Racism continues to plague the American society. It remains a factor in the day-to-day lives of minorities. They are denied access to resources and face disadvantages in the areas of housing, healthcare, and education. These disadvantages persist due to the negative characteristics attributed to them by the media and many white Americans.
Before an analysis of racism can begin, the importance of race and ethnicity must be discussed. The notions of ethnicity are fused with one’s sense of self. This is especially true for members of a minority group. Ethnicity contributes to a person’s identity. It gives them a sense of pride and strengthens their sense of self. Also, it can give one a purpose to life by providing a basis for one to compare and contrast the aspects of their life and behavior. “Hyphenated Americans of all colors draw great strength from their ethnic roots, and take pride in those characteristics that make their ethnic group distinctive” (White, 16). Thus, identity and ethnicity are intertwined in their daily lives.
On the flipside, white Americans do not typically think of themselves on a racial or ethnic basis. In fact, any racial problems that exist are often seen as the “other” races’ problems. Essentially, white Americans remove themselves from all responsibility of racial inequality. According to Tim Wise, “That which keeps people of color off-balance in a racist society is that which keeps whites in control: a truism that must be discussed if whites are to understand our responsibility to work for change” (White, 107). Therefore, white Americans are perpetuating problems by not acknowledging their responsibility to racial equality. Racial problems will persist until the privileged race actively challenges the system and ends institutionalized racism.
Within the system exists a privilege that is difficult for minority groups to access. It is an element of the norms of society, which are established by the dominant race. Those who are not seen as adhering to those norms, namely non-white races, often become stereotyped and believed to be flawed. Thus, racial problems are actually due to the dominant race applying negative characteristics to the subordinate races. They become seen as the “other” race, the outsiders. This keeps the “other” races from having an even playing field in society. This benefits white Americans and distances the problems of minorities from white society.
The media also plays a crucial role in applying negative characteristics to “other” races. For instance, many Asian Americans who have been born in the and have always lived there are still seen as foreigners. They are believed to be submissive and to have an accent. In movies, Asian Americans are portrayed as a model minority who depend on whites and have an excellent work ethic. However, the media portrays African Americans as criminals. They are stereotyped as lazy and lacking a good work ethic. These negative characteristics that the media perpetuates shape the opinions of many white Americans.
For African Americans and Latino Americans another disadvantage is the problem with housing. Ghettos were built to segregate them from the white world and to keep them from accessing resources. This creates a form of institutionalized racism that is support by the American government. The ghettos cause them to grow up in an environment where “poverty and joblessness are the norm” (Apartheid, 2). Living in such an environment reduces the chances of raising their socioeconomic status. They are not taught to value education and are unaccustomed to economic success. This causes cumulative disadvantages-that is, living in a ghetto leads to lower education, which leads to further poverty. It is a continuous cycle that is transferred from generation to generation. Also, unemployment and poverty lead to immobility, which causes the ghetto to be a trap that is nearly impossible to escape. This causes feelings of hopelessness that keeps the under privileged from becoming self-sufficient resulting in persistent poverty.
Within these ghettos “Black English” thrives. It consists of many slang terms and deviates in pronunciation from Standard American English. This creates a disadvantage for many African Americans in the labor market and educational institutions. “Black English”, as discussed in American Apartheid isolates them from white Americans who either cannot understand or do not approve of a deviated form of Standard American English. As a result, many African Americans are not able to succeed or advance in the labor market. Instead, jobs go to educated whites.
Disadvantages lead to low morale and negativity. Negativity towards education and working perpetuates further negativity. It allows violence to continue and success to be squelched. Violence serves as an outward sign of these disadvantages. It contributes to a low morale and increases the difficulty of a low socioeconomic status. According to one person quoted in When Work Disappears, “If you around totally negative people, people who are not doing anything, that’s the way you gonna be regardless” (Work, 8). With low morale, many minorities feel that they are not receiving respect, so they seek respect by force. Many subordinate groups “will come to view the possession of weapons as necessary or desirable for self protection, settling disputes, and gaining respect from peers and other individuals” (Work, 21). Thus, guns become a symbol of protection and respect. Also, community apathy and low involvement keeps violence and joblessness prevalent, which continues the cycle of low morale and negativity.
These disadvantages are elements of contemporary racism. Though more covert than racism of the past, contemporary racism exists in housing-as discussed with the problems of ghettos-healthcare, and environment. Minorities receive less healthcare than white Americans due to the cost of insurance. A low socioeconomic status prevents them from affording insurance and healthcare in general. This creates a division between the services given to minorities and to white Americans. Also, due to the location of ghettos and other low value housing units, they receive higher amounts of pollution than white Americans. Polluting industries and busy freeways are often located near minority neighborhoods; “The combination of exposure to environmental hazards and unemployment discrimination establishes a sinister correlation between race and health” (White, 68). Thus, contemporary practices contribute to the inequality of the races.
The myth of better employment and conditions in the appeals to many Mexicans. Many of them are displaced workers due to NAFTA. However, they soon realize the hardships of working in the Often, they are given menial jobs such as: housekeeping, agricultural positions, and other hard labor positions. The harsh conditions of the low wage labor economy go “unnoticed” by the government due to the need for cheap labor. In fact, the border patrol is lessened during times of economic growth due to the increased need for labor. Therefore, American immigration laws allow for racial exploitation for economic gain thereby continuing racist practices.
Disadvantages, low socioeconomic status, and urban housing all contribute to contemporary racism. The continuation of these practices allows racism to persist. Until all people of all races and ethnic groups become actively involved in ending contemporary racism, the discrimination practices will continue. White Americans bare much of the burden. They have the access to resources and power that can remove racial inequality from American society and end the cycle of contemporary racism.
Massey, Douglas S., Denton, Nancy A. American Apartheid: Segregation and theMaking of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1993.
Rothenberg, Paula S. White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism. New York: Worth Publishers, 2002.
Wilson, William J. When Work Disappears: the World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Random House, Inc., 1996.