Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gene MC1R, Today’s Materialization of Culture

Doctor Johnson provided the example of our inherent racism through “barely conscious
reactions,” by giving us a thought experiment the other day in class.

“You are walking and are forced to make a decision between two alleys, one with Cal waiting at the end and an African American man waiting in the other.”

She stated that we, as humans subconsciously biased by racial stereotypes put there by society, are inherently racist; therefore, we will choose to walk toward Cal. Society has indeed succeeded in making me recognize these stereotypes, making certain reactions or thoughts a type of “mental reflex,” but are the reactions based on race or, instead, a culture physically materialized by race?

The answer to the class quarrel of whether we would choose to go down an alley with Cal or an African American man comes down to, in my own mind, “culturalism.,” the affiliation of ideas with a certain culture. I have heard people often describing a Caucasian boy as “black” or an African American as “white” according to their clothes and actions, proving many people of today see “black” or “white” as a culture more than an actual skin pigment. I personally think it is much more complicated than just the color of the man in the alley. Ideally, choosing upon race poses the equivalent of choosing based on hair or eye color. In reality when it comes down to these choices of objective judgment, it should come down to the conscious representations of their ideas and character. Race is not a choice and a ridiculous ground for scaling character. If Cal was dressed up like a gangster with his hat backwards and pants sagging, listening to rap music while the African American man was dressed in a business suit, the choice would then prove race completely irrelevant. I would then walk toward the African American man and ask for directions because these things (clothing, hair, grooming) imply a culture. My morality causes me to have a huge problem with “hip-hop culture.” In this case, Cal’s clothes possibly represent this culture, one made famous by rapping about killing, drugs, and the dehumanizing of women. Am I wrong in my anxiety toward his character? There is a definite moral backlash to this though, especially when addressing the inaccuracy of judging someone by their clothes or music choices, but personally I find when analyzing the lesser of two evils, judging a conscious choice such as clothing seems much more legitimate than an innate phenotype.

In the end, society has deemed race and culture as synonymous which is why I think Doctor Johnson’s assumption is very easily accepted .It is this attitude that causes people to react as they do toward certain races. The people of a certain ethnicity are grouped together in thought and compared in practice, creating stereotypes and prejudices. Sometimes, it seems that we forget about the immense potential for variation and exception.


Alex C said...

I completely agree with what you said, and can back it up with another example of "racism." Most people when they meet me do not think that I am different, however when they find out that I am Jewish their perception of me changes, and I believe this is also due to "culturalization." In and out of school we are taught about the history of Jews, and people have their ideas of what Jews are. We are money hungry, big nosed, curly haired, penny pincher's. Or at least this is the perception we have received due to cultuaralization. Similar to what you said, people are trained to think something about African Americans merely based upon their skin color, people are trained to think a certain way about all sub-groups of people, based on color, religion, ethnicity, and even sexual orientation. Just like someone may be more intimidated by an African American in an alley than Cal, when people find out a peer is Jewish, they look at them a little bit differently, even if the difference is minimal.

Scarlett D'Anna said...

When I read your description of Cal with his pants sagging halfway to his knees and rap music blaring from his headphones, I had to laugh out loud. And like you, I would certainly choose the end of the alleyway with the African American man in business attire over the way blocked by a Caucasian dressed like a “hood rat.” All humor aside, what if the black man and the white man are dressed essentially the same? For just a moment, are you more nervous about going one way than the other?

As an eighteen-year old, 5’0” female I wouldn’t want to walk down any alleyway at night by myself, regardless of whether a black man or a white man is there. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do, besides try to look inconspicuous until they were both gone or take the quickest route. The ironic part is, statistics show that I am in a greater danger of being sexually assaulted or murdered by the white man, since rapists and serial killers generally attack within their own race. Most people know this; therefore, the only reason I can think of, besides blatant, unabashed racism, to be more afraid of the black man, is a “barely conscious reaction.”

matt jacobs said...

I also want to comment on the description of Cal sagging his pants and everything. You were talking about the “hip-hop culture” and I’m in agreement that this illustrates that the root of stereotypes are not so much in the skin color as much as the culture.

Personally, however, I do not believe that the culture is included in the clothes. What I mean is, culture is a very broad idea that includes a lot of different factors (including clothing), and clothing is not enough for me. For example, in my neighborhood I would have no reason to avoid either direction because of the skin color of the man OR the way he is dressed.

The reason that one would seem just as safe as the other is because of culture, but not clothes as in your example because the clothes could be representing something else. So yes, I would choose the alley based on the stereotypes of a culture (the black man in a suit rather than a white man that looks like a thug), but I would have trouble assuming culture from clothing alone.

Ryan Carroll said...

In response to Scarlett:
I definitely agree. If they were dressed the same, my anxiety toward the decision would sky-rocket. The whole dressing and appearance situation was merely my attempt to discuss the meaninglessness of color outside of a specific context. I actually had another paragraph discussing the situation of them dressing the same, yet, quite pathetically, I was apprehensive to discuss race statistics when approaching crime and other things. Statistics, though, in the failure of other evidence, such as clothing difference, are probably the only way of logically approaching it.

In response to Matt:
Clothing indeed does not necessarily represent a culture which is why I bold possibly (at least it was bold in the word document). I wear my pants sagging, gauges in my ears, and my hats backwards and I in no way support "hip-hop culture" morally, so I represent an exception in myself. This is not merely a comment on judging someone on a certain type of clothing, but, like I said to Scarlett, a way of analyzing the validity of judging race outside of a specific context.

Cal said...

Conditioning is another huge aspect of these "barely conscious reactions" that you explain. I also agree with the fallacy of equivocating race and culture as the same thing, which is prevalent. Having been in Professor Johnson's philosophy of race class, we learned of a few examples of these barely consciousness. Is it acceptable that most band-aids are marketed to match skin color, but really it only matches white skin? Caucasians do not have to worry about "representing his race as a whole" as they engage in everyday activity. An unfortunate example is Barack Obama, who many uninformed individuals say that "he is a great credit to his race." These theories, among others a parts of a concept called "White privilege." For most whites, these are simple actions that they are not even aware of, but they are apparent to people of other races. Here is a great essay by Peggy McIntosh about White Privilege-http://mmcisaac.faculty.asu.edu/emc598ge/Unpacking.html

Ryan Carroll said...

Oh, and Cal, I hope I didn't offend you by judging your clothes and walking to the other guy. It was nothing personal.

Virginia Beasley said...

I understand the point made here, and the purpose of this post, but I disagree with the idea that this discounts race as still a prime motivator in which alley one would choose. The reason people would be more likely to fear something wearing clothes associated with "hip-hop culture" has a lot to do with race. By wearing those types of clothes, that white man would be associating himself with what is considered "black culture" which immediately means he must be feared, because although his skin is not black he is dressing in ways stereotypical of black men. I'm not saying that I wouldn't make that same choice when between those two alley ways, but it seems a little silly not to recognize where the stereotypes about that sort of clothing and music come from; since they are racially driven, you can't separate them from an issue of racism.

leecbryant said...

This is a great post. I wish I had read it earlier. All these comments illustrate how thin the line is between culture and race, especially Virginia's. I was inclined to agree with the opinion that race was not as much a factor as culture till Virgina pointed out that culture is often drawn from race...so can they really be separated? I wonder if environment has an effect at all. If you are white and raised in a predominately black-populated area would you be more inclined to avoid the white person? And it goes the other way, if you are black and raised in a predominately white-populated area would you avoid the black person? I don't know, just something to consider.