Race and Ethnicity Despite Its Many Claims Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2094 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race

Race and Ethnicity

Despite its many claims and indeed efforts to the contrary, the United States of America has always been a country of division and segregation. Race, gender and class differences thus even today play an important role in the construction of society, ethnicity and indeed the social construction of prejudicial views. This means that these prejudicial views regarding the superiority or inferiority of any group of people are socially rather than biologically constructed (Lorber in Rothenburg, 2004, p. 54). The tragic thing about such social constructs is the fact that children grow up without critically examining the potentially erroneous views with which they grew up. Indeed, young boys and girls often grow up voicing and strengthening within themselves the very prejudices advocated to them by their parents. The derogatory phrase, "like a girl" (Messner in Rothenburg, 2004, p. 57), is an example of this. Such expressions signify the deep-seated inequalities still prevalent in society, and how these are reinforced in the young generation.

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Jean Baker Miller (in Rothenburg, 2004, p. 86) focuses her attention on issues of superiority and inferiority in terms of inequality. She uses the parent-child relationship in order to expound her views on how the unequal relationship should work in society. Parents have a superior position to their children, until the latter are mature enough to leave the home. They are then fairly equal to the parents in terms of being grown up. When thinking about class differences then, the ideal is to maintain a superior position to lower classes, and to help them until they have achieved a roughly equal footing with the superior class. This is however where society abandons its duties towards the less fortunate. Indeed, Calvinism and what Rothenburg calls social Darwinism tend to make of temporarily unequal relationships permanent ones.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Race and Ethnicity Despite Its Many Claims Assignment

Gender and race inequalities are not this easy to address. They are grouped under the term "permanent inequality." The superior group maintains its position as a result of preconceived notions that are sociologically programmed into the collective consciousness, taught to children and accepted in society as a whole. These notions are then triggered by the visual stimuli of skin color and/or gender differences. The notion of difference from the other in society is also closely integrated with the image of the self. Each person has a self-image that directly relates to society and its constructs (Rothenburg, 2004, p. 5).

When others are perceived as inferior as a result of gender, race, or class, the perceiver is likely to see him- or herself as superior in comparison. Conversely, when growing up with the notion of inferiority within oneself as a result of prejudice from the "superior" group, the person is more than likely to spend a lifetime in the belief that he or she is inferior to the other group. Identity then also plays a very important role in inequalities of all kinds.

Identity entails a variety of factors, including the above-mentioned bases of inequality, namely race, gender and class. Identity, self-concept and the concept of others are then also closely interlinked. One's self-concept then is directly related to one's skin color, gender and class, and this also determines one's concept of others in relation to the self. These notions of identity in relation to prejudice and to other members of society are to be considered with regard to the film "Postville: A Clash of Culture." The specific question to be addressed is to what extent superiority contributes towards the conflict in the film, and to what extent an attempt at a paradigm of equality could have prevented this. It is furthermore interesting to note the close parallel in terms of superior self-concept as well as segregation that can be seen within both the Jewish and the local communities in Postville.

The town of Postville is described by Bloom (p. 1) as a friendly and neighborly community before the arrival of the Jews. It is interesting to note that a hierarchy is almost immediately established when the Jews enter town. Another interesting element is that not all of the locals were feeling hostile towards the Jews, although this is an ethnic group frequently victimized by prejudice. This particular group of Jews were however more welcome than most, as they were to save the town from ruin by buying the old slaughterhouse and providing jobs for those losing their agricultural positions. Thus the newcomers are a welcome relief in terms of money. Indeed, Torrey Kelly, the real estate business owner, has increased his sales significantly with their arrival. He is also one of the first to advocate that the Jews should be welcomed rather than viewed with suspicion. He shows an open-mindedness displayed by few other persons in the town. Nonetheless, as mentioned above, the conflict starts nearly right away.

The Jews view themselves as absolutely superior over the locals of the town. They make no effort to mingle with the townspeople, or to be friendly in anyway. In fact, they make an effort to the contrary, doing their best to shun any attempt at friendliness. Their sense of identity is extremely strong, and this is also shown in their tendency towards self-concepts of extreme superiority as opposed to the extreme inferiority of others. This includes women within the Jewish group itself.

Segregation in terms of both religion and gender occurs within the Jewish group as well as in relation to the community they have moved into. Because they so openly shun the local people, the Jews soon find themselves shunned in turn. Furthermore segregation occurs in the community of both old and young Jews. Boys and girls are not allowed to mingle, and even receive their education separately. This clearly implies that Jewish women are seen as inferior to men, and that they are not worthy of the same level of education. Furthermore in general society, men and women are also separated in their recreational and religious activities. Women are for example not allowed to shake hands, and they attend synagogue services separately from the men.

It thus appears that the paradigm of superiority and a sense of hierarchy are deeply ingrained in the Jewish tradition, to the disgust of the townspeople; especially those who made an effort to be friendly and open. This segregation becomes all the more poignant when rules come into play. Bloom (p. 5) mentions the assertion by a local that, in order to live harmoniously within Postville, the Jews must follow the same rules as everyone else, because there could not be two sets of rules. This is indicative of the inflexibility already displayed by the Jews. Further evidence of this elitism is found in Lazar and Schlome's conversation. Lazar discourages her from asking questions or finding any other viewpoints than those encouraged by the Jews. Lazar claims that this is the only valid way of life, as it is superior to all other ways and all other opinions (Bloom, p. 11). For Lazar his sense of Jewish identity is extremely important, while Schlome's sense of the same identity is faltering in favor of integrating with life and culture in Postville. Schlome is however not representative of the Jews in their collective capacity, and most of them refuse absolutely to either share their culture or learn more about the culture of the local people. The inflexibility of most Jews however, as well as their unwillingness to follow the local rules, hardly endear them to the local population.

Nonetheless, the paradigm of segregation is equally clear among the townspeople of Postville. Indeed, the Norwegians, Catholics and Lutherans all formed their own groups in which they moved. At school Catholic girls for example would not date Norwegian boys. This is once again a manifestation of prejudice resulting from origins. It is assumed that certain population groups possess certain characteristics - whether desirable or less so - and that the assumed less desirable qualities would deter them from mixing with each other.

Further representative of the conflict is Cliff Olson, a retired car salesman, who becomes a personal chauffeur for the Jews. The local townspeople view this in a very negative light, and refer to Cliff as the "Jews' errand boy" (Bloom, p. 8). Cliff is also Norwegian, and therefore singled out as inferior to the rest of the Townspeople, regardless of the fact that he is the third-generation American of his family. He is nonetheless the first to break away from the town tradition to take the opportunity offered by the Jews. In this case the self-concept of superiority is evident in the Townspeople.

Contrasted with the rather contrived sense of superiority experienced by both Jews and local people, is a tendency to feel inferior. Usually those attempting to be open-minded and to share their cultures are made to feel this way by the rest of their respective populations. Schlome for example is the subject of Lazar's superiority complex, and in the same way Cliff Olson suffers at the hands of his fellow citizens.

Another interesting parallel that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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