Do we downplay race?

Recently, I was at a party where everyone knew each other, but something came to my attention that I felt necessary to address. Often, we love to hear funny jokes because as people, we love to laugh. However, I don’t think making fun of someone’s race is a funny topic. Too often, people who are not native born Americans are subject to racial jokes that they themselves continue to laugh at. Yet, we expect these jokes to stop. In no way, shape, or form am I proposing a revolution to occur in order to put a permanent halt on this underplayed form of racism, but I do think it is necessary for us to think of how we can work on putting a stop to this.

Omi and Winant talked about racial formation being apart of our everyday lives in their article Racial Formation in the United States. They bring to light some interesting ideas, especially noticing that race, along with sex, are the first things we realize when meeting a person, and we use those two characteristics to preconceive who we think a person is. But sometimes, people are surprised by what I like to call the wild-card race, when someone looks white is actually black. People jokingly say “you look white” or “you don’t act black”, but in all actuality, what does it mean to act black? People of the same race act differently, hence why we are considered “individuals”. I understand that stereotypes will continue to drive the society that we live in today, but not every white person is rich and lives behind a picket fence just like not every black person robs stores and lives in the hood.

Jokes will happen. A good laugh is said to be “good for the soul”, but not at the expense of someone else. In order for America to truly eradicate racism, we have to start from the smaller end like this. We need to stop laughing at racist jokes and instead let the person who said it know it isn’t right to do that. Not every black person likes chicken. Not every Asian loves math. Not every Indian wants to be a doctor. Not every Italian is romantic. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is racial stereotypes and jokes are not funny.

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10 thoughts on “Do we downplay race?

  1. I definitely agree with you here. There are jokes, and then there are rude remarks that reinforce racial stereotypes and are, frankly, completely unnecessary. Often times someone will be telling a story and have to describe a person or start a story off with, “My indian friend said…”. I’ll then listen to the story, wait for the end and realize not one part of that story had anything to do with the fact that their friend was Indian. So why was that a necessary bit to the conversation? Why did they feel the need to add that into their description? As we’ve discussed in class a number of times, no person wants to admit they are racist, but these small racial divides that have become the norm found in things like our semantics, to me, is just another form of our racism disguised.

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  2. You both raise great points here.

    Trent, I think you are pointing out one of the hardest things about studying race in the US: on the one hand, race is made through structures – social and political – that transfer wealth to some, lead to enhanced reputation and life chances for some, perpetuate ideas of criminality/’savageness’/whatever. But on the other hand, it’s these ‘microaggressions’ (see here for an example: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression.aspx) that precede and enable these larger structural forces to work on each of us as individuals.

    The question then is whether we can ‘fix’ the racial structures without addressing the microaggressions. That is, does making racial discrimination illegal change how people talk? Or does how people talk lead to more (or less) racial discrimination? On some level, it’s impossible to say. And yet we know, for example, that overt racism (particularly through racist remarks to people of color) has become MUCH less socially acceptable in the last 50 years. It could be that we can trace that to the LEGAL changes rather than attitudinal changes. So while, say, Brown v. Board or The Civil Rights Act of 1964 may not have immediately changed what (white) people *thought,* it might have changed what they could say with impunity. In that sense, then, the law helped change the ‘legally permissible possibilities’ (to quote Du Bois). That’s a really important step. But it may not be sufficient.

    And Jessica, that’s a good point. We live in a world where, as Trent points out, we recognize another person’s race immediately. And so in our minds, that is salient and relevant information. But most of believe that the other person we are describing does what they do and thinks what they think not *only( because of their national origin or race, but because they are thoughtful or funny or maddening individuals. So when we are trying to help someone remember a friend of ours they met in passing, using race or gender to describe helps. But when we’re relating a story they told us that has nothing to do with race, why do we add that? (Because many of us do!) I don’t have an answer, but I think it’s a really important question to ask ourselves. Why mention race if it’s not germane to the conversation? And is it OK to mention another’s race when it IS germane? (That is, is it ‘racist’ to mention race at all, or only when we mention it in particular ways?) Or rather, are there times when relating a person’s race is necessary or helpful to make sense of what you are describing? Do we do that only for people of color, or do we do it for white people, too?

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    1. Trent’s post explains that the first characteristic we notice is someone’s race and then their sex. I had a similar experience in that one of my friends, who is also from China, came home extremely upset because many people were trying to get her and another Asian (who she is just friends with) to date, and they were very pushy about it. She explained, “They assumed we’d want to date because we’re both Asian. There was no other reason. But why can’t I be interested in a white guy? Why do they assume I’d like him?”

      I found that her experience highlighted many fatal flaws in our system. Even in a culture where bi-racial relationships are accepted, our society’s first assumption is (1) that people want to date people within their race and (2) that everyone is heterosexual. In fact, this assumption is so engrained that it comes as a “surprise” when people say otherwise. Those in bi-racial relationships or in homosexual relationships may get an extra glance or an extra, unnecessary comment. With this in mind, I wonder how we need to start changing this engrained assumption. Does it need to start as early as beginning to educate kids in kindergarten or earlier? Is it something that will just evolve eventually? Do we need to start a conversation about this around the world or it that merely reinforcing the idea that these relationships are “different”? When does “different” stop being “different”?

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  3. I think you brought up a great point Allison. People are not restricted to dating within their own race and should not be. Interracial couples are becoming a norm in America now as this generation is beginning to become more colorblind. What I am afraid of is characteristics from past generations coming back and forcing this change to stop. I know it will probably be impossible for us to eradicate people judging others on race or their sexuality, but you are absolutely right to question when “different” stops being “different” and becomes normal. People are all different, and it is when we begin to accept these differences that we will be able to advance in society.

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  4. You also brought up an interesting point Jessica. Often, people decide to include race in their stories, making it seem as if it is an important component to the story. Instead, it is used as just a filler to add what substance to the conversation? It is impossible for people to neglect race sometimes, and the question we need to ask is why? Why do we prejudge individuals without getting to know their individual differences? It is a problem with a lot of people. Even we find ourselves doing it, but in order to get rid of these problems our society has, we have to be the catalysts and stop prejudging others too. This is the starting point to a topic that many continue to downplay to this day.

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    1. Trent, you make a great point. We as everyday Americans, are best positioned to change the system. However, where it is difficult is that racial disparities are nested in our dialect, our actions and our core beliefs. Without thinking we immediately categorize a person based on their clothes, their skin and even their persona. My question to you though Trent, and it is one that I struggle with as well, is do you think it is even possible to become one whole group of people? If the idea of erasing racial lines means believing one person is no different than the other, can human race even accomplish that? Think about it, just in college, we have affirmative action, scholarships based towards certain minorities and campus groups geared toward certain racial groups. And just to be clear, I have no problem with this whatsoever. But my question is is this action in itself self marginalizing races and groups of people? I would really love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to tell me I’m totally wrong haha!

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      1. I wanted to jump in and give my opinion on this question, because like you, it is something that I think about in terms of my own world view and my own “racial categorization”. And I wonder as well is Trent would agree.

        Do I think it is even possible to become one whole group of people? In a sense yes. But in another sense no. In my simplistic mind, I think of it like a basketball team. My high school basketball team was made up of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds, ways of life, ways of dress, and still one common thing brought us together.. basketball. Whether or not we were besties off the court, when it came to the game, we had a specific goal that we enjoyed achieving together. In those moments, our differences didn’t matter. And neither did our level of liking eachother and identifying with eachother’s ways of life. Becoming one group doesn’t have to mean we understand one another or explain away difference. It can mean having a common goal.

        I wonder… if the collective goals was to achieve a better world for humanity, and not just for “my kids” or “your kids”, would we be more apt to override notions of difference and embrace notions of sameness…working towards a goal of progression and human good in American society.

        But in a sense, my answer to this question would be no, depending on how we define “group of people”. Because I don’t want to be categorized into one big people group if it means giving up “my people”. Even though there are certain un-privileges that come with my black and brown-ness…. I take pride in the fact that I am black and hispanic, in my culture, in “my peoples” history, and honestly, in the fact that I don’t have to lay out in the sun to get a tan because I’m already painted brown by God. lol.

        So…where then can we draw lines. Drawing lines is good, it allows us to be different, but our lines don’t have to be drawn in exclusion and inclusion. And in drawing a line around myself as black and brown, I dont think im marginalizing races or groups of people (the second part of your question). Or am i….

        I guess the question is, can we belong to multiple groups, and still a larger group called “humanity”…and have that group of “human” influence the way we speak about/to one another and interact with eachothers differences?

        Did this make any type of sense? I’m going to write a blog about this. Now.

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      2. I feel like you also bring up a great point once again Jessica. It is hard for us to all become one group because we live in a country that has celebrated the differences found among us. Like I said to Candise, I think it is possible for us to have one whole group of people, but the likelihood of that happening is very slim. We will always believe Joe is different from Devonte or Bob is different from Vernon, but I guess the point I tried to stress earlier was we need to accept our differences and unite in order to form a more race equal society.

        Yes, there are scholarships based towards certain minorities and campus groups geared towards certain racial groups. In fact, I am a very proud member of the Black Student Union, but does that mean I am not willing to be different by embracing people of a different race? Absolutely not. I look at the actions you spoke of as ways to help diversify a community, not a way to marginalize races. It is only by putting a group of different people in a similar setting that we will be able to create a much larger group to subside the argument of marginalization in our community.

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  5. In response to Candise, we can belong to multiple groups. I think the basketball analogy was genius because it showed diversity through something that you enjoyed. I belong to different groups I believe with my Caribbean roots and American heritage, but the point I tried to make earlier is to most, I look like a normal black kid. I am generalized within a population without others knowing the reality of my individual.

    With that being said, I don’t know if we can be a part of a larger group because in the minds of many, we have been marginalized for so long that it would be hard to be fully accepted into our society. We are American. Yet, we have to try to fit into the mold and assimilate to a culture that is already ours. The problem with our country is not the idea of freedom, but the idea that freedom is only given to a select few. Can we be apart of a much larger group? In theory, yes we can, but in reality, the answer is unknown because we do not have the power to decide this. The only way we can have a larger group influence the way we interact with one another is by embracing our differences within a very diversely cultured society.

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