Interpreting The Identity And Difference Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Psychological theories of self and identity, generally considered, are a key starting point in understanding identity and ethnicity. In his 19th-century work on the self, Harvard psychologist William James introduced the distinction between the private self, which he described as the "I"-the inner, reflective part of one's psyche-and the public self, which he called the "me"-the social roles that one plays in society. The renowned African American scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, was a student of James at Harvard and drew on these ideas with his notion of "double-consciousness"-the profound sense of ambivalence that Black Americans feel with respect to their experiences and history in the United States. Du Bois described double-consciousness most famously in his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, and this, along with his later writings, was an important precursor to theories of racial identity and of race more generally.

Du bois defines identity and ethnicity in the cultural terms of political ideals, language, and religion. He primarily defines racial identity in cultural term that transcend theories of physical different founded in blood. Rejecting the grosser physical differences of color, hair and bone as the definite determinants of racial identity, Du Bois identifies "subtle, delicate and elusive" forces as the foundation on which distinct races develop. While these subtle forces have generally followed the natural cleavage of common blood, descent and physical peculiarities, they have at other times swept across and ignored these. In other words, for Du Bois "race," like national character, is not an essential property, and it does not always follow the reproduction of single bloodline.

on the other, hand Hall and Rosaldo's discussions of identity formation offer powerful tools for exploring the role of online discussions in forging new senses of belonging. They stresses the formative role of representation, the multiple and unfinished nature of identities, and their formation through relationships with antagonistic others, both real and imagined: Far from only coming from the still small point of truth inside us, identities actually come from outside, they are the way in which we are recognized and then come to step into the place of the recognitions which others give us. Without the others there is no self, there is no self-recognition.

Stuart Hall drew on the work of young Black and Asian cultural producers to highlight emergent 'new ethnicities' in 1980s Britain. A new generation of artists, writers, musicians and photographers was displacing conceptions of ethnicity as the possession of fixed traits and unchanging traditions. Hall subtly explored how these artists 'neither take up nor refuse "identity", instead they use the image as a symbolic space in which to put identity in question', promoting a new cultural politics of representation in which Black British and Asian British identities were being articulated and transformed through their creative practice (Hall& Sealey 2001, p. 36). Drawing wider lessons from this work, for Hall identities are positional and contingently negotiated through cultural forms, rather than biologically determined, 'not in the past to be found, but in the future to be constructed' (Hall 1995, p. 14).

Since Hall made these suggestive observations the context for the formation of identities and the technologies through which they are expressed have changed markedly. And as Rosaldo implies an accurate specification of the context shaping cultural practices is the defining feature of Stuart Hall's work. Appropriations of the 'new ethnicities' framework which emphasized the positive implications of cultural transformation and the 'in-between spaces' opening up now face a much harsher climate. Rather than a 'pathologising notion of young people caught between two cultures' as individuals, discussions of complex, multiple identities now have to reckon with the widespread trope of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West (Huntington 1996). Invoking hybridity, Third Space, and the negotiation of difference no longer does justice to contemporary relationships between culture, identity and politics.

The articles by Sanjek, Sacks, and Nickens examine how ethnic and racial categories relate to other modes of social organization, and how they develop from historical and political conditions. These articles also illustrates how such categories are shaping unequal access to resources and opportunities in modern societies.

In "The Souls of White Folk,", Du Bois stated, "Everything considered, the title to the universe claimed by White Folk is faulty" (1995a, p. 454). Long before the recent discourse on racism and critical white studies, Du Bois called into question white superiority and white privilege, and the possibility of white racelessness and/or white racial neutrality and universality. He was one of the first theorists to chart the changes in race relations from de jure to de facto forms of white supremacy, referring to it, as early as 1910, as "the new religion of whiteness" (454).

Articles by Sanjek, Sacks, and Nickens illustrates that white supremacy would or will not end unless and until the values and views endemic to it and associated with it were or are rejected and replaced by radical, multicultural and uncompromising ethical views and values. The rejection of white supremacy and the replacement of white supremacist views and values involves not only blacks and other people of color, but whites as well. As the examples of the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement indicate, changes in the law and its interpretation and application do not always translate into racial justice and social transformation. White supremacist social views and values linger long after amendments have been made and laws changed. Therefore, law-focused critical white studies and critical race theory provide at best only part of the picture.

The conception and critique of white supremacy that I develop here does not seek to sidestep socio-legal race discourse as much as it intends to supplement it with the work of Du Bois and others in radical politics and critical social theory. It is important is because typically legal studies of race confine theorists to particular national social and political arenas, which is problematic considering the fact that white supremacy is an international or global racist system. Du Bois declared, "whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!" (1995a, p. 454). Here he is sardonically hinting at the cardinal difference between white supremacy and most other forms of racism: its worldwide historical, cultural, social, political, legal, and economic influence and impact. White supremacy serves as the glue that connects and combines racism to colonialism, and racism to capitalism. It has also been illustrated that it exacerbates sexism by sexing racism and racing sexism, to put it unpretentiously. According to Sanjek, Sacks, and Nickens, white supremacy as a global racism intersects and interconnects with sexism, and particularly patriarchy as a global system that oppresses and denies women's human dignity and right to be humanly different from men, the ruling gender.

With regard to Du Bois's critique of white supremacy, it is not simply a global and social phenomenon, but a personal and political one as well. That is to say that for Du Bois white supremacy is simultaneously systemic and systematic, and also a matter of racist cultural mores and manners, which teeter-totter between idealist, materialist, and constructionist accounts of race. An idealist account of race says simply (or, not so simply) that white racism against non-whites, and especially blacks, is not so much a matter of race as it is of culture. Racial idealists argue that European culture and its pre-colonial history of color-symbolism and religious views- such as, Europeans' conceptions of themselves as "civilized" whites and non-whites as "wild," "savage" others; the positive and negative associations regarding the colors white and black; and, the ways in which their racist cultural interpretations of Christianity support not only the white/black color valuations and devaluations but the "civilize and Christianize" missions of European colonialism and imperialism-set the stage for what would later become racism and white supremacy.

Materialist accounts of race, which are primarily inspired by Marxist theory, maintain that racism does not have to do with culture as much as it does with political economy. Europeans needed a cheap labor force to extra-exploit and work their newly and imperially acquired continents, countries, colonial settlements and plantations. For the racial materialists it was not about religion or civilization or science, but an economics and politics reduced to its lowest and most racist level. Finally, racial constructionists contend that race is an outgrowth of human beings' inherent ethnocentrism, but that racism is a result of Europe's push for global dominance. In this view, no matter who invented race, its reasons for origination, and whether it is scientifically sound, it is an artifact that most modern (and "postmodern") human beings use, either consciously or unconsciously, to make interpersonal, socio-cultural and politico-economic decisions. "Whites" and "nonwhites" do not exist prior to the imperial expansion that helped to birth, raise and rear European modernity. But, this is all beside the point to the constructionists. What is relevant is the invention of whiteness and its classical and contemporary uses and abuses, and the ways it has evolved over several centuries, transitioning from de jure to de facto form, and transforming the racial rules and ethnic ethics of who counts as "white" and "non-white".

Upon examining the members of the community where I live, I immediately noticed the similarities and differences that we had in terms of physicality. Currently I live on base a military community. Though gender and age is very much prominent in examining my fellow community dwellers, the color of the skin was the one that I first looked into without consciously doing so. More importantly, I rarely saw the vastness in number of blacks but I paid importance to the few whites in the community. It was not because I had something against them from the get go but it was interesting to see that the majority of the blacks were at a lower rank then the whites. on the military housing the separate the communities by rank in the service. I immediately notice that the most of the enlisted soldiers were blacks and most of the officers soldiers were white. In my observation of the actions and policies that the political leaders of my community implement, I noticed an existing schism between white political leaders and black people and/or black political leaders and white people. More often than not, privileges and services are given towards the political leaders' race and little for the other. The thing about racism is that it is well documented and well explained. Yet, the reduction of instances of abuse and discrimination has not been eliminated.

Work Cited

Stuart Hall: Old and new identities, old and new ethnicities (pp 144-153).

Renato Rosaldo: Border crossings (pp 196-217).

Roger Sanjek: The enduring inequalities of race (pp 1-17).

Karen Sacks: How Jews became white folks (pp 78-102).

Herbert Nickens: The Human Genome Project and minority health (pp 58-78).

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1997). In R. Gooding-Williams& D. W. Blight (Eds.), The souls of Black folk. Boston: Bedford.