Hegemonic System Of Dominant Ideologies Cultural Studies Essay

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A while ago, an acquaintance of mine had discussed how much she enjoyed watching The Good Wife, an American drama that depicts the challenges of working in a high-profile law office, with particular attention paid to the main character, Alicia Florick, the intelligent and loyal wife-and-lawyer of Peter Florick, a state attorney. Finally, after hearing endlessly about this program, I decided to watch season 2, episode 10, entitled "Breaking Up." Although I could see how the strong female lead could appeal to a (white) female audience, I was disturbed by the way in which race was dealt with in the episode. At one point in the hour, the two white lawyers have found the murder weapon, a bloodied gun, and are debating what to do with the evidence. Alicia, the ethical voice of reason, passively states that they should not take it, while Will, the lawyer willing to bend the rules, agrees that it would be illegal for them to tamper with evidence, but not illegal for someone else to remove the weapon. As they are driving off the peer, Will pulls up beside a group of black youths, who are situated in start contrast to the lawyers; unlike the lawyers who are cast as successful, educated, and important through such markers as an expensive car and well tailored suits, the black youths are huddled around the rocks, talking in hushed tones, while wearing perceived markers of gang affiliation, such as urban apparel and gold chains (which is synonymous with black youth culture).

Although the black youth group does not look particularly menacing, their presence on the street, huddling together, while wearing certain clothing is used to convey the image of gang-related business to the audience. The staging of the scene, with its purposeful use of race, is meant to give the audience the impression that these boys are bad news. Upon driving up to the group, Will informs them, casually, that they found a gun by the rocks, and suggests that it might be one of theirs, so the head boy leaves to retrieve it. However, a few scenes later, the same "gang" member turns up to the police station with the murder weapon. The audience is informed by the prosecution that the "gang" member is really a concerned citizen who is doing his civic duty to protect the neighbourhood, and Will is left looking, first, shocked, and second, disappointed. Yet, there is no feeling of guilt that registers on Will's face, the guilt in automatically assuming that this group of black youths can be nothing more than gang-bangers and criminals. What I found particularly challenging about this episode is that, even when the black youth turns out to be an honest citizen, the staging of the scene encourages the audience to sympathize with the lawyers for having accidentally lead the police to the weapon, rather than expressing outrage at the socially constructing binary between the good white man and the bad black man. The reality, which depicts the white man breaking the law and the black man upholding it, is of little importance. In this context, the reality of individual actions is obscured by the construction of race, which posits Whiteness as pure, correct, righteous, and universally good, and Blackness as dirty, illegal, deceptive, criminal, and inherently bad. It is in critically analyzing this construction of Whiteness that will enable a clearer understanding of how power, dominance, and influence continue to be held in white hands.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, there have been subsequent movements created to analyze the construction of race, and how these constructions are entrenched and maintained. One of the first movements to emerge was Critical Legal Scholars (CLS), which sought to expose the inconsistencies in legal doctrine to show how these inconsistencies serve to maintain the class structure of a society; this school of thought relies heavily on the Gramscian concept of 'hegemony', in which certain groups have used social, political, legal, etc. mechanisms to center their values, ideas, and perspectives as the hegemonic ideology [Landson-Billings: 1999, pp. 11 - 12]. Through the imperial project, Whiteness has become enshrined as the dominant or superior race that has remained relatively unchallenged until present; therefore, the past several centuries have witnessed a radical transformation in inter-racial relations, which went from relative cultural and ethnic isolation, to a world that has been shaped into a racial hierarchy where whiteness occupies the top and blackness the bottom. Although CLS investigated the multiple systems that constructed whiteness as the center, it did not sufficiently discuss how the power of whiteness stems from its ability to cast itself as invisible and universal, which is a central point of analysis in Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) [Arai and Kivel: 2009, p. 466].

In defining CRT, Gloria Landson-Billings argues that CRT revolves around four concepts. First, it assumes that racism is thoroughly embedded in the social order and, therefore, it is natural in inter and intra-racial interactions. Second, it serves to include texts, myths, stories, and wisdoms from all groups of people, arguing that the dominant literature, which has been written by white people, about white people, and for white people, purposely excludes and silences a plethora of differing interests and perspectives. Third, CRT argues that, unlike previous movements that focused on a slow process of social transformation, social change requires social upheaval that will cause people to feel uncomfortable and insecure while they critically analyze the ways in which they have simultaneously been victims and perpetrators of the racial hierarchy. Fourth, the social movements of the 1960s, such as the Civil Rights Movement, have resulted in benefiting white people and further protecting white interest, rather than challenging the dominant position of Whiteness in society [2007, pp. 11 - 13]. The fourth tenet is particularly important in current discussions on race and power because, at present, groups referred to as abolitionists, are arguing for the abolition of whiteness in order to create a racially equal society. However, there are grave dangers in articulating such a position, especially when taking into account the ramifications it will have on marginalized peoples.

Many non-white critical race theorists argue that race-neutral beliefs are simply the modern-day version of the imperialist project. During colonization, white colonizers stated that, as a result of their whiteness, they were more civilized and, thus, more capable of civilizing those who were not considered white. However, as colonization was exposed as a brutal system of physical and psychological torture against the Other, the ideology of Whiteness needed to find an alternative means to maintain its grasp on the center. CRT scholars argue that race-neutral programs, such as color blindness, formal legal equality, merit, truth, and objectivity is simply another way to maintain this power because these concepts, which appear progressive and inclusive, continue to ignore the realities that systematic oppression of non-white individuals occur which makes such initiatives as color blindness impossible to legitimately achieve [Parker, Dehle, and Villenas: 1999, p. 2; Rodriguez: 2000, p. 9]. The focus on equality, national standards, and standardized testing is yet another means through which Whiteness reproduces and embeds itself in the system as it disseminates its beliefs and values, its point of view, and its definition of success and achievement, while cleverly espousing the concept of neutrality and fairness. These strategies further white privilege and power because they demand the act of erasing race; however, when race is erased, a multitude of differing voices are silenced once again, and only a dominant voice - the white way of thinking - emerges. This is most noticeable in the education system and in the current leveling or putting students into academic tracks according to their perceived academic achievement. From the very beginning of their academic careers, white students are more invested in through better quality curriculums and resources, and more personal attention from instructors than non-white students [Green: 1999, pp. 231-250]. Simply put, "the classroom - - where knowledge is constructed, organized, produced, and distributed - - is a central site for the construction of social and racial power"; today, CRT is being utilized to attack the perception that equality in national standards may be an extension of the imperialist project that strives to impart "white, Westernized conceptions of enlightened thinking" to the Other, non-white students [Parker, Dehle, and Villenas: 1999, p. 5].

Before delving into a discussion on how education is reinforcing white values and centering white privilege, it is important to understand how and why the concept of 'white is right' became the dominant ideology. CRT strives to expose the myth that white is an invisible, essentialized, and naturalized category from which every other racial category is compared, by emphasizing that whiteness is a constructed identity that is performed (just like blackness, for example), rather than a biologically determined entity [Kivel: 2007, p. 466]. Whiteness has become dominant not because it is biologically superior, but because it has convinced everybody that it is biologically superior. Theorists argue that race must be viewed as an empty vessel upon which meaning and value is inscribed, and this inscription of meaning has changed over time to match the material interests of the time period [Seshadri-Crooks: 2000, p. 14]. In accordance with these historically specific interests, race has been classified and ordered; and the racial hierarchy has explained through language, and maintained through literature and written documents that protect the interests of the dominant group. Yet, this does not detract from the acknowledged fact that race is fluid, changeable, and subject to fluctuations and, as a result of its vulnerable and tentative hold on the center, it explains why forms of oppression are often physically and psychologically brutal [Goldberg, 1993 cited in Seshadri-Crooks: 2000, p. 14]. Another strength of the ideology of Whiteness is that, not only does is present itself as superior, it has also convinced the Other that the Other is inferior to the dominant group.

In her Lacanian analysis of race, Seshadri-Crooks argues that Whiteness become the dominant group by accident, by virtue of articulating their superiority over the Other first; however, the centering of white hegemony has involved careful, strategic, and often brutal processes that have systemically attacked and suppressed non-white peoples in favour of those who were defined as white [2000, p. 20; Yancy: 2004, pp. 10-11]. These processes have ensured that Whiteness remains in the center, while everything that does not constitute Whiteness is pushed to the margins, where they are considered of secondary importance because of their perceived lesser status. In returning to language, Whiteness is defined as the "master signifier" upon which every other race is compared and differentiated from; as the master signifier, it imbues meaning upon all other categories while remaining outside of the realm of signification [Seshardi-Crooks: 2000, p. 20 - 21]. In addition, the hierarchy of race has been supported by sexing the Other, in which Whiteness remains the neutral (heterosexual) male and the Other ranges the sexual gambit from impotence to hypersexuality. These processes have been particularly important in creating the myth of Whiteness as universal and unchanging, and this assumption is clearly articulated in language and thought which frequently upholds the white (heterosexual) male as the neutral subject with all other subjects residing at different distances away from the neutral subject.

The myth of the neutral subject is made invisible because, as an invisible principle, it serves the dominant group; yet, the myth of white superiority goes beyond invisibility, in that it transforms itself into a seemingly timeless or universal principle. A secondary feature of maintaining the myth is that it serves as an explanation for why and how power is distributed, and the naturalized myth serves as a barrier to those challenging its legitimacy as casting the opponent of its naturalness as lacking credibility or "bons sens" [Barthes: 1993]. This two-fold process of centering white as the signifier and the Other as the signified is important because it obscures the reality that white ideology (dominance) is socially constructed, while presenting it as always having existed. However, according to Roland Barthes, the role of the mythologist (in this case, the critical race/whiteness theorists) is to "expose the artificiality of those signs which disguise their historical and social origins" and, in exposing the "false representations and erroneous beliefs", the theorist can expose the myth (dominant ideology) as constructed, fluid, and historically specific [Barthes: 1993]. Exposing the myth makes it visible, and the visible myth becomes vulnerable to counter attacks, but the dominant ideology will not disappear quietly, without a fight. Dismantling the myth of white superiority involves a two-pronged attack: first, it must acknowledge that the centering of whiteness is constructed and not biological; and second, it must locate and dismantle the social mechanisms, or apparatuses of repression as Althusser refers to them, that are established by the dominant class to physically enforce conformity to the dominant ideology [Althusser: 1993].

Whiteness as the normative center is further bolstered by social mechanisms, such as their control over the hegemonic (scrutinizing) gaze, which defines acceptability and deviance [Yancy: 2004a]. This gaze reinforces the notion that white beliefs, truths, behaviour, etc., are the dominant beliefs and should be followed by all races of people; however, these "truths" are constructed so as to maintain power and privilege among whites while keeping the Other in a marginalized position. In centering white truths, other truths must be de-centered and discarded; which successfully (and brutally) causes the Other to undergo a process of identity dislocation. As "whiteness masquerades as a universal code of beauty, intelligence, superiority, cleanliness, and purity", everything else constitutes, to varying degrees, lesser forms of these white truths [Yancy: 2000b, p. 108]. Centering white truths results in re-writing meaning on non-white bodies, which define the Other as inferior and unworthy. Through repeated exposure to the racist discourse, whites bolstered their dominance by convincing the Other to internalize white truths, which resulted in self-loathing and a self-conscious identity: for example, "whiteness constructed black as ugly, and many blacks felt themselves as ugly; whiteness imagined blacks as uncivilized, and many Blacks came to think of themselves as uncivilized" [Yancy: 2000a, p. 11]. This self-loathing and self-hatred served two purposes: first, it caused the Other to strives to impersonate Whiteness, rather than build their own racial and ethnic identity; and second, it instilled in the Other a form of self monitoring, in which marginalized groups willingly (depending on their level of Whiteness) placed themselves on the race hierarchy while shunning or excluding those groups who were perceived as lower down the ladder. The brilliance of this racist and repressive system is that it has effectively cut off non-white groups from each other by placing them in a competition over resources and status, which has served to silence them in terms of creating a collective voice against white truth. This silencing has been achieved through the ideological centering of Whiteness.

As the ideology of Whiteness became entrenched through white racist discourse and policy, certain mechanisms or methods of control also emerged to ensure that all "good" individuals followed the rules of Whiteness, and that all "bad" individuals are punished. To achieve this complicity and conformity of the Other to the dominant group, two apparatuses are used; the first apparatus, the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), takes multiple realities into account, and it embeds its ruling ideology in several social institutions, such as religion, the family, the legal system, communications, education; the second apparatus, the State Apparatus (SA), acts as a bodyguard for the ISA by protecting the ruling ideology against those who challenge its legitimacy [Althusser: 1993]. The SA contains all the institutions that serve to repress dissent, which includes the government, the courts, the army, the police, the administration and, after the ISA creates the individual into a subject by symbolically writing the dominant (and often racist, sexist, etc.) ideology on the subject, the SA is called upon to ensure that the newly constructed individual does not attempt to challenge the construction of their identity. In regards to race, the ISA is Whiteness and the SA is every process and mechanism that has been created to maintain the racial hierarchy, in which white occupies the highest rung of power, and black occupies the lower rung.

Historically, the imperial project and slavery represent the most visible and brutal uses of the SA to protect the ISA of white dominance. Today, language, media, and education as apparatuses of oppression continue to center the ideology of Whiteness. Language is a particularly powerful tool to transmit certain kinds of knowledge, often skewed in favour of the dominant group, to the masses; it teaches certain values while creating a tangible document of the rules for future generations. At present, the academic world prizes certain kinds of language or literature over others, citing a certain kind of writing or speaking as legitimate, and other types of writing or speaking as illegitimate. For example, the field of humanities has, until recently, rejected such sources as oral histories, storytelling, and songs as legitimate sources because they provide alternative ways of conceptualizing the world from the conventional white way of thinking, reading, writing, and speaking.

In addition to censoring or silencing alternative sources, the construction of (the English) language also serves to reinforce the superiority of a dominant group over marginalized groups, especially in the ways it is used to describe the hierarchy. For example, after searching for the definitions of white and black on Dictionary.com (2011), the ways in which both these terms of defined speak directly to the power of language to construct and reinforce the hierarchy between the races. White is described as follows:

Of the color of pure sure; lacking colour - transparent; Slang - decent, honorable, or dependable; auspicious or fortunate; morally pure, innocent; without malice, harmless; a hue completely desaturated by a mixture with white, the highest value possible.

Black is described as follows:

Characterized by absence of light, enveloped in darkness; soiled or stained with dirt; gloomy, pessimistic, dismal; deliberate, harmful; sullen or hostile; threatening, without any moral quality or goodness, evil, wicked; indicated censure, disgrace, or liability to punishment; based on the grotesque, morbid, or unpleasant aspects of life. [Dictionary.com: 2011].

The definition needs relatively little critical thought to understand how damaging this language is to non-white individuals, because it is constructed into a harmful binary of good (white) versus evil (black). Although this constructed binary serves to reinforce white dominance while instilling in the Other a self-conscious inferiority complex, it does create a space in which the Other can resist the power of the dominant party. In the definition on whiteness, the verb phrase "to white out" provides such a space of resistance; "to white out" is defined as covering up, censoring, or obliterating words or passages, which exposes the dominant ideology as vulnerable and in need of protection against dissent [Dictionary.com: 2011].

In addition to language, media is another method through which the dominant ideology is centered through the literal transmission of its values and beliefs to national and international subjects. In her critique of Western popular culture, Isabel Cserno argues the following: "popular culture, and in particular visual and material culture, represent important areas of cultural formation, [in that] they contribute to the dissemination and creation of belief systems, identity formations, and social structures" [2006, n.p.]. The media is a site where whites can express how they perceive non-white people and the relationships between white/non-white groups, and within non-white groups. The white (male) "characters" are frequently connected to markers of affluence and influence; whereas the Other is frequently depicted as either monstrous or comical. Television programs, movies, and news reports abound with these stock non-white images, such as the silly sidekick, the violent wife abuser, the exotic seductress, the gang member, the economic drain on society, etc. Today, these visual representations of race are even more powerful, especially because technological innovation is enabling communication to touch all parts of the globe, which is making the imperialist mission to "civilize" or "whiten" the "natives" substantially simpler. Unlike the imperialist project of centuries past, transmitting whiteness is as easy as providing internet access and exporting Western media abroad [Jameson: 1998, pp. 62 - 64].

Finally, one of the most powerful mechanisms to ensure the spread of white power and privilege is the education system. Unlike the re-education programs during the imperialist project, directly and visibly forcing whiteness on non-white subjects is not permitted. However, this does not mean that white values are not being transmitted ad nauseum to all students. The preferred forms of indoctrination in education is through such programs as ability grouping or tracking, which funnels students into levels of academic programs that are, supposedly, representative of the students' academic abilities. However, the funneling of students is rarely based on actual ability but on the perceived ability of the students; yet, this critique is frequently glossed over by the fact that the tracking system proclaims itself as a system of meritocracy that provides all students with equal opportunity to enter higher academic levels based on grades achieved in standardized tests [Green: 1999, p. 236].

Proponents of tracking argue that, with the diversification of the student body, the conventional system of one curriculum for all students does not address the varying needs of the students; therefore, tracking offers a way to give students exactly what they need in terms of curriculum difficulty and pace, and academic expectations. However, opponents of tracking argue that separate curriculums is simply the modern version of segregated schools, especially when taking into account that the vast majority of students in the remedial levels are non-white students, in which the students in the lower levels receive a substandard level of education in relation to students in the upper levels [Green: 1999, p. 240]. In addition to the substandard level of education, which includes limited resources, less teacher-student attention, and lowered expectations, the tracking system creates "winners and losers", which plays a significant role in the students' lives after they graduate; in this regard, the winners walk away with better chances at entering university and, thus, finding higher paid jobs, whereas the losers walk away with higher drop out rates, lower university enrollment rates, and a substantially lower yearly income [Green: 1999, p. 240-241]. Educational tracking is yet a further assault on the Other by centering and privileging Whiteness, while appearing as neutral by using such terms as national standards, equality, merit, and educational fairness.

In conclusion, the study of Whiteness is of the utmost importance in regards to issues of race relations, identity formation, and power and privilege. The ideology of Whiteness has thoroughly embedded itself within social consciousness, and it is protected and maintained by repressive mechanisms, such as the legal system, media, language, and education, so as to keep the racial hierarchy unchallenged. However, with the birth of, first, the CLS, and the subsequent CRT and CWT movements, the notion of Whiteness as universal and timeless is being deconstructed to show that the white race is a socially constructed concept that has no legitimate (biological) claim to power. In this regard, as whites constructed themselves in a position of power (through the racist discourses of the imperialist project), they sought to relegate the Other to a position of inferiority and, after endless exposure to this point of view, the Other internalized its subordinate position. However, the pervasive power of the ideology of Whiteness is being challenged by non-white and white scholars alike, through critical self-analysis of the ways in which the ideology has both benefited and disenfranchised each racial group. Although this process involves a painful and uncomfortable scrutiny of each person's status as a victim and perpetrator of this system, this discomfort is necessary to not only locate, but also to dismantle the systems that maintain Whiteness in the center, at the expense of the Other, who is pushed to the margins. CRT argues that, it is simply not enough to advocate for the abolition of whiteness; rather, it demands an acknowledgement of how the ideology has and continues to benefit certain individuals, and the willingness to relinquish these benefits to create equitable race relations.

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