Dividing people by race. Five quoted passages. Five outside sources.
Invisibility. Who has not felt invisible at one time or another in their lives? However, for many groups within society, invisibility is not a phrase, it is a day-to-day reality. Its roots are planted deep in prejudices, stereotyping, and basic intolerance and ignorance of cultural diversity. That American society was and is founded on immigrant cultures may be common knowledge, however, it is not commonly accepted. Although, all are American, society has labeled certain groups according to their ethnic backgrounds. These labels are stigmas that are not easily shaken off or dispelled. Stigmas are like brands that signify differences placed on the group as a whole, not the individual. When an individual is seen only in the context of his or her ethnic group, only in terms of the stereotypical persona that has been molded by society, then that individual is invisible to the world.
Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" is the story of a young black man trying to gain recognition among white society. In the prologue, Ellison's character, who remains nameless throughout the book, say, "I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me" (Ellison 14)?
Eager to please, eager to belong, the young man gains acceptance to a college and models himself after a college dean, Dr. Bledsoe, a well respected, successful black man. To seek a role model is a normal for any young person, whether black or white. It is merely a stage of life. However, what he did not realize is that the successful dean was fighting his own fears and was modeling himself after the successful white men. Thus, when the young man made the social faux pas of taking the wealthy white man, Mr. Norton, to the seedier side of the black community. When they encounter black vets, one talks about how the black men are trained to be zombies bending to the will of white people, "to repress not only his emotions but his humanity...to be invisible, a walking personification of the Negative...the mechanical man" (Ellison 94). Dr. Bledsoe was outraged and embarrassed. Although, Mr. Norton did not want the young man dismissed, Bledsoe warns him that no matter what he says, no one will listen to him. That no one will believe the young man over him, for he defies the hierarchy of racial power, "The white folk tell everybody what to think...except men like me. I tell them" (Ellison pg 143). Dismissing the young man was his only recourse to ensure his own safety and security. His journey takes him to New York City, where he explores various sub-cultures, and although he admired the way blacks and whites got along there, he says, "I felt that even when they were polite they hardly saw me, that they would have begged the pardon of Jack the Bear...It was confusing. I did not know if it was desirable or undesirable" (Ellison 168)..
The young man does not realize it at the time, but what he is searching for is more than a mere identity, it is his place within the world, the universe, not merely a place among the white society like Bledoe. His yearning is for soul recognition, the single individual unattached, and belonging to no one but himself.
African-Americans are not the oldest group to go unrecognized, stereotyped, and invisible. Native Americans have endured a tragic legacy and a long battle for visibility. The word Native American or Indian generally conjures up images, especially for school children, of feathers, teepees, war-painted faces, and Thanksgiving dinner with the Pilgrims (Stereotyping pg). Often in schools, Native Americans will be equated with 'things,' such as with an alphabet card, "A is for apple, B is for ball...I is for Indian" (Stereotyping pg). Moreover, "Native Americans are often spoken of in the past tense, such as in educational films with titles such as How the Indians Lived," as if they are no longer in existence (Stereotyping pg).
Although, Native Americans are actually the original Americans and are technically more American than non-Indians, they are usually referred to as 'them' and others as 'us.' Unfortunately, most children believe that Native Americans look like the movie Indians, the stereotypical 'western movie' Indian, savages who scalped the settlers. Even today, when children are rowdy, someone will say, 'you kids are acting like a bunch of wild Indians' (Stereotyping pg).
There is no Native American History Month to educate children and the general public about the uniqueness and diversity of Native Americans as a whole as well as the individual tribes. Native groups are separate nations with different names, such as Hopi, Apache, Cherokee, Sioux, and each have their own language and culture (Stereotyping pg).
Sadly, due to U.S. Government policies, for decades Native Americans were not allowed to acknowledge their own culture or beliefs. Children were sent to government sponsored schools off the reservations and stripped of the language and heritage. Today, many Native American children know more about television programs than they do about their own heritage. While Native children were miles from home, in a harsh and strict environment, being forbidden to use their own language, Hollywood was recreating their own version of the Native people. Michael T. Marsden and Jack Nachbar, in the essay "The Indians in the Movies" in Handbook of North American Indians, "described the cultural context of captivity narratives, dime novels, stage melodramas, and Wild West shows, all of which contributed to the film industry's rendition of the Native American" (Edgerton 90).
Marsden and Nachbar discuss a three-part model on film characterizations of American Indian. The first two stereotypes are composed of men as "either 'noble anachronisms' or 'savage reactionaries'... The third is composed of women presented as 'Indian princesses' if they are presented on-screen at all" (Edgerton 90). Disney's "Pocahontas" was in the beginning to be a factual animation, when in fact in the end it was more fiction. Although, Native American actors were cast in all the native roles in the film, "Pocahontas's screen image is less American Indian than fashionably exotic" (Edgerton 90). Many critics, including Newsweek's Laura Shapiro, referred to the movie as "Native American Barbie,' in other words, Indian features, such as Pocahontas's eyes, skin color, and wardrobe, only provide a kind of Native American styling to an old stereotype" (Edgerton 90). Unfortunately, television and the film industry, just as they did with African-Americans in the earlier years of the industry, have characterized the culture and heritage of a people. Thus, even in the new millennium, the Native American is still invisible.
Asian-Americans are stereotyped in more positive characteristics, however, the stereotyping of the group as a whole still has negative consequences to individuals. Asian-Americans are generally characterized as hard working, successful, studious, and obedient. They are profiled as affluent and well educated, holding top managerial and professional positions. "Even as a minority, Asian-Americans represent the 'fastest growing and most affluent demographic segment'...their immigration outpaces that of any other group" (Taylor 47).
This profile fuels the image of Asian-Americans as being serious, well assimilated, intellectually gifted, and mathematically and technically skilled (Taylor 47). Although, it may seem that this image would be positive for an ethnic group, it does come with a price.
1996 study reported that "high and low achieving Asian-identified students experienced anxiety to uphold the expectations of the model minority stereotypes" (Kim pg). Students who were not academic achievers experienced depression and were too embarrassed to ask for help. Moreover, a 1997 study by the Educational Testing Service, "found that twelfth grade students from six major ethnic groups (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, and Southeast Asian) had significant variations in their educational backgrounds and achievement" (Kim pg). This study also showed how stereotyping has led to a neglect of student services and support for Asian-American students who are undereducated, low achievers, and/or have low socioeconomic status (Kim pg). This 'model minority' image that all Asian-American students are whiz kids and immune from behavioral disorders or psychological distresses prevents them from seeking help for academic and emotional problems, fearing that they would bring shame to their families. Trying to live up to this model minority stereotype results in only perpetuating academic problems and feelings of depression and isolation (Kim pg).
In fact a 2000 study found although Asian-American students "did better academically and had fewer delinquent behaviors than Caucasian-Americans, the Asian-American youth reported more depressive symptoms, withdrawn behavior, and social problems" (Kim pg). Moreover, they had poorer self-images and more dissatisfaction with social support.
These stereotypes that society has assigned to Asian-American students cause not only emotional distress, but create conflicts with peers, both of different races and within their own group (Kim pg). The model image…