Monday, September 10, 2007

Privilege, Oppression, and Difference

Allan G. Johnson’s thesis of this article is that the real illusion connected to difference is the popular assumption that people are naturally afraid of what they don’t know or understand. This supposedly makes it inevitable that you’ll fear and distrust people who aren’t like you and, in spite of your good intentions; you’ll find it all but impossible to get along with them (p.13).

Johnson’s article states that it is the perception of how people view one another that causes the difference in privileges between people, not the races. If we feel afraid, it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know (p.13). Though this is not always the case, i.e., when the Native Americans when the first settlers came upon American soil. People who are not part of one’s own group are viewed as different, partially because they are afraid of those different than themselves. The idea that “everyone is naturally frightened by difference is a cultural myth that, more than anything, justifies keeping outsiders on the outside and treating them badly if they happen to get in” (p.13). The Native Americans first welcomed the New England settlers with open arms. But in return the New Englanders became dominant over the Native Americans, because the purely “think” that they are more superior to these people, and should be treated as such, despite their generous hospitalities. Also, people are made up of various different qualities that may be more or less easy to judge just by a first glance. The diversity wheel is made up of six social characteristics: age, race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and qualities (left/right-handedness, height, and so on), and sexual orientation. Around the outer ring are others, including religion, marital and parental status, and social-class indicators such as education, occupation, and income (p.14). These qualities are not easy to decipher when just glancing at a person walking out on the street. Sure, one can define some characteristics such as gender and race easily, but to completely define someone requires actually getting to know the person. Johnson also says that if one wakes up one day and suddenly changed gender, race, or anything within the inner part of the diversity wheel, the way others perceive that person is most likely to change. For most people “shifting only a few parts of the diversity wheel would be enough to change their lives dramatically” (p.15). The specs outside of the wheel don’t dramatically alter the perception from others as much as the ones on the inner wheel, because unlike the outer portion of the wheel, the inner portion consists of characteristics that, one way or another, we must learn to live with regardless of how we choose to reveal ourselves to others (p.16).

Johnson states in his article that a late African American novelist James Baldwin believes that there is no such thing as whiteness or, for that matter, blackness or, more generally, race. “No one is white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country” (Baldwin). I agree with this statement, that it seems that America is one of the only places that set labels to people based on their skin color and race. For example, in Africa, and African female would be considered an African, and a woman. Though in America, she would gain the title of “black”, so she would be considered a black woman, and be perceived and how a black woman would be in America. Overall, labeling someone “black” or “white” should not count when identifying someone due to certain specs of one self. These colors are not on the diversity wheel Johnson offers as well, so therefore color classification should not exist. Unfortunately, since the time of the New England settlers, these colors have been integrated in the America’s culture with respect to classifying people based on their outside looks.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this article. I thought that the diversity wheel and the different spec about people and the various characteristics that can define a person’s unique structure. I also found it interesting about the different privileges he listed that some people have over others just because they are a certain type in the inner section of the diversity wheel, such as being a heterosexual, and a male. Johnson also does a very good job explaining about the cultural creation of how we perceive others and the social construction within our society. I found this article very informative about the diversity factors within our country.

No comments: