Since ages, throughout the history of evolution, no two organisms have been alike, though basic features may be same to be classified into a category. The evolution has proved to us time and again, the beauty of the creation lies in its variety. But it’s not every day we see people accept this variety. Nature offers us millions of ways to understand this fact, but even then the distinction remains. The homo-sapiens who started walking on earth proved to be intellectually superior creatures.
In fact, it is this intelligence on which the current society is built. It involves labors of millions of people who have constantly ached to steer the society in a direction they believed to be to be correct. But the definition of correct differed each time and the only achievement that came out the same was the marginalization of power into the hands of a greedy few. The power centres started making and setting up rules in order to bring control into the society by categorizing people into different sections based on their ability.
But the categorization did not last long and the powers started being hereditary. So the quest to identify what is right had to start many times over, and every time it ended with inconclusive answers.
A) In the quest to do what is right, humans started making distinctions based on physical appearances for numerous reasons. The basis of how this distinction started and was brought upon, is touched upon and described in Chapter 3 of K Sorrells, Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice.
Chapter 3 titled Globalizing Body Politics tells us why there are categories based on Physical Differences. Body politics refers to practices and policies through which power is marked, negotiated, and regulated through the body (Sorrells, K). This is to say, since our childhood it has been ingrained upon us, to recognize and mark people who appear different to us. This is well illustrated based on Hip Hop Culture, which has gained popularity worldwide due to its unique values, norms and beliefs, and the vested interest in popularising the culture. Accepting Hip Hop Culture is similar to accepting the variety in race, culture, and ethnicity of people. There are people who willingly accept and be a part of this culture and actually relate to it based on personal experience, yet there are people who accept this culture begrudgingly accepting it partially and then there are people who distance from this totally, who consider this to be totally violent and unacceptable music genre. But one cannot push away the fact this does affect individuals on various levels.
Once the fact is accepted, communicating view to express differences becomes quite easy. Once communication is established, a social construction develops based on ideas that have been created, invented, or constructed by people in a particular society. Social constructs are norms which people tend to agree upon for a peaceful co-existence. A social construct not only tells what but also tell us how of communications. It established differences to make identifications easy. The most basic and common difference ingrained into humans is the gender difference. The basic feature of the body acts as the main identifier to establish differences, and once this is registered people subconsciously start differentiating. The differentiation gets blurred when there is variation in nature, and then a need for new class appears. In this case, a third gender was accepted as a norm of social construct -the transgender who have different traits among them. While a social construct establishes a basic norm, the individuals and thinker contribute towards building on these norms and strive to explain all the deviations. With changes in living practises, beliefs and styles, the gender distinction played a major role in establishing a patriarchal society, which the current world is trying to come out of.
The need to explain everything known and differentiate them gives rise to the hierarchy of difference. Johann Blumenbach, in 1700’s worked on Linnaeus’ system of categorization and gave rise to the hierarchy of difference. He divided the human race into five categories based on the size of the skull terming one superior to the other. The 5 distinct races were –
· the Caucasians or Whites placed at the top,
· the Malay or the brown race came next,
· the Americans or red race followed the Malay,
· the Mongolian or yellow race was placed next,
· and the Ethiopian or Black race was placed at the bottom.
This scientific explanation resonated with the widely established norms and gave the idealists a way to establish the supremacy. The more popular a person was, the words held more power. The power of words was given more credibility when put into words or termed – power texts. Throughout the history of mankind, one can actually notice this. Every established theory about our world was accepted as the societal norm when the Caucasians embedded them in the power texts. And the ideas dispelling to the established norm even within them was met with ample resistance until solid pieces of evidence were provided to prove the theories otherwise. So when a new idea was introduced by people of the lesser hierarchy the entire group who believed to be higher than the other got together to disprove the idea thus widening the difference rather than narrowing it down.
The discriminations are well recorded by various people throughout history. The discrimination met is effectively portrayed in Place and Kinship by Donald Grinde. The idea of difference is more accepted in societies that have gained their independence quite recently like the countries of Southeast Asia. The difference is more prevalent in societies like America or England where people of different regions were brought together after independence (Grinde, page 71). The most famous of the revolutions that aimed at steering away from this social construct was the American Civil war and the South-Africa’s Apartheid movements aimed at treating the whites and blacks equally. The results of accepting the people into society after independence is not a complete one as the discrimination still exists.
As a person who lives in society, one cannot be oblivious to these distinctions. As proof of the hostility, one keeps on coming articles in the news-papers where white shoots black’s just because of their race. The one that is on top-of-mind is the case of a white man pleading guilty of shooting 3 black men during Katrina Hurricane just for their race. This is a parallel experience that Grinde had to go through when his 16-year-old son was killed without being involved in any of the drug dealings he was accused of by the white men. The justice was delayed in both cases. Another experience of a black-woman reported on social media shows how people can be judgemental. The woman who is in late 20 went to a car dealer shop to buy a car. The showroom executive who were white males immediately judged her of being incapable to buy a car and were not courteous to her. This incident leads us to believe it not just the race but also gender that is often looked down upon, only due to the fact that people in power established a hierarchical society differentiating one to be above another.
B) The above incidents also lead one to know about the “White Privilege”, termed discussed by Meggy McIntosh in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Similar to the claims of the feminists worldwide claiming equal status to the men in the patriarchal society, the cry of the darker skinned people for equality is brought under a microscope. According to a research article by NCBI, among the respondents, 91% of the people in their social networks were white. This shows the ingrained traits to recognize friends from the same socio-economic status. While there were reports of cross-racial friendships forged, it was found to be friendships blossomed during young ages when the differentiation was still an oblivious concept. It is also observed for a fact the younger generations learn from the older generation, and the kind of friendships the current generation forged will define the future generations.
The advantage of being a white toned person on American land is numerous. This is in fact observed in day to day incidents. The fact that America had its first black president centuries after being independent shows the differential nature of the society. Some of the privileges observed by the whites, but not limited to are –
· A wide representation of the same race people in all verticals of the society.
· The decision makers mostly belong to the Caucasian society.
· White people will never have to defend their words.
· When a white-skinned person propose an idea, it need not backed by his peers, while the ideas proposed by people of other race have to be backed by people belonging to the race as pointed out Grinde in his article.
· The ideologies and religious sentiments are not enforced on the whites as they are on the people from different ethnicity.
· A white woman can walk up to stores, without being scared of harassment or without being scared of being followed.
· The history and civilization are filled with glories of what white-skinned people have achieved. The achievements of people of other race take a back seat – all due to the power texts as implied by Sorrels in the book Intercultural communication.
· People also subconsciously tend to give more power to meritorious people from their own race instead of choosing the best of the lot.
The struggle to prove oneself is constant when people of different race are trying to blend into the white dominant society.
· Being from the white skin has given me certain advantages. I can easily blend into society. In a group when voicing my opinions I am not judged based on my skin color.
· The white skin color always gives one advantage not just at home, but also when they travel to countries worldwide. The white, mainly due to British occupying colonies worldwide have left behind a feeling in the underprivileged countries, that they are superior not only in terms of knowledge but also in terms of wealth.
· Wealth is one more attribute that is always associated with success. And the top three wealthiest people are also white skinned people. Not that they had it easy to achieve that position. But the toil and hard work behind the success is often taken for granted. A part of the credit for the achievements are often credited to the skin color of the person.
· One more disadvantage that whites face is the strength. It is automatically assumed whites are considerably weaker than the darker skinned people. When some need a hand for a work that requires effort, it’s mostly the dark-skinned people who are chosen to do it. Most of the manual works are assigned to the dark-skinned people.
· But on the other side, white skinned people are assumed to be intelligent beings almost automatically. The works which involve planning and strategy almost falls into a white-skinned hand than a dark-skinned person. If a strategic planning work falls into a dark-skinned person, it is considered to be a reward for all the hard work that has been put it and proving themselves constantly on more occasion than one.
· The discrimination gap widens when gender and race get mixed up. Dark skinned women have a harder time compare to their male compatriots in proving themselves and convincing the society of their capabilities. This can be vouched from personal experience of having cross-racial friends and personally experiencing her struggles.
So how does being a white actually work in the United States of America?
C) Being white come with its own set of advantages as explained throughout the article. The entire idea of how this white dominance is established is put down beautifully in the article Understanding Whiteness in the United States by Judith Martin. The white identity is closely related to race and ethnicity. While race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably, there is a fine distinction between the two. A race is often attributed to the physical characteristics while ethnicity is a sense of shared culture, belief system, and origin. But racial identity is not definitive. It has spread across boundaries with immigration playing a major role in diminishing boundaries surrounding the definition of these two terms. The most powerful aspects of identity often go unrecognized. The headlines of all the newspapers focus on highlighting the so-called bottom sections of the hierarchy rather than on all sections of the society. The differentiation is not something that can be overcome easily. The white-identity has several characteristics associated with it. The prominent ones among them are
· Location of structural advantage:
This does not mean whites in a particular geographic region have lot more to gain than the other whites in other regions. It actually means, a white being able to converse normally with another without being judged. When a group of people gets together it is viewed more as a sign of getting together for good times. Whites are not judged for their actions based on their skin color. Like by McIntosh in the article white privilege, without meaning to or without commanding to whites have gotten used to certain advantages of being fair skinned, all due to how people in power have guided the society to work. Several studies have shown and proven over time, that power is something that is almost never discussed among whites as its generally there for them. The conversation for power is most prevalent in other colored section of the society.
This also has a few drawbacks among the younger generation. A study report suggests that whites are often judged to be racists, and are often loaded with work while minority students are burdened with less work. When the survey was conducted to check how the other race felt of whites and vice-versa, both had the same answer, the other race was seemed to have more privilege than themselves.
Standpoint indicates how one views themselves when compared with others. When asked what was being white – the general perception was to say anything that’s not another color is white, implying the dominance white had over others. Does this mean they degrade people of other colors or race? No, it is just a subconscious effort to place self in the higher ranks of the hierarchy. When the same circumstances were presented to white and blacks, the view on anything under the sun was almost exactly opposite of each other. This was mainly owing to how there is an invisible line drawn around people and the direct consequences of mentally keeping them away from society. While the opinions were not always uniform, the general consensus was.
· Set of core symbols and norms:
Labels are attached to the whites and it surrounds them and here is where the power play comes in with its full force. The multiple identities a person carries reflects these systems. A person who has parents of different origins say American and Mexican, is as American as her peer who has both parents with their origin American. But the label of how the person is recognized is given by people surrounding them and not themselves. Identity and labeling is done by people in power.
The characteristics of white are slowly changing in America. Whites of this generation seem to be more open towards people of other colors, race, and ethnicity. People are becoming more and more used to the idea of co-existing. There are black heroes in Hollywood like there are white heroes. If one had to associates a set of white identity with a set of characteristics to suit to more recent times, they would be curiosity, acceptance, and realization. Curiosity is the second nature of all humans, but the sense of going out of comfort and trying to forge friendships outside whites is becoming a norm. The curiosity to learn about other races and understand their pain-points, empathizing and supporting the dark-skinned, helping them grow and become equals is becoming an essential part of the white’s lives. The acceptance that they are also part of our society and should be treated like how you treat other whites is the new norm. Slowly but steadily the society is heading towards a positive change. The realization to shun the white privileges and white identity is becoming prevalent across the society and the need to identify as among the equals is starting to take roots. Individual talent and stereotypes surrounding a race are being shunned. But that’s a process in doing and not an overnight miracle.
All these articles show how the whites have gained dominance over centuries and how the ingrained habits still continue to shape and define the way the world works and looks. The structure that was presented to the society to ensure a smooth running of the society has become its shackles. Every day one or the other differentiation is highlighted instead of highlighting the features that get people together. As and when the society moves forwards, with the changes, the societal structural changes should also be redefined in a way that it gains acceptance from people worldwide. The white though have dominated the history, the history of blacks are not to be ignored. There have been an instance where it was the black who have done more for their land. But the thing to focus on would be to develop a much easier form of communication to destroy the existing norms to build new ones. Both positive and negative view point’s play a vital role.
An all-inclusive society is the need of the hour with drastic changes taking place in the earth’s environment. All hand should join forces to unite and protect the cultural heritage passed down through the generations. When you share the responsibilities of building an example of society, society becomes much easier to function. This is a systematic change waiting to happen and should happen in phases.
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