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Racism in Beaches
Racism is the discrimination of individuals based on their race. Ever since the beginning of civilized society, race has always been a contentious issue. Many at times, supremacist tendencies are a common feature of races, and especially so when the society in question is of mixed race. The racist nature of human beings was responsible for the beginning of the slave trade in the United States and Europe.
Fast forward hundreds of years later, the menace of racism still continues to haunt society while threatening to rear its ugly head once more. Countless spirited campaigns against racism have played a significant role in abating the issue, and some neighborhoods such as Howard Beach felt the hard pinch of racism as late as the 1980s (Wellman, 47). Being a neighborhood that is predominantly white and comprising of Italians and Jews with very few blacks is primarily responsible for the racist surges witnessed in the 1980s.
In the past, the South was infamous for its white supremacist notions that spearheaded the racist actions of these individuals. The outbreak of racism in the North, and in particular New York City was worrisome. This was specifically because the North was known to be of mixed race and this diversity led the people in these neighborhoods to be very accommodating of other races. The racist behavior of the perpetrators of these acts points to a larger social problem that plagued New York City in this time period (Sleeper, 33). The children were being raised upon questionable virtues that sought to exalt their race and look down upon other races, mainly the black race. It is necessary that the root cause of the problem is understood to facilitate a proper analysis of the problem (Brooks, 62).
In the night of December 19th in 1986, a group of young men were out riding in their car when it broke down. The men were Timothy Grimes, Curtis Sylvester, Cedric Sandiford and Michael Griffith. Once the car broke down, Curtis was left watching the car while the three other men looked for help in the nearest town. A three mile walk led them to Howard Beach where they enjoyed a pizza at the local pizzeria before deciding to move on in search of help. However, upon their exit from the pizzeria, they were confronted by a group of young men who hurled racial slurs at them and told them to get out of their neighborhood. Timothy Grimes pulled a knife on the assailants and was lucky enough to escape serious harm. However, his friends Cedric Sandiford and Michael Griffith were not as lucky. Sandiford was struck by a baseball bat and suffered serious injuries while Michael was knocked down by a car and died while fleeing from the vicious mob.
The attackers were arrested, and the main perpetrators were sentenced to prison, but the outcry and the racial division that this event had on the New York City community and the American society at large was at an all-time high (Sleeper, 24). The society in which these races lived peacefully with each other seemed to have died a natural death with the onset of these heinous acts. Many New Yorkers especially in the Howard Beach neighborhood were largely affected by this act and subsequent racial injustices.
However, the occurrence of these events seems to have had a lasting impression on the lives of many New Yorkers. There have been numerous efforts to reconcile the races involved in these acts, but the attempts served as fuel to an already raging fire. Many individuals in younger generations are now raised with racist tendencies enshrined in their minds and hearts. It is saddening that the parents of these children and youth that harbor racist views are primarily responsible. Children are a reflection of society, and more often than not, they highlight the successes and failures of parents, and of the society at large. Even when slave trade and racism was extremely rampant in the South, the parents and previous generations were to blame.
Holding on to outdated schools of thought on matters race is a key factor in supporting racism in the United States of America. The group of young men that attacked Michael Griffith and his friends is the product of racist thoughts and actions by their parents and the social structures they grew up around. Although this fact neither shifts blame from the perpetrators nor hides the fact that the young men were responsible for the actions, it is the greater problem that must be addressed (Wellman, 88). Having young men who are brought up believing that their race is better than another or that their race deserves better treatment than another is the reason why these young men attacked Michael and his friends.
However, the fact that Timothy Grimes also pulled a knife on the group of young men cannot go ignored. It begs the question why did Timothy Grimes have a knife in the first place. Was this group of young men one made up of criminal offenders, or was it just a coincidence? It is even argued that the fact that Timothy Grimes had a knife is the reason the problem escalated beyond control. However, the fact that Timothy Grimes had a knife, and was willing to use it, highlights the true plight of the black community in Howard Beach, as well as, the United States of America.
Having suffered endless atrocities in the slave trade days, the black community came to view injustice as a part of their lives. This community came to believe that the white community is responsible for their suffering and the only way to ensure the white community also suffered was by taking the law into their own hands. Although this racist incident was one in which black young men were attacked, it is also common to hear of young white men who have been attacked by gangs made up of black men. This raises doubts to the upbringing that children receive.
The social structures and amenities in which many children are raised also have a significant impact on the child’s view on racism. In a neighborhood that is predominantly white, mingling between white and black children is very limited (Brooks, 99). This results in a preconceived notion in the mind of the child that their race is the only race that is acceptable in their neighborhood or around their social amenities. The failure of children to interact with other children from different races can lead to the development of an inferiority or superiority complex in the children.
As is the case with the Howard Beach neighborhood, the development of a superiority complex by the white children led them to discriminate against Michael Griffith and his group of friends. On the other hand, an inferiority complex that Michael and his friends harbored is probably the reason why Timothy Grimes had a knife in the first place. Perhaps he felt the need to always protect himself. This belief coupled with the belief that the law exhibits racist bias can lead one towards extreme racist ideologies. A misconception of Michael and his friends by the white young men in Howard Beach could be the reason that they were attacked. Perhaps the young men felt the innate desire to protect themselves and their neighborhood from the likes of Timothy Grimes who had pulled out a knife amidst the confrontation (Wellman, 120).
The trial of the main perpetrators of the attacks on the black young men was the hallmark of fairness in the judicial system for the black race (Sleeper, 82). The sentencing of these young men to lengthy prison sentences proved that the law is devoid of bias and that it cuts across the racial divides that society has placed upon itself. However, the sentencing of a few individuals to prison only consoles the hearts of those who lost their loved ones or who were affected by the events. It is noteworthy that this sentencing does not address the underlying issues that are responsible for the development of racist views among children and adults.
The annals of history highlight injustices against the African American community and this has significant effects on the development of racist views in blacks and whites alike. Feelings of racial hate are common in the United States of America and the whole world at large, and such feelings can lead to events like the one in which Michael Griffith lost his life and other young men were injured. It is necessary to address the causes of racism in order to solve this problem.
In Howard Beach, the racial imbalance in the population is a cause for alarm. This racial imbalance is responsible for the feelings of condescension that the whites harbor towards the blacks. The young white attackers are quoted as telling Michael and his friends to ‘leave our neighborhood’. The feeling that the neighborhood of Howard Beach belongs to the white populace is the result of racial imbalance. The white felt that they cannot share their neighborhood with another race, and especially so a black race.
The fact that the white young men committed atrocities towards Michael Griffith and his friends cannot change. However, it should be acknowledged that no human being is born racist and that this is often the result of habit learnt from the society and from the family. The killing of Michael and beating of Sandiford were a big blow to the fight against racism in the United States of America, and it set back this fight a couple of steps (Brooks, 45). However, Howard Beach has turned a new leaf over the years and New York City is once again firmly set in the fight against racism. The new generations of children learn to accommodate different races at early ages, and this has been instrumental in the fight against racism. Howard Beach remains forever haunted by the scars of a racist past, but the desire to change this fact has driven this neighborhood into becoming one that is synonymous with love, peace and above all, racial accommodation.
Brooks, Roy L. Rethinking the American Race Problem. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Print.
Sleeper, Jim. In Search of New York. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers, 1989. Print.
Wellman, David T. Portraits of White Racism. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994. Print.
The Roots and Effects of Racism in “So What Are You, Anyway?”
“So What Are You, Anyway” by Lawrence Hill is a manifestation of racism as it occurs in modern Canadian society. Through this story, Hill aims to enlighten the readership on the casual nature with which racism is treated and addressed in Canada. Through the eyes of Carole during her encounter with the Nortons, we witness racism in its raw state. The Nortons are the typical example of individuals that feel they hold some form of privilege over others because of their skin colour. Racism leads to unnecessary conflict as well as emotional imbalance among the victims in society.
This story is Hill’s way of shedding light on the roots and results of racism. The Norton couple is the perfect example of people who still harbor racist ideologies and tendencies in 1970, which is the time setting of this story, despite the glaring fact that racial segregation ha ended by this time. In 1970, the racial prejudices that were characteristic of previous years are starting to lose their footing particularly in Canada. It is therefore a direct representation of individuals that are still racist today. It is as much a surprise to Carole as it would be today.
Racial prejudice is one of the roots of racism. One of the earliest depictions of this prejudice is at the beginning of the story. When Mr. Norton arrives at his seat and sees the black doll, he says “A black doll! I never saw such a thing!”(pg. 100) This statement is the embodiment of racial prejudice. His exclamation at the existence of a black doll is a representation of just how racist Mr. Norton is. Mr. Norton’s prejudices cannot allow him to imagine the existence of a black doll, since in his mind dolls are only supposed to be white. To him, the black race is not worthy of having imitations, even in the form of dolls. This subliminal racism is the result of racial superiority complexes in Mr. Norton. They cause him to downgrade the abilities and independence of black people.
The fact that African-Americans were often the descendants of slaves also had a huge bearing on the development of prejudice (Bulmer & Solomos 1999). The notion that all slaves were forced to fulfill their masters’ wishes is also addressed in the story. This is exhibited in line 36 (pg. 101) where Mr. Norton seemingly objects Carole’s going to the bathroom at the time when the stewardesses are serving the meals. This is a representation of the slave trade period where white masters had the final say on matters concerning their slaves. Mr. Norton harbors some form of subliminal racism that leads him into believing that the whites can make decisions for the blacks, whether they like it or not.
The existence and wrongfulness of these racial stereotypes are what Hill sought to address through this literary work. The fact that Carole proceeds to go to the bathroom is a manifestation that black and mixed race individuals are now free to make their own decisions. The fact that Carole is a young girl, yet she still decides to do as she wishes represents the progress of freedom among the black and mixed race populations. Another one of these racial stereotypes is exhibited in the form of subliminal racism when Mrs. Norton asks Carole, “Is your mother Chinese?” in response to Carole’s answer that she would paint her mother’s face yellow. Mrs. Norton exhibits subliminal racism when she says “So you’re mixed? You’re a mulatto!”(pg. 103) She offends Carole by calling her a mulatto, a racial slur for mixed race individuals.
The results of racism are, more often than not, negative. The first is conflict between the couple and Carole. Mr. Norton exhibits polite racism when he hogs the arm rest and sprawls his feet across to Carole’s side. His downgrading of Carole due to her mixed race, alongside an array of scathing racial comments leads the onset of conflict. Carole snaps at the Nortons for insisting on determining the races of her parents. When the stress builds up to the breaking point, Carole finally calls out the Nortons for their behavior and moves to sit with the stewardess. The fact that the passengers as well as the stewardess all side with Carole represents the fact that racism has been eradicated in a majority of the population, with only a small number still harboring racist ideologies. The fact that racial segregation was still a burning issue in America is depicted in the behavior of the Nortons. Their racial insensitivity leads them into conflict with Carole.
Racism is also responsible for causing emotional stress among the victims on the receiving end of racial slurs and discrimination. In this story, Carole experiences reasonable emotional stress due to the racist comments of the Nortons. This is clearly highlighted when the narrator says, in line 19 (pg. 100), “Carole swallows with difficulty” and in line 53 (pg. 102) where Carole “…senses that the man is asking a bad question. It is as if he is asking her something dirty, or touching her in a bad place.” These actions cause emotional turmoil for Carole until “She wishes her Mom and Dad were there [with her].” These are highly uncomfortable scenarios for any individual, let alone a girl as young as Carole who is travelling alone. The invasion of her privacy by complete strangers that are racially insensitive is very uncomfortable for Carole.
This reading is an eye-opener. It highlights complex intricacies of racism in a very simple and straight-forward manner. Hill allows the reader to understand that racism is still existent today and has extremely negative effects, though the individuals doing this hardly seem to notice their insensitivity. Its roots as well as its results are filled with malice, prejudice and evil. Through this reading, the reader grasps the reality that no matter how much some individuals may try to cover it up, nothing good comes out of racism (Bulmer & Solomos, 1999). This is essential to addressing the remnants of racism in our present-day society. This reading discourages the use of racial slurs and racially insensitive comments on racial minorities. Just like Carole suffered at the side of the Nortons, many individuals from racial minorities continue to suffer from racism in society today. By having a firm understanding of the reading and the negative effects of racism, then one has the chance to eradicate racism, even if it is only within themselves.
Bulmer, M., & Solomos, J. (1999). Racism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, L. (2000). “So what are you, anyway?”. Toronto: HarperPerennialCanada.