This paper will seek to trace the trajectory of the issue of race throughout the development of America. Using a historical framework, the way that race has been perceived and the way that these perceptions have served to structure society will be examined. Although the scope of the discussion will remain broad, the opinions and ideological positions of a number of significant thinkers on the subject will also be incorporated into the analysis. Finally, in conclusion, an overarching analysis on the part, current, and future implications of the issue of race in America will be presented.
The perceived race issue in the United States, as discussed in research papers from Paper Masters, has been an issue which America has struggled with from the time the first English explorers set eyes on the American Indian. The term "race", as applied to humans has seen diverse uses by politicians, military leaders, philologists, human biologists, demographers, and historians. Some "races" constitute language groups, often of peoples whose only kinship is that they speak a common language. The concept of race has been variously applied to national or cultural grouping. "Race" also has been applied to human groups proven to have their existence on the basis of archaeological discoveries. Various religious groups who may or may not have common ancestry sometimes are called races--the Moabite race, for example. Race, as we commonly define it, relies on the presence of differences and social stratification theory. These could be hair color, eye color, skin complexion-melanin content or even hair texture. It must be stated that a great deal of anthropologists and biologist have determined race to be a social, cultural and political concept.
Throughout the history of America, the question of race has proven to be one of our society's most defining dilemmas, a chasm around which the burgeoning nation structured itself. The following facts regarding racism still permeate America:
- While it is often said that the problem of racism has abated significantly in recent decades, many would argue that racism is still as prevalent as ever.
- Although racist attitudes are not as overt as in past eras, they are deeply inscribed in the attitudes and institutions of this country, where, racism is more insidious and crippling than in the past, when it was freely expressed in the public discourse.
- Today, although scientists have concluded that the concept of race is a social construct rather than a biological fact, it still functions as one of the most prevalent issues in our lives.
The study of race and ethnic relations-and sociology in general-in the early and mid twentieth century was shaped by the concerns of the dominant white/Anglo-American group, especially the "social problems of immigration and urbanization. Thus what we now take to be the standard with respect to academic research on the idea of race is in fact directly linked to the support of white-America.
The importance of race as a social determiner in America was only exacerbated by the advent of institutionalized slavery. Within a hundred years, nearly half of the population of was comprised of enslaved persons, predominantly of African origin. The colonial America racist taint of slavery far exceeded the boundaries of the institution; even freed slaves or those Africans and African-Americans who had never been enslaved were forced to function in an atmosphere that was permeated by the miasma of a race-based social caste system.
Even today, it is impossible to overstate the lasting impact of 250 years of institutionalized slavery upon the American view of race. Because of their outwardly non-white appearance and their status as chattel within the slave system, African-Americans were marked inexorably 'other,' a classification that, arguably, remains intact today, even as the vestiges of overt racism subside. This binary of 'white' and 'Other' was implemented through the institutionalization of slavery in America, and it persisted long after that institution was officially dismantled.
America is a relatively young nation, and the fact that the majority of its metaphorical infancy, childhood, and adolescence were dominated by the era of institutionalized slavery has had long-term ramifications for our society. Most of the foundational establishments of America were being developed during the era of slavery, and as such, racist inequities are inherent many aspects of our everyday life, so deeply buried and yet so blatant that we may not notice them unless we are the victims of the sort of political, economic, legal, and educational discrimination that continues to plague racial and ethnic minorities. America's success as a leader in world industry was achieved largely through the early over reliance on the free labor of slaves and indentured servants. However, at the same time, blacks have been systematically excluded from full participation in our economy since Reconstruction, discussed exhaustively in works such as Howard Zinn's "Or Does it Explode?" and Jacqueline Jones' The Dispossessed. Because 20% of the early American population was comprised of African slaves, much of our national character was inevitably shaped by the presence of institutionalized slavery.
Historically, the most significant racial category has been the binary definition of black and white. Whites, the dominant social group, were regarded as the superior norm, and anybody who deviated from that norm were judged accordingly. Interestingly, the social penalties associated with race typically have a direct relationship to an individual's degree of resemblance to racialized blackness.
In other words, the darker-complexioned a particular ethnic group, the more social stigma and ostracism have been historically directed at them by whites. However, this general rule did not always hold true, as evidenced by the nineteenth-century ostracism of ethnic immigrants from Ireland and Italy.
Today, the intermingling between those populations with European ancestry has tended to diminish these once-narrow parameters, and racial classifications have consequently become more vague. With some exceptions, racial categories tend to be simplified to their common denominator, so that regardless of one's precise ethnic or national heritage, racial categorizations are typically made into broad groups such as white, black, Hispanic, and, to a lesser degree, Asian.
Even as interracial relationships have resulted in an exponential rise in the birth rate of children whose blended ancestry defies facile, binary categorization, Americans continue to be compelled to classify people racially, as discussed movingly in James McBride's memoir, The Color of Water. These classifications are typically made on the basis of an individual's outward appearance, which is a notoriously unreliable method. Today, in the visual imagery of the media and the advertising industry, there is a trend towards featuring individuals whose appearance tends to suggest a melange of racial and ethnic heritages. However, at the same time, significant controversy and debate have arisen when public figures resist the urge to define themselves in racial terms that are socially sanctioned.
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