Racism – Ingrained or Taught?
We treat those who we deem inferior to us as less than – not worthy of human decency. Criminals and those who break the law are usually tucked under the category of people upon which the average American citizen would look down. This is a seemingly innocent and comprehendible notion, though it becomes much more alarming when considering that black bodies make up the bulk of prisons, as we are incarcerated at five times the rate of our white counterparts. This isn’t a mistake; this is pure racism – it is the lasting effect of a system that was created to serve and aid white people and only white people. This isn’t a country with a racist history, it is merely a racist country. When the deciding factor as to one’s worthiness of basic human rights is selected by a default skin color, one which you do not own, you may find oneself within a harsher, darker, much more dangerous version of society; a society not built for you, rather built upon you. Racism is both ingrained and taught. It is something we see all around us, something in which we are bred. To be white in America doesn’t necessarily mean you’re racist, of course. It doesn’t, however, dispute the fact that racism doesn’t have to be taught; racism is ingrained. It is a mindset white people must spend their whole lives unteaching themselves in their role as a potential oppressor. These preconceived notions and biases are inescapable, and therefore must be untaught. Racism is ingrained within American culture, and therefore taught to the rest of us.
When the country we live in is considered a “melting pot” or “salad bowl,” cultures which belong out of the realm of whiteness are intrinsically lost amongst the masses. America has a habit of adopting other cultures; for example, the United States has three times more Chinese restaurants than McDonald's franchise units. We eat each other’s foods, have a high religious conversion rate and, unfortunately, appropriate each other’s cultures. Cultural appropriation, as defined by James Young in his book entitled Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, is the “adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.” This is a significant side effect of the melting pot effect, in which our country has become an environment where the cultural lines are blurred – we sit down to dinners of ethnically enriched foods, and dress and appear in styles influenced and/or directly taken from ethnic cultures.
The issue, however, is that not all aspects of culture are supposed to be shared. In the United States, there is an unfortunate yet very present often lack of personal relationships between cultural groups and the majority (white people). It is because of this that people who belong to a culture outside of the majority worry that their own cultural representations, when adopted by a member who does not belong to their group, may be displayed and contributed to on a very limiting and therefore ignorant level. This can exhibit misleading/false information to the public about said people whilst simultaneously teaching those outside the group that taking part in said cultural practice is okay. This is not to say that every white girl who gets braids is racist, but more that they are participating in a cultural genocide and therefore practicing racist tendencies. It all stems from both a lack of education and a lack of respect – those who truly respect a specific group’s culture would hopefully know not to participate in the appropriation of said group’s culture. The lines, like I mentioned before, are blurred now, with popular celebrities like the Kardashians routinely sporting black hairstyles and therefore teaching their millions of impressionable young fans and followers that wearing these hairstyles are okay when they truly aren’t.
“An us-them mentality is unfortunately a really basic part of our biology,” said psychology professor Eric Knowles of New York University who studies prejudice and politics. “There’s a lot of evidence that people have an ingrained or an evolved tendency toward people who are in our so-called 'in group', but how we define those groups, and the tendency to draw divisions along racial lines, is social, not biological,” he says. We all have tendencies and specific tastes for certain things – an inclination toward one thing over the other. So, yes, our parents were lying to us all along when they said they didn’t have a favorite(They do).
This inclination, whether it manifests as preferring vanilla instead of chocolate or Apple instead of Android, we all favor one thing over another, as it is human nature to judge and analyze one another and objects we incorporate into our lives. White people are not just favorable towards their own group; they are favorable towards a racist system because it continuously benefits them throughout American history. This inclination did not occur by accident– it is the consequence that accompanies our nation’s consistent historical inequities amongst the “melting pot” we pride ourselves for being. We are not a melting pot– not the kind we think we are, anyway. This “melting pot” of which we dream and have pride is one into which someone who is categorized as “other” must “melt” pre-established American culture whilst forgetting their own, and when one fails to assimilate by typical American standards, the consequences can be dangerous. Racism is lethal and contagious, and it stems from the favorable inclination I mentioned previously. If the largest group, (who also happens to be the group which holds the power to oppress), inclines towards themselves and one fails to assimilate into that group in a way the potential oppressor deems satisfactory, persecution follows.
The American media, for instance, formulates and spreads racist propaganda like wildfire, whether it was their intention to do so or not. Whether it be on the news or in movie theaters, people of color — especially Black people — are often portrayed in a negative and/or harsh light time and time again. In an investigation to assess televised representations of Black, Latin, and white people, investigators Travis L. Dixon and Daniel Linz revealed that Blacks and Latinx are drastically more likely to be depicted as lawbreakers on televised news. In addition to this, a surmountable amount of films which center on black characters are about harsh stories – growing up in the hood, fighting racism, fighting to survive in America. This is an important factor because, yes, it is important to highlight the struggles of the typecast black man living in poverty, but it is also just as important to highlight our successes – a category I find is ignored over and over again. We fight so hard to obtain proper representation in the media, and are usually let down. We’ve seen it all before with movements like #OscarsSoWhite – we are only awarded for making films which highlight our struggles. Movies like Fences and Moonlight are notable Oscar winners, both sharing the distinct trait of being movies which circulate around black struggles. We are awarded for making movies about the harshness of life as seen through the lens of a black person, or we are not recognized at all. It is a phenomenon of both overrepresentation and underrepresentation – the overrepresentation of black crime and the demons of reality for black people, and the underrepresentation of black people and their successes on movie screens and in television.
Think about how many times you would have to click your remote until you reached a show which circled around a black character or a Latin character. Think about the difference in time if you were looking for a show circulating around a white character. Whether the difference is thirty seconds or two minutes, it will always be too long.
Whilst all of this chaos rages on around us, it is amazing to me that such deep-rooted issues can be so blatantly ignored. It reminds me of the phrase color blindness, a term which was heavily used by civil rights lawyers in order to justify that the Constitution prohibited Jim Crow. According to Paul Pryse, author of the article Subliminal Racism Unpackaged, “segregationists also used the term 'color blindness' to argue that the government should make no consideration of race at all.” People today, more notably white people, still claim that they “cannot see color,” though it is this kind of thinking that perceives racism as a collection of mindsets and conceptions as opposed to a system of cultural domination. It is a way of thinking through which people believe that, in order to eradicate racism, one must merely stop thinking about it without ever touching or repairing the social hierarchy of institutionalized racism that they created in the first place. Thus, colorblindness works hand in hand with dog whistle appeals: politicians are safe as long as they do not explicitly argue for white supremacy. The encoding of colorblindness calibrates to perfect racial inequality to therefore become “reverse racism.” Color Blindness, for all intents and purposes, aids in racial domination as opposed to distancing us from it.
Race isn’t real. We are all human, and the color of our skin will always be determined by the sun. Human skin has adapted over centuries as our early ancestors migrated across our planet. According to Gustavo Razzetti as stated in the article “Why Racism Is About the Color of the Mind, Not Your Skin,” “There’s a direct correlation between skin color and latitude. The closer to the Equator, the darker the skin of those populations — the body creates a shield to protect itself from ultraviolet rays. In areas where winters are more extreme, and sunny days are limited — like in Chicago where I live now — a whiter skin helps produce more vitamin D. All people alive today are Africans — like it or not, that’s how everything started.” As humans, we are all closely related. We all hold the same gathering of genes, though some are slightly different from others. Race is a social concept – it is not a part of us, and it does not tell us who we are. Race is a learned concept, one which we adopt as we get older. The difference between what we learn and what is true is this: “Race is natural. Racism is not.”
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” —Toni Morrison