The discussion of racism was indeed insightful and one of the discussion points raised was whether or not racism would always exist in society -- in some shape or form. This is indeed an intriguing idea, because looking back on world history, racism fundamentally has existed in some shape or form throughout society. As one participant explained, cultural and social norms are always going to vary from place to place and this is always going to be a breeding ground for racism. This does raise a good point. Racism is founded in fear of the unknown and insecurity. As Vladimir Nabokov has said, no matter where in the world you go, "stranger always rhymes with danger" (Naiman, 2010). This summarizes the motivations of racism in a nutshell. As one scholar explains, the system upon which racism is built "…is dependent upon holding its victims in the grips of fear. So it takes the prejudice that it finds and the power that is generated by the use of collective prejudice to create the systems of exclusion and exploitation and makes it appear that this is enough to build a lifestyle upon. Thus the Klanspeople have built a life upon their fear along with all of the others who are not in the Klan but who hold onto racist practices because of their fear of what will be lost if change comes into their lives. We are witnessing it every day in our country as we listen to the voices screaming about taking away resources from the poor, Hispanics, African-Americans and anyone who represents the other" (Meeks, 2011). This professor is touching up on a truly overwhelming trend that occurs with racism: that it truly is founded in irrational fear and to man racists, this fear is incredibly immediate, as minorities and the poor present a very real and overwhelming threat to people like neo-Nazis and members of the KKK.
However, the agency and power remains with society and the human race. Just as fear will always be an irrational part of human existence, racism can still be prevented and unlearned. Education and social conditioning to prevent racist attitudes is vital. Part of unlearning these tendencies involves taking responsibility for them. "No young person acquires misinformation by their own free choice. Racist attitudes and beliefs are a mixture of misinformation and ignorance which is imposed upon young people through a painful process of social conditioning" (Sherover-Marcuse, 2000). Thus, the adults and leaders of society need to take a long hard look at themselves and any bias and bigotry which might exist as a result of their own personal prejudices. These things, if left unexamined, will be passed on to the next generation. Some people argue that "everyone has a choice" but when it comes to children growing up in bigoted households, these children really don't have a choice. Children for the most part, absorb what is told to them as they don't have the critical thinking skills to question this type of information.
This puts an even more aggravated burden on educators and community leaders to combat hate with education and preventative measures -- such as teaching tolerance. Furthermore, another factor which breeds racism is misinformation. Misinformation does a grave disservice to all people as it distorts one's perceptions of reality and what is valid.
Module Two: Functionalism and Ways of Acting Wrongly
I've always viewed functionalism as a theory about mental states. "According to functionalism, mental states are identified by what they do rather than by what they are made of. This can be understood by thinking about artifacts like mousetraps and keys. In particular, the original motivation for functionalism comes from the helpful comparison of minds with computers. But that is only an analogy" (utm.edu). As we discussed functionalism in class, we focused upon the way that functionalism can manifest properly and improperly in society and how functionalism has a part in proper etiquette. One of the most common examples that was brought up in class was the phenomenon of "close talking." We discussed how simply speaking to someone while standing too close to their face could be considered rude and inappropriate. This is fascinating, as technically, the close talker isn't doing anything wrong; this person is just crossing or ignoring a slight boundary. When children cross or ignore certain boundaries or norms of society, we often say that such an event is cute or find it charming. However, there appears to be a lower threshold of tolerance for such things in adulthood.
Ultimately, functionalism is very important because it gives society and members of society a clearer form of structure when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable behavior. However, functionalism does present the danger of binding human behavior and making people feel like they're being bound to "norms" or rules that serve more to restrict behavior than to encourage autonomy.
Module Three: Cottingham Controversy
The example with the Cottingham Controversy simply demonstrates that human beings have been socially conditioned to believe the minorities are often in a disadvantaged position and thus in need of money. If anything this story illustrates what's wrong with the country: the story helps to illustrate the inherent bias and inequality that pervades American life and how it influences the thought process of most people without them even realizing it. Consider the following facts about life in America: "African-American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children. American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian families are more likely than Caucasian and Asian families to live in poverty (Costello, Keeler, & Angold, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007)…Minorities are more likely to receive high-cost mortgages: African-Americans (53%) and Latinos (43%), in comparison to Caucasians (18%) (Logan,2008). Unemployment rates for African-Americans are typically double those of Caucasian-Americans. African-American men working full time earn 72% of the average earnings of comparable Caucasian men and 85% of the earnings of Caucasian women (Rodgers, 2008)" (apa.org, 2013). These facts demonstrate that there are forces at work which create an unfair advantage for Caucasians. There are also forces at work which keep minorities poor and ensure that they stay poor. In fact, these inequalities have so profoundly shaped society that the example given by Cottingham only serves to better illustrate the supreme dysfunction and unfairness of society. Thus, the pedestrian who gives money to the black beggar over the white one isn't a racist per se; such a conclusion would be grotesquely minimizing and simplifying the situation as a whole. One could probably more accurately conclude that the pedestrian is actually someone who's experienced extreme social conditioning. This person has no doubt witnessed how unfair life in America can be for minorities and has probably never met many minorities who have been able to overcome these obstacles and hurdles. Thus, the pedestrian is not necessarily a racist; they might just be sheltered.
Module Four: Racism or Culturalism
This was one of the most relevant discussions pertaining to the material. Too often in society one encounters people who explain their distaste for a given group of people explaining that they're not racist against these people, they're a culturalist, and that the people from this particular culture don't correspond to their values. Generally, I've found that this is just cleverly shrouded racism. Such views are generally shrouded in bigotry just like any others. These "culturalists" generally just focus on the aspects of a given culture that they don't like and discriminate these people based on that. Culturalists have simply found a more socially acceptable way to be racist. Most culturalists don't take the time to get more than a superficial understanding of a given culture before they judge it. These are exactly the types of tendencies which allow racism to flourish.
"Culturalism is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realise him or herself within it. Culturalism also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections -- even if at the same time they violate individual rights" (Erikson, 2010). Yet another problem with culturalism is that it remove the autonomy and agency from the individual. Individuals are seen as pawns entrapped in their culture, and apparently unable to remove themselves from the cultural language, values and customs from which they've been initiated. This is an extremely narrow perspective of the human being and truly treats human beings as if they were simply puppets or victims of their own culture and up-bringing. In this perspective, human beings can do very little to change themselves or their circumstances. This is simply untrue and unfair.
As on scholar illuminates, culturalism and nationalism do indeed overlap. "Culturalism has an entire range of categories in common with nationalism; indeed, nationalism in reality constitutes a subvariant of culturalism, in which a single culture provides the basis for the state. Therefore it…