Sunday, February 10, 2013

Are Social Policies that Classify People based on Race, Color, or National Origin Good or Bad?

The Dangers of Classifying People by Race and Culture
By Tony R. B.
“A strong sense of identity gives man an idea he can do no wrong; too little accomplishes the same.”  – Djuna Barnes, Author/Novelist

History has all but demonstrated that there is little value that comes from any social policy, which seeks to classify individuals based on race, color, ethnicity or national origin. Arguably, such policies exacerbate sentiments of inferiority among some (and superiority among others), while normalizing social tendencies toward separation and differentiation among all. Moreover, these social labels, or scripts, have tremendous psychological implications concerning how we view and/or accept ourselves and others who are “unlike” us.
According to sociologist and author Diana Kendall (2011), the question of one’s “race [and ethnicity] is based on the genetically transmitted physical characteristics of a group of people…classified [by] a common history, nationality, or geographical location” (49). Kendall further asserts that since one’s race is mostly attributed to such innocuous phenotypes like skin color, body type, and hair texture, then to rely on such characteristics―to classify and separate one individual from another―is not only irresponsible but immoral (50). Thus, if classifying people for socio-economic, political, and educational reasons is indeed a necessary endeavor, then it would appear more practical to simply categorize all people as one race―the human race. Regrettably, history has all but proven that our great nation, which is emblematic of so-called democratic virtues and norms, has always been obsessed with socially constructed labels and scripts. And although ours is a uniquely diverse republic, we still find it necessary to catalog our nation’s people into distinctive "in-groups" and "out-groups," which among other things perpetuate destructive social biases and stereotypes (McCallion 2007).
For this reason, my understanding of who I am is, at times, difficult. My American identity, for example―carved from the splintered and tragic history of a forgotten tribal lineage and sewn together instead by slavery, Jim Crow and various contemporary social policies like Brown v. Board and Affirmative Action―remains virtually unknown to me. For that matter, my culture is never quite as simple or easy to define or explain. Intellectually, I understand that I am of African descent―born in the United States of America. Thus, the question then becomes, am I to be considered African-American―or simply American? There was a time when I was once called Nigger, and then Negro, later on I was Black, which was followed by Black-American, and eventually Afro-American. It seems that every generation or so I am to be invariably reclassified for the purpose of being socially categorized (or stigmatized depending on one’s perspective), according to pseudo designations, created by cold bureaucracies, and enumerated on every job application, college application, consumer survey, and census form next to tiny boxes that I and others will inevitably check without question or much consideration.
And yet, for every new label that has ever been created to define my race or culture or ethnicity, the only true beneficiaries are those with political, social, and educational influence who aptly assign both bias and stereotype upon me depending on the cultural “out-group” I happen to land in (McCallion 2007). This is perhaps why my culture is sometimes difficult to define or explain―because; it appears that mine has been defined for me.

Kendall, Diane. "Racial and Ethnic Inequality." The Intersections Collection: Pearson Custom Sociology in the Twenty-first Century. Pearson Learning Solutions. Boston, MA. 2011. Print.

McCallion, M.J., Ritzer, G. (ed). "In-Groups and Out-Groups." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.
           Blackwell Publishing. Blackwell Reference Online. 2007. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.
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It’s Human Nature
By Jasmine Alexis C.

Although Tony Brooks makes very valid points supporting the prohibition of classifying people by race, color, ethnicity, or national origin, he fails to take human nature into consideration. Classification is not merely a socially or politically based agenda. It is human nature to create labels. Prohibiting this classification, that can be traced from the beginning of time, will result in people not being able to be themselves, the diminishing of cultural traditions, and, eventually, a “Big Brother” society. It may seem that dismissing labels would give individuals and society a sense of freedom; however, the lack of distinction will result in one, uniformed culture, which could very easily lead to a tyrannical society.

America prides itself on being a melting pot filled with people from various backgrounds, religions,and cultures. In America, we have freedom, and we have laws to protect those freedoms. These freedoms allow us to worship whomever and however we wish and practice cultural traditions that have been passed down from our ancestors and are based on the cultures of our countries of origin. America gives us freedom to embrace our own personal cultures, instead of forcing us to assimilate to a specific culture and its practices. Many people come to America for this freedom—not to dismiss their culture and ethnicity but to embrace it freely in a safe environment. Many people from various cultures take pride in their ethnicity. For example, in the Hispanic culture, a Puerto Rican takes pride in being a Puerto Rican and will get very offended if one were to call him or her Mexican, Dominican, or any other Hispanic nationality. (I am talking about American Hispanics, not just those still living in their native lands.) These people do not migrate to the United States in order to forsake their culture, race, ethnicity, color, etc. They come for better opportunities. These people do not care that the jobs they are applying for ask them their race, because they are proud of their race. They are not ashamed and do not take offense, because there is nothing offensive with pointing out our differences. Our differences is what make this world so worth-while and worthy of exploration.

Now, imagine for a moment that each state in the United States were to abolish classifying people according to their race, color, ethnicity, or national origin. It would take decades for people to actually catch on, because even after the states stop classifying people, people will still classify themselves. Why? It’s human nature! However, let’s suppose that people do assimilate to the prohibition of racial classification. Eventually, people would forget their native cultures. America would no longer be a melting pot. Everyone would be a standard American—whatever that is—though, physically, there would still be differences. Culturally, however, people would forget where they came from, because there would be no importance in race and ethnicity. There would be no Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. There would be no Caribbean Festival. Everyone would be Americans, which all U.S. citizens already are—but there would be no more cultural make-up of the United States. Everyone would eventually become the same, except physically. People are not color-blind. Therefore, people would still notice the differences. And guess what. People would then label one another as “dark Americans,” “light Americans,” “brown Americans,” etc. Whether the state labels individuals or not, the people will always do it. Just like in the African American community there are many distinctions as well. I am considered a light-skinned African American woman. I’m not just African American or black to most African Americans—sadly—but it’s true. There will always be people who label others based on color. Is part of it social and political? Yes. Is part of it discriminatory? Yes. Is most of it human nature? Of course!

So is the prohibition of the classification of people based on race, ethnicity, and nationality beneficial or pernicious? It is clear that it is beneficial. One might say from my argument that it would not seem to make a difference anyway, since people will label themselves regardless. However, the lack of labels will result in a lack of self-pride, which will result in one, uniformed culture in America, which will, then, end our freedoms. It is our differences that give us our freedom. Without different religions, there would be no freedom of religion. Without different ethnicities, there would be no freedom of expression and culture. If you take note, you will see that countries with little to no diversity tend to have the least amount of freedom. Diversity is good, and labeling that diversity is not bad. It’s human nature. Need more proof? American Indians. Before the “white man” came and took over the United State of America, the natives had different tribes. They labeled themselves based on their tribes. Even back in the Bible days people were labeled according to their nations. God even set a group of people apart and made them His chosen people—the Israelites. If God Himself labeled people, how dare we not?

Not classifying people may seem fair, but that one policy can, ironically, create tyranny. Think about it. Communism was based on “equality”—everyone being the same, no labels or classification. Well, being American, we all know the dangers of communism. Need I further explain?

*I am Jasmine Cason, and I approve this message*


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