17 January 2008

Race to the Finish Line

Here's another anonymous student paper from the fall semester of my Introduction to Ethnicity/Race course.

The Starting Line

So you are probably wondering why this post is in sections. Well I’d like to bring this into focus so that you can understand where I am coming from and take the most out of this piece. Think of it as a race to the finish line in three distinct laps or sections. The Starting Line is the first section: it is the beginning and meant for clarification. The first lap is Race and Ethnicity: Classifiers. This section is used to provide a definition of race and ethnicity. It provides a basic understanding of the topics I am going to cover in the other sections. Lap number two is I Used to Speak in Stereotypes. In this section it deals with my identity on race and connects who I am with the stereotypes that are me. In this section it also discusses the stereotypes of other races and how stereotypes make people less than human. The final lap or section is I Judge in Colors Which Makes Me a Racist. In this section I talk in great detail about my personal experiences with race and how they have made me the person I am today. The final section is The Finish Line; in this section I tell where I am in the present day as well as wrap up the paper, finishing the race.

Race and Ethnicity: Classifiers

“Race refers to differences in biology; ethnicity refers to differences of culture and geographic origin” (Ferrante 410). There you have it; proof that these two words do not mean the same thing. At one time I believed they were interchangeable; however, with the help of this course I found out they are not. With the diversity of the world it has become impossible to judge someone solely by their skin color to figure out their race and guess at their ethnicity. Blacks are mixed with whites, whites with Hispanics the list goes on and on making the one bubble for race on the census a flawed and failing design.

“Webster’s Dictionary defines race as any of the major biological divisions of mankind, distinguished by color and texture of hair, color of skin and eyes, stature, bodily proportions, etc.” (Ferrante 410). This however, is not my definition of race. If one wants to accept a dictionary’s stuffy view as the only truth, they are missing the main picture. Race to me is skin color but not just the pigment that we see but also the colors that are hidden. A lot of the population would agree with this view: “Most people in the United States equate race with physical features. In their minds racial categories are assumed to represent ‘natural, physical divisions among humans that are hereditary, reflected in morphology and roughly but correctly captured by terms like black, white, and Asian” (Ferrante 113). I like this view because the majority of America goes along with it. Yet, it’s flawed. Where does it say mixed races? Nowhere at all! Going back to what I said earlier, races are mixed and not cut and dry any more. People have sex; look at your parents, your friends, or your neighbors. Is not one of them mixed of different races? Of course one is! Thus race is a slippery slope that is diverse. Right now I am confused on how to sum up race. Yet, the best way I found is to accept everyone and look past the skin color because you don’t know what races that person is and what’s it to you anyway? So what if the person is black, white or Asian! They are still a person nonetheless. Yet, for all those who want a clear distinction of race here is one for you: “Race is simply a way in which one group designates itself as ‘insiders’ and other groups as ‘outsiders’ to reinforce or enforce its wishes and/or ideas in social, economic, and political realms” (Ferrante 384).

On to ethnicity which to me is merely another word for where your grandparents and their grandparents were born. Yet “Webster’s Dictionary defines the term ‘ethnic’ as designating any of the basic divisions or groups of mankind, as distinguished by customs, characteristics, language, etc.” (Ferrante 411). I believe in today’s time it is just another word that allows you to go deeper into your roots. Not merely stopping at I am American, but going farther and saying I am German, Irish, and English. However, this word causes problems also. If you look to the past with the Armenian Genocide and World Wars, ethnicity played a factor. These conflicts were over what ethnicity you were. Religion also played a role in ethnicity which can be seen in the Armenian Genocide as well as within World War II. Ethnicity has become nationalism by supporting ones own country. However, this view soon turns into a battle over religion as well as ethnicity. If someone is from Germany and is Muslim, they are German. However they don’t fit into the mold of white and Christian, thus it makes ethnicity a hot bed for trouble. One also has to look at ethnicity as being born in that country. So if I was born in China, but live in America with American parents, technically I am Chinese American, because I was born in that country. Yet, would the Chinese accept me as one? Certainly not, because I am not Chinese looking which goes back into race itself. Yet, for the sake of argument here’s another more cut and dry definition of ethnicity.

Social scientists use the term ethnicity very broadly. It can refer to people who share (or believe they share) a national origin; a common ancestry; place of birth; distinctive and visible social traits such as religious practice, style of dress, body ornaments, or language; and/or socially important physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and/or physical build. (Ferrante 215)

So it all comes down to you choosing your own ethnicity. You are born into certain groups such as German, Italian, Scottish, Irish, etc. Yet, if you want to “join” a Muslim ethnicity no one can stop you. Ethnicity is like a “choose your own ending” story. You choose what you want to believe your ethnicity is or should be and what it is not. It’s entirely your choice, no one’s but yours.

I believe the best way to describe these concepts is that race and ethnicity run on a slippery slope. They both can inter-mingle with each other, which allows them to cause conflict and spread hatred. This hatred is not just because someone is a certain race or ethnicity. It is solely because we let stereotypes take control and then let them brew in us and slip out in times of anger or just in general. The best way to end this is that race and ethnicity are two diseases within society that can plague us if we give into the notion that one race or ethnicity is better than another race or ethnicity.

I Used to Speak in Stereotypes

As I sit and ponder the question of my identity, ideas and thoughts bounce off my brain like a ping pong ball. I question as to where do I start and what do I write. Then I think just shut up and write, let the words speak for themselves to explain who I am. This is what I initially thought. Looking back on it again I realized that I should side-step my identity and be honest with everyone. I believe in stereotypes and use them against people everyday. I judge people and so does every person we meet or see within our life. I am sitting here in Saint Lucia writing this where I have been stereotyped by the locals. Being white as well as American means that I am rich, am going to freely give anyone who asks: free money, always is in need of a taxi, and smokes Cuban cigars, wrong! Thus I ask you to think the same how many times do you judge people on looks or color? Every day and every new person we meet or see we subject them to our underlying stereotypes.

Getting back to my identity. I am a white American, and I am proud of that. In this I am not saying I am going to run off and join the Klan; I am saying I am a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities blended into me. Every American young or old is just like me, not in features or color but in experience. We are all the grandchildren of yesteryear. However, I am a stereotype! You are a stereotype; every person is a stereotype and has an identity. However some would like to disagree with me and say that if you’re not a stereotype you don’t have an identity. I back this up with a quote from the novel Tropic of Orange: “And considering someone like herself--so distant from the Asian female stereotype--it was questionable if she even has an identity” (Yamashita 19). Everyone has an identity, everyday and every experience carves out our identity. Stereotypes do not make us who we are. Go look at yourself in the mirror and look at who you are; if your white, black, Asian, or mixed you are still you. Identity is who you are. Me I would like to identify myself as a student at SUNY Fredonia. You may not think this is part of me, but really it is. Going to Fredonia molded me into what I am today. If I would have gone somewhere else I would in essence be a different person and could have a very different identity. I would also identify myself as an upstate New Yorker, which means I live on a farm and don’t conform to the New York City life style. Finally I identify myself as a man, which is clearly obvious by now.

Reader, please note that I didn’t identify myself by my ethnicities. I personally feel that they are not that important in explaining to you who I am, but I feel that since I am an American my past should be touched on. I am Irish and English and German. I am a white American which would be a category on the census. However I am not just the white American, I am me. Do I have friends who don’t fit into the white category? Indeed I do! Do I have cousins who are African American? Indeed I do! Yet, when I say that I am white American can I be so sure that I am completely white American? Dusk of Dawn brings this into perspective with the quote “Later, in the high school, there came some rather puzzling distinctions which I can see now were social and racial; but the racial angle was more clearly defined against the Irish than against me. It was a matter of income and ancestry more than color” (Du Bois 14). Am I truly white then, if at one time in America being Irish was being a sub-species of whiteness? No, I was a half-white in the 1900s but today I am clearly seen as white. This means that my identity would be greatly different back then as compared to now because of stereotypes.

However, my identity is not the only one that had been plagued by stereotypes; thus in order to diversify my paper I am going to bring out other stereotypes, ones of Whites, Blacks, Americans, Chinese, and Japanese. I would like to first start off with whites. Andrea Kim writes about white discrimination within Hawaii in “Born and Raised in Hawaii, But Not Hawaiian”: “It was like senior corner, Hawaiian corner, and for the whites, we called them haole (means foreigner, and usually applies to white people) corner” (Ferrante 43). We can see here that even white people can be the minority within different cultures and areas. This proves that no one is exempt from stereotypes.

The next would be that of the Chinese. In California the Chinese were banned from the state in 1872 due to these stereotypes. “Burdens and evils arising from the presence of aliens who are or may become vagrants, paupers, mendicants, criminals, or invalids afflicted with contagious or infectious diseases, and from aliens otherwise dangerous or detrimental to the well-being or peace of the State” (Ferrante 308). However, in 1952 this law was repealed. It just shows us that uncontrolled stereotypes can lead to banning and hatred of a certain type of people, because they were believed to have diseases and were predestined to become homeless as well as vile people. This just goes along with how one person who aligns to a stereotype can ruin an entire race.

Blacks too faced stereotypes throughout their history, even in court cases with the trial of Guy v. Daniel where it was argued “[T]hat as a slave she must be black, because only blacks are slaves” (Ferrante 177). This is a clear stereotype against anyone of African origins because other cultures have enslaved people of different races not just ones who were black. Another clear defined stereotype is that all black men are dangerous. In “Apologizing for Being a Black Male” Paul Dawkins tells about being black and the stereotypes that come with it especially around white women. “Sometimes I catch myself slowing down as I walk to my car in a parking lot if there’s a White woman heading to a nearby car ... I either reach loudly for and obviously for my keys, or hold back until she is safely in her car, for fear that she thinks I’m a potential rapist, purse snatcher, or carjacker” (Ferrante 68). These stereotypes are still out there and can happen to anyone of any race, that’s what we as humans have to see. Our identity is filled with stereotypes and it is not just racial, it is also stereotypes of one particular country.

Japanese during World War II were subjected to stereotypes by Americans. They “[D]escribed the Japanese as ‘hissing’, a snakelike impression where witting or not” (Dower 84). This was not the only stereotype that was given to Japan “[T]he most common caricature of the Japanese by Westerners, writers and cartoonists alike, was the monkey or ape” (Dower 84). Stereotypes were used to identify people that were Japanese to dehumanize their identity. Americans were viewed much in the same way in Japanese eyes. “The demon or devil was in fact probably the most popular Japanese characterization of the English and American enemy” (Dower 236). We as humans face the same problems and stereotypes of days gone by. Yet we have to look into ourselves and seek forgiveness because stereotypes can be expelled. “The abrupt transition from a merciless racist war to an amicable postwar relationship was also facilitated by the fact that the same stereotypes that fed super patriotism and outright race hate were adaptable to cooperation” (Dower 302). This allowed for the Americans to accept the Japanese as friends and comrades. The Japanese too changed their stereotypes of Americans upon the completion of the war. They finally saw Americans as just people not as killers. “The Americans were not demons, as the Japanese discovered when they were not raped, tortured, and murdered as wartime propaganda and rumors had forecast” (Dower 301).

My identity is plagued with stereotypes but that is what makes me the person I am today. It also makes me who I am and when I prove those stereotypes wrong I am breaking the tensions of hatred; as well as infusing my identity within the building blocks of progress. The less I judge on predetermined stereotypes the less others judge me on mine thus allowing for a mutual respect of culture, identity, and personhood to take a stronghold. Also the friends I keep as well as the relationships I have, and the things I do all make up my identity and shape me into who I am. I guess through all my rambling my main point is that I’m a male college student from New York who is unique just like everyone else in the world. I am the melting pot of America and my identity is the past, the present, and the future to come!

I Judge in Colors Which Makes Me a Racist

Having traveled to South Africa, Bulgaria, as well as numerous other places in the world, I have been embraced with the feeling of acceptance from the people within these countries. They have accepted me with open arms and I with them. Yet when I return back to America I transform into a racist and I judge people by their race, skin color, and actions. Is it wrong? Yes! Does it dehumanize them? Yes! Do these people not bleed the same blood as me? Yes they do! In my experiences in America, people cast judgments on the past as well as play the race card; whereas in other places of the world people cast judgments based on knowing a person and talking to them.

“A stigma is an attribute that is deeply discrediting. That is, when someone possesses a stigma, he or she is reduced in the eyes of others from a multi-faceted person to a person with one tainted status” (Ferrante 21). We as Americans possess stigmas. An example of this is I work for a cell phone company in the mall; I also have a black male co-worker. All of us like to go to the cookie store to get cheap pops and such. One day he asked me to go get him one. Upon going over to the cookie shop the girl asked me who the pop was for and I told her the black individual’s name and she said “Can I spit in it?” I replied “No, I work with this guy!” Clearly one can see that racism runs true even within the youth of today even in Northern States. A couple times at work I was told by that same black kid that I “was going as Hitler for Halloween” and “You look like a Nazi with your new haircut.” I cannot think of another better example of being dehumanized because of color. This is not the only example of dehumanization within America. When we look at World War II, as an example, we see the in-human treatment of Japanese Americans. “For many Japanese- Americans, the verbal stripping of their humanity was accompanied by humiliating treatment that reinforced the impression of being less than human” (Dower 82). Yet, when we look at other countries they speak in acceptance not in colors.

I would now like to begin with South Africa. Upon getting on the plane and not knowing from Adam who anyone was, to leaving the country with people whom to this day I still talk to is quite an experience in itself. The people in the group itself were diverse. Me being white and from the north, I was outnumbered by Southerners. Not only white southerners but also African Americans, which was odd at first I will admit. I didn’t have any black friends before the trip so this was a different experience for me. Skipping ahead I talked to these people, I bonded with these people, and I became friends with these people. This really opened my eyes. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. We went to orphanages where children had AIDS. The sadness was indescribable. Yet that’s not the point. The kids didn’t see a skin color they saw a playmate. When we did activities with them they saw us, for us, not any preconceived notion of what an American is. I guess what it comes down to is they had play in their eyes and innocence in their heart. We went also to the slums where people lived in basically shacks. The people invited us into their homes and saw us not as a money sign, but as people. This I feel was a great and amazing way to break the tensions that breed hate and racist views within our society. They didn’t cast the race card stone and thus I never had to respond by defending my white race. All I had to do was smile, play, and be happy.

The next racial experience was going to Bulgaria. In essence I was going alone, not knowing anyone from the school and I was nervous. It was a whole new world, experience, and a four-month journey. What it became was probably for now, what I consider the best time of my life. It was an amazing experience. The people there, just like in South Africa were accepting and caring. They treated everyone with respect and dignity. However, they did hate gypsies and their notions of gypsies soon turned into my bias. This is where I would like to throw a twist into this paper and counter balance with a negative experience that I witnessed while in Bulgaria. I was coming back from the school and walking down the trail back to the dorms. By one of the news paper stands there was a gypsy who I believe was whacking off or peeing. As I passed, I tightened up a little and continued to the dorms. Thinking nothing of it, I decided to chill at the RA's desk, when I saw a girl I was friends with come in battered and bruised. What had happened to her was that the gypsy that was shining his rocks at the stand attacked her and tried to rape her or take advantage of her. This really cemented my view on gypsies. it also made me hate gypsies. The problem of this racism is it kills a part of the victim; whether or not the gypsy did it because she was white or just because, she was still a victim of racism. “As Tori Morrison writes: The trauma of racism is, for the racist and the victim, the severe fragmentation of the self” (Ferrante 301).

As much as we think that other countries have it as bad as America, we are wrong. The race card is still played everyday within many different contexts within America. Calling a person mulatto is racist because it means “young mule”. It also “tells us once again sexual union between the two groups will not go unpunished” (Ferrante 306). This means that we cannot intermingle with different races because it is punishable as well as wrong. Being white is no different that being black, I have come to realize as Du Bois pointed out in Dusk of Dawn, “White people were just the same as I: their physical possibilities, their mental processes were no different than mine; even the difference in skin color was vastly overemphasized and intrinsically trivial” (Du Bois 136). It is not only color these days; it is symbols that have been used to play the race card. On our discussion board the topic of the noose was discussed and how this one woman was forced to take down a Halloween noose because it was racist. Things have gone too far! Was that noose meant to harm black people? No, in the context of Halloween purposes, it meant no harm. Yet the race card was thrown in just to bring out attention. It disgusts me on how people in America have to use paltry examples to beat a dead horse. Everyone is equal under the constitution. Thus maybe it is time we follow the examples of other countries and step up to the plate by letting race be a thing of the past.

These personal experiences show that most people are good and accepting. However, there are some racial groups that refuse to conform to their countries’ laws and live outside the box or still play the race card. Which is fine, however, what it really shows and breeds is hatred between people. Yet, in America it is more pronounced and the race card is played more often. The race card is something that is entirely bull shit in this day and age and is no longer needed in America. In the end we have to take the good with the bad and draw our own conclusions based on our own experiences and use the experiences of others as guides not as God given facts.

The Finish Line

Where I am today is that I still think in predetermined stereotypes and judge people by the color of their skin. Yet, I am still working on acceptance. My process is more or less like going to rehab I have to get my notions extinguished before I can ever be clean. I still hate gypsies, say derogatory words about peoples of different color but that’s my battle I have to face. Yet I think the best way for me to cure my cancer of stereotypes is by throwing myself into a foreign environment and weeding out the good from the bad. I plan to be an English teacher and teach out of the United States. The sole reason is my acceptance of race cannot be resolved if racism is still within sight within the United States. My cure for my racism is by taking a step back and teaching as well as working with students in different countries these experiences will provide me a foundation for acceptance. This will nullify my racist views; thus allowing me to come back to the United States to teach without any bias of race making my classroom a zone for peace and tolerance. I stand here now naked and exposed to the elements, as well as judgments of you the reader. Before you cast your stone, explore into yourself as to who you really are deep inside. I guarantee you too will be standing naked, next to me, upon your realization that you also pass judgments and have biases.

Works Cited

Dower, John W. War without Mercy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Dusk of Dawn. London: Transaction Publishers, 1997.

Ferrante, Joan and Prince Brown Jr., eds. The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States. Second Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Tropic of Orange. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997.

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