Thursday, April 30, 2009
What has prompted the most thought for me is which method of racism is worse. One is honest in its discrimination while the other is more overtly civil, but is that better or worse? With regard to the overt racist, one can put his position, actions, and dogma in perspective and weigh those same things accordingly while the passive racist's tendencies could easily be more damaging as it would be easier for him to affect policy or decisions in a calculating manner considering that the passive racist may not be easy to identify as such.
At the same time though, is the easily identifiable action of the overt racism more damaging in that it receives more coverage? An overly racist cause could serve to attract an entirely new set of racist or to mobilize those who might have lesser racist tendencies. The counterpoint there is that this type of coverage could equally mobilize the tolerant, counteracting or even overshadowing the gains made by overt racist. The passive racist on the other hand is not likely to attract new racists in the same degree, but if he is able to covertly affect change, those changes could persuade some to believe that the subtle racism that the passive racist is able to enact is proper. This passive approach is far less likely too to attract anti-racist sentiment among the tolerant.
So which is worse? I've been thinking about this off and on for the past several weeks and can't decide which is more damaging on the personal level or social level. Another thing I've struggled with is determining whether one who truly cannot divorce himself from his own racism should act overtly or passively. Does honestly with regard to intolerance yield a better result than letting it only subconsciously affect action? As you can see, after milling the concepts over, the questions are incredibly difficult to answer as each form of racism offers its own set of detriments, each as difficult to weigh as the previous.
One way to reduce prejudice and promote racial harmony is to interact more with those of a different race. Just simple personal interactions with a member of another race can help reduce prejudice in ourselves.
Start or get involved in an anti-racist coalition. Grouping together with others that feel the same about race issues can aid in the reduction of racism. This is a great way to fight race privilege on a school campus or other institution. It’s easier to impact systematic racism when people group together.
Be a white ally (if you’re white). By this I mean, do what you can to help race issues. Too many people quit in their efforts to reduce race privilege because they feel like their individual effort fails to make a meaningful impact. If you aren’t actively fighting racism then you are helping perpetuate it.
Talk to individuals. If you overhear someone making a racist statement, ask them why they said it. Try to understand why they would say this, and calmly explain your stance on the issue. Discussing race issues with others is a good way to combat racism on the individual level.
Obtain positions of power. The more power you have, the greater the influence you can make on institutional racism. Politicians, heads of organizations, and CEOs have more power than most to fight race privilege. People in positions of power can help restructure our society to be more racially equal.
Although these are just a few ways to promote racial equality, they can be pretty successful. White privilege is not a commonly believed phenomenon. The main problem surrounding white privilege is that many do not believe in its existence. It is the responsibility of those who believe white privilege is thriving to do what they can to spread awareness of it.
Does anyone else have any ways to help create racial equality?
Then we were introduced to Montagu. Ashley Montagu criticized the anthropological view of race as nothing but an inconsistent definition and an artificially constructed "omelet". Finally, it seemed as though I found a view that was as dissatisfied as I was about the inconsistent way we tend to use the word race. From that moment on, I agreed with Montagu that the term "race" should be completely eradicated from our language.
However I have come to realize the naiveté of this view. Though I hate the negative aspects of the perpetually broad definition of this word, it is essentially impossible to get rid of due to the dependence the human race has given it. "Race" is constantly evolving in meaning. Because we do not live in a "horizontal" society, the only way to thwart the negative aspects of using the word race starts with yourself.
Between the conference and recent class discussions, I’ve noticed more and more parallels between the struggles for healthcare access and racial equality. Structural violence, unacknowledged privileges, and arguments over semantics create a glass ceiling preventing us from attaining the level of equity outlined in documents such as our own Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
I don’t mean to say that the Civil Rights movement was unsuccessful or that the UDHR was not a monumental stride. Clearly we’ve come a long way the past 50 years in terms of written legislation; however, it’s easy to simply pull quotes from these documents and argue that our work is complete. I think most of us would agree that unresolved social, economic, and racial inequalities are systematically buried under the façade of equal opportunity. From the impression of an equal playing field stems the common misconception and generalization that current inequalities can be attributed to a person’s innate ineptitude or laziness. The sick are sick because they don’t care for themselves (not because they lack equal access to preventive healthcare). The poor are impoverished because they lack entrepreneurial skills (not because they lack equal access to education). At the same time, though, somehow we need to recognize the significance of the structural forces at play without lifting accountability off individual shoulders.
Both racism and global health inequity are manifestations of structural violence. Not only does the system self-perpetuate its design and hierarchies, but realization of these sedimented structures can often deter individuals from taking action. General feelings of inevitability and helplessness serve to suppress efforts to dismantle (or at least navigate) the system. This makes perfect sense from an economic perspective. Why invest in something that will likely eat your money?
The assumed role of “investor” is a privileged position. Ability to extend one’s reach to others requires a certain level of health and stability. We gripe about costs of medical care in the US, yet we are incredibly privileged to have access to top-notch hospitals, clean water, food, and other services difficult to obtain in developing countries. Typically, we are not reminded of these benefits on a daily basis, and this is just one example of Western privilege when it comes to healthcare access. For most, the phrase “global health issue” tends to evoke images of starving children in Africa. Global health is often perceived as a Third World plague, with the potential remedy lying in the hands of the West. Likewise, racialism is typically portrayed as a problem for oppressed colored people, with the predominantly white government responsible to grant civil rights. In both cases, the fundamental aspect of privilege involves unconsciously extracting oneself from the issue and assuming the role of caretaker.
Right now, other than good will, there’s not much motivating the West to cure the Rest. This is where I believe the human rights paradigm potentially takes a stronghold over civil rights in the quest for social justice. It’s impossible to conceive of a free-standing right, or one without a corresponding duty. A right always involves two parties at minimum. You have no rights unless someone else acknowledges them, and then the “other” has a duty to act in accordance with those rights. When it comes to enforcing political or civil rights, duty primarily lies in the hands of the state. For human rights, the responsibility belongs to humanity. A couple others have asked about the possible synthesis of Alternative Epistemologies, and I wonder if human rights language may be the source of a universally resonating call to action.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In honor of Shakespeare’s 100th birthday, Rhodes College invited two scholars to speak about their experiences editing and studying the works of Shakespeare. Dr. Callaghan presented the first lecture on her experiences in editing a soon to be published edition of Taming of the Shrew. She began her lecture discussing her concerns with the book’s audience and the importance of the book cover. She had to make the decision of how Kate should be conveyed offering three different options. The first was a black and red outline of a woman’s eye and brow. The second was a comical picture of Kate and Petruchio smiling in an animated manner. The third was a picture of Kate and Petruchio displaying the patriarchal culture by Kate’s resemblance of a puppet. Her mouth is open and hands clasp together with Petruchio standing behind her to imply he is the puppeteer. Dr. Callaghan expressed her concern with the first image on the book, because it helps to guide the reader to a certain interpretation. It didn’t take her long to decide that the option number one best represented her perspective. In her editing, she did extensive research on the history of this time, specifically the issue of gender inversion. She asked the question where is the boundary between erotic intensity and rape, and used the example of a “shrewish woman.” There seems to be some idea that women may like restraint and force, and consent seemed to be blurry in the time period. She then looked at the other works of the time to show a comparison such as the character of the Greek nymph, Daphne. Dr. Callaghan emphasized the attractiveness of a chase, and the motivation that comes from an inability to possess something of desire. As a woman editor dealing with these types of issues, Dr. Callaghan refers to the Taming of the Shrew as an emotionally difficult play. There are many controversial issues such as gender, class, and the innate tendency to strive to be superior.
In my psychology of gender class, I found there to be many interesting parallels to race. In Invisible Blackness, Charles Mills chapter on Alternative Epistemologies critics Rene Descartes’s Cartesian sum. As we learned, the Cartesian Sum is a detached observer, individualistic, and objective in isolation. There are benefits to use this perspective as a model for our perceptions, because it allows us to separate mind and body to offer objectivity and independence of what people think. Yet, the claims are not universal and cannot apply to all. The view is extremely narrow and shows the world perceived by the white male. Mills emphasizes the need for the alternative epistemology and offers gender as an option as well as race. There seem to be many parallels between the historical inversions Dr. Callaghan spoke of in her lecture, which are evident in the Taming of the Shrew. Dr. Callaghan emphasized the importance of the cover’s portrayal acting as a guide to the audiences’ interpretation. It was interesting to find that the play was written directly before the years of Descartes, who claimed the white male as the norm. In the play, Kate’s actions were observed from the male perspective. Dr. Callaghan’s question of what is rape and the idea of consent was not an issue for Petruchio. He says, “Will you, nill you, I will marry you,” showing his demand for the wife to conform to his ways. Just as the cover of a book influences the reader, Shakespeare’s plays in the late 1500’s and early 1600s seem to have impacted the culture as illustrated through Descartes and the audience. His writings parallel the character of Petruchio that the white male is the norm and superior. The historical perception of race has been evident through our studies of the philosophers. But just as men are the norm in gender, white seems to be the norm for race. Although our nation has made great strides in creating equality, there remain issues regarding the topic. I feel that Dr. Callaghan’s referral to the importance of the audience needs to be associated not just with gender related issues, but also with race. She took a full ten minutes to describe the different options available and explained how people would interpret the book just by the cover. If more people focus on the audience and create more attention to details could this create a new norm, not just the white male that Descartes portrayed?
We were arguing a libel case in which a celebrity turned politician claimed to have been accused of murder in a breaking news report. One of the strategies we mock trial teams use in order to grasp the attention of the jury, is the use of a theme which relates all the facts of the side of the case we are arguing. Well Yale’s theme for their side of the case was, “White man dead, black man standing…so it must have been murder.” As if the theme was not enough, the guy playing the so-called accused politician was black. Out of a team of seven people there were actually two African American males on the team. I must say this struck a nerve with me. For one, I could not believe that Yale would have the audacity to actually have a theme like this. Secondly, I could not believe that the two black males agreed to this theme. Am I wrong for being disturbed by this?
The latter concerned me more than the former. I guess I kind of expect that sort of thinking from some Caucasians. Maybe that is because I am a minority and I am just accustomed to being stereotyped however, I do my best to defy those stereotypes and not give in to the status quo whenever possible. The fact that the African American males agreed to be represented in such a light upset me most. I understand that Yale’s strategy could have possibly been to point out the problem with racial profiling in the media but considering the case had absolutely nothing to do with race I feel that was a strategy that was not needed and a point that was completely irrelevant. In view of how challenging it is for African American males to reach a high level of success in today’s society, I did not expect two African American males, especially ones who attend one the most stellar institutions in the country, to allow themselves to get pulled back so far. I would like to think that one of their goals is to exceed the status quo and the stereotype. I may have looked too deep into this theme but after hearing it I just could not help how disturbed I felt.
To my surprise, Yale actually ended up as one of the top 10 teams in the country. I could not believe that they were not scored down by any of their judges for this theme. Does this go to show the covert racism in our society?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Racism is not the question anymore. I do think it is white privilege. We live in a world where overt racism has been denounced, but white people have not relinquished the privileges they have gained through time. There are so many it is mind boggling. Anything that a white person can do strictly because there are more of them is a privilege. The questions that come to mind, though, are could we remove them, and should we?
Personally I don’t think it is possible to remove all white privileges without removing our majority status. Some of the privileges Mclntosh mention come to mind, such as knowing that when I go somewhere I will be amongst the majority. Others such as the Affirmative Action privilege of not being questioned about my abilities because I am a white person are also entirely based on the majority status of white people since that was one reason for the creation of Affirmative Action.
To my second question of should we remove them, I find the answer more difficult to address than previously thought. As a white person I am loath to gain the worries that occur amongst other races. I refer to a movie I watched some time ago called Something New. In the movie a black business woman dates her white gardener and expresses, among other things, the difficulties of reaching a high level in her business while being black. It is difficult enough as a woman to reach high levels in business nevertheless getting past the unfair disqualification of being black. That is only one among many privileges granted in a Fanon’s racialized post-colonial country. I think it fair to grant equal rights to those who merit them, but that is much too simple a response for real life. It begs the question of who decides merit? A white person? That’s just another privilege. It also brings up that it is more difficult for minorities to express their merit because of the situations that they have been entrenched in from years of white dominance. How could they possibly be granted equal opportunity?
It is so easy for a white person to accept that it is too difficult to answer and become cynical and move on about with their white privileges, (again a privilege we have is to ignore that we are privileged and continue to reap the benefits) but I think it may be like everything else and need time to evolve.
To the liberal, anything that stands to affirm difference between two people is counterproductive. It is not necessarily the existence of groups, but their assertion of difference which poses a problem. To the liberal this will often seem like masochism (see, for example the Negritude movement which essentially affirmed many stereotypes directed at blacks). A liberal could point to numerous examples of discrimination and persecution which could have been avoided if racial and religious groups simply masked their beliefs (as we will see later, a recipe for the slow decay of racial/religious communal vitality). Everything is explicable in word form and by historic retrospection. It is not simply the racist’s fault for finding a problem with the difference between his/her group and the other, but in the other’s assertion of this difference through cultural expression. The liberal, unlike the member of a visibly discernable racial or religious group, is not invested in the real world (he/she is invested in no particular group’s continued existence and loses nothing in stripping a group of its unique identity), but is invested almost exclusively in achieving a far off, unrealizable, idealized world where there is nothing to differentiate groups and thus nothing on which to base any group’s superiority.
To the willing participants in racial and religious affirmation of identity nothing could be more devastating than being stripped expression. To this person, difference is not something that stands in the way of an ideal world, but something which binds one closely to other likeminded members of this community. A main focus of a “Methods and Theories of Religious Studies” class I took last semester was on religion’s potential to unify its participants and perpetuate itself through communal expression by elevating participants to states of ecstasy. In the above paragraph when I was describing the liberal, I stated that liberal’s position is explicable in “word form” and demonstratable by “historic retrospection.” This gives the liberal a certain advantage when it comes to political and legislative dialogue. For the religious or raced person forced to play in a court dictated by a hegemonistic liberal worldview, this is very difficult to argue with, for to the liberal person the religious or raced person is not arguing on the behalf of logic, but on the behalf of something that shouldn’t exist in the first place. This person’s stance is not communicable to the liberal by logical discourse because to the liberal the religious or racial assertionist’s (made that word up) stance is socially debilitating to themselves. It is something the liberal doesn’t understand. “Why would they want to set separate themselves and basically identify themselves as easy targets?” he might ask. Their stance is not as easily communicable in logical terms because what they are experiencing by their participation in activities which serve to unify their members is something based not on intellect, but on experience and feeling. Mass communal religious expression (something at which the liberal cringes or chuckles to observe) is an extremely powerful thing to members of religious groups. This is something that some of you have probably experienced. It is a sense of awe at its very least and can go so far as to literally elevate one mentally to a state of ecstasy. This is a main motivating factor in bringing people back to places of worship time and time again. It is what hooks people. It is a main, if not the main, factor in the perpetuation of cultural expression (and not just religious). It is this very real, visceral feeling evoked by mass, public expression (note, mass, public expression of anything other than common humanity is what the liberal wishes to minimize) that the liberal can’t understand. Because of the fact that the assertion of beliefs (and inevitably differences) stems primarily from a feeling evoked by communal expression of those beliefs, it is more difficult for the non-liberal to put his/her reasons for perpetuating differences in a word form logical enough for the liberal to understand and accept. It is something that the liberal would have to experience, but to which he/she is opposed and thus something he/she will never truly be able to experience. Because of this and the inability to signal with words this reason for expression in terms logical to the liberal, the liberal will never understand why unique groups wish to preserve religious and cultural expression.
When first faced with this proposition my initial reaction as a liberal person was to say “I don’t want to remove the existence of unique groups, but to help them to understand that they can be happier and less discriminated against if they don’t make themselves targets by conforming to that group’s identity, often manifested publicly through stereotypes.” I now realize, however, that in the end the liberal could never truly preserve the existence of unique groups while simultaneously limiting their public expression of difference, as this expression of difference is what polarizes and perpetuates the groups in the first place. By limiting or removing the desire to express themselves, the liberal would guarantee the group’s future extinction, and I don’t think any liberal person would agree to that position.
When we were standing in line talking about our expectations for the movie and the masses of people who came out to see it, I mentioned that the racial conflict of the movie certainly drew interest. My friends insisted that race wasn’t the main issue and that the husband-snatching was the main appeal. But to think that is to be colorblind. I thought about stating that, but such a response would not be well taken. So I decided to play around with the roles of the characters and their racial attributes to better demonstrate that the racial conflict was important.
Let us say the successful, black businessman was married to the white woman and stalked by the black businesswoman. Catering to the American public and status quo, the interracial relationship would either have to be defended by some virtuous scenes of romantic chivalry and acts of true love or the marriage would be seen as on the rocks. This sort of sequence seems to be unnecessary with same race pairings in American film, they can just be assumed as good or bad with only a brief mention without the elaboration. Given these characters, Hollywood would probably turn it into a romantic comedy, where the black, businesswoman was “pursuing” the black businessman. They would create tension between the interracial couple and the two black people would eventually find one another.
The actual racial setup of the movie, with a happy black couple being stalked by a white woman, is cast as a thriller. The black man and woman are heroically defending their racially homogenous marriage against the heinous miscegenation attempts by the white adulteress. As overly dramatic and hyperbolic as that synopsis sounds, it clearly establishes the setting for the thriller by playing into the social constructs of the viewing public. Sadly, this was proven to me when I did a Google search for “Obsessed” articles and immediately found the label “miscegenation flick” in a few of the findings.
Now, these assumptions about race in Hollywood aren’t definite or certain, but merely observations of the stereotypical trends in past movies. Switching the roles opened the eyes of my friends to their colorblind attitude toward the movie and gave them something to ponder. I heard them talking about the racial role reversal tonight with some of our other friends, so it seems to have sparked a thought or two about the racial stereotyping of roles in Hollywood. I have yet to actually make it into the theatre with all of the crowds, but I am eager to see how the roles are played out and what sort of racial stereotypes are enforced.
If you've seen the movie, perhaps you would care to note any socially constructed racial themes you saw?
Monday, April 27, 2009
I personally do not understand how it is possible for religion to become the main source of conflict between people. There are people of different races within a religion, so the boundaries of discrimination would be a blurred. Discriminating on basis of religion would be very difficult because it would cause one to discriminate against a lot of different people, not just one particular race.
As a result of many different people being of one religion, we will be forced to ask the question, what if the concept of “passing,” as seen in racial passing, became a part of religion as well? In other words, what if people began to pass as a certain religion for safety or advantage that a certain religion had, similarly to what people do when trying to racially pass as something else? For example, there is a huge controversy between Hindus and Muslims in India; most Muslims and Hindus are of the same race so religion is the basis of discrimination. It would be very simple for either religion to pass as being the other for the sake of safety. Also, during the Holocaust, it could have been possible for certain Jewish people to act as if they were against their true religion for protection against the Nazis in order to keep their families safe. However, in these cases, one criteria to prove that one person was not the religion they claim they are is to simply analyze a person’s last name, which usually indicates a person’s religion.
Religious passing would be a very complicated because religion is such a broad form of discrimination. As I said earlier, two people of a different races can be part of one religion, so passing would be easier because there are not rigid boundaries for religion. However, in order to pass through religion, one has to have those rigid boundaries to help he or she pass as a different religion. As race has certain set “criteria” or standards that people can go through and break to pass as a certain race, religion is not an innate quality but a quality that can easily be changed. You may have a certain last name that ties you with a religion, but anyone is able to convert to other religions. Religion is your set of beliefs that can change over time; therefore, conversion is a form of helping a person transition from the beliefs of one religion to those of another religion. Hence, converting eliminates the possibility of passing in a religious sense.
So I ask you this question:
If religion takes over race as the basis of discrimination, can religious passing become an aspect of religion?
Although the two young African Americans in a dark setting romanticizing about the great chicken nuggets is extremely wrong for a number of reasons, one aspect is it tries to appeal to the assumed average African American. In this advertisement, there are many visual characteristics that are directed towards racial profiling of the black population. First, there is the obvious attractive black man and woman each embracing the stereotypical outfits with the baggy jeans, undershirt with a button down, clingy dress and both are decked out in their “bling.” The beginning of the commercial shows the man standing outside in the rain at night with a hat on pulled down over his eyes. Just as he says the word “creepin,” he is actually embracing the idea of a creeper. The surroundings of the building and street only add to the supposed area of their consumers. They imply that the area is not the best part of town, possibly the ghetto. When the location changes to a bedroom, it has very similar qualities of a hotel room. This could even attribute to the idea of a one night stand. It may have been the R&B soul singing of the man that gave off that impression. The sensual vibe from his voice and the sexual lyrics fuel the supposed idea of R&B as being a black genre of music historically and in the present.
After viewing the commercial for yourself, you probably picked up on these same auditory and visual characteristics in the advertisement. What do you think McDonalds advertising campaign was trying to do with this commercial? Are they trying to captivate an economic class by appealing to the stereotypical aspects of the African American race? In our economically difficult time, McDonalds could have been trying to boost their sales. It has been researched and shown that African Americans are the number one consumers of the McDonalds food. Or, is it racial profiling to adjust a commercial to appeal to a certain race? In our politically correct world, is this form of advertisement acceptable or racist?
There are the occasions I do enjoy a McDonalds run, but I do not consider the restaurant some place I would go dressed up with my significant other for dinner. It is usually to grab something quick and cheap. I would not want to be associated with what it entails to be part of the McDonalds crowd, and I can’t think of a lot of people that do. Would this be considered a white privilege to not be associated with the presumed and advertised McDonalds fast food goers? I feel that not being targeted as a consumer is a way of discarding that race as a possible option. What do you think when you see commercials advertising to a specific race? And is it even a possibility to incorporate everyone without racial profiling?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I can see a kind of Kantian solution to this problem where the anti-semite puts aside his/her feelings and inclinations, and instead treats the person hated as a rational agent with absolute dignity. But Sartre explicitly rejects that sort of answer, because it is the democrat’s answer of treating the person in question simply as a human being and denying to them their Jewishness. Additionally, if Sartre really thinks the anti-Semite, not the democrat, authentic jew or inauthentic jew, literally makes a Jew Jewish (a flawed and ridiculous view btw for the reasons Lowery nicely laid out in his earlier post), then I don't see how the socialist revolution avoids the democrat's pitfall of robbing the Jew of Jewishness, unless it also allows for antisemitism to survive. At which point, I wonder if the problem of racism has really been resolved at all.
I'm not an expert on socialism or communism, so I don't know what potential resources Sartre has to counter my critique of his view. If ya'll have any suggestions or ideas on this topic or anything else, please don't hesitate to give them.
Ending on a less critical note, I do think Sartre deserves some credit: one of his main strengths is that he recognizes and emphasizes the importance of the non-rational elements to racism, such as hatred, fear, or jealousy. At times, I think some of the other philosophers we've read have glossed over this element, or approached it as solely characteristic of interpersonal racism. In my opinion, non-rational emotions and attitudes like hate, fear, jealousy are too widespread and important a phenomenon to completely overlook when grappling with the horror of racism. From class yesterday, it sounds like Sartre does a good job of pointing out how these rabid emotions, which are mostly experienced at an individual personal level, find social expression in large groups, such as anti-semites or neo-Nazis. The socialization of the hate then only further intensifies the originating irrational emotions, and subsequently continues to entrench society-wide racism.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
While this idea fits with Sartre’s existentialist ideology very well I would have to disagree with his belief that the A.S. creates the Jew. The characteristics of the anti-Semitic idea of a Jew(Big nosed, underhanded, hardworking etc.) were established by the A.S. the Jewish people were not brought about by the hatred of others. The Jewish people are those that share religion, history and the “Jewish experience.” The establishment of the Jew as a target might have been what Sartre was referring to which I can agree with, but the A.S. is not the creator of what it means to be Jewish. I believe that the Jews were the target of anti-Semitism not the creator of it.
Anti-Semitism was created by several factors; people’s innate fear of the world, hatred/jealousy that develops from this fear, and the ability of a person to categorize people. The fact that people have an innate fear of an uncertain future causes an illogical disruption in a person’s psyche. This disruption turns into a passionate hatred when they are wronged in some way or unfairly treated. The passionate hatred which develops needs a target to be acted upon. The target is acquired from our ability to categorize people. By saying someone is different from ourselves we can attribute negative qualities to that person without feeling bad about it because they are “not like us”.
This formula can also be applied to other types of discrimination, including racism, sexism etc. By saying we are different from those people we can apply negative characteristics to them while staying on our pillar of perfection.
What do y’all think, is Sartre right when he says the A.S. creates the Jew?
Monday, April 20, 2009
In light of our class discussion on Thursday, I wanted to write my blog on some of my leftover thoughts from our conversation about white privilege. Somebody brought up the privilege that if they were written about in the campus safety report in the Sou’Wester’ they would have the privilege of not having their race attached. And I thought that was interesting. And it made me think of my grandmother, who lives in a tiny southern Mississippi town of about 3,000 people, and it’s probably 90% white. On countless occasions, my grandmother will tell me something about the “nice black family” at the table next to her in the restaurant, or the “sweet black girl at the grocery store”. And I don’t believe her to mean those descriptions offensively. But to me, they just seemed like unnecessary qualifiers. It didn’t change the story to know that the family was black, just as it wouldn’t have changed it if the father had been tall. So perhaps her descriptions are not racist so much as racial (to borrow terms from Sartre). But to tie this back to the campus safety example, if my grandmother met a nice white family at the grocery store, she would undoubtedly just call them a nice family, and not race them. Because that would be the norm, as we talked about in class.
Are we somehow lessening what we have learned in this class if we use race as just a way to describe people, as my grandmother does? Or what if we “race” things that do not necessarily need to be raced? If my grandmother uses the term black just to distinguish between people, but does not mean to attach any value to it, is it racist? Is it just another white privilege to be able to race everyone around us, because we are the norm and they are not? What would the philosophers that we’ve read this semester say?
In addition to this being both humorous and personally relevant (because, you know, I'm Asian), I found it to be quite the commentary on interracial relationships in general. I cannot say too much on the main character's point of view because most of my relationships have indeed been with white people (gasp!). However, a few questions did come up as I was viewing the video that I thought I should put to the rest of you, a predominantly white group. Please note that I am suspending that "there is no race" argument in this line of questioning; I do not really know how to do this any other way so a point blank inquiry seems the best approach.
When looking for a partner, does skin color really factor in to a potential mate's attractiveness? I understand that there can be a cultural divide; believe me, I have been there. I would like to believe attraction is indeed based on personality and confidence as stated (somewhat questionably) in the video, but my previous personal inquiries have yielded mixed results.
Some people claim to be color-blind and base attractiveness completely on compatibility. Some find certain races exotic and refuse to date within their own race. Some are the exact opposite and find anyone outside of their race to be unattractive. And I think all these claims are legitimate. Not everyone thinks alike and I feel that generalizing something as absurd and profoundly confusing as sexual attraction can just be seen as history's biggest load of bollix. Even if these claims are philosophically proven false (which I expect at least one of you to do), I can be fairly positive that the people who gave me these answers believed what they were telling me. If they believe that is how attraction functions, who would I be to challenge that?
I don't wish to put anyone on the spot for their personal preferences, but a general answer to Phillip's "phenomenon" would be appreciated. Also, if you have not seen Taming of the Shrew yet, you should. It has nothing to do with race (other than the three of us that were cast that are not white), but I figured as long as we were talking about uncommon relationships I would toss out a shameless plug.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
We have discussed European influence over “lesser” cultures frequently in our class so it comes as no shock as something that should be neutral, like our maps, is actually a device to assert power over other nations. What Mamdani addresses is the influence that European power has over the history of the world.
The “traditional” Eurocentric history of the world says that “history began in the ‘East’ and the torch was then passed successively to Greece and Rome and finally to Christians of northwestern Europe, where medieval and modern life developed” (Mamdani, 29). This history divides the world into “the West”, “the East”, or Europe and Asia but this leaves out some pretty substantial civilizations. These gaping holes in history are Africa, the pre-Columbian Americas, and the lands of the Pacific. Mamdani goes on to explore this historical darkness and focuses on Africa. However, what he points out that the history of Africa is blank with the exception of Egypt. Throughout history, Egypt seems to stand out as its own civilization completely isolated from the large continent to which it belongs.
Mamdani mentions historian Cheikh Anta Diop who studied African history in the 1960s and “questioned the racist tendency to dislocate the history of pharaonic Egypt from its surroundings, particularly Nubia to the south, thereby denying the African historical identity of ancient Egypt” (Mamdani, 31). Diop pointed out in his work that “in the study of classics, Egypt faced a double loss: its connection with Greece in ancient times was reduced to being external and incidental, and its location in Africa was denied historical significance” (Mamdani, 31). It was here in Mamdani’s book that really grabbed my attention. I read this chapter a few weeks ago and I have not stopped thinking about it since.
Perhaps it is because I am an art history major and what I read in Mamdani’s book presents a dilemma for my studies, but both Mamdani and Diop are right about Egypt, I do not think of it as a part of Africa. I know that it is part of the huge continent of Africa off to the right hand side, but when I see Egypt in my mind I see it in a Mediterranean context. I related it to Greece, Turkey, and the ancient cities of Babylon or Jerusalem due to the context that I have studied Egypt. It took looking it up on the Internet right now for me to know what African countries surround it (they are Sudan and Libya). As embarrassing as that is to admit, it proves Mamdani and Diop’s point; Egypt is the exception to the historical darkness of Africa but it becomes removed from it.
Right now I am taking an art history course called “Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt and the Near East”. The class is an interesting and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I take pages of frantic notes on the treasures of the ancient world. However, after I read Chapter One of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, I began to look at my current class and my entire art history education with alarm. Not once in my entire semester of studying ancient Egyptian art have I considered it in an African context. Currently in my class, Alexander the Great has just come into Egypt, died, and his successor has set up the Ptolemaic period when the famous Cleopatra ruled. The art is becoming much more “normal” to me and my “Western” perspective of art. It is looking more natural, realistic, classical, and ultimately Greek. This is pushing my distorted perspective of Egyptian art farther away from Africa and solidifying it in a Mediterranean and Western context. I feel as though the entire semester has been building up to this one moment when the Egyptians will finally retire their old traditions of depicting the figure in favor of the classical nude.
Until I read Chapter One of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, I was happy to hear about Alexander the Great and the influence of the Greeks, Persians, Macedonians, etc on Egyptian culture and agreeably took my notes. But now that I realize that I have absolutely no idea how AFRICA impacted Egypt! I am shocked an alarmed that I have never studied Egypt in the context of its actual geographic placement. I have taken many classes where we have studied ancient Egypt and not once can I remember talking about the civilization in an African context. I started asking my fellow art history classmates along with friends about how they saw Egypt and they all felt the way I do and thought it was strange. As I thought about it, I realized that I have never studied anything other than Western art. I have zero knowledge of the art that has come from Africa, India, China, or Japan unless it is a very stereotypical notion of their art. I cannot count how many times I have heard a professor say “Picasso’s art was heavily influenced by African masks” but I have never seen an African mask. I know that there must be more to African art than the very cliché tribal “African mask” that pops into my head but I have yet to see it. Or I have heard that many French Impressionist artists were influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, but I have never studied Japanese art. How am I, and other art history students, supposed to fully understand an artists work, or the work of entire culture like Egypt, if we do not understand their cultural context?
It is unfortunate that my lack of knowledge about the art of these cultures just stems from colonization and the undermining of new cultures that were being encountered. Perhaps Egypt became the exception because the wealth and power of the civilization was so great that it could not be denied. Or that art tends to be looked at through a “Western” perspective so we tend to compare cultures based on whether or not they fit the norm or not. Mamdani pointed out something that I had never considered and has caused me to evaluate my knowledge, or lack there of, of the cultures and art that I study.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
(1) In response to privilege 10, can she really be pretty sure that her voice will be heard in a room filled with people, all of whom are a different race than she?
-Does it not seem likely that in the ghetto (latino, black, asian) she might find trouble trying to address a group?
(2) She implies in privilege 12 that minorities music, food, and hair cutting places are less available in mainstream America; is this really the case?
-What race is she talking about that is not represented in this category? And how does food which fit a cultural tradition link directly to one's race (i.e. it seems like she is presupposing something here.)
(3) Privilege 15 states that she does not need to worry about physical harm towards her child, as a result of systematic racism.
-While John Smith may not have to worry about racial profiling from the cops, he might have to worry about the prejudices bred from those racial profilings. For instance, could her son not end up dead as a backlash of his father's systematic racial underpinnings (especially if he was a law enforcement officer)? Should her child not be aware of systematic racism, his inherent involvement in it, and the possible repercussions?
(4) This is my favorite. In privilege 35 she says that when hired into an affirmative action workplace she does not have to worry about a co-worker suspecting that she got the job because of race.
-Doesn't this seem to presuppose that affirmative action undermines the value of a minorities accomplishment? And does it mean that a white person securing a job in an affirmative action based workplace is more valuable than in a non-affirmative action based workplace? Is she looked at in college or in a non-affirmative action based workplace as having been handed that space partly because of her race?
This last question is interesting because this seems to be similar but different. She may get into college or secure that job because she was privileged to do so from birth (because she had money and a good home). The accomplishment could be diminished but not because of her race and rather because of where she came into this world, which is more characteristic of whiteness but not inherent to it's intrinsic properties. Blackness on the other hand has negative intrinsic properties from birth, aside from probable socio-economic problems, they will be followed around the store more often than whites regardless of status. They will still be the exception, and this seems to be where the real racial problem lies.
Some of the privileges that seem to be afforded to white students at Rhodes.
1. I do not have to try hard to find someone of my own race inside the gates of Rhodes. (the opposite may be true outside the bubble)
2. I am not questioned at the guard shack because of my skin color.
3. I will not be the only person of my race in any class I take at Rhodes.
4. My professor will probably be the same race as me.
5. The majority of the administration is of my same race.
6. My success in college will not represent the success or any advancement of my race.
8. I need not worry about being on the front page of the website because of my race, nor if I ended up there would I ever have to worry about people thinking I got there solely because of my race.
9. I do not have to worry that my acceptance into this college was based on my race.
10. I will forever bear the burden of white privilege, the guilt that comes with it, and shame for all of the things that my ancestors generations have done. I am privileged/indoctrinated to feel that guilt and shame, yet relieved of any responsibility for eradicating an entire race (yes the indians). I have the privilege of picking which oppression to feel most guilty about.
11. I am also constrained to not walk in parts of Memphis, which I must say doesn't seem equally true for minorities. While a black man, dressed in non-rich/white clothes, walking in a rich white neighborhood might be stopped, questioned, and even detained, the rich white man might want to fully explore the possible consequences of walking around the mound at night. This also seems to be a privilege of a white person as well though; we are privileged to live in areas with less crime. How would the two be treated when walking into an east Texas trailer park?
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Alternative Epistemologies: Will they ever be considered truth or remain an alternative perspective?
While I think that the fact that courses similar to these are offered in schools is a sign of advancement in itself, I would be surprised to see the day when minority authored literature is merged with “American literature” or canonized. If you look back at history books that claim to document American history, you will see that minority groups and their contributions have been traditionally ignored. While recognizing alternative epistemologies exist is a necessary step, the way of thinking of these perspectives as “alternative” to the norm will assure that they continue to be separate and the option of ignoring it will remain on the table.
In our society it is not too much of a stretch to consider the white perspective as the perspective and experience for society as a whole, but a minority perspective will never be generalized. It will always be the alternative to the norm. An interesting point was made during the class discussion that oppressed groups have a broader epistemology than that of the dominant group. I wonder what can be achieved by combining these truths rather than seeing one as the norm and the other as an alternative. And with that I would ask how likely the dominant group is to see the oppressed groups truths as actual truth, rather than an exception or alternative perspective to its own truth?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Coleman's hidden identity is that he is actually African-American although he lived his entire professional life as a Jewish professor. Faunia runs from her high societal, privileged past where she was molested by a stepfather to portray herself by choice as illiterate. Roth lets the reader in on these hidden identities. He shows the foolishness of the community and particularly the college professors and Roth's chairman, a sexy and flirtatious young overachieving woman. The facultys' foolishness comes in the erroneous judgments they make about both Coleman and Faunia.
Roth is harsh about judgmental behavior by others, particularly when it comes to relationships. He is so true about the senseless and irresponsible behavior of people to pass judgment on peers and friends. We can never know the depths of other people's lives and all that influences their decisions. Human life (the human stain as Roth describes it through Faunia) is so complicated, so complex. It is a mosaic that is continually be woven as we live. I don't think we can even fully understand why we always act in certain ways at certain times. However, it seems even more absurd when others pass judgment. Roth seems most critical of this when it comes to relationships. We all have our hidden identities and we should recognize they exist in others.
Roth uses the Coleman and Faunia relationship as a foil to the Clinton and Lewinsky relationship. I agree with the premise that the personal reasons that led to that relationship can never be known to all of us who so readily passed judgment on Bill and Monica. It really just is not that important. We should leave it alone. Who cares. It is so overdone. Let it rest. They are allowed to have their hidden identities and judgment should be left to someone in another world.
Monday, April 6, 2009
He talks about how he should be helping people with his millions, not blowing it on chains and other useless crap. Along with this track, he has several others full of political import, but the most controversial for me is this one, the lounge.
He asks questions like "what does a rapper look like?" but you really need to just listen to the song to get the gist of the song. So with this acceptance by classical rap artists of a very white man, what will happen next. Is it the ability to rap that makes a rapper a rapper, or is it the content as well? Does he need to be gangsta or can he just rhyme about college and the things that white suburban kids experience? He has the talent, could he be the gap for white and black cultures to converge? Many Afro-American scholars and activists have blamed rap and the way the rappers are treated as role models as one of the main problems with black family life. Could this change rap to be rhymes about anything, even reform or education?
Also interesting was this quote off of his wikki page: . "Hip-hop has always been very influential in the ‘burbs, [but] it’s just a matter of where we could relate to it. You find a lot of kids that are really confused. You look at them and they’re dressed out of character. They don’t look right. I figured out, I don’t have to dress this way, but you can still love hip-hop." Is this like a double consciousness for suburban white kids?
Also check out this video...its has interesting import as well.