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Racism Essay, Research Paper

This disease has swept the entire population. It infests our schools, churches, hospitals, playgrounds, and especially the workplace. Every person ranging from little toddlers to senior citizens have in some fashion or another encountered this deadly disease. Starting as early as the birth of America, this disease lasted the varying tests of time. It is unavoidable as its symptoms attack our physical and mental health. Although it has stricken hundreds of millions of people every hour, this affliction stands strong. Though this disease can be treated, there is no absolute cure. What could be this ghastly, castrating ailment that permeates into all that we see and do? This despicable ailment catches to the tune of racism.

Racism is the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. Therefore, many racists discriminate or prejudice. However, while the notion of prejudice may be clear, a common definition is rather harder to assess. Ackerman and Jahoda define prejudice as a pattern of hostility in interpersonal relations which is directed against an entire group, or against its individual members; it fulfills a specific irrational function for its bearer (Ehrlich 3). Rose defines it as an attitude that considers selected categories of people in terms of stereotypes, usually for some purpose (conscious or unconscious) believed to be of advantage to the person who has the prejudice (Ehrlich 3). While these disparate definitions differ in regards to minor or perhaps significant details, they both have a common notion of this unfavorable ethnic attitude (Ehrlich 3). This unfavorable attitude may manifest itself through discrimination and stereotypes. American Heritage Dictionary defines a stereotype as a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. Stereotypes type a person into a usually subject role simply because of the person s race and not their abilities.

As a special language, stereotypes function to reinforce the beliefs and disbeliefs of its users, and to furnish the basis for the development and maintenance of solidarity for the prejudiced. Stereotype assignments provide a vocabulary of motives for the action of prejudiced persons. They signal the socially approved and accessible targets for the release of hostility and aggression. (Ehrlich 21)

Stereotypes in themselves are not based upon sheer experience, but on selected experiences and ideas heard. Consequently, this shows the intensity of racists to display how they could be so adamant about such trivial or insensitive manners. Ehrlich notes that psychological harm erupts and leads to physical harm through verbal assault to physical assault. Furthermore, he hints towards the fact that victims of racism are oft used as scapegoats. The next question to ask is how many of us are racists. Either conscious or subconscious racists, social psychologists can only estimate:

Exact figures on what percentage of the US population is prejudiced or racist are not available. Pettigrew found that roughly 15% of White adults are extremely racist largely due to authoritarian personality needs. Approximately 60% of White adult Americans are conforming bigots, reflecting the racist ideology of the larger society. These data are somewhat disconcerting. Only 25% of the White population appear to take a stand against racism. Although only 15% of the samples were extremely racist, 60% of White Americans conform to racist ideology in society. By not being part of the solution, this 60% is part of the problem. Therefore, 75% of the population, to some degree, promotes the status quo, which is racial inequality. Pettigrew emphasizes that White Americans increasingly reject racial injustice in principle but remain reluctant to accept and act on measures necessary to eliminate the injustice. (Ponterotto 17)

Labeling the White male as the primary racist cannot be invariably incorrect. As stated, 75% of White adults are racist to some degree ; and, the female population is among the most victimized groups by various forms of prejudice and discrimination. Moreover, various minorities are the prime targets of prejudice and racism. These victims of hate include gays, Jews, blacks, women, Asians, Muslims, the poor, and the physically and mentally handicapped. Any combination of these would unfortunately only make one s life more challenging in respects to attaining power, respect, and most likely, money. All this would occur simply over a matter of superficial characterizations. Some critics of racism would say that there is reverse discrimination, retributive discrimination against Whites. However, Bernie Lott challenges this when he writes:

Reverse racism is an oxymoron. Although members of oppressed groups can certainly feel hostility toward their oppressors, hold stereotypical beliefs about them, and behave in ways that will distance themselves from their oppressors, an understanding of racism requires consideration of the power differential between Whites and persons of color, and the resulting inequities in society. Since European-Americans control more of society s resources than African-Americans, for example, the avoidance of Blacks by Whites serves to deny Blacks access to resources, whereas the avoidance of Whites by Blacks does not similarly limit the access of Whites to such resources. (Lott 52)

Hence, one side can only further racism. These stereotypes and acts spurned by discrimination and prejudice solidify many of the intricacies of what fuels racism.

One significant consequence of racism is to pervert a person s identity. Because of stereotypes and prejudice, racists focus on the superficial aspects of the target, especially skin color. Hence, racists attack not only one s racial identity but also their dignity and self-concept as a whole. One s self-concept consists of various dimensions. An individual would define herself through the characterization of her sex, race, religion, and beliefs to name a few. In addition, the beliefs and practices within the culture the person grew up with better define that certain person. Without truly acknowledging the full identity of person, racists instead focus on that person s racial identity to determine the humanly worth of this individual and do not regard much else.

While the exact origins of racism remain a mystery, the recurring influences that fuel racist demeanor is clear to understand. Though catastrophic events may have fully realized the movements towards overt racism, the covert conditions that fuel racial hatred are more sentimental and therefore, less tangible. Prior to WWII, Germany was in collapse: the economy was down and Germany s reputation was trodden and no longer reputable in the world. Though ideally, every German was to blame, the Germans instead blamed the Jewish people. Although the Jews in general had some control on the banking and power structures, Germans blamed them for monopolizing the wealth of the nation and conspiring against the entire nation of innocent, upstanding citizens. Hence, eight million Jews throughout Europe were the embers for the fires of the horrific Holocaust. However, whatever the Jews did or even thought at the time could not incite the depravity of Germany s condition prior to WWII, but the hatred and racist ideologies that fueled such hatred did. While trying to escape the insidious, depraved power of Hitler, the Jewish people were denied suffrage in America, the land of freedom and equality. Apparently, the Jewish people were unworthy of the Statue of Liberty s calling to: give me your poor, your tired, your weak. This racial hatred throughout history consists of many factors. Often through fear and ignorance does racism fester into regrettable actions upon lesser persons stigmatized and branded for ridicule and harassment.

Naturally, people fear what is different and perhaps new to them. Often times what they do no understand, they fear or even loathe it.

Irrational hate is very often the result of fear. When people fear something without good reason, hate provides a convenient excuse for refusing to name and defend the reasons for the fear. Hatred- as opposed to introspective, self-acknowledgement of fear- can provide a superficial sense of control to an unhealthy person. For example, an individual who is irrationally afraid of black people, Asian people, or gay people can simply say, I hate them! They re disgusting and evil! This way, the hater does not have to admit to anybody- even to himself- that he s really afraid more than anything else. By masking this fear in the pseudo-moral righteousness of prejudice, the hater gets to escape reason, facts, and logic. Admitting fear, for the irrational individual, also means admitting vulnerability. Irrational people cannot stand being vulnerable or fallible. They find intolerable the idea that they might be mistaken. Consequently, when they discover that, say, the black or the gay individual is in reality a virtuous person, their hatred actually intensifies. Their hatred, like a drug, helps them evade the pain of facing up to error. (Internet)

This fear, hand in hand with irrational hatred, significantly sets the kindling of racism ablaze. Rationale is lost and evil arousal convolutes and perhaps even convinces the mind to continue such hatred. As another major cause for hatred is ignorance.

Combined with the mental habit of evasion- the willful refusal to gain and integrate new knowledge- represents a particularly good recipe for hatred. Many of us are taught irrational ideas or biases from family members, from an extended community or from the wider media and society. Yet, if we shape ourselves into intellectually honest, independent, and critical thinkers, then we are more likely to correct theses errors over time. The root issue in the evolution of hatred is the same as the root issue in so many other psychological problems: evasion of, rather than adherence to, the facts of reality. (Internet)

These racist environments teach and imbed racial notions upon individuals, especially starting at an early age. The ignorant communities continue to do so in a cycle of ignorance. Unfortunately, racism is a Pandora s box: once opened, it is almost impossible to close again.

Often through demeaning and dehumanizing ways, racists dominate and subordinate their victims. As Bernie Lott noted earlier, the dominating group, specifically European-Americans, controls more of society s resources than African-Americans and many other minorities. These resources include education, employment, housing, adequate health care, and governmental power. Through this hegemony, White Americans have their say simply because they have a bigger stick. The indoctrination of racist ideologies exists either physically or mentally or both. Firstly, young children at first identify and absorb racial inequity through the mental fashion.

Children first come to recognize their racial/ethnic background at about 3 or 4 years of age. From this time, until about the age of 7 or 8, children demonstrate increasing competence in perceiving their similarity to their own group. Children at this point can accurately categorize different groups based on perceptual cues (e.g., race, language), they can label groups consistent with adult labels, and they understand the consistency notion that race and ethnicity are unchangeable. The expressed racial/ethnic attitudes and preferences of children across age levels have been researched. White children ages 4 to 7 consistently express a same-group ethnic preference and hold negative or moderately negative attitudes towards other racial groups. (Ponterotto 29)

Children, now able to categorize various groups, have the mechanisms to perpetuate the racist machine. Unfortunately, as they are merely realize the world that we call reality and how it works, they must realize more or less the racial inequity via double standards.

A duality of consciousness develops when one s humanistic values are challenged by racial socialization. For example, the subjects in Dennis autobiographical sketches were taught to love everyone, but not Blacks, to respect the elderly, but not older Blacks. Parents desire to create racial stratification are confusing to children.

I remember running into the house heartsick after snubbing the advances of [Black] child of whom I was particularly fond. He had skipped up to me, suggesting that I come along on some small adventure Crushing back my desire both for his company and for fun, I answered stiffly, No, I can t. Mother saw and heard everything. That was a good girl. A strong combination of depression and pride swept me. I was a GOOD GIRL. But, oh, what I had done! (Ponterotto 20)

Simply, these authors illustrate that racism is no simple manner. Racism creates a clash of contradicting ideals that simply confuses the user and detracts from his or her efficiency. One of the authors, then a little child, experiences firsthand how racism not only reinforces a notion of bigotry and prejudice, but also hypocritical pathology. This detracts from individuals working on a consistent basis and formats the reasoning and excuses to discriminate against people who are different on the surface.

Discrimination ultimately leads to segregation of the self or others.

Some investigators have predicted and found that White persons in the United States tend to distance themselves from Black persons. For example, White students playing the role of job interviewer placed their chairs farther from Black than from White applicants; in another study, White students chose to sit farther away from a Black than from a White confederate when given a choice of empty seats. In the latter study, interestingly enough, when White students were instructed to approach confederates until they felt uncomfortable, and were observed by the investigator, color/ethnicity of the confederate did not influence their behavior. (Lott 27)

With the disgusting tendency to segregate and discriminate without much recourse only shows the moral depravity that surfaces within otherwise innocent citizens. This depravity or breakdown of our moral codes that thrive on ideals like respect and dignity still occur even within those conceived as righteous individuals.

In order to express the subordination and objectification of these unpopular, minority groups, racists always find ways express their irrational hatred. The first way they can do this is through hate speech. Professor of law William Kaplin defines hate speech as:

Verbal and written words and symbolic acts that convey a grossly negative assessment of particular persons or groups based on their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Hate speech thus is highly derogatory and degrading, and the language is typically course. The purpose of such speech is more to humiliate or to wound than it is to communicate or share ideas or information. Epithets, slurs, insults, taunts, and threats are common labels used to describe hate speech.

Hate speech takes many forms. It is not limited to a face-to-face confrontation or shouts from a crowd. Hate speech may appear on posters, on T-shirts, on classroom boards, on campus kiosks, in flyers and leaflets, in phone calls, in letters, or on computer screens or e-mail. Hate speech may be a cartoon appearing in a student publication, a joke told on a campus radio show, an anonymous note slipped under a dormitory or meeting room door, or graffiti scribbled on walls or sidewalks. Hate speech has the sole purpose to humiliate or demoralize its victims [Internet]. In 1993, 200 students at Harvard turned their backs on General Colin Powell as he delivered his commencement address. As embarrassing as hate speech always is, they are often not isolated instances of hateful expression. The second manner of expression racial hatred is through hate crime, crimes varying from intimidation to vandalism to murder. In 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that almost 8,000 incidents of hate crime were reported nationwide. Of those hate crimes, 61% of them were attributed to racial bias. These hate crime incidents spurred over 6,000 victims, of which a massive 3,945 of the victims were black. These known offenders operated either individually or more often in groups. Sometimes, groups of racist people assemble into hate groups. Hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, and hundreds of other racist groups across the US and Canada exercises any means necessary to express their hatred. The KKK is notorious for their white, hooded garments while they burn crosses in the lawns of African-Americans or burn the churches of which African-Americans frequent. While all racists groups are menaces to especially American society whose principles are founded upon equality, these hate groups are not all overt; groups like the Aryan Nations remain underground where the authorities have a tougher time cracking down on them.

Regardless of the method of expressing racism, the harms are still apparent and pervading. The clear harms from racism are due to hate crime: murder, forcible rape, assault, intimidation, crimes against property, theft, and vandalism. The only difference between the harms of hate crimes versus regular crimes is that the perpetrators committed the crimes because of their biases against the victims. Richard Delgado, Jean N. Lindsley and Jean Stefancic further the list of physical damages upon the victims:

Scientists suspect that high blood pressure is associated with inhibited, constrain, or restricted anger, and not with genetic factors, and that insults produce elevation in blood pressure. American blacks have higher blood pressure levels and higher morbidity and mortality rates from hypertension, hypertensive disease, and stroke than do white counterparts. Further, there exists a strong correlation between degree of darkness of skin for blacks and level of stress felt, a correlation that may be caused by the greater discrimination experienced by darker-skinned blacks. (Delgado 6)

Though these harms are clearly insidious, they merely attack the physical being. An end of life would in some respects end the suffering. However, to live and continue the suffering is far worse. Though unable to measure clearly, social scientists and college professors concur that the psychological harms from any kind of racial incidents (hate crimes or otherwise) are more severe. Charles R. Lawrence, Professor of Law notes that:

Psychic injury is no less an injury than being struck in the face, and it often is far more severe Racial epithets and harassment often cause deep emotional scarring, and feelings of anxiety and fear that pervade every aspect of a victim s life. Many victims of hate propaganda have experienced physiological and emotional symptoms ranging from rapid pulse rate and difficulty in breather, to nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis and suicide. (Lawrence 462).

Both the physical and psychological harms of racial incidents, upon further review, are quite disheartening. The effects may either subside immediately or permeate for weeks, perhaps years depending on both the severity of the infraction and on the victim.

This psychosocial disease named racism must be stopped. Though the causes of racism may seem perplexing to diagnose, the treatment however, is worse yet. Because of insecurities of the racist, he is more apt to adhere to his biases without regard to reason. Racists either overt but especially covert must be willing at some point to stop racism. To promote diversity, colleges fortunately employ some sort of hate codes and law ordinances intended to detract racial incidents. Counseling, peer pressure (discussion) for the victims is in order for recovery. These actions force people to question racism through measures that promote rationalism. However, much of racism clicks before reason kicks in. In two separate studies conducted by Stanford and Yale, they measured brain activity as individuals were exposed to headshots of either whites or blacks. These two universities tested student volunteers and specific portions of the brain, the amygdala and the FFA. Both areas of the brain showed significant activity, before part of the brain that controls reason activates, to show individuals classify and typify each other without reason. Students had similar reaction towards their own race and strongly against the others, regardless of whether or not they were consciously racist. This would be the other significant problem in treating racism: convincing a subconscious racist. The best methods can only be of the type that promotes awareness. (News)

In summation, individuals that attack based on race, attack their victims integrity of their self-concept. Race is an important factor to an individual s identity. The recurring influences that fuel the racist machine include fear, hatred, and ignorance. Racists fear the unknown and therefore do anything, hatred and ignorance to hate speech and hate crime, to distance themselves from those whom they are biased against. In doing so, they classify their victims and force them into a social mode that constrains and immorally typifies the victims simply for their racial heritage and not their achievements and talent. To express this objectification and subordination, racists exercise both physical and vocal means of expression (hate speech and hate crime). These harms have catastrophic results upon the physical and mental health of the oppressed that consequently remain nearly intact for a long time. The only way to treat such a festering problem like racism demands not only action, but awareness and willingness for change as well. Lastly, I end with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: The greatest honor of man is doing good to his fellow man, not in destroying them [sic].

Works Cited

Delgado, Richard, Jean N. Linsley, and Jean Stefancic. Must we Defend Nazis?. 1997.

Ehrlich, Howard J. The Social Psychology of Prejudice. New York: Wiley, 1973.

Internet. Various sites and resources.

Lawrence, Charles R.. Duke Law Journal. June 1990.

Lott, Bernice. The Social Psychology of Interpersonal Discrimination. New York: Guilford, 1995.

News at 11pm. KRON, San Francisco. 23 Nov. 2000.

Ponterotto, Joseph G., and Paul B. Pedersen. Preventing Prejudice. London: Sage, 1993.


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