This paper explores my power and privilege, according to my ability-level, sexual orientation and race in a multicultural American society and how a multicultural course (MCS105) has changed my life and perception to other social/cultural classes and norm groups of people such as the LGBT through application of the social construction theory.
The following essay addresses the topic on power and privilege in a multicultural context. I analysed myself according to Johnson’s Diversity Wheel on three categories namely; ability level, sexual orientation and race. I am non-disabled physically, heterosexual and Asian by race. According to Johnson’s Diversity Wheel these three aspects of categorizing people represent the inner ring by which people judge me even though I cannot change some of these facts about myself (Sue & Sue, 96). I can place myself in the norm group of the non-disabled and straight. The American society, in which I live, is predominantly Caucasian which puts Asians in the category of minority groups. My race notwithstanding, I feel privileged and powerful as a physically fit and sexually straight person.
I am glad that I took this multicultural class since it has changed my life and enabled me to fit in a multi-cultured community better. I come from Taiwan whose population is predominantly Asian unlike the United States which enjoys cultural and racial diversity. The American society in a way impedes the development of individuals from minority cultures and it is upon these individuals to try and fit into the multi-cultural society (Sue & Sue, 96).
Dissonance, Resistance and Immersion, Introspection and Integrative Awareness are the five stages people go through when they are exposed to multi-cultural societies, (Jackson & Penrose, 18). Before took this class I was certainly in the Resistance and Immersion Stage where I fully embraced my Asian cultural values and beliefs and refused to give in to those of the dominant American culture. I never experienced racism before and after I came to the United States. The issue never bothers me although I have watched it in Hollywood movies and in the new.
When I came to US I first settled in the state of Maine which is predominantly white. According to Online.com the Caucasian population in the state never dropped below 96% between 2000 and 2005. While there, I experienced mild discrimination in form of jokes targeted at me because of my culture. I was hurt and confused. Later on I learnt that the dominant culture in that community used to make fun of me because I came from a minority group. I stuck to my culture and traditions. I resented the culture of the dominant group to the point of labelling them as “those” people. However, since I took this course, I have learnt important lessons. I now understand that the privileged and oppressed groups are not defined by being either being white or non-white. There are other factors defining privilege, power and oppression which we cannot assume. We cannot for instance eradicate oppression if we don’t do anything or assume that things will just work out. To end oppression we need to visualize, observe, and understand it in order to deal with it correctly.
I can confidently say am in the fourth (Introspection) stage. In the introspection stage I have realized the extremity of my feelings towards other cultures and how they can interfere with my development of self-identity. Though I cannot claim to love members of the dominant group I try to understand them before making any claims and I avoid prejudices.
Learning and understanding are significant in our lives. According to Constructing Differences part one, “adopting a framework based on social construction theory means understanding that we are not born with a sense of what it means to be male, female; we learn about these categories through social interaction” (Jackson & Penrose, 23). This realization provides me with an easier background to interact with different social classes. I’m not saying that being a middle class person isn’t without its downside or being in any other class would be any better, but I do appreciate the class I’m in for giving me a sense of how difference classes are. In other words, even though there’s a really high chance that I’m going to remain in the same class for an even longer period of my life, I have appreciated the information this class has provided me to associate with other cultures in an easier way and understand different social classes.
The following paragraphs address the thesis of my current and past experience on people with behaviours and practices I consider as different from other people leading me to label them as “the other”. The first category comprises of the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender (LGBT) people. Sexuality is a fairly complex and import construct among the entire social constructs. According to Constructing difference part I “Sexuality can involve attraction on a physical, emotional, and social level as well as fantasies, sexual behaviours and self-identity, (Klein, 45). In other words, sexuality is more than just being heterosexual or homosexual. For the LGBT, sexuality is complicated with different feelings than the society assumes and constructs. In Taiwan, I have a close friend who appears to be a lesbian. Since I am straight, I considered her odd and termed her as “the other”. I believed that she likes girls simply because she was born differently from the norm group of people like “us”. In high school, when people made fun of her, she got sad but never fought back. I felt bad as her friend but I never took any action because she seemed okay with her situation.
I also considered another category of people as “the other”. These are people with Antisocial Personality Disorders (APD) such as sociopaths and psychopaths. I considered people with APD as doing harm to others for no good reason while they are not mentally ill and can therefore control their anger and urge to harm other people. I hated them and wished they never existed in the society. Through the social construct theory I have learnt that some types of APDs can result due to lack of parental care, child abuse among other societal factors. Though I do not possess any antisocial or aggressive behaviour I have observed people who are exceptionally aggressive towards almost everyone they meet. APD just like LGBT are special categories of people that need love and understanding from people in dominant norm groups. My perception of people with APD has changed since I took the course on multi-multicultural studies and I now understand their condition could even require not only societal love and understanding but also medical or psychiatric intervention.
After learning about the Social construction theory and Johnson’s “the path of least resistance” I wonder if my lesbian friend deserved to be treated like that and if I insulted a person with APD. In the poem Stubborn Ounces, Bonaro acknowledges that he never thought the little efforts he was making would do any good to tip the hovering scale where justice hung in the balance. The poem was about social justice and fairness to all people regardless of their personal attributes such as sexual orientation or race. To deliver justice in the society I have to choose to treat all people equally and nor discriminate against them based on their race, sexuality, physical ability and other personal attributes. I also wonder if I did fall into the path of least resistance also. This is something that we all should be paying attention to; I now understand that there was more to my friend being a lesbian than simply liking girls. And is it right to not do anything just because we’re afraid of resistance from the norm group people? I believe the answer is no, we have to do something in order to progress beyond the oppression and social inequality.
Ability level, sexual-orientation, race and class are all important social construct that we should be conscious of. With a better critical thinking on social development, we know that there’s nothing that’s obvious or that should be constructed in a particular way. I’m surprised by the much I have learnt throughout this course. Observing and understanding the concept of interpersonal relationship under different privileges, power or social construct is what I’d never know or even be aware of if I didn’t take this class. One of the reasons why I decided to study abroad was to learn something that’s valuable but hard to perceive in Taiwan. I appreciate the MCS105 course for creating a new perspective in my life, and for leading me to the right track. I wouldn’t say that I’m fully stage in the fourth (Introspection) stage for now, but there’s one fact that’s I’m positive about; that after taking this class, I’ll never go back to stage three, which means progress and a better life for me.
Jackson, Peter, and Jan Penrose. Constructions of race, place, and nation. Minneapolis:
Minnesota Press, 1994. Print.
Sue, Derald Wing, and David Sue. Counselling the culturally different: theory and practice.
3rd Ed. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1999. Print.
Klein, Fred. The bisexual option. 2nd Ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1993. Print.