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Final Exam Assignment


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Final Assignment for my Racial Politics in the Age of Obama Freshman Seminar (Spring 2010)

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Final Exam Assignment

  1. 1. One of the most thorny dilemmas facing the American population in the 21st-century is certainly race. Although there are many dissenters who still count race as a pathological myth or a social conflict resolved after the tumultuous 1950s/60s, the sad truth is that race has broadened its influence by permeating every institution in the United States of America. The term post-racial has incubated under a false lens and is deathly premature. Essentially, America thrives on race because—whether there is intention involved or not—race is incorporated as a supreme methodology of utilizing capitalism (which ultimately seeks to exploit people any way possible). The challenge stands today as to the direction America will take with its racial politics. If there is any hope for a promising future, history must be relied upon as a blueprint for what mistakes not to make. Thus, it bequeaths us to look at the present state of affairs in how race occupies different spaces, identities, and relations of power.<br />Beginning with electoral politics, race has easily become the scapegoat for a deluge of daily political analyses since America elected its first non-White President in 2008. During Barack Obama’s campaign, one of the core scrutinies was his racial and ethnic status. Many crazed critics sparked rumors of him being undocumented and called for him to reveal his papers; nevertheless, I feel the belligerent vitriol hurled at then-Senator Barack Obama derived from an even deeper, underlying, inquiry. I believe that inquiry was: Are you really American? Well, prove it. The term American in itself draws a paradox because the name does not fully contextualize the horrors of its origin. The African American aesthetic, or African American literary tradition as it is interchangeably used, propagates the idea that readers should engage in the context of a text and establish a critical voice to ask what makes something the way it is. It asks how a person, place, or thing receives its identity, either socially or through history. Hence (applying the logic to this scenario), the word American, which has been socially glorified as the epitome of human life but historically generated through oppression, slavery, war, colonialism, and White supremacy, does not really bear the clout so many ignorantly rant about. Similar to what Addison Gayle, Jr. said during the Black Arts Movement: “To be an American writer is to be an American, and, for black people, there should no longer be honor attached to either position.” So what does this say in a temporary context? Simple: Americans need to reach for a greater presence of mind.<br />In “Obama’s A More Perfect Union,” Obama states, “In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed” (Obama 7). This I feel ties in nicely with the terminology George Lipsitz introduced in the “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness” article. A presence of mind is a necessity this day in age. Racism is prevalent in the highest institutions of American life and therefore cannot be shunned by ignorant or arrogant oppressors who hate the race card. Obama warns, “This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit” (6). Americans must understand that globalization has pervaded the entire planet and the global economy that has risen since the imperialistic years of the 20th century can directly impact how many people do not attain their “American Dream,” (6) which—if we want to follow the standard trope—is an accumulation of wealth, significant clout in the social hierarchy, and a nuclear family. All in all, the greatest message Obama seems to be preaching is for Americans to take initiative, he is calling for action. Too many people have become lackadaisical either because of complacency of the country’s problems (which would benefit them) or because of nihilism (and that no matter what they do nothing can change). I must agree.<br />Regarding crime in America, the past few decades—or few centuries if you want to utilize the full capacity of a sociological imagination—has given crime a definitive face: a Black face. Indeed, the repercussions of criminal justice policies in the 80s and early 90s (which I gladly equate with the destructiveness of Ronald Reagan), is visible today. The social consciousness of Americans directed towards Blacks has become a maelstrom of fear compounded with ignorance of privilege. Like Mark Mauer incorporated into his work “Young Black Americans and the Criminal Justice System,” White Americans had not been tried in a federal court for crack cocaine since 1986—almost ten years before the poll was taken (Mauer 78). They received the benefits and leniencies of state courts. Moreover, the criminal justice system became complacent and tolerant when Whites became submerged in the smoking of marijuana (83). In addition, to significant statistical data, Mauer provides references to several studies that generally indicate that the drug economy became a preference in the 1980s/90s by Blacks who were systematically stratified and often times denied complete access into the labor market (“‘the dominant factor contributing to drug selling, especially among black males, is unattractive labor market opportunities’” [81]).<br />The disdain for crime often connects to racial discrimination in any space since inmates are disproportionately incarcerated. What is sad is that American’s idealism, that the penultimate or ultimate levels of success are attainable through an intricate system of meritocracy, has indirectly engendered its own crime? Why? Because people of color are driven to achieve the privileges and resources that their White counterparts are often born with. Examine the following:<br />While a small portion of gang members were committed to drug dealing as a career, the majority ‘were not firmly committed to the drug economy.’ The main characteristics that they shared were: working regularly at legitimate jobs, with occasional drug dealing; conventional aspirations toward economic security; and conventional ethical beliefs about the immorality of drug dealing, even while justifying their drug sales as necessary for survival…They speculate that the lure of immediate rewards combined with adolescents’ lesser concern for physical harm and/or their future prospects combined to make drug selling very appealing and conclude that: ‘The prospects for raising actual and perceived risks enough to make for markedly more deterrence through heavier enforcement against sellers do not appear promising.’ Noting that many drug sellers are also users who feel compelled to sell drugs to support their addiction, the researchers suggest that reducing demand is critical if the rewards of the legitimate labor market are to be viewed as attractive. (81-82)<br />Mauer’s evidence is indicative of three elements: (1) the psychology of criminals should not be solely categorized or polarized as extreme deviance from “sanity” or humanity, (2) the contradiction that America does not adhere to its de jure practice of offering equal access and opportunity has adversely affected the tolerance of some disadvantaged individuals to perform crime, and (3) the racism in the federal court system, compounded with the discriminatory policies of privatized business employers, has delivered a wave of nihilism over the colored peoples that believe in the American Dream (and that same nihilism remains today).<br />Although Blacks are typically the racial group used in discourse that involves racism or segregation, due to so many being ignorant of social problems outside themselves, they are not the lone members of unfair treatment. Latinos represented 40 percent of all sentenced federal offenders in 2007, the single largest racial and ethnic group among sentenced federal offenders. Furthermore, one could wage an argument that Latinos have suffered the most in the last decade or so from federal and state policies that are backed by macro-aggressive affronts. In the last few presidential campaigns, a subject that has gained increasing popularity and vitriol is immigration. Immigration was once a federal crime, but in recent months has become a heated issue among southern states like Arizona. John McCain, the Republican Senior Senator of Arizona once stated, “There are 2 million people who are here who have committed crimes. They have to be rounded up and deported. We’re all basically in agreement there are humanitarian situations. We are all committed to carrying out the mandate of the American people, which is a national security issue, which is securing the borders.” What mandate? Tell me what is humanitarian about stops and searches, hate crimes, and the decrease of government funding/services to non-White communities. Tell me what is humanitarian about polarizing immigration reform into a race war. Because so many of the “illegal” immigrants migrate from Mexico, Americans naturally assume that all illegal immigrants are Mexican. Furthermore, it also engenders an ultimate attribution error to all citizens who appear to be of Latino descent.<br />Another issue to point out is that when it comes to the job market, while Latinos may statistically receive in employment small sector work environments at a greater percentage than Blacks, the reasoning for the result is not always due to their merit. As a point of information, the low-wage job market is flooded with what Devah Pager introduces as taste discrimination. It is the preference of one racial group over another (essentially racial prejudice) by employers as a method to exploit their power as selector of their employees. In “Discrimination in Low-Wage Labor Markets” an article he authored with several other scholars, Pager draws attention to subjectivity of employment selection in these spaces and parallels it with the notion that American meritocracy only exist for Whites in study because the real criteria being judged is stereotypes, not merit:<br />Soft skills consist of a capacity for effective communication, a 'positive attitude,' and a high level of motivation…Valued traits like attitude, motivation, and communication skills that have become associated with low-wage service sector work are often strongly race-coded by employers. Minority workers, especially young black men, are widely viewed by employers to be lacking these qualities compared to other low-skill workers…Because servility to employers and customers is desirable for service sector work, ascriptions of insubordination were damaging for low-skill black workers. Because these highly-valued traits of work ethic and attitude are measured more by subjective judgement than by objective tests or credentials, employers may be more likely to rely on stereotypes to assess the merit of job candidates. In short, the intangible skills that are highly valued in low-wage post-industrial work are vulnerable to race-coding, creating conditions for widespread discrimination. (Pager et. al 4)<br />An even more appalling find in Pager’s research was that Latinos often were given jobs for their perceived docility from their employers, deriving from the idiocy that the Latino applicants could be equated with immigrant status (5). More bluntly, it extended from the perception that they would take crap, remain passive, and remain easily disposable. Race contributes to constructions of power because, since Whites disproportionately maintain management positions in labor market industries, too often the subjectivity of the employers is blindsided by unintentional or intentional racism. When it comes to attaining low-wage jobs, when it comes to upward social mobility, when it comes to striving for the ridiculous social construction known as the American Dream, citizens of color are disproportionately judged—in every institution from education to the federal government—as members of cohesive race groups. Moreover, they are dehumanized and dramatized by media networks, which only accomplish causing frenzy: <br />The social fact of mass imprisonment is also dramatized in popular culture, which tends to depict criminal episodes in a heavily racialized context. Media and political research shows that, even relative to their distribution among arrestees, blacks are disproportionately portrayed as criminal by local television news coverage. In political campaigns, voters' fears of street crime and violence have been stoked by images of young black men. (5)<br />Arizona Governor Jan Brewer retorted to an angry Arizonan that she did not know what an illegal immigrant looked like. Still, she declared that she was confident that federal and local authorities were qualified to administer justice where conflict rose. Based on the social fact that race permeates every institution in America, that Latinos are subject to “beaner-hopping,” that Blackface and Brownface minstrelsy is practiced in institutions that train the future leaders of America, or that idiots and fanatics like Dan Fanelli succeed in exploiting the fear of color in the United States—igniting the already cataclysmic pathology that American nationalism does not include anyone who is not White/Anglo-Saxon/Catholic/Protestant—, how can anyone give an insurance guarantee that individual Americans will act according to an egalitarian agenda the country as a whole has not operated by since its inception?<br />A final subject I want to touch on is radicalism. As aforementioned, race has become so convoluted in context that it has indirectly caused a backlash of fanaticism. There may be terrorists lying on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean (which too often partially justify their means by fully contextualizing the United States’ history of being a big bully), but there is terror right on the home front. The National Socialist Movement is terrifying. Everything from the symbolism (‘88’ is for the eighth letter in the alphabet; 88=HH= Heil Hitler) to their rally cries (“No niggers, no Jews, the Mexicans must go too!”) is indicative of their radicalism. They are not striving for White civil rights, which they ignorantly think have been dispossessed (give me a time in history when Whites were not at the top of the American social hierarchy and I’ll point you out a fabrication of history), they are striving for White supremacy. They are fascists. You cannot take back a country that did not belong to you in the first place. Rationally speaking, these lands belonged to peoples of colors hundreds of years before Europe even realized the world wasn’t flat. Moreover, you cannot address that the economy is suffering because of minorities and illegal immigrants when the American economy was built by the institution of slavery of colored people, and saved by the immigrants allowed to flee to America in the 19th/20th centuries. But now that we have established ourselves and like to be a big bully of a country, we don’t want any more illegals. It’s a complete contradiction. The only challenge that the White race faces, and which scares the living daylights out of them, is that actually might need to lose some privilege in order to give more benefit to the country as a whole. They need to accept that that may be a necessary corrective in order to realize true egalitarianism, as per outlined in the Constitution.<br />These few examples examine race in contemporary America. I hope one day there will be a United States without borders. Too often nationalism is mixed with idealism that—when fully contextualized—is grounded in bigotry, and crass methods of sustaining a single facet of identity. Essentially, there needs to be one, human, world. Why the nations? Why the borders? Why do we continue to undermine the validity of someone’s humanity through pathological discrimination? Could wars cease if every human citizen had access to every human resource? These are questions that need to be addressed in the coming years. Insensitivity has frosted the veins of Senators and Representatives and I can’t help but ask myself everyday—could this have all been avoided if we all listened to George Washington at the beginning and not form political parties (a stretch of an argument, but one worth analyzing)? In summary, race and racial politics suffice as mediums where great, positive change can be implemented. And although everyone in future generations has been universally affected by the consequences of the sins of history, there is a hope for transcendence in that the mistakes of the past will not be the mistakes of the future.<br />*Citations were not required by Professor’s specifications since he already owned all sources*<br />