Modern Society and Race Perceptions, Application Essay Example
Words: 1866Application Essay
In today’s world, the media and the general public are extremely careful to avoid referring to race in any way aside from it being used to actually identify an individual. The culture consistently avoids any mention of any trait or characteristic as being linked to a person’s racial background. This care is reflected in laws that criminalize racial remarks as slander, and the employer who makes a racist comment is one likely to face, and lose, a lawsuit. Much of this excess of respect is likely a kind of backlash; for long centuries, the society overtly promoted racism in its most vicious forms, and even today hate crimes are seen to be racially motivated. Coming from a cultural legacy that destroyed untold numbers of lives through racism, today’s society is all the more determined to never legitimately permit race to be used as indicating a type of person or character.
Unfortunately, and the best reasons and intentions aside, the reality remains that society has gone too far in being fearful of race itself, and to the point where valuable ethnic and racial characteristics are lost in the effort. What has occurred is that differences in human behavior, long established as existing in people of various backgrounds and ethnicities, are discarded for the sake of equality. This is a serious and harmful course. Equality must exist regardless of race, but that existence should not depend upon the ignoring or erasing of much that creates the unique contributions and human natures of all races. In fearing insult, the culture throws away all differences, and this is both irrational and, ultimately, unethical. Race, like gender, is a complex and important reality in the make-up of human beings, and society must learn that pretending it has no validity denies all human beings a right as important as equality.
The best way of asserting that today’s society is unwisely concerned with eliminating the idea of race is to note the many and important reasons society has taken this direction. The emphasis, in other words, is so strong because the history is so unjust. First and foremost, centuries of slavery of blacks stands as perhaps the most vile example of how a belief that one race is inherently inferior to another could undermine civilization and create misery for millions. Of course, this kind of racist subjugation is not limited to American history; in the past, conquering lands often made slaves out of the conquered, in part because the defeated people were viewed as inferior. As striking as slavery is the Holocaust of modern history, wherein the German nation acted from the conviction that their “race” was superior, and consequently obligated to exterminate lesser races that would contaminate its purity. Along these lines of extremes of racism, it was only decades ago that blacks in the United States faced enormous abuse and danger in fighting for the civil rights guaranteed to all Americans.
That latter example of racism reveals how hateful stereotyping of race was for so long infused throughout the entire culture. The entertainment industry has long been pointed to as evidence of how pervasive and destructive racism has been, and many volumes cite thousands of films made throughout the 20th century that blatantly stereotype African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and other races. In no uncertain terms, racism of a particularly demeaning type was representative of the society as a whole. As Hollywood depends upon public acceptance of its offerings, however, movies made in more recent decades are very careful to avoid racial slander in any form. Certainly, the Oscars won by Halle Berry and Denzel Washington in 2002 also sent the Hollywood message that the film industry was “color blind” (Asante 267). The film industry’s determination to reverse itself here is linked to another trend that arose in the late 20th century, also meant to “make up” for past racism. This was cultural racism, or the belief that certain minorities do not achieve because of differences in the culture itself, rather than biological or genetic factors, prevent achievement. For example, black students scoring poorly on SAT tests, it was felt, failed because their backgrounds did not equip them to comprehend the white frames of reference used. Modern sociologists reject this cultural thinking as yet another type of debasing racism, as it implies limitations still inherent within the races (Marger 25). It exists, however, to indicate the sheer power of the cultural backlash as the society attempted to reverse its ideologies.
It is this backlash that remains in place today, and is responsible for a determination on the part of the society to deny that race has any bearing whatsoever on human actions or behaviors.
Research has greatly supported this movement, in that ideas of biological differences have been largely exploded. Science has learned a great deal about genetic make-up, and this evidence goes a long way to refuting any claims that a race behaves in a certain way because of a biological foundation. For example, there are no genetic traits within black people that are not found within whites, as there is no gene or gene cluster exclusive to whites. What is known, in fact, is that genetic differences within “races” far exceed those that are between them, and the traditional notion of white, black, and Asian as being the three primary, biological races is based more on social concepts dating back to the Middle Ages. It is accepted today that believing in race as primarily a physical attribute is utterly irrational (Delgado, Stefanic 167).
This science is immensely valuable, and certainly in regard to reducing irrational ideas of there being physical proof of race as generating quality of being. Race,however, means far more than genetic variables, as it also goes beyond any specific cause. It is something created by a blending of factors and circumstances of a person’s life, ranging from national heritage to the family’s emphasis on religious or cultural traditions held to as uniquely racial. Psychologists continue to struggle with theories and definitions of personal identity, but there is widespread agreement that ethnic identity is a powerful component in this. It is also as multidimensional as human identity itself (Jackson 180). This is a critical issue, for it indicates the danger in ignoring what race means to each person. Human beings develop both personally and socially, and the development is inherently exponential. The child raised in the Asian American home and influenced by customs of the Asian culture experiences conflict in the school, where other racial and cultural types stand in contrast to their own. Similarly, the white child is confused when behavior born from a different cultural background, such as African American, is seen. In all of this there remains the inescapable fact that people from different regions and backgrounds behave differently than others.
As personal identity is multifaceted, so too does a variety of elements go to creating a racial/cultural presence. If these elements are not rooted in biology, they are nonetheless as influential. For example, one of the issues underlying American slavery was the concept that Northern and Southern Americans held to vastly differing ideologies, at least partially generated by geography. This is by no means a minor factor because all of European history is marked by extremes of cultural differences between northern and southern regions, and differences between the national cultures themselves. Studies of European immigrants have established that those from Southern regions typically hold to different value systems; Southern European immigrants, for example, esteem the family unit in a way northern immigrants do not. Similarly, the same Southern cultures value the expression of emotion more than do northern Europeans (Lee 117). It may be that both racial/cultural factors are due to cultures developing in more agricultural arenas where the family cooperation is essential for survival, and that close-knit families generate greater emotional conflict. No matter how it occurs, however, the racial and cultural dynamic is in place, and it is a very real part of the being of the individual from the culture.
This example of the Southern European serves to illustrate how racism develops in its negative form. The mainstream white culture views the immigrant as excessively emotional, and derides them for this. Inferiority is attached, just as inferiority is attached to an endless number of racial and cultural traits of and by other people. There is no defense for this, but the correct view of it as unethical must not be allowed to erase the behavior. This is what has occurred in modern society, as today’s insistence on ignoring the impact of race harms vital components of identity through an effort to avoid inequality. The equation is simple: it is not right to attack the Italian or Jew because they tend to be more emotional, so it is decided that they are not more emotional, and a vital element of their cultural being is disregarded. The equation is also damaging and, ironically, as demeaning as the worst racism. The evils of slanderous or demeaning racism have been allowed to completely deny any possible meaning to race itself. People today are so fearful of expressing any comment potentially “racist,” there is no sense that the greater part of humanity’s value lies in its cultural and racial distinctions. If the society has made real progress in reducing the harm of hateful or irrational racism, it has also gone too far and established a culture wherein unique values and attributes are not permitted to be recognized as such. It is to be hoped that this pendulum will swing to a center, and that human beings will finally comprehend that equal degrees of respect must coexist with the acknowledgment of actual racial and cultural differences.
As noted, that modern society would be so adamant in regard to dismissing racial differences between people is understandable. It is not only ancient history that reveals gross injustices due to biases based on unreasonable assumptions regarding race; there is more than enough evidence in recent years to validate how narrow and destructive people may be in such matters. Equality is essential for a civilized society, and race must never be allowed to minimize the opportunities for any. Then, there is no disputing the science that reveals how biological differences themselves are minimal between races. Nonetheless, race is more than biology and more than country of origin or ancestry. It is the culture shaping the individual, and the many cultures of humanity present a rich landscape too valuable to be set aside out of fear of corrupting the racial realities. Race, like gender, is a complex and inestimably important factor in the make-up of all human beings, and society must understand that pretending it has no validity, even for the best of reasons, denies all human beings a right as important as equality.
Asante, A. Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2009. Print.
Delgado, R., & Stefanic, J. Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000. Print.
Jackson, Y. Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006. Print.
Lee, W. M. L. An Introduction to Multicultural Counseling. New York: Taylor and Francis, 1999. Print.
Marger, M. Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
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