How to Improve Race Relations in the United States Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1907 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Race

Race Relations and Racism

Racism is a disease, a historical ill, a disorder of the historical self... [and] it is the outcome of the West's assault upon the living world to create this idolatrous property, of an attempt, existing beneath white rationalizations, to take back from the world what we fancy was taken from us in the process of separation." - Joel Kovel, White Racism,

What should and could be done to improve relations between African-Americans and the Caucasian-Americans (of European heritage)? This is a question that has been addressed for centuries in the United States with varying degrees of sincerity and cooperation and little concrete success to show for the effort. However, there are known strategies that may very well be helpful in at least reducing the tension between "blacks" and "whites" and those will be reviewed in this paper. Also addressed in this paper will be the facts of racism through the years in the U.S.

Brief Look at Racism in History

In Joe R. Feagin's book, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, the author provides scholarly background into the issue of racism. He quotes from one of the great philosophers of the 18th Century, a highly respected and frequently referenced scholar, Immanuel Kant. Considered the "major Western philosopher" of his day, according to Feagin (p. 80), Kant said, "...Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race." Feagin goes on (p. 81) to explain "At this early point, European philosophy and philosophical anthropology were grounded in ideas about the supremacy of the white race..."

Indeed, in 1789, Feagin continues, the Encyclopedia Britannica, presumed to be a beacon of objective historical credibility, wrote that "Negroes" were an "unhappy race" and that they were given to "idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance" (Feagin, 81). In early America, Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy as a fierce proponent of justice and liberty, wrote that blacks "...are alleged to favor white beauty" (Feagin paraphrasing Jefferson, p. 79) as "uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan [Orangutan] for the black women over those of his own species" (Jefferson quote, p. 79). Moreover, it was Jefferson's belief that blacks are "...inferior to whites in reasoning, imagination, and beauty" (Feagin paraphrase, p. 79).

Assimilation Theories

In the textbook Racial and Ethnic Relations (Feagin & Feagin, pp. 250-251) the authors reference Milton Gordon and his optimistic idea about assimilation-oriented growth of the black middle class. Gordon views the black middle class as having been assimilated "at the cultural level" when it comes to language and the Protestant religion. That said, Gordon does not however believe there is much "erosion" of prejudice or discrimination" (Feagin et al., 250.

Sociologist Talcott Parsons - according to the Feagin text - does not see blacks or other ethnic cultures becoming part of a "slavish Anglo-conformity assimilation" (in other words, assimilation into the American culture does not mean having to live and think like white folks). Parsons goes on to say (Feagin, 251) that the "only tolerable solution" to the problem of racial tension in the U.S. will be the "constituting a single community with full membership for all." That sounds very idealistic, but perhaps idealism (such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy) is the only key to unlock the doors that block racial fairness and acceptance.

Sociologist Nathan Glazer (Feagin, 251) believes that the assimilation of black folks in the U.S. "into the core economy and society is well under way." The biggest hurtle for black citizens in terms of assimilation is for those in the "troubled black underclass, whose difficulties are not primarily questions of current discrimination."

Systemic Racism

The systemic system of prejudice alludes to "core racist realities" that are manifested "in each of society's major parts," Feagin explains (p. 6). Racism is both an individual experience and it is systemic; "Indeed," Feagin goes on, "systemic racism is perpetuated by a broad social reproduction process that generates...recurring patterns of discrimination" (Feagin, p. 6).

Recent Institutional Systemic Racism

One hundred and forty-four years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, racism is still present in every day society, but is racism an institutional problem in the United States? Research into the issue of racism shows American institutions still make decisions, some which are lethal, based on race.

Racism is not confined to thoughts, utterances, and deeds," writes Robert Bernasconi in his book, Race & Racism in Continental Philosophy. Racism finds "...its most important embodiment in institutions," he continues (p. 6). Even in the institution of philosophy, Bernasconi writes, the "treatment of African philosophy, its exclusion or marginalization to the point that it seems in constant need of self-justification, is particularly painful."

Death Penalty Racism

It is a fact is that from the years 1930 to 1967, blacks "never made up more than 11.1% of the population" in the U.S., and never more than 24% in the South (Wicker, 1975). But though blacks were only 11.1% of the U.S. population, 48.8% of the men executed in that time frame were black, "and 67.5% of those put to death in the South were black."

Tom Wicker, writing in the New York Times in May, 1975, went on to point out that "even reprieve is discriminatory; in Pennsylvania, from 1914 to 1958, three times more white than black murderers had death sentences commuted."

Fast-forward to 2006: the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Statistics ("Capital Punishment Statistics") reports that in 2005, sixty individuals were executed in sixteen different states, including "...19 in Texas; 5 each in Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina; 4 in Ohio, Alabama and Oklahoma; 3 in Georgia and south Carolina; 2 in California; 1 in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, and Mississippi (www.ojp.usdog.gov/bjs/cp.htm).

Of the 60 persons executed in 2005, according to DOJ, 41 were white and 19 were black. And of those on death row in 2004, already sentenced to die and awaiting their executions, 1,850 were white, and 1,390 were black, according to the DOJ data. While this paper isn't saying that black men are being executed just because they are black, the data is disturbing.

Improving Race Relations Through Education: Problems Facing Schools

An article published in the journal Social Work by authors Paula T. Tanemura Morelli and Michael S. Spencer emphasizes research into multicultural education (MCE) and antiracist education (ARE). The article (published in 2000) explains that there are signs that MCE is helping to shift away from old-style thinking in education (assimilation by all cultures into how white people live and think) and into a style of teaching that reflects the "experiences, history, cultures and perspectives of our pluralistic society." This shift must continue, if society is to become a place where all cultures are contributors and participants, the authors suggest; and in order to reach that goal the shift in classroom strategies must include "content integration, participation by the student's family and community in the knowledge construction process" and also, equality in the teaching process and a school culture that can be empowered.

There are critics of MCE, however, and they point to the fact that too often MCE results in "a superficial, limited awareness of ethnically diverse cultures" and an "insufficient understanding about the dynamics of power relationships" that have a lot to do with shaping culture. Meantime, as a major goal in schools ARE attempts to "end racism in individuals and institutions"; how that can be done, the authors continue, is by "directly confronting prejudice through the discussion of past and present racism, stereotyping, and discrimination in society."

That sounds fairly straight forward, but the article goes on to state that MCE and ARE were "not very successful in reducing prejudice" or racism. And so the authors conducted research involving teachers from five school districts from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Forty-four respondents (13 principals; 1 VP; 1 management person; 14 teachers, 13 counselors and 2 school social workers) participated from elementary, middle school and high school levels of education.

The racial diversity in these chosen schools ranged from about 2% to 40% ethnic minorities (African-Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, etc.). The survey results show that 90% of respondents reported "incidents of bigotry or racism" during the three years prior to the study. In three of the five school districts, respondents reported that "racial jokes" were tolerated "among teachers." Sixty-one percent of respondents to the survey were "not aware of state policies" that call for the reduction or elimination of racism in schools.

A majority of respondents indicated they preferred MCE to ARE; many felt that ARC strategies were "confrontational" and called for "radical changes in community attitudes" which it was believed were not possible. The upshot of this research? The authors believe there is an "acute need" in public schools for the following:

Explicit policies at the state level that address bigotry"; uniform dissemination of the policies along with "educational curricula"; "community education" about the "long-term effects of racism"; training for teachers; and research and evaluation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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