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When I saw the opportunity to complete a research paper on racism arose I immediately jumped on the topic. I chose the question, how does racism impact interpersonal relationships? In Saginaw, the city in which I am born and raised, I see a lot of racism and racist acts every day. There is a river that is basically a line in the sand that divides the whites from the blacks. Saginaw was just recently voted the most dangerous city per capita in America for the third straight year. I have many African American, Mexican, Chinese, and Chaldean friends. I am comfortable with my friend’s families as well as my own. The current racism in the country is just unreal to me. In all reality racism does factor into, not only interpersonal relationships, but all relationships. How do you define race? Is race some territory marked off by some line? Is it a tint of your skin? There is racism in relationships, racism in areas of the community, and racism in the voting process.
Racism factors into many different parts of our everyday lives. It may be so minute you may not even notice. Take for instance; you just finished dinner with your spouse and she notices a man of color approaching and she grabs your arm and squeezes her purse tightly. Now, think about if you have ever walked into a place and have someone stare at you, then quickly grasp their wallet? What about when you are walking in the mall and a mother looks up at you and switches her purse from the side nearest you to the other side of a stroller. Jean Moule (2009) calls these instances “blink of an eye” racism. He says, “Such unconscious biases lead to unintentional racism: racism that is usually invisible even and especially to those who perpetrate it. Yet, most people do not want to be considered racist or capable of racist acts because the spoken and unspoken norm is that good people do not discriminate or in any way participate in racism” (p. 321).
The article states biases are rooted in stereotypes and prejudices. A stereotype is a basic image or distorted truth about a person or group based on a prejudgment of habits, traits, abilities, or expectations. The mind also has ways of denying its stereotypes. Such as saying “Oh, I have a many close black friends,” when an individual would be confronted with their racists remarks or actions towards that of a black individual. Moule’s article quotes, “And when we receive evidence that confronts our deeply held and usually unrecognized biases, the human brain usually finds ways to return to stereotypes. The human brain uses a mechanism called “re-fencing” when confronted with evidence contrary to the stereotype. Allport coined the term: “When a fact cannot fit into a mental field, the exception is acknowledged, but the field is hastily fenced in again and not allowed to remain dangerously open”(Moule). In uncertain situations, people’s minds also reconstruct a situation in order to conform to their stereotypes. For instance, when a judge is dealing with a black defendant, rather than that of a white defendant, he is much more likely to favor that side of which he is not racist towards, and the fact that, regardless of explicit racial prejudices, police officers are more likely to shoot an unarmed black target than an unarmed white target (Moule).
What is race? Can it be defined? Is there a line that separates certain races from another? Race is just a term created in the last 500 years that was used for individuals that had not experienced any clinical variation in their lives. So these race terms were developed and hence this is the world we live in now. So where is the start of personal prejudice? Do individual experiences fuel stereotypes? Is it easier to be responsible for existing stereotypes because “things will never change?” Can people conquer struggles within their own ethnic groups or communities? What stops us from overcoming these prejudices? Crash forced me to analyze my own prejudices and racial stereotypes towards others. I always thought that racism occurred as a result of a person’s upbringing. If your parents were racist, there is a good chance that you will be a racist too.
In the movie Crash, a cop has a close bond with his father. The son tries to help his father anyway he can, but plays phone tag and becomes frustrated. Later in the movie, we discover the roots of his racism. It turns out that his father was not racist towards black people. It was the son who, in combination with his father’s negative experiences and his own as a member of the LAPD, formed his own perceptions towards blacks. Another example of how race factors into relationships, occurred at the beginning of the film when the Persian family was attempting to purchase a gun. The clerk at the gun shop made a few blatantly racist comments about the perceptions of the customers and their connections with the 9/11 attacks. Ludacris’ character was one of the most interesting to me. Here was this expressive young black man that spent his life stealing cars from white people. “Rap music is the music of the oppressor,” he said. It is often easier to blame other individuals for your shortcomings than it is to confront them head on. On the flipside, trouble facing stereotypes can occur anywhere. They are not simply restricted to skin-tone and neighborhoods. Racial discrimination transpires through social class as well. This creates division within the same racial groups.
In the film, there was a man portrayed as a rich, African American television star. He achieved success as a hard working black man. The actor faced scrutiny from both of his ‘people,’ namely his wife and from his white producer. It was like a catch-22: if he wanted to be successful, he needed to act like a white man. With that came two major problems. Just because he had a good paying job, he failed to acknowledge that all the money in the world couldn’t change the fact that he was a black man. For instance, in the movie, look what happened with the LAPD. They did not care that he was a law abiding Buddhist, he was still black. With the success he had as an actor, it was also possible that he developed a complex, thinking he was entitled to white privileges. As a result of that complex, he faced a flood of embarrassment, shame, frustration, and anger. When Sandra Bullock, first saw the Mexican locksmith, she made a snap judgment. “He is a gang-banger because of his shaved head, prison tattoos and his pants around his ass.” She determined that he was going to sell her house keys to one of his “homeys.” Contrary to her analysis, he was a soft-spoken, sensitive family man. These instances just support that racism does factor into relationships.
Another instance of how race factors into relationships would be that of my own. Once, when I was a late teen I was driving around on my city’s eastside. The town of Saginaw is the number one most dangerous city in America per capita for the last four years running. Although we have reduced crime by 24% we still lead the nation in crime. The city is divided almost in two parts, with the Saginaw River as the primary dividing line. Westside is the township and where the whites and the suburbs are. The eastside is where the boarded up windows and closed down buildings are. Also, on the eastside is where the majority of Saginaw’s black population lives. This is not saying that there are not whites on the east or blacks on the west; it’s just saying that the city is one of the most segregated towns in America and the river is the dividing line. It was after the sun had set and it was just before dark settled in. The YMCA is located just across the bridge on the eastside. It was here where I realized that when you were told not to go over the bridge at night, you should listen. I was walking to my car after working out, when I was ambushed and the fight occurred. There were two black men and they came out of the dark just from around the dumpster. They wanted my belongings and there was a disagreement and I put a master lock around my knuckles and fended for my life. I managed to flee, but I lost my gym bag, the least of my worries at the time. I tried to call police but when they arrived, they acted like it was my fault for being across the bridge after sunset. It seemed that this unwritten rule reigned supreme over my attempted burglary case. They took down my info on a paper and I could have sworn that they threw out my info before they even got into their car. I was just shocked at the lack of interest or care for that matter. I never received a call back from the police and I never felt so neglected in my life. So I feel like racism does factor into interpersonal relationships. Due to all the above information and the fact that even if you don’t tend to think you are being racist, you tend to be anyways. It may be the slightest touch of racism, however it is still racism and this is why it effects and will always affect interpersonal relationships.
The answer I came to at the end of the day was the same answer I thought I would have before I began this paper. Racism is so bold that society as a whole is blind to it. It’s not the fact that people are ignoring racism, it’s just so miniscule and if you grow up around little to no racism, you can see the whole racism picture. If you tend to be raised racist or even learn from those whose views are diminished, you are more likely to be racist. Some of society is racist, but they are just blind to it because they feel as if it was the way they were raised. These notions can be spotted throughout the world. I expected this answer however, because I have seen racism every day of my life and I know it factors into relationships even if the relationship is blind to the fact. I may believe this though because of the community I grew up in. As you read, it was a crime-filled and segregated city, so maybe I am biased due to the area I grew up in and the environment where I went to school.
Until we as a society and as individuals, can take the time to understand the roots of discrimination and take a good look at our own thought patterns, we’ll never move forward. Movies like Crash are forcing us to look outside our own lives and fears, to realize that we’re more alike than we think. Aside from the genetic differences between us, we all have problems and internal struggles. That’s what makes us human.
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