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Analysis of Essays Dealing With Race Class Gender and PowerArticle Critique

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¶ … Color is Jesus?

"What Color is Jesus?" is James McBride's memoir of the journey to self-acceptance. The author notes the struggles with being bi-racial, including going through the pain of self-hatred due to his not fitting neatly into the preconceived compartments of race or ethnicity. Only when his own child begins to reveal signs of similar psychological struggle does the author realize how important it is to just be human and proud of who one is and to resist the temptation to internalize experiences of prejudice and hatred that might have plagued him or his parents. The essay raises important questions about the social construction of identity via race, gender, and socioeconomic class constructs.

The themes McBride discusses include those related not only to being biracial but also to gender, religion, and social class. His mother isolates herself from her family of origin because not only did she marry a man from a different racial background but also left Judaism and converted to Christianity. As a result, she was disowned; her mother actually sat shiva for her. The author remains remarkably and noticeably ambivalent about his Jewish heritage, and at times almost comes across as the proverbial "self-hating Jew," even as he more readily acknowledges "running" from being either black or white.

Similarly, the author's navigation of social status via his choice of occupation is a major theme running through the essay. When his stepfather dies, McBride goes through significant anguish thinking about what his stepfather might have thought about his desire to become a jazz musician. His identity crisis is underscored by his flitting between music and journalism, but is externally expressed through his experiences of straddling two radically different worlds: the world of a Jew and the world of a black man.

McBride notes that in some cities, a melting pot identity is more feasible than in others and that Washington DC is "a town split right down the middle," which is a split identity that he had internalized throughout much of his life. Yet the author did not want to have to choose between being black and white, rich and poor. He just wanted to live, and for his family to be happy. "I hate it when people see my brown skin and assume that all I care about is gospel music and fried chicken and beating up the white man. I could care less. I'm too busy trying to live." He spends years of his life chasing the answer to the question of whether he is black or white, a question his parents would never dignify with an answer, and which he finally comes to recognize as the wrong question. The same internal struggle could be experienced with regards to one's gender.

McBride is not trying to suggest that one's heritage or biological background is unimportant to identity formation. Quite the contrary, the author readily embraces the path towards self-discovery through a deep understanding of one's parents, grandparents, and ancestors before them. In spite of his contradictions about his Jewish ancestry, the author spends a considerable amount of time discussing his mother. Yet McBride ultimately encourages a radical form of self-acceptance that comes not just in spite of, but because of, the personal conflict and contradiction that arise out of not conforming to social norms.

Essay 2: "A Touchy Subject"

Americans are "touchy" about the issue of social class, according to Paul Fussel. It is even a source of "outrage." Many Americans believe that social class stratification no longer exists in the United States, and that the country is a giant social experiment that obliterated the old class stratifications that exist in the Old World, like in Britain. Yet as the author points out, there is a deep irony in the American refusal to address the topic of social class. By denying that the question is a valid one, Americans show how important class remains in the society; "you reveal a great deal about your social class by the amount of annoyance or fury you feel when the subject is brought up," (p. 1). According to Fussel, the upper class tends to enjoy talking about the subject because they feel they are in a position of power and possess greater knowledge and critical thinking skills than other classes. The middle class becomes the most anxious when it comes to matters of social class status because members of the middle class are perched in a precarious role feeling they need to continually reaffirm their being "better" than those lower, and the "proletarians" simply "don't mind," (p. 2). Moreover, the author deftly points out the different ways people perceive of social class. Class is not necessarily defined by income or even occupation but the middle class tends to define class purely by one's occupation, the lower classes by money alone, and the upper class defines class by "taste, values, ideas, style, and behavior," (p. 2).

What Fussel's analysis reveals is that social class remains embedded in American society, even though many Americans cling to the myth that social class is a thing of the past or something that only other cultures practice. The myth of a classless society is as prevalent as the myth of a post-race society. Fussel concludes that the middle class is the true battleground of class consciousness in America, because it is in the middle that the greatest uneasiness occurs. People in the middle desire to achieve upward social mobility while resenting the lower classes for doing the same and simultaneously envying the upper classes for having already positioned themselves.

What Fussel misses is the abundant opportunities for class mobility that exist through the choices people make in their lives. For example, a higher education degree like a PhD would confer upon someone an automatic upper class designation, as would the achievement of a professional status like becoming a doctor or lawyer. Even changing the clothes one wears can help shatter commonly held stereotypes about class. Subverting class also remains a common means of challenging stereotypes about class. For example, Fussel points out that the revival of the guitar by hippies was in some ways a deliberate attempt to subvert social class stratification. A more recent example of the ways class is being subverted is by the embrace of body art and tattoo culture by members of the middle and upper class, given that tattoos were once considered either something "primitive" people did or something that members of the lowest rungs of society did like criminals and sailors.

Essay 3: "The 20th Century University is Obsolete."

The "20th century university" is obsolete, according to Minogue, because it has failed to keep up with prevailing trends in the global market. Clinging to an old model of operation, the 20th century university has failed to meet the needs of students requiring the best value for their money. For better or worse, education has become a profit-driven enterprise like any other. For-profit universities are the latest business trend worldwide, and are threatening to obliterate the traditional university that once relied on its status and prestige. While there are still a significant number of institutions that can bank on their brands, many others will find themselves struggling to maintain their reputation as their tuition prices skyrocket beyond the affordability of most people.

Traditionally, institutes of higher learning have evolved to meet the needs of the population and to keep on trend with social norms. The author traces the history of higher education institutions to the monastic traditions in the 10th century, for example, to show that the 20th century university was -- and still is -- a time-specific institution that must be understood within its social, historic, and political context. The institutes of higher learning that will thrive in the 21st century might be the profit-driven institutions that are working hard to meet the market demands of international students. The consumers -- students -- are demanding high value education that provides clear pathways to career success. The old model of an education for education's sake is becoming less attractive for many people. Romantic notions of the value of learning can only remain salient if the 20th century university changes its business model. It has long been a joke that graduating with a degree in English or philosophy will destine a person to a life of flipping burgers or working in academia to perpetuate the 20th century university. For this reason, fewer students are being encouraged to pursue a path of learning that propagates liberal arts institutes. If liberal arts institutions were to promote more professors or create more methods by which graduates could earn a viable living on the global market, then the 20th century institution might be able to survive.

The profit-driven university is distasteful to many students because it signals a world in which profit is valued more than knowledge, truth, or critical thinking. Therefore, it may be better for focus on the differences between traditional educational institutions like the liberal arts school and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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