John Piaget’s Cognitive Theory says that children learn through schemas. However, their schemas are limited by their lack of knowledge and experience. As children grow older, they learn to assimilate new information into an existing schema. Which in turn changes the existing framework to accommodate the new information. Until children learn the process of assimilation and accommodation, they generalize. They think all liquids are “juice”, or all four-legged animals are “dogs.” One particular schema has not been properly accommodated: the schema of race. Generalizations made about race in America oversimplify a person’s culture and discourage true diversity.
America took pride in being called the “melting pot.” Prominently during the 19th century, multitudes of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas immigrated to America. “Melting pot” became a metaphor for the differences in race and culture that were brought to the country, with the intention of creating a harmonious whole. This idea is flawed. America claims to be a melting pot and prides itself with the diversity it presents, yet no one fully wants to commit to the idea of diversity.
As a matter of fact, true diversity is not only acknowledging that diversity exists, but accepting it. “Americans speak more easily about ‘diversity’ than we do about the fact that I might marry your daughter; you might become we; we might become us.” (Rodriguez 271) It’s all about genes. Evolutionary psychology suggests that humans’ main goal in life is to leave a lasting mark on the world. Humans are wired to shape their behaviors to create certainty that their genes are passed onto the next generation. This suggests why people subconsciously, or not, don’t like the idea of their children having interracial conjugal relationships. This could change the mark they want to be left on the world. “…If you started with a black man, a white man could be produced; but starting with a white man, you could never produce a black man-because the white gene is recessive.” (Malcom X 229) Malcolm X argues that the first man must’ve been black. Does it matter? Instead of arguing “who was here first” and “who should have superiority” the focus needs to be on “the melting pot.” America is supposed to be mixed and harmonious in the end.
By the same token, can stereotypes be justified? If so, where did they originate? As children, there were activities with the directions of “find the different object and put an ‘X’ through it.” It can be argued that this is where people subconsciously began to think that diversity is bad. This is where standards were set and where being different became thought of as a flaw. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics yield that of America’s prisoners per 100,000 population by race in 2008: about 3270 were black, about 1250 were Hispanic, and about 550 were white. There is a correlation between race and crime; however, correlation is not causation. A big factor is education. As seen in “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” most uneducated people end up in prison. Historically, blacks and Hispanics didn’t have the same means or opportunities of maintaining an education. Hence, they represent a higher percentage of prison population.
In a similar manner, is the issue of racial profiling. “Mistaking the [black] reporter for the killer, police officers hauled him from his car at gunpoint and but for his press credentials would probably have tried to book him. Such episodes are not uncommon. Black men trade tales like this all the time.” (Staples 297) Despite this essay being written over 25 years ago, the issues in it seem to be timeless. Just last year, the story of Trayvon Martin made national news. The unarmed, young, black teenager had a hood on, and hands in his pocket. He interestingly was racially profiled and killed by a Hispanic policeman. Which coincidentally reinforces the continuous “competition” between blacks and Hispanics. But this story also brings up another issue: the inequality in races. In a similar story, a white teenager was racially profiled and killed. But in this case it was by a black police officer. Interestingly enough, this story did not make the news. Why not? It’s the same situation, but the racial roles are reversed. There’s an underlying factor on the white vs. black power struggle.
Uniquely, there’s always been a focus on blacks and whites, but other minorities aren’t ever included. “The American black man is the world’s most shameful case of minority oppression.” (Malcolm X 233) Yes, blacks have endured a lot of oppression; however, so have other minorities. Black and white is a very Western idea. Westerners like to have things direct and concise, but race doesn’t work that way. Race is black, white, and grey. In ‘“Blaxicans’ and Other Reinvented Americans” there is the idea of an “Impure-American, an Ambiguous-American.” (Rodriguez 271) It can be determined through reading that everyone is an impure American. For example, the Laotian kids who don’t like Mexicans, yet are speaking English with a Spanish accent. Another example is the fact that the narrator calls himself Chinese, “because I live in a Chinese city and because I want to be Chinese.” “Culture is fluid. Culture is smoke. You breathe it. You eat it.” (Rodriguez 274) Race should not define a person, culture should. The collective definition of culture was “first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, in the 17th century, people began to use the term to relate to observable physical traits.” People oversimplify race, and now wrongly refer to it as a color or distinct look. They need to dig deeper to the cultural side-the beliefs, values, food, music, and education. Because there, and only there, will you find the real composition of a person.
Classifying people according to race, weakens and sometimes eliminates, relationships in society. Making generalizations limits who people choose to associate themselves with and can create a sense of discomfort. In “Homemade Education” Malcolm X categorizes all white people as a bad race. Saying “…the whole word’s white men had indeed acted like devils, pillaging and raping and bleeding and draining the whole world’s non-white people.” (Malcolm X 230) This particular quote, along with the rest of the essay, exemplifies Malcolm’s thoughts when he lays eyes on a white person. But there isn’t a fair generalization that can be made based on race, especially now a days since race is based on color and physical characteristics. There are exceptions to everything, especially people. Stereotypes are running America’s society. They prevent relationships amongst people, and create unnecessary discomfort for those who have to live within the confines of a stereotype.
“All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.” (King 160) Although there has been an improvement in blatant discrimination since Martin Luther King Jr.’s time, there are still discriminatory thoughts that rule society. The truth of the matter is that racial stereotypes will never go away. The question is however, what people choose to do with them. Let them limit thinking and alter behaviors, or acknowledge that they exist and learn to think outside of their confines. The choice remains.