American Mythology and Racism

One in a series of posters attacking Radical R...

One in a series of posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Deanne Walters

Nations are imagined communities, with in an imagined community there are often myths that do not always match up with the reality of what that imagined community is like. The example that will be explored for this blog post is America and race. The myth that America presents is that it is multiethnic society where all races are equal. Yet this is far from true. The history of racism is clear throughout American history and this continues to modern day. Racism has created negative stereotypes of people of color and especially African American people. What do the creations about the imagined community of America show about how America sees itself?

Language, especially slang, can show how Americans think of the races. A kind of covert racism is associating the colors white and black with good and evil. For example, seeing something as black and white is seeing something as all bad or all good. Covert racism can extend to the description of people. Fair when used as complement again reinforces the connection between light skin and beauty. Language can also be used in an obvious form of racism using words like the negro or slant-eyes. This reduces people to a physical characteristic taking away their humanity. They have been used as slurs against enemies, as seen during World War II and the Vietnam War for the slurs against Asians. These words are also used against Americans who have Asia or African ancestry. In that way while America would like to be seen as multiethnic and equal nation, however when we look at its language and slang we can see it still clearly has racism.

What could be a better example of what America stands for than Miss America? For 2014, there was the first Indian-American crowned. There was also a huge backlash on social media saying that she was not “American” enough and instead holding up Miss Kansas (who has blond hair and white skin) as what a true American should be. While this is only one example, this idea runs much deeper in media. When looking at media that is about a group within America, the majority of actors are white. Only 4 percent of Oscars have gone to African Americans and only 14 percent of characters in television and film are African American. If America was a multiethnic and equal community, why is the nation’s diversity not repressed in film? There is still racial bias in American media and that bias extends over all of American society.

The final area is the idea of white as a default person. When talking about other races in America it often said African Americans or Asian Americans, but that contributes to the idea that then when you say American they are white. By thinking that white is the starting point it means that they are the people who get represented most in television and film. This is another bias that shows the racism in American society.

Apart from all these examples the negative stereotypes of people of color are common in the American society and they still affect people of color. The myth that America tries to promote of being multiethnic society and an equal society it is just that, a myth. America does have people from many ethnicities and races, however they are not equal. Racism is still major problem that needs to be addressed.

References:

Goodykoontz, B. (2012, February 24). Despite oscar notice, black actors still hit limits in film. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/movieawards/oscars/story/2012-02-24/race-in-hollywood/53238028/1 

Hafiz, Y. (2013, September 16). Nina davuluri’s miss america 2014 win prompts twitter backlash against indians, muslims. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/nina-davuluri-miss-america-religion_n_3934428.html 

Moore, R. B. (2006). Racism in the english language. In O’Brien, J. A. (Ed.), The production of reality: Essays and readings on social interaction (pp. 119–126). London, UK: Saga Publications, Ltd.

Richardson, K. (2013, April 25). How can white americans be free?. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/04/25/how_can_white_americans_be_free/ 

2 thoughts on “American Mythology and Racism

  1. I don’t think the writer has thought deeply enough about this topic:

    Black has been associated with bad and white with goog in European language and culture since long before Europeans first encounteredBlack people. It is disingenuous to call this covert racism.

    My understanding is that “African-American” is the term favoured by some Americans formerly labelled Blacks. It is not a “white term”.

    According to the US Census, currently, Blacks make-up 13.1% of the US population; at 14% of TV and movie characters, they are slightly OVER-represented.

  2. Sociological Images (http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/) is a great blog for learning more about this topic, especially since there are a lot of articles about race and prejudice in historical and contemporary linguistics and media representation–”white as default” and “man as default” come up a lot. Hope this is hopeful for you and your studies!

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