Monday, September 24, 2007

Takaki: Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, titled The “Giddy Multitude”: The Hidden Origins of Slavery, Takaki talks about the origin of slavery and how it came about. He starts off by talking about The Tempest and the characters whom played a role in this play and relating them to what really happened in the coming of slavery. I believe that Takaki’s main thesis for this chapter is the fact that the “Giddy Multitude” which is “a discontented class of indentured servants, slaves, and landless freemen, both white and black” (63) constantly threatened the social order that constructed slavery.
I this chapter Takaki starts with the stating that some of the first slaves where Indians but in the play The Tempest, the slave was portrayed as an African. He then states that twenty Africans had been brought to Virginia by a Dutch man and although they had been sold, they were not exactly slaves because they were not reduced to property. They, in fact, were more like the white indentured servants who were bound by contracts to serve a certain number of years and then they were set free. Slowly more slaves were brought over to the Virginia colony from places like Germany, England and Ireland. Like the Africans the white indentured servants were brought to the Virginia colonies unwillingly. They were typically of the low class of society, brutish, vagabonds, whores and cheats.
Because the blacks and the whites were coming from different places, to the Virginias and serving as slaves and indentured servants together, they had no negative feelings toward each other. These white and black servants would runaway together and worked together everyday. However, finally Virginia legislators spoke up and started to make relations between the blacks and the white come to and end. They were strongly punished if they ran away together, or if they had any kind of relations with each other.
Once they started to separate the blacks and the whites, they started treating them differently as well. The whites were not punished as harshly as the blacks were for disobeying their masters. Also, the whites did not have to serve for life like the blacks did. Another thing that was happening was that the Africans were being degraded into the status of property.
Now that the white servants were free, they wanted to own land but the current merchants would not give them any land. So the “giddy multitude” became a threat to social order. They led conspiracies, revolts, and other rages that caused the upper and middle class to become frieghtened of this group of people. Large landowners, such as Thomas Jefferson, realized that the social order would always be in danger if they had to depend of white labor so they decided to go strictly to slaves.
Virginia wanted to let some of their white servants go so they brought more blacks over to become slaves. They saw the value of having slaves for life however, something else had happened too that opened the way for a switch from indentured white labor to black slave labor (61). This is something is the fact that the hidden origins of slavery were indeed rooted in class (61).
By having blacks strictly as slaves, they wanted to make sure they did not make the same mistakes with them as they did with the whites by allowing them to have too much power. In order to keep the blacks as socially low as possible, they passed many laws restricted blacks from doing things such as voting, or having the freedom of assembly or movement. These laws made the cultural gap between the blacks and the whites much larger.
Thomas Jefferson felt guilty about the slave situation and said that he would abolish slavery once his debts were paid off. He said that once slavery was abolished all of the slaves would have to be removed from America because he believed that blacks and whites could never coexist in American because of “the real distinctions” which “nature” had made between the two races (71). Jefferson also believed that nurture would not improve the nature of blacks (74) and that blacks were not as smart as whites.
So what would happen to a president today if they said that they believed that whites and blacks could never coexist in American because of “the real distinctions” which “nature” has made between the two races and that blacks are inferior to whites in such things as intelligence? If such a thing was said today, by almost anyone, it would be greatly refuted. First of all, the only “real distinctions” is the skin color and the only reason it has any meaning in our society today is because we have socially construed it to be that way. Second of all nature has not made the blacks inferior to whites, it was our social class that made us believe that they were, and treated them as though they were. And finally, it is very obvious to us now, that blacks are not less intelligent than whites. There are many intelligent, successful of both races.
I didn’t particularly care for this chapter. I felt that it was long and drawn out. I also thought that it was laid out weird. I felt as though it wasn’t necessarily in chronological order. He would talk about how they changed to having all black slaves, and then it went back to having white indentured servants. I just felt that it could have been written better and more smoothly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chapter 6

In Johnson’s chapter six titled What it all Has to do With Us he discusses the idea and the role that individualism plays in our society. He also talks about the path of least resistance and what is truly means to be involved in oppression and privilege. I believe that Johnson’s thesis in this chapter is to explain that when considering the role of privilege and oppression you have to also consider the role of social categories and not focus so much on the individual. Johnson wants to point out that the social categories aren’t just something that one person can change, that it is a societal thing so much that we sometimes don’t even realize it.
Johnson first starts off chapter six by stating that society encourages us to think that the social world begins and ends with individuals, when in reality that isn’t true. When believing in the individual way of thinking, we find ourselves believing that everything is someone else’s fault and makes it hard to talk about such topics of racism or sexism. It also makes us not even acknowledge the existence of privilege because individualism so focused on the individual it fails to consider societies influence. This is why Johnson says the individualistic way of thinking is not correct and we must consider society as an influence in what goes on. Johnson talks about how individuals must play a part in social systems in order for social life to occur. He then brings up the concept of the path of least resistance. Johnson says that in the end the default position is to adopt the dominant version of reality and act as though it’s the only one there is (80). To explain the path of least resistance Johnson tells a story about being in an elevator and the fact that we all know to stand and face the front of the elevator in a relatively quiet manner. However, if someone was to stand in an elevator and face the back of the elevator, many people will give them odd looks and wonder what they are doing. However, they are not doing anything wrong, or hurting anyone in any way, it’s just that they are doing something that is not the social ‘norm’ so people find it weird and may judge them. So if you don’t want to be judged or looked at funny, people do what is socially accepted as normal, which would be the path of least resistance. Also, people know that there are other paths that exist but they do not choose that route because they are afraid of what will happen if they do. Johnson then goes on to point out that similar dynamics operate around the issue of privilege (80). People in a corporation tend to promote the people and mentor the people that are most like them, making it difficult for other people to get promoted. And Johnson states that what we experience as social life happens through a complex dynamic between systems such as families, schools, and workplace, along with the choice that people make as they participate in them. And through this process of these systems working together is how social life helps produce privilege and oppression. Johnson states that most of the time we do not even realize that the path of least resistance is there and that is what helps create and maintain privilege.
So do people really follow the path of least resistance in most cases still today? Of course they do. The path of least resistance is the path that will cause the least amount of fuss or attract the least amount of attention because that is what we view as socially normal. For instance, when men are sitting around and telling each other jokes, and one man says a very sexist joke and some of the men find it offensive but they just laugh and play along because they do not want to draw attention to themselves. They know that if they bring it up they will either get laughed at and teased or it may start a heated argument so they just take the path of least resistance and laugh along with the rest of the men. Also, school kids my tease one boy for having glasses and the other kids may think it is mean, but they do not say anything because they do not want to get made fun of either. So the path of least resistance is certainly a common path still today in many countless situations.
I enjoyed this chapter by Johnson. I feel that he did a good job of using a lot of examples to help explain his ideas better. I like the Monopoly analogy that he used throughout and also the stories he used to describe the path of least resistance. I think he did a very effective job of explaining his topics and his points in this chapter. I also found the concept of the path of least resistance very interesting and it helped me realize how prevalent it is in our society today in some many aspects.

Chapter 8

In Johnson’s chapter 8 titled Getting off the Hook: Denial and Resistance he talks about the ways that people of privilege try to disconnect themselves with the cause of someone else’s misery. Johnson states that we are all on the hook because there is no way of avoiding being part of the problem (108). Johnson states eight different ways in which people try to get themselves off the hook. Johnson’s thesis statement is that our first response when it comes to causing someone else’s pain is to try to get off the hook and that there are many ways in which people do it today.
The first way that Johnson brings to our attention is to deny and minimize. He states that one of the easiest ways to get off the hook is to deny that it even exists in the first place. People claim that the American Dream is readily available and equally easy to achieve for everyone no matter what their race, gender, or sexual preference. Also he says people like to minimize the problem by saying that is does exist but it ultimately doesn’t lead to anything. The next way to get off the hook is to blame the victim. Whites can see that there are problems surrounding blacks in society but they blame their problems on the blacks. They say that they should work harder and get an education and then they would be able to be just as successful as whites. Another example of blaming the victim is that men claim that women who have been sexually harassed were asking for it, or they wanted it. Putting the blame on the victim takes the privileged party off the hook. The next way of getting of the hook is to call it something else. Instead of calling it gender inequality, they call it the battle of the sexes, which makes it seem more like a game. Gender inequality is one problem that we often laugh about because it is so deep in our lives that we must go to great lengths to make it appear normal (112). Another way that Johnson talks about is saying that it is better this way. This means saying that everyone actually prefers it to be that way, that women actually prefer to be dominated by males and blacks prefer to live in an all black neighborhood rather than live around whites. This is a way of thinking that there is nothing unpleasant or unfair to think about, and just think that everyone is happy this way when in fact that is not the case. Another way of getting off the hook is by saying that it doesn’t count if you didn’t mean it. By saying “I didn’t mean it” it can avoid getting into a conversation or an argument that may end up being very serious and many feelings being hurt and many buttons getting pushed. So by acting as though you were not aware of the effects of your actions helps to get you off the hook. Johnson uses the example of men opening doors for women and women finding it as a way of showing that the women is helpless and can’t open her own door. This shows male dominance, however many men said they were doing it simply because it was polite and that they didn’t mean to offend the women at all. Also another example Johnson uses is saying that I’m one of the good ones. By stating that they aren’t racist and don’t support any racist groups, this makes it seem as they are just an innocent observer. However, by being a silent observer of those who do participate in wrong doings shows that their passive acceptance goes a long with the group and makes them just as much of the problem since they didn’t do anything to stop it. Another way to get off the hook is saying that they are sick and tired of hearing about it. When you are annoyed by something it seems as though it is everywhere (121). Privileged groups don’t want to here about the oppression of their counter parts at all because it makes them no longer oblivious to the fact that they are actually privileged. And finally the last way of getting of the hook is by getting on. Being on the hook, Johnson points out, is what distinguished adults from children. By being on the hook you are aware that you are able to do something about it and move in a forward motion to fix it.
So do people really try and get off the hook by using these ways that Johnson has named? The answer is yes, these methods are used so often in our daily lives that we sometimes fail to even realize it. Male superiority is so prevalent in our society that we don’t even think to criticize them. The gender inequality is one of the most prevalent inequalities that is has become a joke in our society. There is evidence in our television sitcoms such as Everybody Loves Raymond and the King of Queens which both portray the wife as doing all of the work around the house and the male working his day job and being able to come home and sit on the couch the rest of the night.
I liked this chapter of Johnson because everything was very clear and spelled out. He laid out the chapter nicely in the beginning by letting us know exactly what to expect out of the rest of the chapter. Also, once again Johnson did an incredible job of including very useful examples of how these things occur in today’s world. The use of his examples helps to better understand how this affects us and others in society.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Johnson: Chapter 3

In Johnson’s chapter three of Power, Privilege, and Difference he talks about capitalism, class and the matrix domination. He approaches the fact that many students don’t know where racism comes from and don’t understand why it still exists. Johnson answers these questions by going back into history of race where he points out that history hasn’t always been around and the racism and capitalism came about at the same time. I believe that Johnson’s thesis statement of this chapter is that capitalism played a major role in the development of racism and especially white privilege.
Johnson states that capitalism has been the predominant and virtually the only economic system around since the demise of the Soviet Union. He defines the basic goal of capitalism as “to turn money into more money” (42). The capitalists did this by employing people to work for them for low wages. The employees had no choice in how much they earned, they were just lucky enough to have a job. So because capitalists profited from the difference of the cost of producing the good and the cost that they sold it at, they wanted to higher the cheapest labor they could get. Also capitalism not only produced a large amount of money it also produced a very large inequality between classes. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and more middle class people moved down to the lower class.
So not only did capitalism separate the population into classes based on wealth, it started white privilege with the direct connection of the enslavement of Africans as a source of cheap labor (45). Whites hired slaves: Africans, Chinese, Japanese any labor they could get that was cheap so they could profit from their labor. To justify their forms of imperialism and oppression, whites developed the idea of whiteness (46). They used this idea to control white workers. This racial division became an effective way to divide the different segments of working class against each other. This is still present today with the idea of affirmative action and the fact that whites find it unfair that other immigrants are getting jobs because they will work for a lower wage. Also capitalism exploits people with disabilities and also shapes gender inequality in the workforce. However, Johnson states the idea of the matrix domination and the fact that people can be privileged and unprivileged at the same time. It’s not a (+) and (-) thing, both privileges and unprivileged categories can be assigned to one person. Such an example would be a black, male, heterosexual. He possesses the privilege of being male and heterosexual however he is unprivileged for being white.
So as Johnson asks at the beginning of the chapter, why all the oppression and hostility and violence over something that is made up? Well, as Johnson points out through his argument, racism has been around for a long time and we, as Americans, do not know much different then thinking in this way. Privilege is so prevalent in our society that oftentimes it goes unnoticed. Many white male will state that they don’t experience white or male privilege when in all actuality they do, it is just so ‘normal’ to them that they take it for granted. Therefore, racism is something that is not easy to get rid of or forget. It is something that will be a part of our lives forever. Even though it may seem like it is made up, it has become such a large part of what this nation is that it will be nearly impossible to get rid of it.
I really enjoyed reading this article and learning how capitalism relates to whiteness and privilege. It truly was an eye-opener to see how it has come about and clears the waters about why it is still around. I also liked the explanation of the matrix of domination and how it really isn’t a numbers thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Power, Privilege, and Difference

In his book titled Power, Privilege and Difference Allan Johnson explains the affects that privilege has on our society and the way that we live. In his opening paragraph Johnson states “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). The thesis the Johnson presents in this chapter is that privilege is not something that we are necessarily born with, it has been socially construed and it affects our lives more than most people are aware of.
Johnson starts off by stating that difference is not the problem. Some people believe that if we were to ignore privilege as the problem, it would make it seem as though difference was the problem when in fact it is not. Johnson states that it is a myth that people are afraid of things that are different from them, and he states that it’s not what we don’t know that frightens us, but what we think we know (13). He then further supports this idea by stating that young children are not afraid of the unknown and are often curious, this is because they don’t have an idea in their mind as to how those unfamiliar things are said to be. Johnson also states that we have socially constructed differences in our culture. If we live in a culture that does not recognize differences as significant, they are socially irrelevant (18). For example, if a woman lived in a predominately black society and had not experienced white privilege, she would consider herself a woman, not a black woman. Also, when someone is not part of a privilege class, we often label them strictly by their lowest identity, such as if a person is blind, we refer to them as a blind person, not a white, or male. This in part is because as humans, we have socially construed these labels to have those meanings. Finally, Johnson talks specifically about privilege. Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they have done or failed to do (21). Oftentimes people do not realize that they have such privileges because they are so strong and so socially “normal” that they can go on day-to-day and not even realize the privileges they are granted. Such privileges age white privilege, male privilege, or heterosexual privilege often go unnoticed by those who belong to those groups because they are so dominant, but one little change of any of those characteristics could severely alter their lifestyles.
So are these privileges still present and practiced in our society today? Absolutely. Whites are still experiencing white privilege everyday, whether it is in the shopping mall, workforce, or even jail. Also, males are experiencing male privilege still today by receiving the higher paying jobs in the workforce and holding the leadership positions of our nation. Women experience the ‘glass ceiling’ in many different occupations still today. The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term that refers to the fact that women can only get so high in the business world and they find them selves being held back by the ‘glass ceiling’ while they watch the males continue to climb up the ladder.
Overall, I found this article very interesting. Johnson was very right when stating that we often go on with our daily lives without realizing the privileges that we have over other socially construed groups. I really enjoyed the part that Johnson went through and listed the privileges that whites, males, heterosexuals, and non-disabled people experience in our society. It truly was an eye opener. In conclusion, I believe that privilege really is socially construed but that it will still continue to be that way.