A Sociological Analysis of Race and Racism Essay

            The issues of race and racism are still prevalent in society today. Despite the positive outcome of the Civil Rights Era, minority races continue to be subject to racism frequently. Race refers to the biological classification of human beings. Racism refers to the mistreatment of a specific race based on how they differ from the majority race. From a sociological standpoint, evidence of racism is easy to find when one starts looking. Historically, many authors have written about the issue of race and racism and how these affected their lives. These quotes can be directly correlated to racism in current society. A series of personal interviews as well as observational fieldwork will be used to tie famous quotes to present day issues of racism. The purpose of using quotes will be to provide proof that racism has not disappeared despite the hard work of many.

            On a recent visit to a large local mall, many examples of racism were witnessed. The first event was quite appalling but I was lucky to have witnessed such an event because opportunity arose to speak with the victim afterwards. As I sat on a bench in the middle of the mall I began making notes about the people passing by paying close attention to the minority groups. About fifteen minutes after sitting on the bench and seeing no real evidence of racism, a young black janitorial employee of the mall walked by just as a little boy shopping with his parents dropped his soda and spilled it everywhere. I overheard the mother tell the father that she was going to run to the bathroom and grab some paper towels to clean up the mess. However, before she could go, the father said, “Don’t worry about it – that’s what the black girl is for. She’s here to clean up our messes.” The mother looked shocked to hear the father say such a thing but allowed him to lead her away from the spill anyway. A number of other people around me were also quite shocked to hear a white man say such a rude and racist thing. One person said, “What a jerk!” Another person said, “What a bad message he is sending to his little boy!”

I glanced over at the young girl and saw that she was very upset. I walked over to her and told her about my sociological observations and asked if I could interview her. She said, “Yes, because it is 2008 and my people are still being subjected to racism.”

            “Slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice” (DuBois, 263). Despite the fact that slavery was outlawed over a century ago the attitude that black people are inferior to white people and should therefore be responsible for the dirty work still prevails in many people. My first question for the young girl, Jane (name has been changed), was how the white man made her feel. She responded, “No matter how hard I try to advance, there are still white people who will never see me as being equal.” The historical attitude that black people were around to serve the white people stemmed from slavery in early America. When slavery was outlawed it proved to be very difficult to completely eliminate this attitude from all Americans. In families or social circles where ancestors supported slavery it is even more of a challenge to change the attitude. In addition, this attitude will never be completely eliminated if young children are exposed to these types of beliefs. Children learn what they see and when the young girl saw her father disrespect a black person the message she was getting was that black people weren’t as good as white people. Constantly emphasizing this message will ensure that the little girl grows up thinking it is all right to disrespect black people.

            I then asked the black girl if she had been exposed to racism in the past. “Oh yes!” she exclaimed, “it’s been happening since I was a little girl. No matter where I go there is usually one person who glances at me rudely or says something rude. It mostly happens when I’m in a place with mostly white people. If I stick with my friends and family I don’t notice it happening.” As we discussed this the young girl’s boss came over as he had just heard about what happened. He was an older white man but he seemed to be genuinely concerned about his employee. I recognized another opportunity to further my sociological study so I asked if I could ask him a few questions as well. My first question was how such issues are dealt with at this mall. He (Jack – name changed) replied, “We don’t have written protocol for that because it seems so shocking that such disrespect still occurs today. But I can tell you that if I were here when it happened I would have called security.” It was obvious that this older white man didn’t have racist issues with black people. He seemed to value his young black employee as much as he did any other employee.

            The two returned to work and I decided to conduct some more observations in the food court. I got something to drink and found a table in the center of the food court since I was hoping to make some more important observations. I again had the chance to overhear two conversations that give striking evidence of the nature of racism in society today. Humans have the incredible capability to saying hateful things about others simply to make themselves feel good. I saw this happen time and time again while I listened to conversations going on around me. While not all of the rude comments had to do with race, many of them did. It struck me that humans cry out against injustice all the time but then say disrespectful things about one another behind each others’ backs.

            The first of these two overheard conversations occurred between two white women. The women were obviously well off as evidenced by their clothing, jewelry, hairstyles and manicured fingernails. Their feet were surrounded by shopping bags of all sizes and they started their conversation by making a plan of what they still wanted to buy from each store. They were sharing a garden salad and each had a drink. As they were discussing their shopping trip, a black woman followed by five little children walked past and took a nearby table. The children ranged in age from about two years old to perhaps nine years old. The woman began passing out Happy Meals to the children. The family looked happy and was talking and laughing with one another. However, the white women quickly turned their attention to this family and began saying some hateful things.

            “By claiming that Black women were able to produce children as easily as animals, this objectification of Black women as the Other provided justification for interference in the reproductive rights of enslaved Africans” (Collins, 270). One of the white women said, “Don’t black people believe in birth control?” I found this comment to be extremely rude because this woman didn’t know the circumstances behind the children – she didn’t even know if all five of the children belonged to the mother. It is unknown whether or not all five of the children were indeed the woman’s but it may be true that the woman loved children and had that many on purpose. The stereotypical idea that black women can reproduce as easily as animals is still prevalent in society today. The image of the welfare mother is often of a black woman. The other white woman responded with, “Maybe they don’t know where babies come from!” As the two white women chuckled I began to realize the racist words and actions that black people are still exposed to today – even without their knowledge. It struck me that these types of things happen quite often but I am often unaware because I have always assumed that black people get equal treatment. After all, it is 2008.

            As I digested this observation, I saw a group of women walking past pushing strollers. There were two white women each pushing one child and a black woman pushing a double stroller. All three of the women appeared to be in their mid thirties and seemed to be of similar socioeconomic status based upon by observations of clothing and accessories. I decided to approach the women to see if I could ask some questions about child bearing decisions. They agreed to talk with me for just a few minutes as it was time for one of the babies to eat. I asked them how they decided it was time to start a family. The black woman (Alice – name changed) said, “I was married, we both graduated from college and thought it would be a good idea to have our children before I got engaged in a career.” One white woman (Jessica – name changed) agreed. She said, “We had been married for three years and decided to get rid of the birth control and see what happened.” The second white woman (Laura – name changed) said, “My sisters each have two kids and I loved spending time with them so I decided it was time to have my own baby. Luckily my husband agreed!” These comments proved that there are many black women who plan their families and only have babies when they are ready. The fact that the black woman was pushing a double stroller intrigued me since I was still thinking about the comments from the two white women from before. I asked how old her kids were and she told me that she had 6 month old twins. This further proves that there are many reasons why some black women choose to have many kids and it isn’t always because they don’t know how to prevent pregnancy.

            I returned to the food court and noticed a table of four young black teenage boys eating pizza. I grabbed a table next to them prepared to write down some observations. I overheard them talking about some new video game they wanted to go buy. Their conversation then turned to an upcoming assignment that was due in their American History class. I’m assuming they were in high school but they could have been college students – it was difficult to tell without asking them. I had a hard time hearing every word but the assignment must have had something to do with the Civil War because one of the boys said, “Can you imagine how bad things would be for us if the South would have won?” The other boys made disgusted faces and one shook his head in anger. As the conversation progressed one of the boys said, “My grandpa is right – it isn’t a good idea to trust the whites.” The other boys affirmed this statement and they got up to leave.

            “Their Youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in my own house?” (DuBois, 262). It is hard to imagine that young black children today cannot look at the world and know they are equal. The Civil Rights Movement happened over forty years ago and conversations such as the one among the four black boys, just shows how little progress has been made toward equality. This quote can also be compared to the earlier observation that children learn what they are taught. If the black boy’s grandfather taught him not to trust the white people he would have no reason to do so. Instead of teaching black children to rise above mistreatment and seek out their goals anyway, they are being held back by opinions that white people are untrustworthy. In combination with the attitude by many white people that black people are inferior, peace will not be achieved any time soon. More white children will grow up thinking they are better than black people while more black children grow up thinking that white people should not be trusted. Until these attitudes change very little will change.

            I decided to get some shopping done while I continued to observe the people around me. I was in a clothing shop when I noticed an elderly woman talking with a salesperson about current fashion trends. The elderly woman wanted to buy her great granddaughter a new outfit to wear to school but she wanted to make sure her great granddaughter wouldn’t be made fun of. This inquiry intrigued me so as I pretended to look at clothes I listened in on the conversation. The salesperson showed the woman several options but the elderly woman was quite shocked at the price tags on the clothes. The salesperson kindly informed her that “This store has some of the cheapest prices on clothes anywhere.” This was true. The elderly woman told the salesperson that she was born during World War II while her mother was imprisoned in a concentration camp. I realized that she was a white Jewish woman who had lived her entire life being thankful for what she had and spending her money wisely. She wanted to buy the clothes for her granddaughter very badly so she pulled out her wallet and counted how much she had. She put some back in her wallet and I heard her mutter, “This is for church.” She counted out the rest and realized she had enough to buy the clothes. She and the salesperson started walking towards the front of the store.

            “Man is only a trustee of the goods which have come to him though Gods grace. he must, like the servant in the parable, give an account of every penny entrusted to him, and it is at least hazardous to spend any of it for a purpose which does not serve the glory of God but only ones own enjoyment” (Weber, 378). This quote can certainly sum up the attitude of the Jewish woman who had endured so much starting at birth. It can only be assumed that her mother raised her but without getting the whole story there may be many more atrocities that happened to the elderly woman that she didn’t tell the salesperson. However, it was evident by her shoving money back into her wallet to give to church that she had her priorities straight. She obviously cared a great deal about giving some of her money to church but what was really striking was how badly she wanted to give her great granddaughter some new clothes. She could just as easily have spent that money on something for herself but she obviously found great joy in doing something kind for her great granddaughter. I didn’t observe any similar instances during my observations but I did begin to recall how irritated I get when the elderly woman in front of me in the grocery store line counts out all of her coupons and analyzes her total before she is willing to pay for her food. I realized that people who grew up during hard times don’t know any other way to spend money. They were only taught how to spread their money out and get the most for it. They simply don’t understand just spending money because one has it.

            My observations led me to two important conclusions. The first is that events in the past have shaped the attitudes of different races in the present. The historical aspects surrounding slavery, segregation and other mistreatment of black people have formed many of the opinions that black people hold today. Similarly, what white children were taught about what they considered inferior races shapes the attitudes of white adults. As a result, I realized that racism is just as prevalent in current society as it was in the past. The only difference is that racism largely happens under the surface now instead of being publically acceptable as it was in the past.

            “The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom” (DuBois, 263). Our society is no longer segregated and the Ku Klux Klan no longer practices in the public eye, but oppression is still a reality for the black people as well as for other minority races as well. The stereotypical attitudes that arose from slavery have been passed from generation to generation so that little progress has been made towards finding equality. In the eyes of the law, minority races have the same exact rights as the white people do. However, beneath the surface, many minority people are still subject to racist comments and behavior. The mistakes of the past haven’t paved the road for changes in the present. Instead of realizing the tragedies associated with the Holocaust, crimes tied to the Ku Klux Klan and the segregation of black people, society is forgetting about them. In order to truly attain equality for members of minority races, members of the majority race must erase their attitudes of superiority and begin to embrace the ideals of equality.

            Freedom still seems to be an unattainable goal for many minority people. The interview with the young black janitor at the mall shows how hard many minorities work to move up in the world. However, as hard as they struggle to reach their dreams, there are others who are trying just as hard to oppress them based solely on racial differences. Therefore, freedom continues to be a goal that many minorities work to achieve. These efforts aren’t like the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, but they are struggles just the same. The end goal is the same as well. Minority races just want to be treated equally to the majority race. They want equal chances for their children to receive a good education and equal chances at high paying jobs. However, freedom is lacking for many minorities still and will continue to lack if the attitudes of all humans do not change.

            “All the organism needs is that the supplies of substance and energy constantly employed in the vital process should be periodically renewed by equivalent quantities; that replacement be equivalent to use” (Durkheim, 510). This quote is a striking testament to the desires of human nature to be accepted and treated equally. The quote discusses the internal desire for humans to get back what they put into their lives. Minorities struggle with this concept because they often have to try twice as hard to get half as much. The young black janitor had to try harder than white janitors simply to gain acceptance and appear as if she took her job seriously. The black woman with twins and the older black woman with five kids have to struggle against the opinion of society that their child bearing decisions aren’t as smart as the majority race’s decisions are. Even though neither woman was directly aware of the attitudes of others regarding their children, these attitudes remained in place and provide a stumbling block for black women as they are challenged to gain equal status with white mothers.

            In the end, all human beings truly desire is a return for their investment. No matter what race one is a part of, humans want to be rewarded for their hard work. This reward is harder to achieve for minorities because they must first overcome the hurdles associated with unequal status. Many are able to do so but there are even more who still struggle in current society to be viewed as equal to the majority race. In addition, reasons behind the decisions that minorities make are largely unknown to the majority race but they are disrespected simply because they make different choices. Racist attitudes and opinions will continue to prevail in society unless large numbers begin to shift their ideas.

            Finally, the following photographs provide even further evidence of racism and its prevalence in current society. The first is a sign hung in a mall that dictates how patrons are required to dress. The banned attire is often associated with minority groups.

The second is a display in a store window that shows three minority figures acting as servants to those fortunate enough to be able to afford Hermes products.

The third picture is compelling evidence that human beings do long for peace and harmony between different racial groups.

Alice, Jessica & Laura. Personal Interview. (2008). Conducted on December 16, 2008.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression. In Seeing Ourselves.

            7th Edition.

Dirkheim, Emile. Anomy and Modern Life. In Seeing Ourselves. 7th Edition.

DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. In Seeing Ourselves. 7th Edition.

Jack. Personal Interview. (2008). Conducted December 16, 2008.

Jane. Personal Interview. (2008). Conducted December 16, 2008.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In Seeing Ourselves. 7th Edition.

Yahoo Images. (2008). 17 Dec 2008

<http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?p=racism&js=1&ni=20&ei=utf-8&y=Search&fr=yfp-t-501&xargs=0&pstart=1&b=461>.

 

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