Racism, while not as prevalent as it used to be, is still an ever present social problem in our society. Although one can easily define racism as, “...a highly organized system of race-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/races supremacy,1” the true meaning of the word is much deeper than that. When one’s opinions towards another are based on their race as opposed to any legitimate arguments or past experiences dealing with that particular person, it is racism. There is an impersonal connotation to the concept. One can argue that it is synonymous with ignorance; ignorance of the person that the “discrimnatee” really is. Even if your opinions of this particular person are correct, if you extract these opinions based on your view of the race as a whole as opposed to information gathered with your relationship based on this particular person, most would say it is racism.

                The concept of conflict theory is a perfect way to demonstrate the origin of racism in our society. It’s a distinct possibility that the only reason that racism is a problem because in every society there is an exchanging of goods; a perpetual political, economic, and social give-and-take that allows a society to grow and flourish effectively. If this symbiotic relationship were to cease or be impeded due to racism or discrimination, a schism in the society begins to take form. If on the streets of Farmingville a white man incessantly harasses a Hispanic laborer, what motivation does the Hispanic man have to stay and work for low wages? He’d likely choose to remove himself from that adverse situation and return to where he is generally accepted. Then the contractors and home owners in the area do not have a source of cheap labor. Conversely, if a Hispanic laborer were to harass a white home owner based on his race, the home owner would be less likely to hire that man, leaving him without work. This is an example of the class that has the advantage in owning a great deal of the factors of production having a need for the seemingly powerless class. One particular race can never be entirely independent so they must rely on other races that combine to mesh with their own to form the proverbial melting pot that American society is today. There will always be the “haves” and the “have-nots” in certain areas and if they cannot function as a cohesive unit, both will perish. 

                The fact that according to conflict theory, the class that owns the most factors of production will have more power only feeds the parasite that is racism. Naturally, the elitists in a society will consider themselves “better” than the workers. This becomes a problem when there seems to be a certain race assigned to each particular class. Consider the Irish emigration from Europe into the United States in the mid 1800’s. As a whole, the Irish were considered less intelligent and were generally undesired as a people. They were scorned and widely discriminated against by the established classes in America because they had not accomplished as much or been as successful as the people who were in possession of the factors of production. Therefore, the Irish race as a whole must be comprised of an inferior people. This idea ties into my theory that ignorance is a synonym for racism. The onoly reason the Irish were believed to be less intelligent was because American did not take the time to confirm the theory that they had fabricated based on their impersonal observations they had made from a distance.

                Racism is generally regarded as a negative thing in every culture. No one truly claims to be, or is proud of, the fact that they are a racist. The general reaction of our society is extremely quick to point out that racism is wrong.  As a whole, we preach values of equality, fair opportunities, and respect to all, regardless of skin color. This idea of anti-racism in our society seems to show itself most clearly through music. Music is a medium that allows people to express their thoughts in a way that is accessible to all. Although there are a myriad of songs that speak out against racism, a particularly powerful one is “Living for the City,” by Stevie Wonder2. The opening describes a hard-working and loving family raising a boy in Mississippi. He has his entire life ahead of him full of hope and possibilities. However, when he travels to New York City in order to pursue his dreams he is wrongfully accused of drug possession and is thrown in jail for ten years, effectively ruining is life that was once full of promise. He is ignored by authorities when trying to explain the events that took place due to his race. In the final two verses of the song, Wonder sings with a more hardened and scratched tone, reminding the listener of the hardships that the protagonist has gone through and his change of attitude towards the world. He pleads for the listener to change by stating,  “I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow, and that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow.” Wonder’s take on racism through story is quite effective because it personalizes the incident. The listener sees how this man’s life was destroyed through no fault of his own. He is not singing about how he hates being oppressed by the white man, but instead taking a more neutral approach and showing  the hypothetical worst case scenario that can become a reality if racism is enabled to continue.

                The first case study in Chapter 4 in which Junior Arts Motivators (JAM) painted murals in communities throughout the greater Cincinnati area was a respectable undertaking. Their first project was to paint a mural of foods on a map of the United States, showing each state with its respectable indigenous foods. It was not so much the tangible results of this program that combated racism, but the hidden effects and individual progress that each person gained through participating in this project. The JAM group that came together was filled with youths that were previously unintentionally separated into groups based on their ethnic or racial backgrounds. By bringing youths from a variety of different backgrounds together, JAM broke the preconceived notions that some children would have towards people of different ethnicity or race. The beauty behind JAM is its simplicity. If one argues that the root of all racism is ignorance, the next natural step to combat that racism and ignorance would be to educate children on the subject of race and the similarities that span all races. If one is able to extinguish racism at a younger age, where people are most impressionable, then one could theoretically purge racist thoughts before they are able to form. Purge racism and ignorance through education and knowledge.

                The article from Korgen and White entitled, Reengaging Activism in the Socialization of Undergraduate Students by Shelley White, only reinforces the idea that through personal experience and relationships, one is able to learn more about a certain culture or issue that they were previously unaware of. White recounts her experience while in Tijuana, Mexico: “For me, this particular experience was so personally transformative because, while we engaged in service, which felt meaningful and fulfilled critical needs, we also learned about the structural causes behind the conditions of poverty and inequality we observed, and we learned about efforts—past and ongoing—for taking action and making more permanent change on these issues.” White is a perfect archetype to demonstrate the fact that for one to be able to fully immerse themselves in a situation, to truly be able to speak knowledgably on a particular subject, they need to experience the reality first hand or personalize it in a sense. Although this article doesn’t specifically relate to racism, it still accomplishes in supporting the theory that ignorance is a prerequisite for racism. That knowledge of a situation is necessary in order to truly understand others.


1 Cazenave, Noël A.; Darlene Alvarez (1999). “Defending the White Race:White Male Faculty Opposition to a White Racism Course” Race and Society 2. pp. 25–50.

2 Stevie Wonder. Living for the City. Stevie Wonder, 1973. MP3.

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