Racism, unearned privileges based on race, prejudice against others, and stereotyping are things that poison our society. Although someone may claim that racism does not exist anymore, unfortunately, it does. In 1988, Peggy McIntosh made her list of white privileges, and a lot of items on it remain unavailable to dark-skinned individuals even at the present time. Stereotyping is a more innocent type of prejudice if compared to racism, but it is still offensive, and people should avoid it. In this paper, I explore the concepts mentioned above and discuss my personal experience with racism, privilege, and stereotyping.
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Defining Related Concepts
The term refers to the division of people into different groups in accordance with their physical characteristics, primarily the skin color, hair type, etc. As Hollins and Govan (2015) state, there is no biological basis for doing so because people have more “within-group variations” than “between-group variations” (p. 159). Hence, races are socially and politically constructed categories.
Racism can be defined as prejudice against other people based on their racial groups. It appears at many levels, including individual, cultural, and institutional ones, and can be manifested as an action (or inaction), a belief, an attitude, policy, etc. (Hollins & Govan, 2015, p. 159).
Many people use the words race and ethnicity interchangeably. However, those are not synonymous. While the race is tied to physical characteristics, ethnicity is related to cultural ones, such as nationality, regional culture, traditions, and so on.
Identity is who or what a person or a group of people is, how they see and describe themselves, and what characteristics differentiate them from others (Identity, 2016).
A privilege can be described as an unearned benefit or a set of those, which one group of people is given with, and the other one is deprived of. In their book, Hollins and Govan (2015) talk about white privilege that exists on the individual, cultural and institutional levels (p. 159).
The term refers to “overgeneralization” based on social status, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, as well as many other factors (Hollins & Govan, 2015, p. 159). Stereotyping is not supported by any solid arguments or strong evidence.
All of the concepts mentioned above are connected and intersect or interact. For example, race and ethnicity overlap in many cases. The concept of identity is more individual, even though this word can be used with reference to both a person and a group of people. Ethnicity or race can influence it, but not only these factors define identity. Prejudice based on race is racism, while prejudice based on other factors can be called stereotyping. Privilege is usually connected to a particular race and can be considered as a form of racism with respect to other races.
My Own Experience with Racism
Before talking about racism and my experience with it, it would be useful to mention my race. I am a 39-year-old African-American female, and I can not call myself a racist by any means. However, I have experienced it at the interpersonal level. The situation I am going to share happened when I was studying in the cosmetology school in South Carolina, where my parents are from. To get extra hours to graduate, I was allowed to go to the local nursing home to do manicures. One of the patients I was going to do manicure said, “I don’t want this ni**er to do my nails!” That was extremely new to me because I was a military brat and grew up around people from all walks of life.
As for symbolic and institutional types of racism, those also still exist in our country. For instance, a lot of individuals believe that no one discriminates against black people nowadays, and they just do not try hard enough to get a job, housing, decent medical services, and so forth. At the same time, we still regularly hear about racial discrimination lawsuits brought against different companies, including huge corporations. As an example, BMW has recently settled the lawsuit against it. The company was sued for unfair dismissals of its black employees in South Carolina (Sonawane, 2015, par. 1).
My Experience with Stereotyping
As I have already mentioned earlier, I am a 39-year-old African-American female. I am also married and have nine children. People often stereotype me based on these facts: because I am black and have so many children, they tend to assume that I am on welfare and am taking advantage of government assistance. Nevertheless, it is not like this. It usually comes as a shock to people when they find out that I am currently working on my PhD and has a husband who is a father to all my children.
Because I am often stereotyped, I try not to do the same. Nevertheless, I would lie if I say that I have never been guilty of it. As an example, sometimes I assume that all Hispanics are from the same country. I realize that it is wrong, but it can be really hard to distinguish based on outer appearance. Still, since I know how hard and annoying it can be to break down stereotypes people have about you, I usually try to get to know people before making any conclusions about them.
McIntosh’s list of privileges was written in 1988, and I am inclined to believe that a lot of things have changed since then. That is why many items that Peggy McIntosh listed as white privileges can now be enjoyed by dark-skinned people too. For instance, Peggy states, “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented” (McIntosh, 1988, p. 3).
That is probably the most striking example because our country is ruled by the black president. The following statement is also true of people of my race now: “I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally” (McIntosh, 1988, p. 4). There are many other examples on the list too.
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Nevertheless, a lot of things listed by McIntosh still remain white privileges even in the twenty-first century. For instance, I can hardly state that “my neighbors … will be neutral or pleasant to me” (McIntosh, 1988, p. 3). I even can not be sure that I can “talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color” (McIntosh, 1988, p. 3). As I see it, the majority of things on McIntosh’s list that is still unavailable to dark-skinned individuals are closely connected to people’s personal attitudes and beliefs.
Ways to Reduce Personal Prejudices and Stereotyping
The first thing that I would recommend to anyone who tries not to stereotype people is to get to know people before making any conclusions. That is how our attitudes can be based on a particular individual, not some information about him or her, like ethnicity, age, gender, social status, class, sexual orientation, and so on. The problem is that it can be very hard to control because stereotypes appear immediately, and we usually are not even aware of having those.
To avoid such an outcome, people should train their minds. For example, traveling can be very useful in this regard (Mendoza-Denton, 2011). Visiting other countries gives us an insight into different cultures and traditions, habits, and behaviors. It makes people more tolerant and open-minded. If there is no opportunity to travel a lot, the same goal can be achieved by communicating with people from various cultural backgrounds (101 Ways You Can Beat Prejudice, n.d.). Contact with different social groups should be increased. Also, we should try to be positive and optimistic since the research has shown that people are less likely to show bias or demonstrate prejudice when they smile (Mendoza-Denton, 2011).
In conclusion, even though people understand that prejudices and stereotyping are negative and try to avoid those, it would be a lie to say that we never experience or demonstrate them. Still, it does not mean that we should give up on trying. Since it is difficult to control the mind in order to avoid stereotyping, it is better to train it in advance by communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds and trying to be positive.
101 Ways You Can Beat Prejudice. (n.d.). Web.
Hollins, C., & Govan, I. (2015). Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Strategies for Facilitating Conversations on Race. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Identity: Definition. (2016). Web.
Mendoza-Denton, R. (2011). The Top 10 Strategies for Reducing Prejudice. Web.