Sociological Analysis of Racism American History X

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Sociologists frequently express concern about racism, which is sadly widespread and leads to various societal issues. The movie American History X (1998) showcases the severe repercussions of racism through the story of two embittered and hateful brothers. Although it may appear insurmountable, racism can be confronted and gradually eliminated. To effectively combat racism, understanding its roots is essential.

American History X provides a comprehensive view of the factors influencing the lives of the protagonists, Derek and Danny Vineyard. The film delves into the origins of racism and explores the immoral actions that arise from it. The film writer highlights the true origins of these actions, leading to the characters’ alienation. The initial part of the film highlights racist ideologies used to justify internal colonialism. Additionally, it introduces Antonio Grammar’s concept of hegemony, which refers to the ignorant and dominant ways of a more powerful class over others.

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The film prompts questioning of societal constructs and pondering the reason for animosity. By revealing a flashback from Trek’s life, the second part of the film allows understanding of the reasoning behind their actions, delving into the root cause of Derek’s behavior – an enduring essence or underlying significance. This topic will be further explored later in the essay. The concluding section of the film showcases estrangement experienced by the central characters.

Their actions and beliefs ultimately lead to their own downfall, resulting in an epiphany. After his time in prison, Derek becomes aware of the unjust racist world he was previously oblivious to. His newfound black friend enlightens him about the valid reasons behind the ongoing events. However, the timing of this revelation raises the question of whether it is already too late. Meanwhile, Danny expresses his opinions through a school essay that gets him into trouble. When asked by Seth about his newfound knowledge, Danny initially expresses hatred towards individuals who do not belong to the white protestant group because he perceives them as a threat to the white race.

The ideology of non-protestants being a burden to society is defined as a belief formed by a group of people. According to the Thomas Nelson Canadian dictionary of Social Sciences, an ideology can be any belief formed by a group of people. In the context of racism, an ideology is defined as claiming that people can be classified into distinct races and that some races are inferior to others. These racist ideologies are often used to justify systems of slavery or colonial exploitation (Parkinson, 72). The white supremacists depicted in the film have developed strong and cruel ideologies regarding minorities.

Derek labels immigrants as “parasites” and accuses them of exploiting their country by crossing the border. During an interview, he claims that issues such as welfare, AIDS, and immigration do not affect white individuals; therefore, they should not concern themselves with these matters. Derek contrasts these alleged parasites with hardworking Americans like his father who tragically got shot by a black man while trying to put out a fire in a black community. According to Derek, his father shouldn’t have even bothered caring about that community initially. He holds the belief that minorities are undeserving of the same privileges as white people.

All these beliefs are used as a legitimate excuse for vandalizing a innocent immigrant’s grocery store. An Italian Marxist, Antonio Grammas, coined the term hegemony, which helps us understand how social domination occurs within different classes. “While originally used to analyze class-divided societies, the term is also applicable to discussions on patriarchal or colonial societies” (Parkinson, 68). American History X exemplifies this concept, showcasing clear evidence of internal colonialism.

The minorities in America are both marginalized and unwelcome. It is only when they directly encounter loss that they realize they are being dominated. This can be seen in instances such as the Asian immigrant who owned a retail store or the black men who were killed by Derek. The question arises: do these social tensions solely provoke anger in white Protestants, or is there a more profound underlying cause? Many killers bear emotional scars from their past, if not physical ones. Derek’s intense hatred towards black individuals stemmed from one of them having killed his father.

Upon hearing this, we initially feel sympathy for the man. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes evident that the father has been indoctrinating his children with horrific ideologies by openly expressing racist views towards black people during family dinners. In a flashback scene, Derek expresses admiration for one of his black teachers at school who has achieved remarkable success. Surprisingly, his father discourages Derek from believing any of the teachings from his teacher, calling them “bullwhip,” and brings up an incident of “affirmative ablation” that occurred in his workplace. The father highlights that two black men were hired over white men, but their performance on a test was inferior to that of the white candidates.

The advantage of the black minority was that government policy required them to be hired in the labor force to address ethnic inequality. The father disagrees with affirmative action, believing it is unfair to hardworking white men, although his opinion may be biased. He feels threatened and fears being replaced at work someday. He argues against teaching black literature to Trek’s teacher. It is at this point that Derek begins to understand the concept of the vertical mosaic, introduced by John Porter (1921-1979) to describe Canada. This concept emphasizes distinct ethnic identities but little blending or mixing. Porter believes Canada’s social groups are arranged vertically by social class and ethnicity (Guppy, Volvo 17). Despite government policies such as the Employment Equity Act and the charter, inequalities still exist. Even immigrants with better qualifications than Canadian-born individuals do not have their credentials recognized. Minorities are forced to adapt to the culture of the majority.

Trek’s teacher teaching black literature was disapproved of, possibly due to the influence of Trek’s father who planted a simple idea in his mind. Parents often hold the power to shape their children’s thoughts, even if they make poor choices in doing so. To understand why Trek acts the way he does, we must put ourselves in his shoes and examine what triggers and provokes his behavior. This process, known as “persistent” according to sociologist Max Weber, involves comprehending the meaning behind an action from the actor’s perspective (Parkinson, 165).

In the movie, we witness another instance of parental persistence when Professor Sweeney, the teacher who owns two Pad’s, converses with Derek during his prison visit. He confesses, “There was a period in my life where I used to hold everyone and everything accountable for the anguish, misery, and awful occurrences that afflicted me, my family, and my community. I would place blame on all: white individuals, society as a whole, even God! However, I failed to discover any solutions because I was posing the wrong inquiries. You must pose the appropriate queries.” It appears that Bob Sweeney also endured similar emotional wounds in his past which led him to engage in destructive behavior.

However, he soon realized that none of those things ever brought him happiness, leading to personal growth. This realization motivated Derek to choose a different path. Unfortunately, he harbored intense hatred within himself that he couldn’t contain. When Danny informed him about African American individuals who had vandalized his car, Derek sought revenge and ended up killing them. As a result, he was sentenced to jail and became alienated from his own community.“Alienation refers to the separation of individuals from the control and direction of their social life” (Parkinson, 3). During his time in prison, Derek endured the traumatic experience of being sexually assaulted by a group of European Americans who were once part of his former social circle.

Derek is devastated by the unfolding events but develops a positive attitude towards his new black friend, Lament, whom he meets in the laundry room. Lament becomes a source of comic relief for Derek and the main reason why he survives. The evident signs of racism are apparent when comparing Derek’s three-year prison sentence for killing two men to Lament’s six-year sentence for stealing a TV and allegedly assaulting an officer by dropping it on their feet. This type of racism was common in the past. Racism refers to discrimination based on race, particularly believing that one race is superior to another (Parkinson, 131). Earlier in the movie, Derek questions if the high number of black males in correctional systems coincidental or due to some racial commitment to crime. However, when Lament shares his story about being falsely charged with assaulting an officer and how it was actually the officer who caused him to lose grip of the television which then fell on their feet, Derek realizes there are always two sides to every story.

It has been reported by The Star that black individuals are disproportionately represented in specific offense categories due to the higher frequency of stops they experience compared to white individuals. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as racial profiling, where certain racial or ethnic groups face heightened scrutiny from the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, Derek was oblivious to this fact because of his own behavior.

But once he is separated and alienated from his people, he gains a clearer perspective through Lampoon’s and every other black man’s lens. He acknowledges the existence of racism and finds it repulsive. Trek’s prison experience was unpleasant, but this alienation proved beneficial to him in some way. While Karl Marx would argue that alienation is negative and causes division among individuals working together, this may not always be true. However, in Derek’s case, it was beneficial. As Derek recounts his experiences to his brother, Danny, they both have a revelation and resolve to rectify the situation.

However, the following day, Danny is murdered at school by a black student who may have perceived him as a threat based on his previous persona before his change. Consequently, Derek is once again left isolated and he mourns his deceased brother while shouting, ‘What have I done?’ In conclusion, American History X concluded in a disastrous manner, which was inevitable right from the beginning. Derek fulfilled his duty by dealing with Cameron, the white supremacist leader. However, certain repercussions of racism are irreparable.

Trek’s father initiated the damage and passed it on to his son, who subsequently continued the harm and passed it on to Danny. The situation deteriorated with each passing occurrence. Unfortunately, Dandy’s life and the lives of others lost throughout this process cannot be restored. The emotional pain inflicted cannot be repaired. The broken bonds cannot be restored. These behaviors are driven by hegemony and ideologies propagated by individuals, but the underlying reasons may be more explicit. It is crucial to acknowledge that everything we express in front of our young ones becomes engraved in their minds and could potentially cause harm in the future.

The vertical mosaic can be eradicated through the inclusion of multicultural societies, but society must embrace this transformation. It is essential for us to acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism in our midst and for individuals to foster a sense of connection rather than isolation prior to experiencing an awakening. Finally, I would like to explore the idea of false consciousness as depicted in the film, whereby a particular group remains oblivious to their unwitting service of the bourgeoisie’s agenda instead of their own.

This theory suggests that there is a misconception among members that they are collectively striving for a common class interest, much like how Cameraman’s white power activist mob supports him and his racist propaganda. According to Marx, this process also results in the workers feeling disconnected and estranged from their work. However, once they recognize the true motives of the bourgeoisie, they can attain success. Although Derek has faced the tragic loss of his brother, it remains optimistic that he will achieve prosperity in the times ahead.

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Sociological Analysis of Racism American History X. (2018, May 01). Retrieved from

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