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September 7, 2008

What is Normal? What is Privilege?

What is the definition of “normal?? According to our selected readings from Ore for this week, normal, or normativity, is defined by a set of socially defined norms and values. In the West, (and by West I mean Eurocentric societies such as the United States), our understanding of normal is centered around the normativity of the middle-class (or elite), white, heterosexual, (predominately) Christian male. This organization of the social structure places the prototypical white man at the top of the social hierarchy, and any deviation from this construction of normativity is labeled “Other? and therefore undesirable or deviant, perpetually placed in a subservient position on the social hierarchy. Establishing a set of normative values in any society creates a system of power and privilege unequally (and unfairly) distributed along an ascending/descending scale of oppression and marginalization.

In other words, this social hierarchy can be thought of as the Matrix of Domination, in which everyone is caught up in through either their position of relative privilege or oppression within society. This Matrix is a complex structure that governs the lives of everyone within society, made more powerful by its relative invisibility. This is also the way that privilege works in a social, institutional, and systemic way; through the invisibility of how privilege is parceled out along the socially constructed hierarchy. For example, many lower-class struggling white college students fail to see how they are privileged through their whiteness; how society has been created to make their ascension from “rags-to-riches? (AKA the American Dream) easier and more plausible than say your lower-class African American, or African immigrant.

As a poor, lower-class, Bi-sexual, Black, single mother in the American context, my positions within the social hierarchy are manifold and represent multiple layers of oppression and marginalization. This means that I am not just part of an oppressed group because I am “Black? (race) or because I am a “woman? (gender) or because I am “poor? (class) or “Bi? (sexuality). All of these factors work together, simultaneously, to create a constantly shifting social position of marginalization within the society that we live in. This also creates a mountain of obstacles to overcome in trying to live my own version of the so-called American dream, obstacles that some people are never able to overcome because of their peripheral status to what is considered “normative?.

One of the tricky things about privilege, power, oppression, and marginalization is that they can all manifest in different contexts within the same individual at different times. For example, let’s consider Barak Obama. His categorization as being “Black? places him in a subversive or oppressed group racially. Yet his gender (male) places him in a position of privilege, as does his upper-class, heterosexual and Christian group identity. In different contexts, his position of relative privilege places him in a higher socio-economic position on the social hierarchy than say a Black, middle-class woman, or a white lower-class woman. Yet he is simultaneously placed in a subordinate status to a white upper/middle class heterosexual male. All of these positions are based on/defined by the social construction of normativity.

What do you consider to be normal? How have these thoughts and opinions been formed through your interactions with society? Through the readings for the week, has your opinion about what you considered normal changed? Are there any commonly held beliefs that you have come to realize are based on the fabrication of normative values? Please discuss.

September 11, 2008

Invisible and Silent

To understand the text being read I was taught to circle or make note of words that are used repeatedly. While reading these stories and excerpts from different peoples personal experiences I began to see a trend in which almost all of the authors used the term silence or invisible. I believe that any person experiencing inequality has these types of feelings. Whether the issues have to deal with race, gender, class or sexuality any person feeling discriminated towards has the feeling that they are invisible or silenced by the negative attitudes that they encounter.
As it has been discussed in class we see that these issues of race, gender, class and sexuality have been both positively and negatively etched into our society, its institutions and our everyday life. Through out these stories each author has dealt with the feeling of invisibility. I think that many people who deal with any one of these issues have had this sensation at one point or another. Inevitably it is how each person chooses to respond to this inequality that makes them who they are. Whether these people choose to become activists or silent supporters each person has dealt with this feeling at some point throughout their life.
There were two issues of silence that were looked at through out these different stories. One issue is the silence of the people seeing this inequality without being directly involved. “White people know they do not want to be labeled racist; they become concerned with how to avoid that label, rather than worrying about systemic racism and how to change it?(Davis; Wildman, 617). Whether or not you are directly affected by racism people need to understand that being silent is not helping the problem, if you choose to ignore the situation you are being just as destructive. People of all colors, races and ethnicities need to not be so afraid of talking about this situation, because discussing the problem and can only help and educate. The second issue to silence is the people who are silenced by the discrimination no matter who the discriminator might be. “We didn’t spend much time in workshops conducted by the other third world people because of feeling un-welcomed at the conference and demoralized by having an invisible presence. What’s worse than being invisible among your own kind??(Cameron, 669). As this quote suggests, discrimination doesn’t necessarily need to come from a certain group or creed, but can come from virtually anywhere or anyone.
As we see how people are affected by discrimination we need to be aware and not allow ourselves or others to become silent and invisible. With these reactions we allow these practices and beliefs to continue. To help create a more safe environment we need to help take a stance against those who do not realize that what makes people different is what makes them magnificent.

September 13, 2008

Difference and Inequality in Everyday Life

The various personal accounts in the assigned readings help unveil the discrepancies in America’s social hierarchy. They prove that Americans have a long way to go from becoming a society with equal advantage. Issues of race, class, gender, sex, appearance, size, and language are just a few points that prove to play a pivotal role in the daily lives of Americans. These subordinate groups cause friction with societal norms, which forces them to become amongst the disadvantaged. From there, these oppressed groups may experience internalized oppression, where members may come to a point of denial of their less privileged place in society. Another external factor, which may lead to this denial, involves the matter of stereotyping, which occurs through social expectations of the subordinate group. These issues become even more complex when an individual is a member of multiple disadvantaged groups and is faced with issues on numerous levels. The individual stories in the readings exemplify how multiple places in the social hierarchy can affect an individual in complex ways.

The dynamic story of a woman who experienced these societal discrepancies was given in “The Story of My Body?, where intersections of race class and gender were unveiled. In her case, Ortiz-Cofer showed the magnitude of American societies categorization of her Puerto Rican heritage. I found the contrasting racial categorizations most compelling in her story, through her illustrations of racial differences from America to Puerto Rico. In American culture, race highly depends on strict distinctions of extremities between races. Black versus White, Japanese versus Black, and Latino versus White are few examples of American categorization of race, which seldom include multiracial identities. Latin America, on the other hand, does include the same type of differences. The distinctions of color of skin aren’t as clear-cut in countries such as Puerto Rico. These ideals are shown through Ortiz-Cofer’s observations of color from region to region. She noticed that the conversation about multiracial people was a more common topic in Puerto Rico than in the U.S. Her race was recognized with a positive connotation in her native land, which was not given a positive view in America. Also in Latino culture, race is salient by phenotype, to a more extreme degree than Americans recognize phenotype. Due to this vast majority of levels of distinction of race, persons can be categorized as different races, even within families as Ortiz-Cofer noted.

This Latin American distinction of race appears to make race a less salient factor upon interactions with one another in Puerto Rico. Although American culture and Latino culture currently share the same issues of dominant and subordinate races, the terms used in Latin America present more of a term of endearment rather than negative implications. The “one drop rule? seems less apparent in Latino culture due to the fact that they recognize races based on many mixtures, where in the U.S. it is based on the extreme social categorizations of race and the multiracial identity is left out.

September 15, 2008

To be found among many...

What happens on a daily basis is only of personal concern when we, as a general public, decide to take special note of events in our mind. The minor, almost unimportant, details that people tend to look over or graze by can be the most important detail to be picked out. Where is Waldo? Why does that book cover so much interest for kids and even adults now? Simply, find Waldo in a massive crowd of events. The personal stories found in the readings are much like Waldo. How can we pick out issues on race, gender, and class if individuals are not looking for the problem? The readings bring forth this theme in my mind of those "isms" that cover the real problems about sex, gender, and class. Those that benefit from the structure that is placed in society are not interested in finding the issues. Rather, we notice that there is social injustice and do not pursue an answer.
The stories from the reading invoke a feeling of understanding and displeasure. I find that i can relate to some of the stories in minor and major ways. As a heterosexual-Asian-male, i have suffered and benefited from the system that America lives in. The stories allow me to understand some hardships that i have encountered to almost seem common among my own life experiences. For the few who have lived in a Hmong community, or even experienced the bond within my culture, my "americanized" life style to the Hmong family traditions are at contradicting pulls. To feel out of place and in place from one day to the next, I can understand such sympathy and discourse. But similar to the many stories that we read, i feel that i have placed this issue of race on a back burner of my mind to be dealt with in a later time of life. I have come to accept the fact that we are all different and that these differences are major parts in building our character and how we live our lives. This double-edge effect of race, gender, and class is just a common part of my life for now. I win and i lose from the system.
I find that i reflect best with the story of the lady from India who was finding her roots and trying to figure out what it meant to be a feminist-indian-woman in America. Her closing note about being everything all at the same time despite the many views of others around her is how my life is justified in the balancing game of our social structure. I am an American. I am a Hmong Male. I am a College Student. I am a Heterosexual. I am what has been and what will be. We shape our lives by the experience and outlook at life. I am the one next to Waldo, smiling and waiting to be found.
So i have these concerns and questions: Do you realize this social injustice? Do you think a change within the system is possible within our life time? Can another person understand another without experiencing similar events in life?

'Black is Beautiful'-So Act Like It!

It is not that people of color are defined as different from whites in the United States but that whites are viewed as superior and as the cultural standard against which all others are judged that transforms categories of race ‘differences’ into a system of racial ‘inequality’ (Ore, 2)

Reading this quote, I grew frustrated! To know and understand the people I know as my cultural sisters and brothers, as well as my self, as being people who make common practice of denouncing our African-American culture, to live up to-or so we have been mislead to think-the Caucasian-American culture. From the straightening of our natural nappy roots; to the “properness? within our voices; to the hatred towards one another, I have come to know the external aspect of my culture as being infested with conformity.

It’s a tough pill for me to swallow when I walk past a seemingly African-American person, and I receive a look of disdain. How could it be you feel I-your cultural brother-is not worthy of a courteous hello (etc), yet if a Caucasian person were to be me, you would hurriedly say hello?

I feel occurrences of the above happen, because African-Americans feel they have to let other African-Americans know whom is a more dominant person, via rejection. I believe the people of my culture strive for domination over one another, as a result of the hardships and domination bestowed upon us (African-American folk), from Caucasian America.

I once stayed in a very nice hotel with other people of the African Diaspora. We were there for a few days. Throughout our stay at the hotel, one of the women stressed how we should act a certain way, not talk too loud, etc because, “…the white people are here so act like y'all got some sense!? I disgustingly thought: “Y'all be good now, massa’ goin’ get us if we act a fool!? Why should I alter the way I truly am to adhere to the norms/values of those that oppress me, you, as well as others, as a result of their white privilege? Are you so envious of the “colorless? you will denounce who you truly are?

Why do we straighten our hair, yet exclaim ‘Black is beautiful’? How can you feel, “Black is beautiful,? when you have your “black? hair straightened-not in it’s natural state? I am curious to know if we straighten our hair, because our natural nappy hair is too painful to style, or because we are conforming to whom we see as majority?

I look at the beautiful Black women and men on our campus and ponder their reasons for straight hair. Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Phyllis Wheatley didn’t have access/a need to/for a straightening comb, or a perm. I am guilty of straightening my hair, and ask myself: why do you feel straighter hair looks and/or feels better than your natural hair?

If we don’t start standing for one another, we are going to continue to FALL for anyone!