American Culture Studies Term Paper

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Racial Exclusion in America

When one thinks of racial exclusion, they usually think of the reconstruction period of the late 1800s and the Jim Crow Laws. The Jim Crow laws prohibited blacks from drinking from the same water fountains, eating in the same restaurants, and ride in the back of the bus. Most ideas of racial exclusion are targeted at blacks, however, many other ethnic groups were the victims of racial exclusion as well. They may not have had laws condoning it, as was the case with blacks and Native Americans, but exclusion was there never the less. The books "Black Boy" by Richard Wright and "America is in the Heart" by Carlos Bulosan are two of the best examples illustrating the effects of racial exclusion from an insider's perspective. This paper will compare these two books both from historical perspective and from a contemporary standpoint.

Everyone knows about the civil rights struggle, which followed the civil war. World War II is generally considered to be a time of equality for many races, due to the stresses placed on the labor force and the availability of opportunity for all. Carlos Bulosan arrived in America in the 1930s with the vision of a land of opportunity for all. He expected to be greeted with open arms into a world of plentitude. Instead, when he arrived he found a highly segregated society of two classes, "white" and "other." The conditions for those labeled other he found to be considerably lower than that of a dog. He traveled America searching for the "Dream" but could not find it anywhere.

In the same respect Richard Wright traveled to Chicago, hoping to leave the social ignorance and hatred of the South, but when he arrived in the land of the North, he found that the social attitudes were no better than those he had left in the South. He found that the racial prejudice did not only happen to blacks in the community, but also to Chinese, Italians, and any other person who was not of European decent. Both Carlos Bulosan and Richard Wright felt that racial exclusion and attitudes were born out of fear of the unknown. Whites did not understand other cultures and out of ignorance refused to learn. They were afraid of what they did not know and often immigrants and blacks were the victims of superstitions. One example is illustrated in "Black Boy" when a white man discourages Richard Wright from learning too much for fear that his head might explode if he puts too much in it.

In the early part of Wright's book, he found out how easy it is to be drawn into these social groups, especially if you are lonely and feel that you have found camaraderie in a group. When living in Arkansas, Richard Wright joined an Anti-Semitic group. He later regretted this decision, however it did give him a better understanding of those who committed racial exclusion of blacks later in his life. He understood their ignorance, even though, he did not condone it.

Both Bulosan and Wright felt that anti-ethnic attitudes eased during World War II, but began to re-emerge in the 1950s. The 1950s are generally considered to be the starting point of the second civil rights movement. By this time, lynchings were widely considered to be socially unacceptable, however, this did not stop them from happening altogether. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 set the stage for the U.S. To officially denounce racism and racist activities. Officially we had the Equal Opportunity Employment laws, Equal Housing Laws and other laws prohibiting discrimination of people based on race. Clearly it was now unacceptable for a person to publicly announce that they hated or feared a person of another nationality solely based on their ethnic background. There would be public retribution to do so. But did passing of laws eliminate the problem?

The racial exclusion that is addressed by both Richard Wright and Carlos Bulosan begins with ignorance and fear by the person who is the oppressor. Racial exclusion is an act of dominance and control. It arises from fear and is bred through ignorance. The race being oppressed is kept uneducated and therefore is not given the opportunity to know about the ideals of the oppressing race, or a chance for the education needed to get better jobs or economic conditions for themselves. In both books, the racial exclusion and oppression arose from fear that the immigrants or blacks would take jobs and opportunities away from the "more deserving" whites. Both books point out that the white race built an idea of what was decent, then judged other races that did not live that way, as being inferior. They then denied them the education and opportunities for jobs which would allow them to attain those "decent white" standards.

The most sticking example of how whites used the denial of education to promote their ideals is when Richard Wright takes a job delivering newspapers in an attempt to get the money needed to support his family. He does not read and does not know that he is delivering propaganda promoting the Ku Klux Klan. In Bulosan's book, the author finds himself a victim of a catch twenty-two where he cannot get a better job without an education. Filipinos are not allowed to gain an education and therefore have no opportunity to better themselves. He too finds racial exclusion to be the product of ignorance and fear.

Having never been out of his black community, Richard Wright was surprised to find racism as widespread and violent as it was. He also tended to believe that it was a product of the history of the South and that other places, such as the North would be more forgiving of other cultures. He found this not to be the case. For when he moved to the more culturally aware north, he found that prejudice was just as prevalent here as in the South. Carlos Bulosan found the same thing. When he first arrived in Seattle, he was introduced to the brothels and bars of the Asian ghetto. He too felt that it must not be representative of the rest of the country and was eager to get out and see the "real" America. When he did get out in to the other areas of the country he found that the conditions were the same and he described America as a "land of hatred." To say that Carlos Bulosan was less than impressed with the "Land of Opportunity for all" and the "Great American Dream" would be an understatement, just as Richard Wright was equally unimpressed with the "more culturally advanced North."

The Black experience in America and the experience of other minority groups have been the same and follows economic conditions in the country. During times of prosperity, acts of racism decrease, as the white race is not in fear of their economic security. However, when the white race fears their economic security, the fear of loss of opportunity increases and acts of racism increase. Such is the case during the Great Depression in the 1930s and the economic decline in the 1970s. Recently, an increase in hate crimes has occurred starting around the mid-1990s. Even though laws strictly prohibit acts of racism, they still occur, as they are an ingrained part of our social culture, The repeal of the Jim Crow Laws did not decrease the incidence of racial violence and discrimination. When a generation grows up being taught that another race is inferior, lazy, or is dirty and stinks, the repeal of a law will do little to change their attitude.

The issues of racial exclusion expressed in "Black Boy" and "American in the Heart" will not likely change with the passage of more laws.…[continue]

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