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(Scotton) Binary To Trinary, Detrimental Health Concerns Of New And Old Racial Stratification Systems


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Final Assignment for my Reading and Writing Between the Margin Freshman Seminar (Fall 2010)

Final Assignment for my Reading and Writing Between the Margin Freshman Seminar (Fall 2010)

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  • 1. Binary to Trinary: <br />Detrimental Effects of the New Racial Paradigm<br />By: Terrance Scotton<br />English 105-6, section 20<br />Professor Penny Hirsch<br />December 4, 2009<br />Race is not a taboo subject in most of American society today, but neither is it one that is readily discussed. Politicians, intellectuals, and the like must use a certain degree of self-censorship when treading these dangerous waters—waters that can easily stir up violent sentiments in the calmest individuals. When one debates the “race problem,” racial inequality must be deliberated along with gender inequality, class inequality, and sexual identity. These forces are intertwined more than some are willing to admit. However, this paper focuses on the race problem with the other inequalities being in the background because the race problem constitutes the foundation of political, economic, and social harm that marginalizes people. Despite the presence of race in political discussions, are Americans truly aware of what racial inequality does to the minorities in American society? This question materialized in my head after the Blackface incident on Northwestern University’s campus during Halloween (2009) and has floated around since then. My aim is to clear away the dreary “veil” mentioned by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (8) and explain in brief how racism today affects physical and mental health in America’s minorities.<br />Several scholars have argued that Americans need to stop attributing racism to a Black-White paradigm. In an essay entitled “Latinos/as, Asian Americans, and the Black-White Binary,” Linda Martín-Alcoff uses Juan Perea’s definition of the Black-White paradigm; it is “the conception that race in America consists, either exclusively or primarily, of only two constituent racial groups, the Black and White…In addition, the paradigm dictates that all other racial identities and groups in the United States are best understood through the Black/White binary paradigm” (7). Martín-Alcoff correctly explains that this type of mindset is demeaning because it not only disregards other races and ethnicities’ unique cultures, but also implies that people of all races and ethnicities undergo the same types of discrimination. <br />What’s even more startling to me is evidence that America is again blurring the fine line between separate peoples. The evolution of racialization is a concept I discovered early in my research. In past centuries, it was appropriate to classify someone as white or nonwhite. This familiar classification escalated into the Black-White binary in America, an understanding that has been prevalent for the past three centuries. One was recognized as either Black or White, with the exception of the notion of “colored” which originated before the Civil Rights Era. Colored eventually came to include all nonwhite races. Now, in the last two decades or so, racialization has evolved again. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva presents significant context on how the United States is growing from a biracial to a tri-racial region, and argues that this principle is showing up in Latin America, South Africa, and other regions as well (Herring et al. 224). He claims:<br />In the 21st century, the United States is…evolving into a complex racial stratification system. Specifically, the U.S. is developing a tri-racial system with “Whites” at the top, an intermediary group of “honorary Whites”—similar to the coloreds in South Africa during formal apartheid, and a nonwhite group or the “collective black” at the bottom. The “White” group will include “traditional” Whites, new “White” immigrants, and in the near future, assimilated White Latinos and other groups. The intermediate racial group or “honorary Whites” will compose [sic.] most White middle class Latinos…, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Asian Indians, Chinese Americans, and maybe Arab Americans. The “collective black” will include Blacks, dark-skinned Latinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and maybe Filipinos…[These models constitute the] new racism (224-227).<br />New racism is a more subtle form of racism that developed in post-Civil Rights America. This stratification reorganizes race in order to “(1) create an intermediate racial group to buffer racial conflict, (2) allow some newcomers into the White racial strata, and (3) incorporate most immigrants into the collective Black strata” (227). This principle is accompanied by the “color blind ideology,” where “social groups believe that racism and discrimination have been replaced by equal opportunity; that one’s qualifications, not one’s color or ethnicity, are the main methods by which upward mobility is achieved” (227). These two forms of racial stratification go hand in hand and symbolize White supremacy’s new method of maintaining power over the masses. New forms of racial stratification explain why racial inequality is falling to the background in current politics and social policy, and how this new racial structure represents a “whitening of America” (232) in terms of power, even while America is demographically becoming less white.<br />The effects of such ideologies are extremely detrimental. For example, because of these new, often invisible policies, stratification develops between minorities. Bonilla-Silva gives one example of lighter-skinned Latinos classifying themselves as Whites while darker-skinned Latinos are less likely to do so (234). According to Bonilla-Silva, other consequences of the developing tri-racialization in America include (a) a change in racial politics, where an “us vs them” policy will dissipate as the honorary White intermediaries grow, (b) a color-blind ideology prevalent in Whites that causes honorary Whites to impregnate the collective Black and snuff racial conflict, and (c) a new concept of “blackness” where African Americans’ deep history in race spreads to those included in the collective Black. These changes will permit White supremacy to ensure its dominance because Whites determine who they accept as equals in the tri-racial system (234-235). <br />The tri-racialized system growing in America is discrete but in a constant state of growing momentum. However, the growing collective Black has its foundation in African Americans and will, therefore, will inevitably be affected by what African American scholars consider Black identity, Black nihilism, Black rage, and Blacks’ unforgiving resentment of White people (233). This process is formally known as resocialization, where a person—or in this case people—gives up one set of morals and values for another. In this case, for example, darker-skinned Latinos may start to identify with darker African Americans (235). One could arguably predict that Blacks and resocialized minorities with darker skin would unite and engender organizations just as violently opinionated as a coalition of Black nationalists and perhaps more frightening than the Ku Klux Klan. Furthermore, the newly ignited racial hatred could be directed more towards honorary Whites than Whites because honorary Whites will be considered betrayers in the eyes of the collective Black. <br />Now to return to my original question, does the discrimination against collective Black peoples and honorary Whites have a negative and direct impact on their health, or will the latter be healthier than Blacks have been in a bi-racial system? Several studies show that skin tone is not only a marker of racial discrimination, but that it produces harmful effects when coupled with other forms of discrimination like socioeconomic status (Borrell et al. 3). For example, Mays, Cochran, and Barnes list ways in which living in poor and minority inhabited neighborhoods can affect individual health (6):<br />[P]oorer communities are less likely to have adequate health and social services, creating a problem of access and timely use…The concentration of poverty and its related characteristics (e.g., exposure to drugs, crime, gangs, and violence; unemployment, stress, and anxiety; substandard housing and schools; and lack of green space or fresh fruits and vegetables) often creates social environments that lessen social connectedness and provide fewer social benefits for residents. (6)<br />The scholars also lay out an extensive model of how these factors lead to health issues. Socioeconomic inequality and residential segregation lead to (a) concentration of poverty and violence, leading to (b) high Allostatic load (a medical gauge of how often one’s body uses stress responses), leading to detrimental body damage such as (c) coronary heart disease, (d) inflammatory disorders, or (e) cognitive impairment (7). Furthermore, the chronic stress that results from inequality is a precursor for the deterioration of a body’s immune system and increase in susceptibility to specific disease processes (7). <br />The scholars also explain how the brain regards race-related processing as “fear conditioning to culturally learned negative associations regarding African Americans” (11). The anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) is described as the brain construct that assesses race-based discrimination and mediates the physiological responses to it (12). Therefore, just as toddlers develop habits like biting their nails, the brain develops a habit of turning racial discrimination into fear (an emotional response) and then into stress.<br />Racial discrimination even plays a role in the birthing of future generations. African American women have the highest rate of preterm birth and high rate of light weighing birth babies. Evidenced by three studies, African American women are twice as likely to produce low-weighing babies after scoring high on a scale of race discrimination. There is a statistical correlation between high placental levels of a certain stress hormone and preterm delivery, and high levels of a hormone that excites long term stress (10). White women are 50% less likely to have these results. This notion is also applicable to breast cancer, where scholars have shown that White women are more susceptible to breast cancer but Black women have a higher risk of dying from it. <br />The evolving tri-racial system would have positive and negative effects on the relationship between discrimination and health. On the one hand, those accepted into the honorary Whites category could escalate their social status and, theoretically, their economic status, thereby helping more people become less susceptible to stress and certain other diseases. On the other hand, as more honorary Whites evoke jealousy and animosity from those left stratified in the collective Black, where living conditions and disease continue to hurt them, the honorary Whites may suffer from new forms of stress and guilt.<br />To introduce my last concern—whether discrimination affects the mental health of minorities—I will call on the brilliance of Professor Cornel West. In his contemporary classic Race Matters, West dedicates an entire chapter to “Nihilism in Black America.” He defines nihilism as “…the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness…The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world. Life without meaning, hope, and love breeds a coldhearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others” (22-23). This ties in directly with the medical research that proves that a lack of emotional warmth and support can create destructive individuals and destructive societies. West also theorizes that the best ways to combat nihilism are by politics of conversion. These methods include cultivating new Black leadership, encouraging love ethics, and revitalizing the efforts of the institutions in American society that promote self-worth and self-affirmation (29-30). Like Socrates, West is an advocate of love and the magnificent changes it can catalyze through its many forms. Nevertheless, he concedes that love can’t solve every problem: “Like alcoholism and drug addiction, nihilism is a disease of the soul. It can never be completely cured, and there is always the possibility of relapse” (29). Therefore, those in the honorary Whites group may perhaps escape the nihilistic mental states of the collective Black but discover a similar nihilism in mistaken identity. There is a significant chance that those in the honorary Whites category would find themselves trapped in a diaspora between Whites and the collective black (similar to the Haitian diaspora), and thus, a relapse of nihilism.<br />I was inspired to write on the “race problem” due to racial controversies that have occurred within the last few months at Northwestern. Tri-racialization is evident on our campus because different races are discretely demarcated in undergraduate social life. Intimate relationships, fraternities/sororities, and multicultural interactions exemplify the new groups that are growing throughout the nation. I have found that, aside from the fact African Americans represent six percent of the NU population, African Americans are marginalized more so than other races. I have seen Blacks rejected from entering “White parties” or White fraternity houses while Latinos or lighter-skinned Asians (i.e. Chinese, Koreans) enter right after them. Perhaps lighter-skinned Asians assimilate into the honorary White category because they more readily binge drink and enjoy crazy, drunken nights whereas more Blacks do not. I have seen that multicultural sororities are normally made up of lighter-skinned Asians, lighter-skinned Latinas, and Whites and that White fraternities contain Whites, lighter-skinned Asians, and an occasional Latino. Rarely are Blacks seen in fraternities or sororities outside of the six organizations on campus under the National Pan-Hellenic Council. In my first quarter here, I have yet to see an Asian male or female date someone who is not Asian or White, or see an African American male or female date someone outside their race.<br />At Northwestern University there are two buildings devoted to multicultural students: the Black House (the African American Student Affairs Building) and the Multicultural Center (Latino/a/Asian/Asian American Student Affairs Building). Earlier in Northwestern’s history, African American students petitioned to have a building dedicated to their organizations and student affairs, and as a result, the Black House was built (History of African American Student Affairs 1). The problem that eventually resulted was that as more minority groups integrated Northwestern’s campus, there was no sanctioned “area” for the specific organization and affairs related to other racial and ethnic groups. Some petitioned and earned a building of their own in 1999: the Multicultural Center. Here, all the races that existed outside the Black-White binary were given a place to culturally identify themselves and use resources for programming.<br />What is troubling about these developments today is that one building takes care of the needs of African Americans while the Multicultural Center takes care of every other non-White race on campus and has the general title “Multicultural.” African Americans may have earned a sanctioned area for their affairs first, but their attachment to the Black House and de facto exclusion from the Multicultural Center inhibits many of them from developing relations with students outside 1914 Sheridan Road. Thus, this division inadvertently supports tri-racialization at NU. Indeed, the disparities among these different races confirm my understanding that tri-racialization is indeed happening in America, in the most subtle ways, and that it is somewhat inevitable. Through experiences here at school and my research, I conclude that Blacks have solidarity only in their own race and with people who are beginning to fall into the collective Black. Blacks are holding on to a centuries-old animosity against Whites, and as the honorary Whites group continues to grow, Blacks’ xenophobic tendencies will only reinforce their resistance to cultural change. Thus, here and elsewhere, perhaps the message needing to be preached—as tri-racialization grows—is an old one proposed by W.E.B. Du Bois: if human brotherhood is to become more than an idealistic dream, cultures must begin to synthesize—rather than assimilate, in order to eliminate cultural deficiencies (14). This new racial stratification is sufficient to change racial standards, but insufficient to engender a healthy American national culture—which cannot be based on something as meaningless as skin color.<br />Works Cited<br />Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The Souls of Black Folk. Ed. Farah Jasmine Griffin. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.<br />Martín-Alcoff, Linda. “Latino/as, Asian Americans, and the Black-White Binary.” The Journal of Ethics 7 (2003): 5-27.<br />
    • Herring, Cedric, Verna M. Keith, and Hayward Derrick Horton. Skin Deep: How Race and Complexion Matter in the "Color-Blind Era". Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois Press, 2004.
    • 2. Borrell, Luisa N., Catarina I. Kiefe, David R. Williams, Ana V. Diez-Roux, and Penny Gordon-Larsen. "Self reported health, perceived racial discrimination, and skin color in African Americans in the CARDIA study." Social Science and Medicine 63 (2006): 1415-1427. Web. 05 Jun 2006. Web. 7 Nov 2009.
    Mays, Vickie M., Susan D. Cochran, and Namdi W. Barnes. " Race, Race-Based Discrimination, and Health Outcomes Among African Americans." The Annual Review of Psychology 58:05 (2006): 201-205. Sep 2009. Web. 9 Nov 2009. <br />West, Cornel. Race Matters. 2nd. Boston: Vintage Books, 1993.<br />“History of African American Student Affairs.” Northwestern University’s Department of African American Student Affairs. Northwestern University, 06 May 2008. Web. 6 Dec 2009. <br />