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Asian American Studies: Final Journal, Term Paper Example

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Term Paper

The Asian American studies class this semester has been both an intellectual and an emotional journey for me, and sometimes rather a sad or disturbing one.  It has also really changed the way I view American history and the complex and shifting issues involving racial relations, perception, and identity.

Something that I took away from this course was the discovery of just how systematic,  deliberate, and codified the racial codes of our country have been.  It is one thing to talk about random hate groups like the KKK, but it is another thing to study the complex of laws – federal, state, and local – which helped to maintain the separation of the races and preserve the predominance of white culture in America for generations. The Black Codes of the 1800’s, the Jim Crow laws which succeeded them, and Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson which helped to maintain the farce of “separate but equal” treatment in American life, all played their part in what was then legal racial discrimination. It also surprised me how overtly racist society was, and how movements like the “Massive Resistance” started by Senator Byrd, were so widely accepted by so many.  There is something a little shocking to me about a speech like that of Governor Wallace talking about “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, when dialogue like that is simply not socially acceptable today.  One important way in which my attitudes about racism have changed since taking this class is that I realize now just how deeply ingrained into  our society and our social institutions racism has been throughout American history: before I took this class, I used to think of racism as something random and nasty – names called on a playground or graffiti painted on the subway wall – but now  I am coming to realize that it is more ingrained and subtler than I thought, and that it colors peoples’ minds in ways that they do not always consciously realize.  I do think, though, that one thing which would be good to emphasize even more heavily in this class, would be a more thorough discussion, say, of the discrimination faced by Chinese railroad workers during the 19th century, or the internment of Japanese Americans into what were essentially concentration camps during World War II, or the hostility faced by Asian Americans after China went communist after its Cultural Revolution.  This was also part of a larger perception among American society in general and does reflect the prevalent nature of racial attitudes in American history specifically relating to Asians.

One of the things I found rather disturbing about this course was our discussion of Neo-darwinism and similar movements, and how historically important they have been in trying to justify white superiority.  It is the method I find troubling, for these “scientific studies” have nothing to do with Darwin’s theory of evolution and how it relates to adaptation and genetic inheritance over time, nor anything to do with the true study of  genetics.  To see, though,  how deeply these racist theories were absorbed into institutions of learning and given an academic weight to which they had no right, was rather frightening.  What it amounted to was the attempt to “scientifically” validate the racial status quo in this country.  I think it would be useful, in the future, to have more detailed discussions of this subject, and to talk at length about how this pseudoscience was a large part of the Nazi culture in their rise to power in the 1930’s: how detailed and “scientific” they were about their study of the races and about their obsession with genetics and their massive and complicated family trees.  I also think that bringing in more discussion on the related subject of eugenics, another racially biased pseudoscience of the time would yield good discussions, especially if the eugenics practiced by the Germans were compared to the practices of the American Eugenics Society,  which was very popular here in its day.  Because the fact of the matter is, that even though most of this “scientific” theories of race have been largely trounced in academic circles, books like The Bell Curve, which came out in 1994, keep popping up, trying to carry on the tradition of pseudo-scientific racism.  I think what I find most disturbing about this is that there is, especially in technological societies like our own, a great respect for and a tendency to trust the scientific community; to use science for someone’s political or ideological ends, in the face of facts to the contrary, seems to fly in the face of what true scientific research is all about.

On a related issue, one thing I feel like really changed for me during the course of this semester was my understanding of concepts like “race” when compared to a concept like “culture” or “ethnicity”.  Before I took this course, I always felt like those terms were more or less interchangeable, that they more or less meant the same thing.  However, our discussions in class led me to understand that race is a matter of biology – the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, the texture of your hair, all the things that  you were born with and which are physically a part of you.  On the other hand, there is your culture or ethnicity, which is a much more complex and less definable set of circumstances in which you live your life: your language,  your religion, what kind of foods you eat and clothes you wear, what kind of music you listen to.  I understand now that race is not the same thing as culture, and I think, for instance, that a middle-class black child growing up, say, in suburban Connecticut, would have more in common with a middle-class Asian child growing up in similar circumstances, than he or she would with a poor black child growing up in the projects in New Orleans, for even if those two students shared the same race, it does not hold that they would therefore share the same culture.  I personally believe, after taking this class, that race is not nearly as important in your perception and definition of yourself as culture is.  I think even more emphasis put on the differences between race and culture/ethnicity would really enhance this class.

One of the things I think I will use when this class is over and we are out again in the greater world, is a deeper understanding of how much about racial relations and identity we do not understand, and perhaps never will.  I have a deeper appreciation for the fact that the issue of racism is complex, emotional, constantly evolving, and how it goes right to the core of what we talk about when we talk about being “human”.  It has taught me that racism is a topic which needs to be returned to again and again as new information, methodologies, and ideologies emerge to help us redefine and reassess our history and our present in order to help shape a better future.              I also think that this class has overall made me more empathetic to the plight of minorities today and in the past, and has given me the opportunity to look at American history from the perspectives of many different groups who have had very different experiences even though they are living in the same country. I think overall the most important thing that I will carry away with me from this class is the enhanced ability to walk around in someone else’s shoes, even if only for a little way.

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