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RACISM IN AMERICAN LIFE JIM & HUCK ON THE MISSISSIPPI PAINTING BY THOMAS HART BENTON.

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Presentation on theme: "RACISM IN AMERICAN LIFE JIM & HUCK ON THE MISSISSIPPI PAINTING BY THOMAS HART BENTON."— Presentation transcript:

1 RACISM IN AMERICAN LIFE JIM & HUCK ON THE MISSISSIPPI PAINTING BY THOMAS HART BENTON

2 SEXISM AND RACISM: BASIC QUESTIONS l WHAT FACTORS BEST ACCOUNT FOR SEXISM AND RACISM? l WHAT ARE THEIR MANIFESTATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN SOCIETY? l WHAT CAN BE DONE TO COMBAT THEM? l WHAT IS DIVERSITY? l WHAT IS THE ROLE OF DIVERSITY IN THE SOCIAL WORK PROFESSION?

3 CAUSES THERE ARE OF COURSE MANY CAUSES ATTRIBUTED TO RACISM AND SEXISM. AMONG THE MOST WIDELY NOTED ARE THE FOLLOWING: SHEER IGNORANCE l THEY RESULT FROM SHEER IGNORANCE. RACISM AND SEXISM ARE MOST BLATANT AMONG THE UNEDUCATED. IT FOLLOWS THAT EDUCATION IS OFTEN TOUTED AS THE KEY TO DISPELLING THEM. l PSYCHOLOGICAL COMPENSATION l PSYCHOLOGICAL COMPENSATION IS ALSO FREQUENTLY CITED AS A CAUSAL FACTOR: OTHERWISE LOW STATUS INDIVIDUALS (E.G., POOR WHITES) MAY FIND IT SELF- GRATIFYING TO CONSIDER THEMSELVES “A CUT ABOVE” THOSE STIGMATIZED AS INFERIOR BY REASON OF GENDER, SKIN COLOR OR ETHNICITY. (SEE #4/7 FOR EXAMPLES.)

4 CAUSES (2) l ANTHROPOLOGICAL l ANTHROPOLOGICAL: SOCIAL COHESION OFTEN HINGES ON BELIEF IN THE ALLEGED SUPERIORITY OF “INS” AS CONTRASTED WITH STIGMATIZED “OUTS.” PSEUDO- SCIENTIFIC RACIAL NAZI THEORY, IN WHICH ALL SO- CALLED “NON-ARYANS” WERE CONDEMNED AS “RACIALLY” INFERIOR, WERE THE SUPREME EXPRESSION OF THIS TENDENCY. MALE BONDING AMONG HUNTERS AND WARRIORS HAS SIMILARLY OFTEN INVOLVED REJECTING FEMALES AS “OUTS”, DUE TO THEIR ALLEGED INABILITY TO ATTAIN MALE LEVELS OF STRENGTH, COURAGE, AND ENDURANCE. NOTE, HOWEVER, THAT SUCH EXCLUSIVISM TENDS TO FADE ONCE THERE IS NO LONGER A FUNCTIONAL RATIONALE FOR IT. (E.G., WHEN GUYS NO LONGER HUNT ANIMALS OR EACH OTHER IN THE “OLD-FASHIONED” WAY.) MATERIALIST l IN THE MATERIALIST VIEW, DISCRIMINATION IS ULTIMATELY BASED ON THE DESIRE OF DOMINANT “INS” TO EXCLUDE “OUTS” IN ORDER TO PROTECT POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC PEROGATIVES THREATENED IF “OUTS” WERE GRANTED EQUAL STATUS AND OPPORTUNITY. RACISM AND SEXISM CAN BOTH BE CONSTRUED IN THESE TERMS. (#S 4/20/21).

5 A BITTER BUT INSIGHTFUL COMMENT ON THE FAILURE OF POST CIVIL WAR RECONSTRUCTION

6 CAUSES (3) l THE SCAPEGOAT THESIS l THE SCAPEGOAT THESIS. INCORPORATING ELEMENTS FROM SEVERAL OF THE ABOVE THEORIES, THE SCAPEGOAT THESIS IS NONETHELESS DISTINCT IN ITS TREATMENT OF RACIAL AND ETHNIC PREJUDICE. IT TAKES ITS NAME FROM THE ANCIENT ISRAELITE PRACTICE OF SACRIFCING A GOAT TO AMEND FOR THE SINS OF THE COMMUNITY. HENCE THE MODERN NOTION OF COLLECTIVE “SCAPEGOATS,” I.E., MINORITIES SINGLED OUT FOR MISTREATMENT BECAUSE OF THEIR ALLEGED RESPONSIBILITY FOR DISASTERS SUFFERED BY THE ENTIRE SOCIETY. l THE SCAPEGOAT THESIS IS BOTH A DESCRIPTION AND AN EXPLANATION. IT IS THE FORMER BECAUSE IT SUMMARIZES THE ROLE ASSIGNED TO VARIOUS MINORITY GROUPS IN ACTUAL HISTORICAL SITUATIONS---IRONICALLY, THE MOST FAMOUS CASE PERHAPS BEING THAT OF THE JEWS THEMSELVES, WHO HAVE OFTEN BEEN “SCAPEGOATED” OVER THE LAST TWO THOUSAND YEARS. THE SCAPEGOAT THESIS IS, HOWEVER, ALSO AN EXPLANATION BECAUSE IT CONTAINS SUBTLE LESSONS ABOUT POWER RELATIONS. THE MOST IMPORTANT SUCH LESSION IS THE TENDENCY TO ASSIGN BLAME DOWNWARDS RATHER THAN UPWARDS: WHEN THINGS GO BADLY WRONG (E.G., DEFEAT IN WAR), MINORITY GROUPS ARE OFTEN BLAMED BECAUSE ATTACKING THE POWERFUL AND PRESTIGIOUS TRUE CULPRITS WOULD BE TOO DANGEROUS.

7 RACIAL HATRED IN ACTION “The man ran from the crowd as people threw rocks at him. He was trying to get away, but there was nowhere to go….’Kill the nigger.’ my neighbor shouted. That was Molly’s mother, running to join the commotion. Everyone made fun of Molly at school because…she was so poor. But she wasn’t as bad off now as the black man, who was clenching his fingers onto the railing of the house before the boys dragged him onto the payment and beat his skull with baseball bats and hockey sticks.” Description of a racial incident in South Boston (“Southie”), a poor Irish-American neighborhood, from MacDonald, M.P. (1999) All Souls. A Family Story from Southie. Boston: Beacon Press. DETROIT RIOT SCENE 1967

8 RACISM (1): HISTORICAL ORIGINS “THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO RELIVE IT.” GEORGE SANTAYANA, AMERICAN PHILOSOPHER l Racism can of course be analyzed from many perspectives: as the previous slides showed, there are diverse views on its social role. l This presentation employs the historical approach to racism: instead of being viewed abstractly, as if it were a permanent feature of human psychology, racism is situated in its actual temporal context. Understanding its past evolution can in particular help us understand why it has remained so prominent and tenacious a feature of contemporary American life---in the classic phrase of Swedish social scientist,Gunnar Myrdal, “an American dilemma.” l That dilemma did indeed emerge at a particular point in history: namely, coincident with the emergence of modern black slavery. Previously, in antiquity and the Middle Ages, racism, as we currently understand it, did not exist: negative stereotypes based on skin color were rare and racial prejudice as such was virtually unknown.

9 HISTORICAL ORIGINS (2) l In ancient times defeat in war typically resulted in enslavement of the vanquished. Slavery often entailed cruel conditions, but there were few questions raised about the slaves essential humanity---perhaps because slaves were often racially and culturally similar to their enslavers. Lacking the rights and protections of citizenship, slaves were nevertheless still perceived as a human being. l Modern slavery was fundamentally different in that white European/American enslavers exclusively recruited their victims from among racially and culturally distinct groups, notably (but not exclusively) black Africans. l Paradoxically, the tendency to view slaves as subhuman was further accentuated by the Judeo-Christian prohibition on ownership of human beings. Slaves thus had to be assigned allegedly subhuman characteristics if they were to be bought and sold like any other form of “property.” l The Civil War was in part fought to free the slaves, yet Union victory brought only nominal and transitory equality: in both North and South, whites still tended to regard blacks as inherently inferior.

10 HISTORICAL ORIGINS (3) l During the post-Civil War period ( ), most blacks remained in the South and on the land as tenant farmers (“sharecroppers”), a status only one step up from outright slavery. l Employment opportunities occasioned by the world wars (especially the second) dramatically altered this situation, as rural blacks migrated northwards to fill wartime industrial jobs. Many found work, but housing discrimination largely confined the newcomers to ghetto neighborhoods. l A perhaps even larger number of blacks migrated northwards following WWII (c ), as southern landowners replaced field hands with machines. l Tragically, this last and greatest migratory era coincided with the initial phase of blue collar job reduction. As a result, once relatively healthy ghetto neighborhoods (e.g. Harlem and Chicago’s South Side) began to exhibit the social pathologies with which they are now associated. Federal attempts to assist the new migrants (the so-called “War on Poverty”) were underfunded then undermined by entrenched urban political machines and white trade unionists, who were fearful that black progress would deprive them and their children of job opportunities. However, the “war” did foster emergence of a greatly expanded “black bourgeoisie” (i.e., middle class) of civil servants, technical workers, and professionals, many of whom benefited from federal/state affirmative action programs.

11 The Lessons of History What, then, does the past teach us about American racism? l Race - based oppression has been and remains the central reality of Afro-American life. l Racism is not just personal prejudice but rather is an objective social fact that reflects and contributes to unequal power relations between whites and blacks. l More specifically, racism is the ideological tool that has justified the otherwise unjustifiable subordination of blacks within the social hierarchy. At every stage in American history (see previous panels) it has helped to rationalize political and economic oppression on the viciously false premise that black people are “naturally” inferior and therefore deserve their comparably inferior place in the social order. l There can be no solution to the race problem outside of a sustained attack on poverty, inequality, and job scarcity. At minimum, these conditions exacerbate racial antagonisms, as relatively advantaged but nevertheless hard-pressed whites seek to maintain their positions by resisting black social mobility which they perceive as a threat to their own status. It follows that racism will only be eliminated if and when there are ample opportunities for all, regardless of color. (see slides#s 20/21 for more on this crucial point.)

12 THE PRESENT SITUATION (1) l The modern civil rights movement confirmed the legal equality of black Americans but did not eradicate white racist attitudes. Instead, despite emergence of a large black middle class, blacks and other minorities continue to suffer discrimination in housing and employment. Full social and economic equality thus remains a long way off (#s13-14), despite the current economic boom. Meanwhile poor blacks and Hispanics continue to confront a “vicious cycle of racism,” which can be depicted as follows: Racial prejudice Economic/social exclusion Underground Economy (crime/drugs, etc. Confirmation of Racial prejudice.

13 THE PRESENT SITUATION (2) THE FOLLOWING 3 SLIDES (11-13) ILLUSTRATE THE EXTENT OF BLACK ECONOMIC INEQUALITY AVERAGE WEALTH BLACK WHITE HOUSEHOLDS W/ ZERO OR NEGATIVE WEALTH BLACK WHITE SOURCE: E. WOLF (1998) TOP HEAVY

14 THE PRESENT SITUATION (3) THE FOLLOWING 3 SLIDES (11-13) ILLUSTRATE THE EXTENT OF BLACK ECONOMIC INEQUALITY AVERAGE WEALTH BLACK WHITE HOUSEHOLDS W/ ZERO OR NEGATIVE WEALTH BLACK WHITE SOURCE: E. WOLF (1998) TOP HEAVY l One in three black Americans,10m out of 30m people, is living in poverty. This is three times the white poverty rate. l Blacks are only fifteen percent of the total population but almost forty percent of all poor Americans. l Black men had a 1994 annual median income of $23,350, which was only 72 percent of that of non- Hispanic white men. l Black unemployment rates have consistently been double those of whites over a thirty year period. l The income of black high school graduates is only 86% of white high school graduates’ income. l Source: Jeffries, J.M. (1996) Changes in the economy and labor market status of black Americans, The State of Black America. Washington, D.C.: National Urban League.

15 IDEALIST AND MATERIALIST PERSPECTIVES ONRACISM

16 RACISM: IDEALIST AND MATERIALIST VIEWS l Like all social issues, racism can be construed from either of these opposing vantage points. diversity l As we shall see in detail, below, liberals view racism from an idealist perspective that stresses the importance of “diversity,” as variously defined, in eroding racial hostility, or at least misunderstanding. “Diversity” has of course also been officially endorsed by NASW and CSWE as the official social work perspective. It is therefore essential that MSW candidates understand its meaning and significance as an antidote to racism. l The materialist view of racism is predictably at odds with the “diversity” approach. As we’ll see, radical – materialists indeed propose quite a different cure for racism.

17 CULTURAL DIVERSITY (1) l WHILE “DIVERSITY” IS SUBJECT TO VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS, ITS CULTURAL DIMENSION IS CLEAR, NAMELY: SUPPORT AND APPRECIATION FOR ALL GROUP CUSTOMS AND PRACTICES CONSISTENT WITH HUMAN DIGNITY AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS’ BELIEFS & VALUES. PARTISANS OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY CAN THUS DELIGHT IN AFRICAN TRIBAL DANCES, WHILE CONDEMNING FEMALE CIRCUMCISION, PRACTICED IN SOME AFRICAN SOCIETIES, AS AN AFFRONT TO HUMAN DIGNITY. l BOLSTERING COMMITMENT TO CULTURAL DIVERSITY IS AWARENESS THAT, AS A MATTER OF DEMOGRAPHIC FACT, THE U.S. IS NOW A MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY VULNERABLE TO RACIAL AND ETHNIC STRIFE UNLESS ITS CULTURAL HETEROGENEITY IS ACKNOWLEDGED, ACCEPTED, AND CELEBRATED. l MORE POSTIVELY, “DIVERSITY” PROPONENTS ALSO URGE THAT CONSTITUENT AMERICAN SUBCULTURES BE PROMOTED BECAUSE KNOWLEDGE OF THEM IS BOTH PERSONALLY AND COLLECTIVELY ENRICHING. l “DIVERSITY” OF COURSE HAS A SPECIAL MEANING FOR SOCIAL WOKERS. IT HARMONIZES WITH THE LEGACY OF JANE ADDAMS AND OTHER PIONEER SOCIAL WORKERS, WHOSE SETTLEMENT HOUSE WORK FEATURED EARLY EXPRESSIONS OF “DIVERSITY” IN ACTION. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS WITH SOCIAL WORK’S VARIED CLIENTELE LIKEWISE DEPENDS ON A “HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT” COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY.

18 INSTITUTIONAL DIVERSITY l Most educated Americans probably support cultural diversity; to do otherwise risks appearing provincial and narrow- minded. At least in this limited sense, then, they are (or remain) “liberals,” even when holding conservative views on social welfare policy, as many do. l However, diversity becomes a much more controversial matter when applied to institutional---especially, academic--- contexts, where the aim is on expanding representation by previously underrepresented minorities. To cite one familiar example, despite attempts to “right the balance,” black and Hispanic students still constitute a disproportionately small segment of the Ivy League student population. l Affirmative action policies, initiated in the Sixties, and still widely used today, are intended to assure affected minorities their “place at the table.” Such policies work differently in different places and situations, but, minimally, give preference to individuals from underrepresented groups in situations where their credentials are comparable to white job or school applicants. Under such circumstances, “historical” injustices provide an appropriate rationale for giving the competing minority members an opportunity of a kind almost certainly unavailable to their forbearers.

19 CRITICISMS OF DIVERSITY l “DIVERSITY,” AS JUST SUMMARIZED, ALSO HAS ITS CRITICS, WHO CONTEND THAT: DIVERSITY IS ESSENTIALLY A REFLECTION OF LIBERALISM IN DECLINE; IT FOCUSES ATTENTION ON CULTURAL MATTERS AND INDIVIDUAL AMBITION RATHER THAN ON THE COLLECTIVE POLITICAL CHALLENGES FACING MINORITY PEOPLES. FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE, INSTITUTIONAL DIVERSITY CAN EVEN BEEN SEEN AS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE, INSOFAR AS IT DEPRIVES MINORITIES OF THEIR MOST GIFTED MEMBERS. DIVERSITY ULTIMATELY REFLECTS THE IMPACT OF GLOBALIZATION. AS NATIONAL COHESION, AND THE NATION- STATE ITSELF, FADE, PEOPLE INCREASINGLY SEEK “DIVERSE” FORMS OF COLLECTIVE IDENTIFICATION. THE UNITY AND COHERENCE OF AMERICAN SOCIETY INEVITABLY DEPEND ON A CLEAR SENSE OF NATIONAL IDENTITY AND PURPOSE. YET DIVERSITY IS AN AMBIGUOUS CREED THAT ULTIMATELY PROMOTES FRAGMENTATION RATHER THAN UNITY. ITS REAL SIGNIFICANCE IS AS A DANGEROUS SIGNAL THAT AMERICANS HAVE LOST FAITH IN THEIR ONCE SACROSANCT IDEALS, PURPOSES, & TRADITIONS.

20 Materialst The Relationship Between Poverty & Racism: A Materialst Interpretation (1) Poverty composed of Americans of all colors cultural/ideological values institutional arrangements The connection between racism and poverty is often misunderstood. Poverty is of course the more general phenomenon. Indeed, the current economic system results in material deprivation for a sizeable part of the population, composed of Americans of all colors. Poverty is so widespread because the institutions of capitalist society reliably defend and promote the interests of that tiny portion of the population who own “capital,” i.e., who possess productive assets. Also benefitting are the indispensable elite managers and professional in charge of daily operation of the capitalist system. (For details, see relevant Session#4 slides.) The growing economic gap between this upper 20% and the rest of the population is actively sustained and promoted through an elaborate combination of cultural/ideological values (broadly, the “individualist-consumerist ethic”) and institutional arrangements (campaign financing, lobbying, tax and social policy, candidate recruitment, etc.) intended to assure stability of the class order. In other words, materialists essentially view existing society as an elaborate design for perpetuating that order. The courts and police are the most obvious expressions of this purpose; but ultimately virtually every institution directly or indirectly functions towards the same end.

21 Materialst A Materialst Interpretation (2) racism as long as its violent manifestations are adequately contained andsocial mobility, legitimated under the rubric of “diversity,” is provided for the most talented, and therefore, potentially most disruptive elements in minority populations As we have also seen, racism has had a tragically prominent role in American history, and remains a source of vast social waste and personal anguish. The perpetuation of racial injustice is not fully understandable, however, except as one aspect of the overall system of inequality outlined above (#20). Although profound inequalities are rooted in the very nature of the capitalist economic and political order, racial inequality is, for a number of reasons, quite compatible with it. Particularly “helpful” in this regard is the almost automatic association, among middle class whites, between race and poverty, thereby ideologically reinforcing the existing class system. In other words, while a distinct phenomenon in its own right, racism promotes the overriding upper class goal of preserving that system. From the viewpoint of the powerful, there is thus no compelling motive to attack, and many reasons to tolerate, racial inequality, as long as its violent manifestations are adequately contained and social mobility, legitimated under the rubric of “diversity,” is provided for the most talented, and therefore, potentially most disruptive elements in minority populations. This last observation indeed more or less summarizes the existing American situation. It follows that there can be no solution to racism w/out a simultaneous attack on poverty and, most basically, on the ineradicably inegalitarian capitalist system.

22 DISCUSSION QUESTION #1 l HAVING COMPLETED THE ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS SECTION: Which of these theories strikes you as the most plausible? Why?

23 DISCUSSION QUESTION #2 l APPLY THIS SAME HISTORICAL APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF SEXISM. ARE RACISM AND SEXISM MERELY TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN, OR ARE THERE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERNCES BETWEEN THEM?


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