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After a while, the two bonded and where Walt helped him through manhood by toughening him up, providing dating advice and helping him get a job in construction. During this, Walt learned that Thao had tried to steal the car to be a part of the gang that he confronted earlier in the movie. Throughout the rest of the movie, the gang had harassed Thao by destroying his construction tools, conducted a drive-by shooting, sexual and physically assaulting Thao’s sister.
He then realized that Thao and his sister will never safe as long as the gang is still in the neighbourhood.
For this reason, he had gone to the gang member house and committed one final act to help save them. In this paper, the effects of social construction of race and how it is portrayed in the film will be examined. First, the concept of social construction will be analyzed, providing an overview of the definition and its effects.
Furthermore, how it is illustrated in the film will be examined.
Historically, race has been utilized to differentiate individuals based on their biological and physical appearance. Traits including body shape, skin color and hair style were used to divide individuals into particular racial group (Machery and Faucher, 2005, pp. 1208). However, no empirical evidence exists to supports these classifications. This, in turn shows that differentiations are not rooted biologically or based on getting differences. Rather, the concept of race is explained through process of social construction. Through the lenses of social constructionism, it does not deny the evident physical differences in skin color and characteristics of individuals (Rothenberg, 2008, pp.
10). It simply sees these differences on a continuum of diversity rather than as reflecting innate genetic differences among people” (Rothenberg, 2008, pp. 10). Therefore, race exists due to society’s placing significance on the differentiation between individuals.
Takaki stated that “race…has been a social construction that has historically set apart racial minorities from European immigrant groups” (as cited in Rothenberg, 2008, pp. 9). Throughout time, the categorization of race had form white hierarchy and domination over other groups of race.
This in turn caused an effect of inequality, marginalization and unfair treatment towards particular groups. Asians, Blacks, Aboriginals, and Latinos are among the groups who are subjected to this form of treatment. Some examples include the justification of enslavement of black people, and the denial of access to Canada for non-white individuals. The success behind these social constructs is these divisions of race appear to be natural and a part of everyday lives rendering it to be invisible (Perry, 2011, pp. 16). Thus making it easy to be taken for granted (Perry, 2011, pp. 6). As Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1994) stated, Everyone learns some combination, some version, of the rules of racial classification, and of her own racial identity, often without obvious teaching or conscious inculcation. Thus we are inserted in a comprehensively racialized social structure. Race becomes ‘common sense’—a way of comprehending and being in the world. (as cited in Perry, 2011, pp. 16) Therefore individuals are aware of these divisions but choose to accept it as it has become a natural dynamic in society.
The concept of race is a social process that constructs differences creating divisions among individuals. Throughout time, the classification of certain groups has resulted in prejudice and stereotyping of particular racial groups. This is portrayed in one scene in Gran Torino when Walt was looking with scorn at Thao’s grandmother and said, “Why the hell do this chinks have to move in this neighborhood for? ” (Eastwood, 2009). The protagonist’s use of the word “chinks” shows the stereotypical label of the Asian community. Chinks” is used to refer to the epicanthic fold found in the inner angle of the eye (wisegeek, n. d. ). This use of this term is associated to the racialization of the Asian race because this difference in appearance was utilized to negatively identify members of this group. Other perceptions in the film include Walt’s snarky comments such as “aren’t Asians supposed to be smart? Or the assumption as the Hmong as “jungle people” (Eastwood, 2009). These stereotypical and prejudiced statements are seen extensively throughout the movie.
The irony of it is the statements reflect society’s views of the Asian identity. This leads to the notion that through the social process of differentiating groups based on racial traits and characteristics leads to the division of races with the effect of oppressing some. This, sequentially cause the stereotypical and prejudiced associations to be made. If society had not placed a meaning on physical appearance or characteristics, the racial assumption would not exist. Furthermore, if no classification were made towards these individuals, the Asian race will not exist.
The Montreal police define a street gang as ‘a group of individuals, usually adolescents and/or young adults, who use the power of group intimidation in order to carry out, on a more or less regular basis, violent criminal acts’ (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, pp. 116). Police documentation had identified five ethnic groups where street gangs originated (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 117). Among the five is the Asiatic ethnic group (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 117).
The process of police construct of race in terms of street gangs involves the process of racialization (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 123). Robert Miles defines it as “a process of categorization through which social relations between people are structured by the signification of human biological characteristics in such a way as to define and constructs social collectivities” (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 12). It is when negative characteristics, traits and behaviour are associated with particular groups (Jiwani, 2011, pp. 43).
This is due the perception and presumed differences of the group (Jiwani, 2011, pp. 43). In terms of the police construction of police, this can be seen through the provision of “Images of violence-prone ‘ethnic youth’ from war-torn countries (it is taken as given that the ‘ethnic youth’ in question are male) (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 123). When compared to children in Quebec, Ontario, a police man stated “ ‘ Here in [Quebec] our kids are born with a hocky puck in their hand, but there [a country of origin of immigrants] they come into the world with a grenade in their hands” (Symons, 2002, pp. 18)”The culture belief portrays the racialization of the street gang issue (Symons, 2002, pp. 118). The ideology that street gangs originated from the upbringing in a war-torn country signifies street gangs as an immigration issue. As another police stated “‘They have guns there [in country of origin],’… ‘It’s part of their more’” (Symons, 2002, pp. 118). This is seen with the portrayal of the Hmong gang in Gran Torino. Earlier in the film, Sue had shared to Walt that the reason they resided in America and is to escape the violence that is occurring in their homeland (Eastwood, 2009).
By providing this background story of escaping a war torn country and the portrayal of young Asiatic gangs terrorizing the neighborhood, supports the racialization of Asiatic gang members. This has come from the social process of constructing that living a life in a war-torn country makes the individual a gang member. Since this living condition is associated with the Asian youth, these members are automatically perceived as a gang member. Other scenes in the film include the portrayal of the ethnic group Latinos as gang members, which are also identified as the patent of street gangs.
A key stereotype of Asians race is that of the mysterious, devious, fearsome Asian” (Zong and Perry, 2011, pp. 115). This consecutively marks the group as different and foreign which causes them to be feared and avoided. (Zong and Perry, 2011, pp. 115). Within society this is reflected through minorities and immigrants being “over police and under protected” by the criminal justice system (as cited in Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 69). Often times, during the legal process, immigrants are provided longer sentences and severe punishments compare to those who have lived in Canada for 20 years and more (Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 8). In terms of other minority groups, Blacks and Aboriginals are overrepresented in the correctional system ((Zong and Perry, 2011, pp. 115). Individuals in society are aware of these unfair treatments, but many still links race and crime together. This is due to the belief and perception of immigrants and minorities as dangerous and different. It is important to note that these factors cannot be found when looking at the white population. This leads to the notion that “‘Canadians’ do not break the law, but racialized ‘immigrant groups do’” (Chan and Mirchandani, 2002, pp. 9). The portrayal of minority groups and immigrants in the film can be seen when no white individual is shown to be a criminal. The members of the street gangs were of Latino, Black and Asian descents. The white characters portrayed were successful businessmen, a hero and a priest. In fact, the protagonist was a Korean War veteran where he killed several men in battle. Instead of being convicted for his actions, he was provided a medal of honor. The portrayal of these scenes shows that white individuals do not commit crime and so cannot be identified as criminals.
Society had classified certain inviduals to be part of the Asian and Black race dividing them from the white population. Throughout various events and social processes the perception of Asian and Black race to be dangerous was constructed. This in turn had let these groups to be viewed as criminals. This is believed to be taken a significant effect due to unfair treatment and portrayal of minorities and immigrant in the criminal justice system. White as ‘powerful’ The notion of race as a social process has caused an effect where certain groups are marginalized.
Within the society, a white individual is the dominant and superior while others are oppressed, and inferior. This perception has led to the view of that the white population is powerful compared to the other racial groups. The portrayal of this can be seen with the protagonist of the film. Thao and the other gang members had gone to his house to attack him. During the fight, Walt comes out pointing a rifle towards the gang threatening them to get off his lawn and leave. By doing this, he earns the respect of Thao’s family and the Hmong community.
To show their gratitude, they showered him with gifts, meals and flowers. Through the remainder of the movie, Walt was shown to be a leader, influencer and hero. He was guiding Thao away from becoming a gang member by providing a job, teaching about manhood and purchasing items for him. He was also shown as a savior when he gave up his life so that Thao and his family can live a life without any gang violence. Within the racial context, the representation of Walt as the savior illustrates the ideology that white is powerful, whereas the Asian group is seen to be helpless, powerless and vulnerable. This leads back to the notion of social constructionism where the division of race had caused some groups to be in power and the others as powerless. In this case, the white group is seen to be of dominance while the Asian group is perceived to be inferior and vulnerable.
A once popular belief in society was that everyone was born into distinctive biologically and natural based differences known as race (Rothenberg, 2008, pp. 9). However as time passed, the notion of race had transformed into the idea that it was created through human interaction known as social construction.
In other words, through social processes, the differences between racial groups were constructed and not from nature itself. However, through the development of division among groups, some were placed in a position of power while others in a minority position. Throughout time, the white group have become the dominant and powerful group over other racialized group. This, sequentially have led to several unfair treatment, marginalization, and oppression against this group. These effects have been portrayed in the film Gran Torino in regards to the racial group of the White and Asian.
Through social constructionism, prejudices and stereotypical terms have been used to identify the Asians groups. Secondly, the notion of Asian youth as gang members. Thirdly, the perception of Asian individuals as criminals. Lastly, the ideology of white power over Asian groups. These reflections of currents societal beliefs and perception towards the White and Asian groups originated from the process of social construction. In other words, the reason why it the racial groups of Asians and White exist is through social collectivities. If society did not place a meaning towards the differentiation among individuals, race would not exist, thus these assumptions would be of non-existent as well.
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