him? Do I take his word for it? Do explain to him why I don't think it's okay to use even from him to other blacks and risk backlash from him as he questions who I think I am speaking out of place?

My positioning as a white male leaves me with the job to simply not use the word. I just simply know that its use is bad, but I wonder if my lack of understanding boxes me in so my only response is just to not use it. Would it be that bad if I were to type it out here in an academic context? As a white male all I know is that I am not supposed to use it, and out of a latent fear of being racist I feel like I refrain from using it and even feel uncomfortable making this post. That being said: please work with me here on this. I do not know if I completely make sense, but I am trying to put this feeling out there and just flush out some ideas to see if anyone, regardless of their own positioning, color, or sex can see where I am coming from or provide their own insight on this. Through this post I would like to help with my own/your own understanding of the use of this word and to a larger theme this idea of inner-directed action or this “moral tug” as we try to discuss our own experience with this word or this feeling (regardless of the context).

The Truth of Who You Are

During Tuesday's class we had an interesting discussion concerning the main character Coleman in The Human Stain. We discussed the morality of his decision to pass for white and I was interested to hear more of your opinions regarding the topic. I did not feel that he was wrong for desiring the freedom that claiming his black ancestry would not allow him to fully possess. But his decision to merely deny his black ancestry affected the lives of those around him also. Coleman was forced to separate himself from his family while he was in his early twenties. He told his aging mother suddenly that he planned to live out the rest of his life as a white man. So of course this meant that the aspects of his life that did not fit this charade would have to be hidden. He could not openly claim his family while maintaining his façade so his mother suffered throughout the rest of her life because she had lost her youngest son. A great deal of importance was placed on a conversation that Coleman’s sister had with his friend the author after Coleman’s death. Among other things they spoke of the problem that he had left to his children by not telling them the truth of who they were when he had the chance. It was stated that his daughter in particular may face a ticking time bomb when she has her first child because she may marry a white man and give birth to a noticeably black child. Her husband may then think that she had been unfaithful because she does not know her ancestry. This seems unlikely, but there is the possibility that she could have encountered this situation since Coleman himself was such an anomaly in his own family according to his brother when referring to Coleman’s “lilywhite” face. Was what Coleman did so wrong? What's the real problem here? There was a great deal of importance placed on the role that ancestry and history plays in one’s identity. According to Coleman’s sister Ernestine it seemed that Coleman never got over the guilt of not revealing to his children the truth of “who they were”. She says, “But it was clear that he never forgot that there was a lie at the foundation of his relationship with his children, a terrible lie..the children, who carried their father’s identity in their genes and who would pass that identity on to their children, at least genetically, and perhaps even physically, tangibly, never had the complete knowledge of who they are and who they were” (321). Is it truly so important to one’s essence and state of being for them to be aware of such aspects of their ancestry. Is race so essential that it was wrong of Coleman to go to his grave without revealing to his children that they were living out their lives with false knowledge regarding their descent? Did the whole of “who they were” really lie in that one small detail? Was Coleman therefore a despicable character for withholding this information?

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is truly beautiful?

In another class we are discussing the way that the body is not just a physical thing but is a cultural, societal creation that is ever changing and pressured. We were discussing such things as barbies, models, commercials, and more. It was interesting not only to think about this from the point of view of men and women but also from the view of different races. For instance, Barbies were made in different races but white barbies are much more readily available than any other; while black barbies are more available than asian or hispanic barbies are. Similar ideas can be seen in the industry of modeling for a very long time, and even now certain ideas or styles are identified with center races. The classic beauty, a white female, the exotic beauty, a black female, the porcelain beauty, an asian women, and more..
So how do we disband these cultural ideas and societal norms to create a more equal and all encompassing idea of beauty? Is there a way? What are your thoughts on the social constructs and cultural norms that drive our society and the interaction and beliefs we have?