My understanding of diversity in the United States has undergone a tremendous amount of transformation in recent weeks and months compared to my own assumptions in the past. As a white person, I have understood a relatively significant amount of privilege in the United States as a result of my ethnicity – I do not experience discrimination on an everyday level like many do in minority communities. To that end, it takes me much more direct investigation and conscious exploration of American life and how it is lived to be cognizant of the systemic inequalities that occur in this nation. As I learn more and more about the complex nature of race and ethnicity, particularly in such a multicultural country like America, I gain a better understanding of my role (however unconscious or inadvertent) in maintaining a system that promotes racial discrimination and a lack of diversity.
A few key facts and concepts have helped me gain a better understanding of the lives of others of different ethnicity in the United States. Most importantly, I have learned a lot through the concept of the ‘social construction’ of race, given that few significant biological differences exist between people of different races. The perceived differences between white and black, Asian, Latino and others are largely social and cultural, as barriers are put up between people who look one race and another. I have also become interested in the way in which ‘acceptability’ of people of color tends to coincide with notions of whiteness – lighter skin color, taking on traditionally Caucasian mannerisms and behavior, etc., is usually found in minorities who experience less discrimination than others (Schaefer, 2012). Being of a subordinate group tends to lead to resistance to, and ostracizing of ,minority races - including segregation, secession and even extermination (Schaefer, 2012). Seeing the specific and myriad ways in which race is constructed, and how they play important parts in how the majority relates to this minority, has led to me having a better understanding of how racial and ethnic groups are treated in America.
My own cultural history as a white person has also been greatly informed by this information. White privilege is a systemic, ongoing presence in my life that tacitly informs many aspects of my life – as someone who has been accepted as ‘the norm’ in America, I experience little resistance in my daily life as compared to someone of minority ethnicity. Prejudice, racial slurs or discrimination are rare in my life – something which I can more readily recognize cannot be said of the average African-American or Latino living in America (Schaefer, 2012). Even as I have not actively discriminated or held consciously racist thoughts, I fully recognize that my experiences with minorities have led me to have complex reactions to race. Based on Merton’s typology, I could easily describe myself as a ‘reluctant liberal’ – I believe in the concept of equality, but find it more difficult than I should to push for equality in my daily life (Schaefer 2012, p. 36). I will occasionally be suspicious of minorities that set of culturally-coded red flags in the white experience (e.g. black people in groups and wearing clothes indicative of lower-class African-Americans), and do not have many minority friends. These are aspects of myself that I do hope to change.
The nature of America is currently undergoing dramatic changes, and will likely experience huge demographic shifts due to immigration and other issues. By the year 2050, I fully predict that we will have more minorities in the United States than Caucasians, making them the majority of people in this country. According to Schaefer (2012), by 2050 the percentage of White non-Hispanics in America will drop to 46%, and Hispanics will rise in number to 31.3%. These changes will come about due to a variety of factors, including an increase in immigration, birth rates for Hispanics versus lowering birth rates for Caucasians (deferring childbearing until later in life, whites being more prone to being childless couples) and others.
Immigration, naturally, will become more and more of an issue as time goes on; as people flee the relatively chaotic nature of Mexico for the comparatively greater stability of the United States, demographics will change due to this large population shift. A large number of people in the United States are foreign-born, with the vast majority of foreign-born immigrants coming from Mexico and settling in the American Southwest (Schaefer, 2012). This has not always been the case with this population, however, and it is important to remember that immigration has always been met with resistance, from the Chinese in the 1800s to the Irish and Eastern Europeans in the early 20th century (Schaefer, 2012). As we are a nation of immigrants, we must recognize that it is a natural and acceptable way of changing and expanding America’s demographics.
This demographic shift, of course, will lead to tremendous challenges and resistance, particularly from whites, who currently enjoy tremendous privilege and superiority in America culture due to their numbers and cultural capital. Naturally, when demographics change to unseat one group for another in terms of sheer numbers, there will be resistance, particularly socially. Many whites who have heretofore not needed to deal with a significant number of minorities in their daily lives may find themselves having more of these interactions than expected, which can be a huge culture shock for them. Also, as Hispanics control more and more of the economy by having such sheer spending power, and by gaining more and more control over government by having representatives in Congress, they will demand more power over their own lives and over American society (rightly so). There will be significant adjustments to be made as whites get used to not having unfettered majority in numbers within American society
Despite the fears of this kind of diversity, there are tremendous benefits to be found in a changing and evolving America. With diversity comes a greater number of unique minds, individuals and cultures achieving prominence with a minimum of social barriers and resistance from entrenched powers. The more diverse cultures and peoples we integrate and offer chances to succeed in America, the greater innovations we can experience. Change and diversity is always a good thing for nations, as it prompts more people with different ideas to work together to achieve collaborative solutions to problems, whether social, economic or otherwise. More people can be awakened to fascinating new cultures, foods, inventions, concepts and ways of thinking, which could have the effect of enriching the lives of everyone involved.
Given these changes that are occurring, and the need to deal with such rampant discrimination and inequality, there are many other ways in which we can foster cultural pluralism and tolerance of others in the United States. It is currently not a good time to be a minority in America, given the incredible prevalence of hate crimes and social discrimination based on someone’s race. Even attempts to curb these issues, such as affirmative action, are decried by opponents as ways to institute ‘quotas’ and marginalize whites (Schaefer, 2012). These opponents typically cite ‘reverse discrimination’ as something that must be addressed, even though the term is “emotional” and “conjures up the notion that somehow women and minorities will subject White men in the United States to the same treatment received by minorities during the last three centuries” (Schaefer 2012, p. 76). However, greater communication and education must be facilitated in order to show people that ‘racism’ is systemic, just not a concept of one race hating enough because of the simple fact of their race. The sooner people can be shown that racism is a systematic discrimination of the white majority towards minorities, and therefore cannot be used by whites as a way to fight
progress, the faster honest conversation about these issues can be had.
The media has played an important part in establishing the stereotypes and cultural perceptions of minorities that have contributed to many aspects of prejudice and inequality in American society. Over the course of the past hundred years, as films and television become more culturally important, media representations of people of color have been disappointingly sparse; even when minorities do appear, they often fit into hegemonic stereotypes that allow them to be comfortably dismissed by whites. Stereotypes like the fat, sassy black maid in Gone with the Wind, the aggressive, monstrous Arab terrorists of films like True Lies and The Siege, and the pathetic Asian stereotypes like Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles help to marginalize minorities and place them in supporting or opposite roles to the more lionized white counterparts. Instances of action heroes or lead characters who are not white and male are disproportionately rare, as minorities find themselves pigeonholed into supporting characters with broad characteristics meant to be typical of their race (Schaefer, 2012).
However, in recent years the media (films, television, etc.) have also provided opportunities for minorities to become more prominent and layered in their portrayals within popular culture. Reality television, for better or worse, has had a great effect on bringing more people of color into prominent roles in media (Schaefer, 2012). Science fiction has always been a great battleground for important people of color, such as Sulu in Star Trek and Adama in Battlestar Galactica, who play prominent roles on their shows without highlighting or cartoonishly portraying their race (Schaefer, 2012). By having more minority characters play the lead in films, it also allows for audiences to more concretely immerse themselves in a different experience; films like Fruitvale Station or 12 Years a Slave are recent examples of films that talk in complicated and nuanced ways about the black experience, while offering these characters a three-dimensional personality.
Individuals and the United States have many opportunities to collaborate to increase diversity appreciation and reduce instances of intolerance, mostly through a greater commitment to open communication and dialogue. There are many methods of fighting hate, including everything from increasing communication to taking decisive action to help bring about greater social justice. Injustices must be acted upon in a united manner, whites and minorities coming together to comprehensively resist stereotyping and defending against discrimination. Supporting victims of hate crimes shows that the community will not tolerate that kind of behavior. Becoming more informed about racial issues and cutting through propaganda to find truth makes you a better advocate for change. Finding alternatives to hate speech offers a counterbalance to hate, and speaking/writing to world leaders (Congressmen, legislators, etc.) helps showcase public interest in diversity. Most importantly, being engaged in conversation with others and finding ways to find common ground can help fight intolerance one person at a time (Schaefer, 2012).
I know that I must make changes in my own behavior to help facilitate the inclusive environment that is needed to create a more pluralistic America. All of the attributes mentioned above are behaviors I plan to incorporate into my daily life; I want to become more informed, more active, and more outgoing in the pursuit of tolerance and fighting racial discrimination. Mentally inventorying my own behaviors is also important, as I learn how I interact around minorities and how they might receive those actions; this also lets me change them more easily and become a more actively tolerant individual in my own right. I personally need to learn to re-evaluate my assumptions about others, particularly minorities; whenever I go out of my way to unfairly judge someone I otherwise would not simply because of their skin color, I need to recognize when this happens and stop that. With this information in hand, I fully believe I can become a more conscientious person who can work more concretely and actively towards equality.
Cameron, J. (1994). True Lies. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Art Malik. 20th Century Fox.
Hughes, J. (1984). Sixteen Candles. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Gedde Watanabe. Universal Pictures.
Schaefer, R.T. (2012). Racial and ethnic groups (13th ed.). Pearson Education.
Zwick, E. (1998). The Siege. Denzel Washington, Annete Benning, Bruce Willis. 20th Century Fox.