My Understanding

After reading a portion of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, where she discusses the concept of mass incarceration as a tool of social control, I began to think about the current state of racial hierarchy and castes, as they are present in American Society. Specifically, this made me question my individual status in this hierarchy as a non-white individual. As such, I believe that my experience growing up in the United States has been relatively free from racial discrimination or influence from racial hierarchy structures. However, this does not mean that I believe that American society is color-blind, in that I am aware of such social phenomena and recognize it as a problem that has been the cause of grave injustice throughout history—specifically, American history. Interestingly, however, I was not aware of a racial hierarchy until around the time I came to college where I took courses that educated me on the phenomena. Up until that point, I had assumed that such a system (New Jim Crow) had died in the 1960s with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. I was completely unaware that the system is built in a way to work against specific racial groups—as they serve as a means for social control. What is the reason for why I retained this thinking for so long? In my opinion, my ignorance to this issue is because my family (myself included) is not white (not black either) and yet has not endured the injustice of such tools of social control. In essence, I think it was this that upheld my perspective that saw American society as ‘colorblind’. This analysis has led me to the conclusion that racism in America varies with the race that is subject to said discrimination. In terms of African Americans, racism is institutionalized—inherent to the criminal justice system, where the foundation of the system is racially biased and oppressive to particular peoples. In this regard, the ignorance as to the nature of racism that results in racial profiling and prejudice against African Americans by the criminal justice system perpetuates the color-blind acceptance by other peoples. This ignorance is supplemented by the fact that other non-white individuals such as myself—who may be discriminated against—are more likely to experience variants of racism that do not hinder ascension up the socio-economic ladder because such racism is not institutionalized (not inherent to the system) but at the discretion of individual people. In doing so, this phenomena combined with recent events, such as the election of President Barack Obama leads people to be more inclined to believe that American society is color-blind. Ironically, it is the color-blind attitude that perpetuates the problem, because people are then reluctant to discuss racially related issues, and thus the problem forever remains, because it was never even discussed to begin with.

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3 thoughts on “My Understanding

  1. Thanks for this, Manoj. I think you hit the nail on the head here. Alexander does a nice job of showing how the deeply traumatic system of mass incarceration is concentrated in few communities, leaving the rest of the population to think there is nothing wrong. Your post suggests that she might be onto something important.

    If you’re interested in how some more of these kinds of dynamics of conflict and cooperation between what Mills calls ‘non-whites’ plays out, I recommend Bitter Fruit, by Claire Jean Kim (http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300093308). She does a fabulous job of exploring exactly these kind of complicated dynamics, and suggests that often conflict between, say, Koreans and Blacks, isn’t because Koreans and Blacks hate each other, but because both are basically shut out of whiteness, and so are competing over smaller pieces of the pie. The result is two differently marginalized groups who engage in competition with each other rather than challenging the system that marginalizes both of them (sound familiar?!).

    And I haven’t read this book (http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Model-Minority-Americans-Facing/dp/1594515875/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430064008&sr=8-1&keywords=model+minority) but you might find it interesting – it’s sociology rather than political science, but I suspect the sociologists might actually do this better.

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  2. I also believe this is a huge issue. Growing up, it seemed to me that racism was something that only existed in the south in a generation that didn’t include my own. In fact, racism was something that seemed to have died once slavery was abolished, Martin Luther King walked on Bloody Sunday, or even once we elected a black president. The very fact that school didn’t teach about racism at the younger levels is a huge flaw in itself. Growing up believing that racism is not a problem anymore is just the thinking that will ensure that racism will always be a problem. In one of my blog posts I talk about a family of color that fell the victim to nasty rumors that had no basis on fact. This is exactly the type of racism that the world turns a blind eye to. It’s institutionalized, so we don’t recognize it for what it is.

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    1. I agree with the comment above, and think that is one of the fundamental problems of the ‘color-blind’ perception that discourages active discussion about race. In doing so, this serves to only ignore problems of racial inequality and allow it to persist in the background which inevitably leads people to think that it has disappeared as a source of conflict from society altogether. However this is not the case, where in fact the problem has gotten more complicated after people have continually failed to recognize its negative role in society, where time has served to make the problem grow more complex and have more negative effects. How do we begin to chip away at this ordeal now? First, WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE IT AS A PRESENT AND RELEVANT ISSUE! Then we need to actively discuss with one another to garner a complete all encompassing perspective on the matter at hand. In doing so, we can no longer avoid race based discussions, while people may say that it is not something you should talk about with other people because of the potential for dissonance, you should anyway, because dissonance is an educating process in it of itself. With that being said, we must be careful with our rhetoric, but we can not afford to remain divided by our fear of debate and dissonance for this is how problems are tackled and then solved—by starting with discussion!

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