How Race Is Apart of Everyday Life Essay

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¶ … Narrative Ethnography

The readings on ethnography suggest that when approaching a personal narrative on ethnography one should formulate "an ethnographic topic study" -- and for me that would entail putting my life, my ethnic culture, my employment and my socially-related culture into some perspective. Ethnography involves embracing "Patterns of cultural thought…" that my work associates, my neighbors, my colleagues at school and my family share with reference to racial matters. The readings (pp. 200-201) reflect the idea that scholarly studies on culture, psychology, sociology and contemporary values don't generally research "how laypeople in their everyday lives perceive and experience racial identity in relation to concept of 'blood,' 'genes,' or 'the environment.' The point is that people are not necessarily "deterministic in thinking about race in relation to biology and genes…" the way scientists tend to be.

And I am certainly a "lay person" with little or not involvement in psychological, anthropological or sociological research into racial identities or genes but I do understand where I am within the greater American culture and within the subculture of African-Americans.

The African-American Culture -- My Part in That Culture

Professor Hugh J. Scott of Pace University in New York writes that "The importance of African-American culture does not depend on it differences from other people, but simply for its own reality." My own reality is my reality, and I don't necessarily talk about it openly with friends or colleagues, because we are very busy at work and attention is focused on what our tasks are, not on how we feel about our cultures or others' cultures.

My view of culture is based on where I work, where I live, where I went to school and how I interact with those individuals. The people I know and interact with are part of the American culture, a diverse collection of people whose ancestors came from nations and cultures throughout the world. So basically I am a member of an American subculture, just as Asian-Americans are a part of a subculture, and as Mexican-Americans and Native Americans as well.

Except on rare days when I'm thinking about history or the American experience, the fact that my ancestors were brought in bondage to this country -- hideously evil though that was -- does not enter into my thinking. I don't walk down the street or into my workplace, see a white person, and wonder if he or she is a racist. Nor do I pass judgment on people who are different than me in skin color, in cultural dress, or in other particulars. Live and let live is close to my approach to other cultures, but perhaps a better way to describe my attitude is the "golden rule" (do unto others the way you would want to them treat you).

I will say that I am moved by historical films that portray how the slave trade was established and how the American economy in the pre-Civil War era depended on the hundreds of thousands of slaves working the cotton fields and the tobacco fields. The film that was particularly sad and tragic for me was Amistad, the Steven Spielberg movie about slave trading. It took place in 1839, and the hurtful sight of all those human beings kidnapped from Africa has stayed in my memory banks, as I am sure it has for anyone with a heart that watched the movie. The brutally callous scenes where were chained in the hold of the ship, forced to live in their own feces and squalor was heartbreaking.

But the most poignant scene, the most memorable and fateful scene, was when the ship was running low on food so they had to get rid of some of the prisoners. And so a number of kidnapped souls were brought up on deck, kept on the chain, and with heavy anchors attached, were allowed to be dragged into the deep water and drown while still attached to their awful chains. That is a scene every bit as ruthless as the Germans herding European Jews into the ovens to die from poisonous gas.

Where I live and how I interact with people

Frankly I do not have many encounters with racism. I live in a middle class black neighborhood and have not been exposed to many overtly hateful experiences based on the color of my skin. I am the subject of curiosity though, because of my appearance. I am a black female with green eyes and curly hair. Often people believe that I must be of mixed blood -- that I have ethnicity based on just about anything and everything but African-American. My features are exotic and I carry myself with pride (so much so that some people think I'm stuck up). Once people meet me and talk to me they know find out I do not have my nose turned up at all, in fact I consider myself a warm and welcoming person.

People see that after speaking with me but when I was in school in an all black lower socioeconomic community, I always felt weird and out of place because of the stares (due to my exotic appearance). In fact I have been made a little uneasy by the fact that people, white or black, come up and ask me if my eyes are "real" and they ask if they can touch my hair. I know they are curious in most cases and don't mean to offend me, but curiousity gets the best of them and I do stand out in a crowd, so that goes with the territory.

The Chapter five preview in the readings explains that the history of racial relations in this country has been one of "distorted representations by social scientists who were driven to objectify the 'real' or 'authentic' core of a singular, homogeneous black culture." In that context, the book's narrative asks that I avoid ("By all means") the urge to reproduce the "pathologizing perspective on blackness." I do not carry around in my heart or spirit any pathological obsessions about blackness -- or whiteness, or brownness -- at all. I leave that to the so-called social experts, the psychologists, the anthropologists and all the other scholars whose job it is to dissect the American culture. I have known through most of my life that there is no "singular, homogeneous black culture," and I am also aware that the same is true with Caucasians, with Latinos and other subcultures. I have always tried hard to resist racial stereotyping, or cultural stereotyping, because it hurts when someone pins a stereotype on anyone else.

My friends in the black community rarely discuss with me politics or religion, and in fact we talk about what young people everywhere probably talk about -- entertainment (movies, music, etc.) and sports (football, baseball, the NBA, etc.). We (my friends who are black) do not feel as though we have been discriminated against. My parents on the other hand are very much into politics. They are successful, retired, and live in an upper middle class neighborhood. They watch CNN 24/7 and are very much aware of politics at the national and regional level. Of course they voted for Barack Obama, and they have supported many of his proposals and legislation (though not all).

My parents watched the whole healthcare debate, including the highly negative response many conservatives and others had toward Obama's legislation on improving the healthcare system in the U.S. My parents were shocked at some of the mean spirited attacks on Obama and his plans; for example, people showing up at town hall meetings with signs saying Obama is a Nazi, showing up with weapons, it was unbelievable and seemed to have a racial tone to it.

Most of all I believe my parents were shocked at the obviously well-orchestrated disruptions that the "tea party" or others in the far right displayed during the meetings with various legislators, who tried to have a civil dialog with constituents about healthcare, but were shouted down and cursed by a very loud and abusive minority in those meetings. This country needed laws to protect people from being dumped by their insurance companies, and Obama tried hard to get it done, but it was like he was doing something to hurt rather then to help.

My parents grew up in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights era, and they have seen how racism has affected many blacks in America. So, they have done everything in their power to make sure their own children do not become statistics. They always openly discuss politics and government with me, and we have a very good relationship.

Earlier in this narrative I indicated that I haven't had any overtly racist acts thrown in my face, and that my black friends and I rarely encounter any personally offensive racial innuendos. That having been said, I do believe that institutional and corporate racism is real and I am aware of that dynamic at my workplace. I work… [END OF PREVIEW]

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