Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Takaki Chapter 3 "The 'Giddy Multitude'"

In Ronald Takaki’s Chapter 3, “The Giddy Multitude” I found the thesis to be “In Virginia, they became an even greater threat to social order, forming what the planter elite fearfully called a ‘giddy multitude’— a discontented class of indentured servants, slaves, and landless freemen, both white and black, the Stephanos and Trinculos as well as the Calibans of Virginia.” (63) What Takaki is saying here is that all of these people shared an otherness of their class. Although Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban were part of a play they were the “blueprint” of how things would later play out involving indentured whites and blacks in Virginia.

In this chapter, Takaki begins with telling of slavery begun. He states that William Towrson once told of how “five ‘Negroes’ were transported to England where they were ‘kept till they could speak the language,’ and then they were taken back to Africa as translators for English traders.” (51) This was the first step for the Englishmen to create some form of communication with the Africans. Having translators made it easier for Englishmen to get their message and/or demands across to the Africans. Takaki also states that during the times of Shakespeare, people thought Africans had a “natural infection” due to their skin color. The color of Black people or rather the color black in general was thought of to be, “deeply stained with dirt,’ ‘foul,’ ‘dark or deadly’ in purpose, ‘malignant,’ ‘sinister,’ [and lastly] ‘wicked.” (51) Whereas being white gave off the opposite message or thought. The sad part of all of these stereotypes or thoughts which Englishmen came to construe was before the introduction of Africans to Virginia or rather the Americas which was contrary to Shakespeare’s play. Further on in this chapter, Takaki tells of the struggles which both Africans and white Englishmen faced during the times of indenture servants. He tells of how a past historian named Oscar Handlin had claimed Africans weren’t enslaved until sometime at or around the 1660’s. Instead he claims prior to the 1660 they were only viewed as indentured servants and treated in such a manner. In contradiction to Handlin’s comment regarding Africans or blacks, Alden T. Vaughan’s stated that around the 1650’s “70 percent of the blacks in Virginia were serving as slaves.” (57) Takaki also states in this chapter how both Whites from England and Africans were brought against their will to work for whites in Virginia. The white indentured workers and the Africans in America held a lot of hostility and fear for one another but after working for their masters for sometime they begun to share a bond and begun working together. Many of the white indentured workers and the Africans came together and came up with plans to escape. Many of them were caught and although both, indentured whites and Africans, were punished the Africans got the more harsher punishment with a much greater addition of “commitment” of working for the white masters added to the time they already had to serve. Takaki later states in this chapter how even though the slaves had converted from heathens to Christians, English colonists created laws which “declared that ‘no negro or Indian,’ though baptized and free, should be allowed to purchase Christians. The distinction was no longer between Christianity and heathenism or freedom and slavery, but between white and black.” (59) Based on this, Africans and Indians were allowed to share “the same God” as the English colonists but they were still not able to share the same rights and were looked upon as being inferior beings. In order to prevent further teamwork amongst indentured whites and Africans English colonists eventually freed the indentured whites of their duties as servants and gave them their own land, shillings, and slaves for themselves. There were some slave owners which felt guilt for participating in slavery and vowed that once his debt was cleared he would make the labor of his slaves easier. This person was Thomas Jefferson. His debt was never cleared so his promise was implemented. He and others realized that slavery not only affected the masters and the slaves but also the children of the slave masters. The children had no choice but to imitate what they saw which was that slavery was right.

After reading this chapter I had to question, whether the charge against Nathaniel Bacon was just? Since Bacon enlisted indentured whites to join forces with him to fight a war against the Indians he was labeled a rebel and charged with treason because it was against the warnings of Governor William Berkeley and his council. I find it amazing that this type mentality still exists in today’s society. Our government today still punishes those individuals who do not follow direct orders. For example, in the marines or army or etc if an individual is told not to do something or even if they are told to do something if they do not follow through with the necessary task they will be discharged even if the outcome of their actions results in something positive or the necessary goal. Berkeley I believe felt as though if people of his own kind wouldn’t follow his orders how could he expect those “lesser” than him to do the same. It is because of this I believe he “declared Bacon a rebel and charged him with treason, an act punishable by death.” (64) Based on this chapter and this incident I have come to realize that the English colonist used slavery as not only a means economically but also as a way to obtain power and control.

Within this chapter I have learned a lot of new information. I did not know of the giddy multitude. I never knew that at the beginning of slavery or being indentured servants, both blacks and whites, that both races came together to help the each other end the torment of work they had to endure everyday and to end the treatment of being treated less than a human being. Although, I hate reading Takaki this was a chapter that caught my attention for the most part and allowed me to broaden my thoughts about the beginning of slavery, the teamwork or whites and blacks, as well as the guilt that some masters felt in regards to slavery including Thomas Jefferson.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Getting Off the Hook: Denial and Resistance

In chapter 8, “Getting Off the Hook: Denial and Resistance” I have found Johnson’s thesis to be, “When you deny the reality of oppression, you also deny the reality of the privilege that underlies it which is just what it takes to get off the hook.”

Johnson begins Chapter 8 by stating that the way people find easiest to say or convince themselves they are not part of the problem is through denial. He tells how people in the “dominant groups practice this kind of denial, it rarely seems to occur to them that they’re in a poor position to know what they’re talking.” (109) People in this positions or rather those who are privileged have made up in their minds that they know more or better than the people who are actually experiencing the problems. Johnson uses the example of a child hurting themselves. Adults have the tendency to tell the child that it doesn’t really hurt that bad when in all actuality the adult has no idea what kind of pain the child is feeling. Johnson says this is because privileged people “are culturally authorized to interpret other people’s experience for them, to deny the validity of their own report, and to impose their views of reality.” (109) Also, privileged groups use this denial to makes those who are inferior to them seem as though they are “better off” than they are. Johnson also states that another way people get themselves off the hook is by blaming the actual individual or group of people as being the problem instead of themselves as having something to do with it. “The result of such thinking is that oppression is blamed on the people who suffer most from it, while privilege and those who benefit remains invisible and relatively untouched. And off the hook.” (111) Privileged people have convinced themselves through denial and calling privilege and oppression by other things that everyone including them are pleased with the way things are. But Johnson goes on to state how “the truth doesn’t matters because ideology isn’t about truth or accuracy. Rather, its purpose is to support and perpetuate the status quo by making it appear normal and legitimate.” (113) Johnson states that people normally do not see themselves as part of the problem as long as they had good intentions in the first place. Basically, since we are suppose to believe that if something goes wrong it is the individual whom is at fault and not society. “In other words, if something bad happens, someone’s conscious bad intentions must be behind it. A corollary is that if your intentions are good, they cannot result in something bad.” (114) People have a tendency of participating in the wrongs of the world without realizing they are doing it since that was not their conscious intention. We tend to cause harm to people without really acknowledging we did so and leave it so that the victim has to deal with the harm on their own. Even though many people may have good intentions and may be a good person but they are just as guilty as everyone else because of their lack of speaking out against the issues or problems which exist. Johnson speaks of himself as being a good person with good intentions but the reality of it all is that “my silence, my inaction, and especially my passive acceptance of the everyday privilege that goes along with group membership are all it takes to make me just as much a part of the problem as any member of the Klan.” (118) Because society has caused us to believe that we are individually responsible for our actions we become blinded by the fact that we are part of the problem. It is only when being in a social category benefits us do we want people to recognize us for it.

So, are people ever going to accept the responsibility of their actions as both an individual and as a social category? Based on what I have read from Johnson, I do not believe people will accept the responsibility and will continue to be in denial about the situations and issues which exist. “Trying to live off the hook puts members of the privilege groups inside a tight little circle that cuts them off from much of what it means to be alive.” (124) As long as privilege groups enjoy their treatment and not really come to terms as to their privileges things will continue to be the same. People are afraid of change. “The result of illusion and denial is to become like the person who loses the ability to feel pain and risks bleeding to death from a thousand tiny cuts that go unnoticed, untreated, and unhealed.” (124)

Once again I find Johnson to be a very interesting author with view points I have never thought about before. I knew of certain privileges which existed between blacks and whites but he put it into a different perspective. I find it that Johnson gives reasons to many peoples questions and observations about life. Although these are just his opinions or viewpoints rather, he is still supplying me with more than I started off with before reading this chapter.

What It All Has to Do With Us

In chapter 6, “What It Has to Do with Us” I have found Johnson’s thesis to be “To do something about the trouble surrounding privilege, power and difference, we have to talk about it, but most of the time we don’t, because it feels too risky.” (76) His main purpose of this thesis is that people as a whole are the problem and its not just individual people. So, until we are ready as a group to speak up about the problems which exist, they will not go away.

Johnson begins this chapter by talking about the differences between individualism and the idea that society has put into our heads that whatever happens is our own fault. In all actuality individuals are not the problem for not being able to speak up regarding certain issues instead it is society’s fault as to why we can’t do this. Johnson states how “individualistic thinking also makes us blind to the very existence of privilege, because privilege, by definition, has nothing to do with individuals, only with the social categories we wind up in.” (77) It is because of this that we as people or individualistic thinkers “leave no room to see, much less consider the role of privilege.” (77) It is only when we put ourselves in these types of mind settings do we make hard for us to talk about certain issues because we are somewhat part of the problem. For example, Johnson speaks about the paths of least resistance and how it affects the way we think. “The first process of socialization through which we learn to participate in social life… in short, from just about every direction we are exposed to ideas and images of the world and who we are in relation to it and other people.” (78) What Johnson is saying here is that we are the way we are because of the way we were brought up. This is not just speaking of how our parents raised up but also the things we observed on television or just simply from society. We learn how things are suppose to be, how we are suppose to act and also how we are suppose to feel about certain groups of people or just those who weren’t/aren’t like us. He also states “the second way we are shaped as individuals by participating in social systems is through what I call “paths of least resistance.”’ (80) This social system is one we do everyday because it is part of the norm. Johnson talks about how he tested this theory in an elevator. Normally upon entering an elevator people turn around and face the door. Johnson decided to have his back to the door and face the wall. He says he felt people looking at him and more than likely questioning within themselves what he was doing and what was wrong with him. This is an example of a path of least resistance which Johnson says “is there all the time— it’s built in to riding the elevator as a social situation— but the path wasn’t clear until [he] stepped onto a different one and felt the greater resistance rise up against it.” (80) We follow this path of least resistance everyday but until we are put into a situation where we find ourselves on a different path we do not notice that it exists. Johnson uses this in reference as well to privileges. Until we are put into a different situation or being compared to others do we realize the privileges we have.

Johnsons views arises one question, if we learn how to be and act from what we observe as we grow up, will the path of least resistance ever change? The answer I believe to be true is no. People have found it to be easier to sit back and say nothing rather than speak up and same something. So, if no one ever speaks up then nothing will ever change. Johnson made mention of how “people know alternative paths exists, but they stick to the path of least resistance anyway, because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.” (81) So until we are ready to voice our opinions aloud in hopes that others feel the same and will join like the four African American students in Greensboro in 1960. Then nothing will ever change and we continue to have the same mentality we have now.

There were some things in this chapter I found to be very interesting that Johnson made mention to. Johnson has caused me to question my behavior in certain situations and has made me want to become more aware of how I act and how people react to it. Also, I almost want to go out and do my own “tests” and see what the results will become. Johnson is one of the few authors when told to read something for a class that I actually find a slight enjoyment in reading. I know I am bound to learn something new or at least analyze something I do or something that society does more in-depth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Capitalism, Class, and the Matrix of Domination

Capitalism, Class, and the Matrix of the Domination’s thesis is “If race is socially constructed and doesn’t exist otherwise, and if human beings don’t have to be afraid of one another, then where does racism come from? Why all the oppression and hostility and violence over something that’s made up? And why would people make it up this way in the first place?” (41)

Johnson begins this article by telling how capitalism works which is simply “to turn money into more money.” (42) He tells of how capitalists’ main goal is to invest their money into pretty much anything as long as it makes them profit. No matter whether the product causes harm or provides benefits to people their main goal is make money. How capitalists invest their money is up to them and the values they hold close. Johnson says, “but the system itself doesn’t depend on such moral or ethical considerations, because profit is profit and there’s no way to tell “good” money from “bad.”’ (42) Capitalists earn their money from the products they sell which has to be sold more than what they paid for. In other words, the products are worth more than what the workers are making to make or produce the product. Workers really do not have a choice in the matter cause in this world either you are the person to set the rules, Capitalists, or you are the one to abide by them and hold on to your job, Workers. Johnson then further expands the article by stating the relationship between capitalism and class. It is because of capitalism why we have rich, upper-class, middle-class, and lower-class people. “The class system offers little security and takes an emotional toll” (44) on “employed members of the working class as well as many of those in the middle-class” (44). People within these classes have a very small chance of advancement in the workforce because of the new jobs which are created offers very little chance of advancement also these jobs are low-paying. Yet, Johnson relates all of this to how capitalism was the start of slavery. “Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1792 made it possible to process far more cotton than before.” (45) It was because of this that other planters became “greedy” and wanted to make more money but for cheap. So, they set out and “recruited” slaves to do the work for them for no money instead of at least providing them with enough to have a decent standard of living. This wasn’t the only time that white people’s greed got the best of them. It was also during the times when they were trying to obtain more land as well as raw materials. “Whites managed to take what they wanted through a combination of conquest, genocide, and a complex array of treaties that were routinely ignored.” (45) It was because of this that whites made their race the most privileged because they needed something to justify their actions and make what was wrong right.

This article brings about the question, if this is how racism begun and the root to all of the violence and hostility which exists why haven’t it gone away yet? Which I believe Johnson makes a point of by stating how capitalism is a strong part of our society today. Many capitalists exist and still attempt to find workers to work for them for as little as possible. Much of this is seen in a lot of the outsourcing America does today. With all of the inequality that still exists in the class system I don’t think racism, violence and all the hostility which exist will go away. As long as people have to fight for their place this will continue to be an on-going battle.

Johnson does a really good job of explaining exactly how everything came about. I found this to be another interesting article. This article showed me how connected things are and if you don’t pay close attention to them you miss out on a lot. I never would’ve related capitalism to slavery let alone the affects it has on race, class, sexual orientation, and disabilities. It opened my eyes to reality and allowed me to critically analyze our society and this world we live in.

Privilege, Oppression, and Difference

In the article, Privilege, Oppression and Difference by Allan G. Johnson I found his thesis to be found within his opening paragraph. I believe the thesis to be, “The trouble that surrounds difference is really about privilege and power— the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going.” (12) Johnson is stating that certain groups of people are given certain privileges that others groups are not as lucky to have because privileges are more of what society has come to label certain people with having.

Johnson begins the article by stating how difference by itself is not the issue. He stated how “the real illusion connected to difference is the popular assumption that people are naturally afraid of what they don’t know or understand.” (13) Johnson is saying that because we are afraid of the unknown we tend to make our own judgments or come to our own assumptions of what we believe to be true about the mystery people. He stated that children have an innocence about themselves which the unknown attracts them. Yet, as they grow older they become more fearful of the unknown because at this point this is what they have been taught. Johnson stated that “if we feel afraid, it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know.” (13) He later goes on to talk about how people use differences they share with other people to determine who to “include or exclude, reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppress, value or devalue, leave alone or harass.” (16) He goes on to say how people create quick impressions of people and their status. We judge before we know. The American culture is sets standards of how people should be whereas many other countries do not hold the same standards. Instead they accept the people as they are no matter their sex characteristics, the race of the individual, or their sexual orientation. Johnson says how a black woman in Africa does not see herself as being Black but just simply a woman. Where she is from race is non-existent but if that same woman was to come here to America she would be labeled black and she will also obtain certain privileges based on her new label. He uses the same example again but this time with the use of a Norwegian farmer who after coming to America greatly accepts the label of being white due to the many privileges he now has obtained from it. (18) Johnson ends the article with defining privilege according to how Peggy McIntosh describes it. McIntosh says that “privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.” (21) People seem to fail to realize the privileges they hold while being in a certain group because it has become a way of life for them. It is like the saying, “You never know what you have until it’s gone.”

With all of this being said, it raises the question of whether or not these privileges still exist today in our present society? The answer is as clear as night and day, yes. Being a woman, being bi-racial, and being short I know I am not entitled to certain privileges that others may have. I have come to realize that women have to prove themselves more than males and African Americans still have to fight to obtain certain goals or accomplishments. But one thing I have come to realize by being outside of the box that Johnson didn’t really mention is that even though males and whiteness have more privileges black women sometimes have more of a privilege than black males. This is in part of the fact that black males have more stereotypes they carry with them during their lifetime when black women can sometimes have it a little easier because they are a woman. Also, people in today’s society still do judge or rather bring about their own assumptions about certain people that have different sexual orientation and those that are disabled.

I thought this article was very interesting and had much insight. Johnson does a good job providing details and examples of what he is referring to. I just believe it is really sad how screwed up this country is. I mean even though we are suppose to be a free country but sometimes I wonder just how free are we? I mean we can’t be that free if we are constantly being judged of who we are. Freedom… True freedom comes about when we are accepted as just being human.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Race: The Power of an Illusion

The video Race: The Power of an Illusion: Difference Between Us main objective was to bring awareness that race is nothing more than the physical traits or characteristics people have. There is no way to prove a person is of a certain race through science. Race was something human beings decided to create to help them define who they are.

This video showed how people of one race do not share genetic traits with someone their same race. Within the video, they showed the students in the biology class stating whom they felt their genes would closely resemble with in the class. The students picked others that were the same race as themselves. But after many tests they came to realize that they were very different from each other genetically. Race is nothing more than the shape of a person’s eye, the color of their skin, and the texture of their hair. This video also showcased how people used to believe that because a person was of a certain race than they were going to be better than others in certain things. For example, it was said that African Americans were the better race at sports and this conclusion came about because they were winning at the Olympics. People tried to run many tests to see if there was some reason that African Americans were superior in this area. But all the tests came back to show that it had nothing to do with the race of the people it was simply the individual.

Based on this video, I have come to wonder since a race of people is not the same genetically then how can we really be classified as being a certain race? This video showed that people of different races could have some of the same genes as those of another race and none of those from their same race. With all of this having being said, why do we use race still to this day to identify a person? I believe it has more to do with people feeling comfortable with having something to identify with.

Race has caused many problems in this world in the past. It is sad that we use science to provide us with an explanation for everything and then draw a conclusion from there. But it seems as though this is something we choose to ignore because without race, I believe, people would become lost. I think people need race to determine who they are and how they should be. Because of all of this I do not think race will go away but I do hope that racism will disappear based on these facts.