Reflections on Race and Ethnicity

I am an International student from China. As a youth and an aspiring graduate, I have focused on my assets to pursue my goals to land on a career eventually. Yet my migration from my country to the United States, alongside that dream to become successful in life has made me experience a social concern embodied in the term racial discrimination. The differences in our color, physical attributes, language and culture have all been superficial to me, apparently.

I thought the world is only geographically divided but is united as a whole because humanity speaks of all human beings capable of doing the things that man has been analyzed to distinctly perform from other animals; like speech, reason, thinking, etc. My innocence of the purportedly social differentiation on the basis of race and ethnicity has led me to desire to live according to the principle of fairness and equality, and amity.

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Yet I realize there is much more to understand as I mature and become more immersed in my situation; and all other fields of study have offered explanation to this case like politics, sociology, anthropology, economics and psychology. State- formation has caused the creation of political boundaries where going outside of one’s territory to the other would necessitate subordination to the race of the destination country. The word minority evolves in my mind as both a significant and painful label.

It has political and social implications; the first being that power as an intrinsic value belongs to those people who could manifest dominance over the others in ways that may be socially and economically determined; the second is that social interaction does not lend itself to the satisfaction of everyone but breeds isolation as people have the right and ability to choose whom they will respond to, agree with and join. In both cases, the minority is only second-rated. I use only because I believe there is something to correct in the process that could fully enhance the condition.

I want an ideal recognition of equality among all races. Let me make it clear that the Chinese race is not the only minority in the US- we also have Indians, African-Americans, and other Asians. However, my use of the term ideal only proposes impossibility. Racial differences configure varying levels of power and influence, economic and social statuses. This is perhaps what Allan G. Johnson in his chapters in Privilege, Power and Difference means by the “oppressive legacy of social life organized around privilege, power, and difference” that we are absorbed into.

My enrollment in this course thus is essential. First, I thought it would mitigate the pain of being minority and second would give me a chance to critically assess the circumstances in an academic and ethical manner. This paper hence, is written for the purpose of reflection on my new learning and experience vis a vis my previous and prior knowledge. In the end, its most valuable contribution is the new perspective it brought me in my future interactions and a new approach in dealing with the issue at hand.

Let me outline that my reflection goes through stages of discernment of myself (identity), the way I am identified in the society (social identity), membership in other social identity groups (multiple social identities), the social interaction that I have participated into, the impacts of our communication or dialogue and the advantage of an alliance in a stratified society. What is identity? Once we recognize that we have something in common with other people, we beg the question why. We are led to the conclusion that our common race has allowed us to share common culture, history, language, religion, and norms.

Our number has swayed us to the formation of a single social group, and the reason it is social is because the presence of other groups like ours in the society makes the term functional in terms of the plausibility of social relations with them. This I learned in class and in my dealings with my classmates- there is a difference of perceptions about one’s social identity by a member of the latter as against the outsider. It is interesting to know that other institutional structures like media, research and academe, and social organizations have contributed to the projection of these judgments however counterfeit.

The political correctness of the awareness is most aptly weighed as prejudicial- as misinterpretation leads to segregation and discrimination. The social branding has yielded unnecessary disputes and feelings of antagonism with each other. Whether or not this causes or is caused by ethnocentrism is a viable assumption. We have the propensity to think of one’s own race greater than the other; having this considered, we are all bound to put down the others to elevate our own. I personally have thought of other race as humorous for their non-conventional English pronunciation, unique attire, exceptional customs and exotic delicacies.

We all have the same narrow-mindedness against each other before entry to our class. I say narrow because the absence of cultural studies and historical references leads one to find each of the mentioned elements amusing rather than customary; prohibited rather than respected. Yet again, while I was enjoying the misfortunate unorthodoxies of the others, I did not know I was also the subject of other race’s hilarity. This brings us to presume that prejudice happens within minorities as well, not just the bias of the prevailing group over the marginal groups.

Having been opened to these possibilities prevents one from committing mistakes. Offensive is the right description of the actions caused by misinterpretation and cultural ignorance. But our racial dilemmas, our true identities are even complicated by other factors other than culture. This is what Beverly Daniel Tatum has expressed in The Complexity of Identity: Who Am I?. Accordingly, our racial identity is experienced with the intervention of other factors like gender, social class, religion and even disabilities and capacities.

This perhaps runs in the same argument as the one expressed by Johnson earlier. Our identity is embedded within historical, social and cultural context. Once the intersection is determined between sexuality, religion, gender, class and race in one’s lifetime, the framework of a mono-dimensional alliance and divisions by race is defied. Owing to the ideas of Tatum, we learn that we as minorities experience greater complexities because we are disadvantaged. Had we been members of the dominant culture, we would not be overly bothered by multiple social identities.

Our so-called otherness is based from the relatively perceived weakness in sexuality, gender, race, abilities, class and age. The isms have been socially constructed to manifest oppression and to signify the existence of a dominant type in every category thus; sexism, heterosexism, racism, ableism, classism, religious oppression and ageism. The more significant discussion on the power trappings in the society is obtained in the notion of mythical norm. Such that when one perceives one is not that someone and the latter is perceived better than the former, a connotation of subordination and domination is developed.

In America, the mythical norm consists of descriptions like thin, male, young, write, heterosexual, Christian and wealthy. All others who do not possess these feel insecurity. Because of this, I started wondering and worrying about my career in the future. When Tatum mentioned about the occasion where a subordinate possesses positive traits and qualities and is often considered an anomaly- I felt sadness and fear. What if I apply for a high position in the future and despite my capacities and potentials, I would not be entertained due to my Chinese nationality?

Sad but true; and most of the time the dominant group are not mindful of the instances of discrimination. As Tatum puts it, they do not know the situation we are into, our experiences and sentiments. Although minority and discrimination are two compatible words that are coined by experts in the field of sociology and anthropology; the same scholars are noteworthy for arriving at an intelligent method of mitigating the burden of the terms- through minority studies and tolerance system advocated in most race and ethnicity education.

This is where education comes in as a great opportunity and mechanism for unity and embracing diversity. I say, the supplement for ignorance is education, and the latter provides resolution to the conflict which persists in inequalities. It has served as an empowering tool- key to the understanding of others and enabling the rest to do something about the development of others despite differences. This is what Kenneth Benne has emphasized on- the recognition of the contradictions of our situation and the complications of the issue as we treat ourselves as both observer and central character in the process will produce wisdom.

Truly, acceptance is not achieved where one does not know how to acknowledge as well. Benne in The Significance of Human Conflict has implied an attitude of forbearance. Indeed, if racial and ethnic differences cause us tragedy or conflict, we must opt to view it as trial and error in the laboratory. The tragedy is bearable where one admits in the first place that it is inevitable and that the process of inquiry and reasoning will help us end in solace. In education, a common strategy is to make all equal before the search for truth and knowledge and to stand in the shoes of other people for enlightenment.

In our class, I have learned to know my social identity through the lens of others, and to know about others through themselves. Here, bias is contained while self aggrandizement is treated pointless. Our class and dialogues have become good avenues for interface among students from different races, minority or not. It is probably the saturation of the media, advertisements and educational products leaning toward the dominant sector that makes the apathy worse among the superior class.

But it seems to me that the trend of assimilation which the subordinates themselves managed to do is negative and unacceptable. Tatum says they are doing so for survival. But I only see it as a justification for the prevailing ideas and thought for the dominant race. A compromise is not met where a black uses whitening lotion for example to avoid the pitfalls of his or her being black. The tactics come in two forms; attending to the expectations of the dominant and not attending at all.

In both cases, we are at the losing ground. But the dialogues are more than just the presentation of one’s views but a strengthening of such in the light of acceptance and comprehension. I feel that my previous fears were countered and my expectations were slowly being fulfilled. At first it may be difficult for members of the dominant race to accept the thoughts of minorities like me, but it turned out learning from each other was good methodology. Indeed, interaction and communication proved its worth.

Later on we began focusing on how despite the realities of being the target of oppression, do we also realize being the source of oppression as a male vis a vis the female for instance, or as a capacitated as against the disabled, or as a person of wealth rather than a poor one. What we did was actually an inventory of our social identities. In this case, we could all be victims of oppression, and we could all be guilty of the same offense. In this regard alliances as suggested by Tatum will be most beneficial in the achievement of freedom, social justice and preservation of human rights.

The famous quote of Rodney King, “Why don’t we just get along? ” makes sense. But just like the way Bobbie Harro in The Cycle of Socialization puts it in consonance with Tatum’s arguments, our roles are defined in the society depending on which dynamic of social identities we belong. In the end we face an unequal system where people have unequal roles. Inevitable, I ask myself, “What will be my role in the society? ” What will be the roles of the minorities in relation to the dominant? Will the relationship lead to further inequalities, injustice and rights violations?

Harro’s suggestion was a commendable “directions for change”. By looking at how the socialization process has entrapped us to the identification of our social identities, one can figure a way on how to intervene in the process, interrupting the cycle of the socialization process and take charge of our own lives. One finds out that most of our social identities are given to us, in the absence of choice, for example being born a Chinese is not as a result of my personal will, in addition to the structures of oppression that are already in place in the society.

I am innocent therefore probably just like the dominant group who had no prior intentions of becoming whites, or males or rich, etc yet was born already to the advantages and luxuries which existing mechanisms, rules, culture have imposed on them. This brings us to an assumption that there is much to assess in the historical foundations of the existing social conditions to enable the so-called interruption in the cycle of socialization. White dominance for example is a result of the military and political superiority of the white race in Western states since time immemorial.

While we can no longer change history, we can make our history for the future. The agents of socialization play big roles in this endeavor. It is true that the family being the primary agent of socialization especially during the formative years of a child is also the basic political unit that shapes political beliefs, attitudes and feelings of the child. If your parents have an existing bias against another group, your thoughts are molded accordingly.

However the moments at homes are not controlled by all else outside of it, it may be difficult to achieve reformation in this level. The schools and universities however have an equally significant responsibility in nurturing the mind-set of the person. It is also in this level where management of the task is easily done. The government and other interest groups, and organizations should install mechanisms to ensure that the academic vision and paradigm does not discriminate a specific social identity.

The latter on the other hand must be critical observers and implementers of the policies. Media and press as mentioned already in the beginning part of this paper have instead of correcting discriminatory statements have become blinded by the profits derived by market capitalism and commodifying people into the emergent status quo. Consumerism results to strengthening of the dominant group. The knowledge which the readings in class have bestowed on me allows me to eradicate the feeling of dissent against the reported oppressors.

I also can not imagine myself antagonizing my classmates who are from the dominant class because of the stereotypes that the society raises, given that I do not experience on a personal level the discrimination from them. I enjoyed our dialogues, interaction, discussions and sharing in groups and in class in general.

Pedagogy has certainly much more to supply in the undertaking. An alliance is called for where we situate the following new education: (1. ) Social identities evolve as multiple rather than uni-dimensional; (2. The dominant-minority dichotomy is a lot more complicated and involves a multiplicity of roles of an individual who is dominant at times, and minority at some other. (3. ) Domination and oppression are creations of historical and political structures with economic and socio-political implications (4. ) The members of dominant group can not fault themselves for the persistence of such unequal identification unless they participate in its proliferation (5. )

Understanding of the frameworks employed in our class would enable us to accept and break the cycle of oppression as it is known today (6. educational institutions can serve as empowering tools toward The interruption in the cycle of socialization to put forward change in favor of a more equitable system. (7. ) Alliances are desirable in the fight for social justice across races and classes. In the future I will be able to employ these ideas and turn out to be a confident and dignified person. No amount of structural oppression could oppose my sincere methods and values of fairness. It is a good feeling that one is not alone in the struggle for reform.