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    The Phenomenology Of Racism (3577 words)

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    Growing up my parents always taught me to respect everyone for who they were regardless of their race or culture .

    Even though my parents was raised in a racially segregated environment that had a strong impact on their world view and sense of others in the world. I grew up in a privileged family in the suburban area of Atlanta, Georgia. Not many African Americans attended my school with me . My parents and grandparents experienced racism in their community. I am pushed by my family to work hard and be the best that I can be. As I was reading a very interesting power point, I learned that the phenomenology of racism promotes negative attitudes to other blacks and Africa.

    It also normalizes attitudes of desire and debasement toward white people and white culture . According to the power point , the ideal is for a black woman or man ‘s judgement of themselves or others to escape white norms and values. Racial structure is the totality of the social relations, frameworks and practices that reinforce white privilege. When race emerged, it formed a racialized social system/structure, referred to as white privilege, that awarded systematic privileges to whites over non-whites.

    Since students of color are actual or potential deviants of the institutionalized white privilege system, the majority works hard to hide it (Lewis 88). Racial ideology consists of racially-based frameworks used by individuals to explain and justify or challenge the racial status quo. As a person of color, I feel that in order to challenge racism and hierarchical oppression it is necessary to understand the dominant racial group whose power and privilege are dependent on how it normalizes and makes unnoticeable the ways it gained, maintains, and perpetuates white supremacy. Cultural racism is another way whites justify the modern deracialized society (Bonilla-Silva 2006).

    Since race as a biological phenomena has been disproven, racial differences among individuals still needs to be explained, and, consequently, culture is looked at as a marker of social, political, and economic inequality. This frame of colorblind racism relies on culturally based arguments to explain the socioeconomic standing of minorities, an example being that blacks do not succeed because they are lazy. Whites are able to maintain the status quo and their white privilege by not taking responsibility for the racial disparities they created and perpetuated in society; instead, whites blame minorities who are the victim. Cultural racism blames the social status of minorities on cultural values, which lack emphasis on education and hard work.

    My family, however, strongly stresses the importance of a higher level of education and working hard. I am proof that not all blacks are lazy individuals who want everything handed to them. Cultural racism inappropriately applies some unfounded generalizations or stereotypes on the entire minority groupMinimization is another way for the dominant racial group to explain that racism no longer exists (Bonilla-Silva 2006). Minimization allows whites to ignore claims of racial inequality from individuals and communities of color who are personally experiencing it. In essence, minimization gives whites another reason to disregard the racial disparities in society as complaints from minorities about their lack of social and economic success.

    I have heard whites say, in regards to the African-American community, that if blacks worked hard instead of complaining about nonexistent injustices, we would not have to beg for help. The minimization of racism suggests that discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities’ life opportunities with sayings such as “It’s better now that it was in the past. ” “Many whites admonish blacks for being ‘too race conscious’ in a world that would be better off if everyone would be ‘color-blind”’ (Jaret and Reitzes 1999:732). Minimization also allow whites to be racist through the rhetoric of colorblind racism, by silencing the voice of the oppressed, telling those who are experiencing racism that they are being “hypersensitive” and allowing the oppressor to analyze and determine what is and is not considered to be racist (Bonilla-Silva 29). through the rhetoric of colorblind racism, by silencing the voice of the oppressed, telling those who are experiencing racism that they are being “hypersensitive” and allowing the oppressor to analyze and determine what is and is not considered to be racist (Bonilla-Silva 29). There are times, even at home when I feel that I have to censor myself in order to prevent myself from becoming the “‘hypersensitive’ African-American” woman.

    Most whites believe that discrimination only exists in isolated pockets, not affecting society as a whole. Few whites claim to be racist, asserting that they do not judge by race, but by character. . In contemporary society, minorities lag behind whites in almost every area of life, including education, wealth, and housing. Whites rationalize this disparity by saying that it is the product of market dynamics and naturally occurring phenomena, which is not the case.

    Racial disparities are the result of white privilege. My immersion in black environments, however, left me frustrated that I had to deal with race on a daily basis when so many of my black friends rarely did. In seventh grade I remember coming home at least once a week for months crying to my parents to let me look at other schools for eighth grade or at least high school. I begged them to let me transfer somewhere where I could have “normal” black experiences, where I could be around people who were like me and appreciated me for exactly who I was.

    Even though the black friends I gained through my youth organization didn’t understand some parts of me, like my love for musical theatre or why I always spent so much time on homework, I felt much more comfortable around them than some white girls in my classes that thought I was dirty because I only had to wash my hair weekly or bi-weekly, or that referred to everything from overcooked chicken tenders to an outfit they didn’t like as “ghetto”. My group of friends at school was diverse and I can’t deny we had some great middle school memories. We were all females, one black, three white, a Japanese girl and an Indian girl. However, the other black girl and I were the only two of friends that did not grow up in the same social circles as our friends. As I further immersed myself in blackness, I began to see how often I was placed in a box and marginalized by my teachers, peers and their parents by comments like Why are you upset with an 89? That’s good for youand I never would’ve thought you were so well spoken and You’ve never seen a home like this have you? I also realized, as I grew closer to my friends at school, that making comments about my frustrations to them often just made me more upset. Talking to them forced me to see that no matter how close we were, they simply didn’t understand why I saw these to this day the common, slang use of the word “ghetto” annoys me.

    While the term originated as a term to describe destitute and deprived Jewish quarters in European cities during World War II it has taken on a variety of meanings (Seligman: 2003: 273). It is used by historians to describe “an area of a city that is racially or ethnically isolated, usually against the wishes of its inhabitants” (Seligman 2003: 273). Today, however, one of Webster’s dictionaries definitions of the word “ghetto” says it is “a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It is this definition that has allowed the word “ghetto” to enter the slang discourse of a variety of people in the way in which my white friend was using it. To refer to the overcooked chicken tenders she didn’t want to eat as ghetto was to say that anything ghetto was inappropriate, undesirable and as Webster’s dictionary quotes, inferior. What made it worse is that the word was often used by white friends to actually describe things that they specifically related to black people.

    A white girl with a large butt was said to have a “ghetto booty” because it resembled the butts of black girls in rap videos. I don’t even believe they realized how problematic their use of the word was or how offensive it could be, but it definitely caused a lot of frustration on my part. In many instances it just made me even more annoyed. Many of my white friends told me I was overreacting and it couldn’t be about race because I was “not really black” (Tatum 2004: 123), as if being educated and in a predominantly white environment automatically lightened my skin, while many of my minority friends would nonchalantly identify my sentiments as “just the way it is. ” The majority of my friends not only attended school in this type of environment, but they also lived in the neighborhoods surrounding our school and had parents who spent a significant portion of their time in similar work and social environments. For my white, Japanese, and Indian friends it seemed that they were more comfortable accepting this society as their reality.

    I always wondered if their economic status allowed them to handle our school environment better than I did, but once I met other African American students that grew up in similar environments many of them shared the same disturbance and frustration with situations that took place in their school environments. It made me question even further the status of being black in the United States. Was my frustration with race self-imposed or is the black experience really that much different than that of other races in our country? At the end of the day, it was my view of race that caused the greatest divide between myself and my friends, not because they cared that I was black but instead that they didn’t understand what it meant that I was black. It is common when people’s feelings are invalidated by others that they “disengage. ” Disengaging is not just ending the conversation but being less likely to discuss it again with those who didn’t understand and look for people who do (Tatum 1997: 59-60).

    That’s exactly what I did. I stopped discussing race with everyone at school except my one black friend and I internalized a message, an assumption rather, that white people and many other minorities simply didn’t understand my racial identity and what it meant to be black. Freshman year my school took in new admits in large waves in the first, sixth and ninth grades. While we missed any incoming black students in the sixth grade, there were six new admits in the ninth grade. From day one of freshman year we found each other and for the first time since I entered my school in the second grade I felt a deep sense of belonging.

    I didn’t lose my original set of friends from middle school, but things did change some. Our white friends found different social groups and two of the new black girls joined our group of friends, along with a Chinese girl. Not only did I develop a solid group of friends freshman year, but there were two additional black friends, and I was ecstatic at the mere possibility of finally dating. Freshman year was a turning point. It allowed me to realize that it wasn’t my school itself that I hated but instead its inability to help me develop outside of the academic arena (Tatum 2004: 132).

    So often people make comments that children shouldn’t have to see themselves as black, but in actuality, “The parts of our identity that do capture our attention are those that other people notice, and that reflect back on us. The aspect of identity that is the target of others’ attention, and subsequently of our own, often is what sets us apart as exceptional or “other” in their eyes” (Tatum 1997:21). I didn’t choose to separate myself as a black female. I didn’t choose to look for black friends solely because I thought there was something wrong with white people, I looked for black friends because I felt white people thought there was something wrong with me. From the time I entered my first predominantly white second grade class I was made to feel different. In the fourth grade I remember talking to a girl who asked me, “Why don’t you ever wear your hair down?” As innocent as her question was, it was apparent that she saw it as weird and at the age of eight I was forced to try to explain the difference between white hair and black hair to a girl who really didn’t care to hear the details.

    She just wanted to know what my hair would look like if I wore it down. Then I looked around and saw that everyone else did get to wear their hair down except me. Instances like this served as constant reminders that I was different and that people noticed that I was different, I couldn’t change it but it often changed people’s perception of me. As if being the only female with dark skin wasn’t enough, I felt like every other difference between us drove a larger and larger wedge between me and my white peers. I believe Tatum says it best: Why do black youths, in particular, think about themselves in terms of race? Because that is how the rest of the world thinks of them. Our selfperceptions are shaped by the messages we receive from those around us, and when young black men and women enter adolescence, the racial content of those messages intensifies” (Tatum 1997: 53-5.

    As soon as I grew to enjoy my time at this school, I was forced to leave. My parents moved our family to the suburbs, and I now lived about 45 minutes from my school. My parents enrolled me in the public high school in our neighborhood and this is when I first came to understand how privileged I truly was to attend my private school. The public school I attended was considered a good public school, yet it did not measure up against the academics I received at my private school. While not particularly academically satisfying, the two years I spent outside of my private school environment were critical in my ability to further explore my phase of immersion. My public high school was much more representative of the true demographics of America and I finally met white people that were accustomed to black people and were much more accepting.

    I was also able to meet a larger variety of black students from a variety of different backgrounds and it gave me a true scope of images both positive and negative that were crucial developing my understanding of where I fit in among the many varieties of blacks. As I was able to forge relationships with a variety of people from various racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, my process of internalization began. After getting my own car junior year, I asked my parents if I could go back to my private school for my senior year. I attributed so much of my growth as a person to my time there and, although I hated it while I was there, being away helped me to appreciate the educational advantages I was afforded. My experiences forced me to grapple early on with many questions about race that some people wouldn’t be forced to face until college or beyond.

    Another part of me just wanted to attain the honor of graduating from a prestigious school after enduring so many frustrations for so long. Either way, this is when my internalization further developed. My senior year, I entered the school I had spent so much of my life in with a brand new confidence. I worked to put together a completely student-led Black History program, starred in musicals, participated in concert choir and show choir, and I developed some valuable friendships that I still have to this day. Conclusion As Tatum forewarned, when I continued on to college I went back along certain stops on the “spiral staircase” of my racial identity formation. For the first time I didn’t have the support system of my family or a stable support group of black friends that I was used to having help me pass through my development phase.

    In fact not having this support system provided the greatest interruption to my racial identity formation. I knew West Ga would not be a predominantly black environment, but I didn’t Internalization is the point in Cross’ nigrescence theory where “an individual has a positive attitude towards members of his or her own racial group as well as other racial groups” (Buckley 2005: 650). Race, I realize the black population would be quite as small as it is. Academically I worked hard and enjoyed it and socially I traveled to my grandparents’ house in Carrollton every other weekend. Having finally understood who I wanted to be as I came out of high school, I felt out of place.

    I had reached the internalization portion of my racial identity formation and I was comfortable in my blackness. I was not angry with white people nor did I feel a need to separate myself, but I knew who I was and who I wanted to be and after my past experiences with race I was no longer willing to change that. In the academic arena I don’t deny that sometimes I still choose to “cover” certain aspects of my personality or identity that aren’t appropriate in an academic setting, but in social arenas I was not willing to do so. More significantly, as is common through the internalization phase, I viewed race as a salient portion of my life and I had a desire to commit myself to black issues (Cross: 1991: 212-213). I decided to join a city-wide historically black sorority instead of the local predominantly white sororities on campus. My sorority has had the most significant impact in my ability to be the person I am and has served as my platform to address issues within the black community that concern me.

    Through Black Student Union I worked diligently to be supportive of others within the black community as well as educating the larger community about the positive aspects of black culture. Although I have still associated with people of all walks of life, my time in college has brought me back to grappling questions of race. Before college my only view of racism was the basics: Slavery, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, a few influential black Americans, as well as along with the occasional (and usually ignored) viewpoints of family members about how it’s hard to be black in America. However, coming to college and learning concepts like institutional racism, residential segregation, immigration laws and even the simple fact that race is social construct and not a biological one opened my eyes to see race and racism differently.

    I never doubted that racism was real, but through my academic studies in college it has forced me to realize how real it really is. Race is a subject that continuously interests me, that I constantly question, and I’m always interested to learn more about. Regardless of whether or not I have it all figured out race is a huge part of who I am. It has shaped my experiences in a significant way.

    As I have journeyed through life, my attitude about my identity has gone from being sure, to being utterly confused, to being inquisitive, and now to being proud. Although the racial socialization of my family couldn’t completely protect me from the harsh realities of living in a racialized society where discrimination is still present, they provided me with a foundation of race consciousness and racial pride that I could turn back to (Tatum 2004: 129). I don’t believe I would have the same level of appreciation for who I am as a person and more specifically a person of color without having been forced to grapple with these issues. Although I do feel many aspects of my school environment could have better facilitated my development, I believe I am a stronger person because of my experiences.

    Works CitiedConley, Dalton. 2001. “A Room with a View or a Room of One’s Own? Housing and Social Strati- fication. ” Sociological Forum 16(2):263-280. Cross, William E. 1991.

    Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2006. Racism without Racists.

    Second ed. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman ; Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Buckley, Tamara R. and Robert T. Carter.

    2005. “Black Adolescent Girls: Do Gender Role and Racial Identity: Impact Their Self-Esteem. ” Sex Roles 53:9/10:647-661Jaret, Charles and Donald C. Reitzes.

    1999. “The Importance of Racial-Ethnic Identity and Social Setting for Blacks, Whites, and Multiracials. ” Sociological Perspectives 42(4):711-737. Lewis, Amanda E. , Mark Chesler and Tyrone A.

    Forman. 2000. “The Impact of ‘Colorblind’ Ideologies on Students of Color: Intergroup Relations at a Predominantly White University. ” The Journal of Negro Education 69(1/2, KnockingSeligman, Amanda Irene.

    2003. “What is the Second Ghetto?” Journal of Urban History 29: 272-280. Tatum, Beverly. 1997.

    Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? New York: Basic Books. Tatum, Beverley. 2004. “Family Life and School Experience: Factors in the Racial Identity Development of Black Youth in white Communities.” Journal of Social Issues 60:1: 117-135.

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