Standpoint Theory Essay

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Theory

Issues of race and ethnicity have typically been touchy ones that provoke strong reactions out of people living in the United States. An excellent example of this fact is demonstrated in "The Color of Fear," in which director Lee Mun Wah groups together eight men from four different ethnicities and provides an unflinching commentary on some of the most prevalent issues related to race relations at the time of the documentary's unveiling in 1984. What this documentary indicates, and what a bevy of literature (including Albert Johnson's "Power, Privilege and Difference," David Meyer's "How Nice People Are Corrupted," and Reid Luhman and Stuart Gilman's "Ethnic Groups in the United States: A Short History") alludes to is the fact that race plays an intrinsic part in one's social standing, and that there are a variety of factors related to these realities that influence perceptions of and interactions between people of different races. An examination of this literature and of the aforementioned documentary indicate that in order to have true racial harmony and progress between people of different ethnicities, people must be willing to transcend their own social status and vantage point and consider things from the perspectives of those in alternate social statuses and races.

One of the most salient aspects of the aforementioned thesis is the fact that the amount of effort required to transcend one's social status is not equal for all groups of people or those from varying standpoints. This primarily has to do with the concept of privilege that exists within this country, and which is based on the fact that the history of the United States as a nation is largely that based on European settlers -- predominantly from England. As such, people from other European ancestries are able to take for granted many of the benefits of this country since they are considered part of the privileged class of people residing here, due to the cultural and physical similarities (such as skin color and hair texture) to the "Founding Fathers" that they exhibit. It is for this reason that large amount of the literature reviewed for this assignment deals with different aspects of Caucasians understanding their own standpoints, the ramifications it has on others, and what exactly they have to do to transcend their standpoints to truly comprehend what life is like for racial minorities in this country.

This concept is the basis of the first two chapters of Albert Johnson's book. Johnson spends the bulk of these two chapters discussing his own experience, and that of people like him -- Caucasian males -- due to the wide amount of privilege that they have in this country. Such privilege allows him to garner a certain amount of respect and honorable standing in the eyes of society at large, as well as that within the eyes of most historical minority groups. There are a number of instances in these first two chapters in which the author spends time explaining to other Caucasian people that issues of race and the role it plays in the daily lives of others is not quite as simple as they are for people like them. This is due to the fact that for the most part, Caucasian people are not subjected to the systematic profiling and stereotyping that people from other ethnicities routinely go through. Therefore, Johnson is convincing his reader that the first step towards acknowledging the wide divide that race plays in a harmonious situation between people of different ethnicities is to acknowledge that people from standpoints at variance with those of European background have a decidedly different time merely functioning in society than some of his readers might. And, in order for his readers to help in transcending their own social positions to understand those of others in order to actuate progress between the races, they must first understand what those others go through so they can rationalize from their point-of-view.

The notions of standpoint theory and systems of privilege (the latter of which highly influences Johnson's work) help to explain several aspects about David Christenson's responses in the film "The Color of Fear." Christensen was largely unaware that inter-minority racism was existent, and was even somewhat dubious about the possibility of its existence when told about this concept by his peers in the video. This sort of ignorance can be attributed to systems of privilege for the simple fact that unless Christenson himself or some of his family and friends are engaged in prejudicial behavior towards others of a minority race, he widely does not see or is subjected to interracial minority racism -- since he is not part of this social standing. The inherent privilege Christenson is endowed with in this country keeps him largely unaware of such things, since he is typically treated with equality and respect in most of his endeavors. Standpoint theory contributes to his ignorance for the simple fact that such important social factors such as his race, gender, and general regard by society influence his perceptions of others. He has yet to transcend his own standpoint, so he has little regard for or knowledge of the other ramifications that exist for people of other social standing. Therefore, he responded in a largely naive way to many of the issues raised by the other men in the group because he effectively is a victim of his standpoint, which is one of privilege. In order to get beyond that he must become exposed and understand the tribulations that people of other standpoints go through to truly get to a state of racial harmony.

There is a fair amount of relevance to Christenson's ignorance and Meyer's article, the latter of which elucidates a number of relevant points that also help to explain Christenson's dearth of knowledge regarding racism and the social plight of other minority groups. One of the most interesting aspects of Meyers' articles is the fact that people tend to do what they have to do to fit in. Meyers offers a fair amount of evidence that attests to this fact, beginning with the anecdote about the young man who waited to see if a cup of wine would go down because it was drank by a Hebrew prophet, and who perceived such a thing as happening -- even though in reality nothing of the sort happened. The young man in the anecdote had this perception because he was told that such a thing would take place. In much the same way, people who are of the same standpoints tend to exhibit the sort of behavior that others around them do, and only tend to view things as those other people around them do. In addressing why people cannot all get along together, this is an important factor because it demonstrates that people actually just want to fit in and do as others do. If doing so means that people do not happen to get along with one another, then so be it -- it is better to simply fit in.

Yet the crux of Meyers' article and that of the others reviewed for this assignment is that if people actually are to get along or to function in a state of harmony with one another, there has to be a definite degree of accountability. Specifically, people must be aware of their own negative proclivities, the privileges that help and harm others, as well as be aware of the respective standpoints that stratify society and get beyond them to truly achieve any sort of unity. Transcendence must take place so that people from different social standing can understand that which others go through. Such an understanding can facilitate the sort of compassion required to elicit change that will allow people to narrow the divide that Johnson refers to in his book. Without this sort of understanding, the gap between the races will continue to grow.

It is fairly apparent that in the documentary "The Color of Fear," the social location of the non-white characters is very different than that of the Caucasian characters. As a country largely founded by Anglo-Saxons (Luhman and Gilman 2), those with European ancestries have traditionally enjoyed a more prominent social place and ability for upward mobility than those who are of another ethnicity. Therefore, there are a number of different conceptions of society and its regard for the individual that are discernibly different between these men based on their ethnicity. It is significant that Victor, Lauren, Roberto, David Lee, Hugh and Yutaka widely view Gordon and Christenson as representatives of the American establishment (The Color of Fear). This fact becomes discernible in a number of their conversations regarding their everyday experiences (The Color of Fear), which are inherently influenced by the impact of their ethnicities on their social locations.

The situated knowledge of these men is largely influenced by their social standings. Social standing depends on several factors including age, ethnicity, financial standing, and relation to hegemony. Hegemony refers to the dominance of one…[continue]

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