Part A – [Structural Functionalism] One argument made by Structural Functionalists is that society should be a meritocracy. People should be rewarded based on their abilities. (Class notes, SOCI 201, Winter 2010) An example to illustrate this argument from Black Like Me is found on page 39. The elderly owner of the Y cafe complained to Griffin about how unfair the economic system was to black people. Many brilliant black students graduated with great marks, but still ended up doing the most menial work or very few selected jobs.
Many black people, therefore, chose not to educate themselves. As a result, the whites said they were not worthy of first-class citizenship and everything continued in a vicious circle. (Griffin, 1996: 40) This example is an illustration of the theoretical argument because it depicted how the society would lead itself to instability when the rewards were based on skin color, instead of ability. Many blacks gave up the higher education because they knew they would not be able to be what they wanted or have a job of their choice after putting all the hard work into it.
They knew the lack of opportunity was not due to their intellectual level, but the color of their skin, which they had no control over. A lack of education led the blacks to poverty and they struggled every day just to survive. They were limited in the paths they could take, forcing many to hustle on the streets or worse. It was not that they chose this, but due to society’s lack of choices for them. If the society was a meritocracy, black people would not have given up the opportunity of educating themselves. The whites would not be able to justify their second-rate citizenship theory upon the blacks.
The problem of the inequality would slowly disappear and the vicious circle would be broken. The society would be more stable and better place for all people. [Conflict Paradigm] One argument made by Conflict Paradigm is that some men are privileged over other men in society (Class notes, SOCI 201, Winter 2010). An example to illustrate this argument from Black Like Me is found on page 55. Christophe, the “Valentino” type of Negro, got on the bus and started complaining about the blacks venomously. He called them dirty ignorant punks. He thought “his people” disgraced him so he hated them.
For that reason it did not take much for any black man to start a fight with him, especially when he felt he was somehow privileged over them. That was what happened on the bus. This example is an illustration of the theoretical argument because Christophe, who was a victim of discrimination from whites, still felt he was somehow privileged over other black men. It was surprising that even during this age when the blacks had to struggle against a league of white supremacist, they also were forced to fight prejudices from their own people.
This helped to show how the Inclusive Feminist argument was not limited to race but based on one feeling superior over another. The whites in 1950’s felt privileged because of their race, but also due to their education, occupation, language skills, and manners, which were the reasons that caused Christophe to feel he was superior to his fellow men. Another example, during these times men felt instinctively privileged over women for no particular reason except that they were women. This idea of feeling privileged over another is prejudice and discounts the belief that we should each be judged by the content of our characters. Symbolic Interactionism] One argument made by Symbolic Interactionism is that understanding “roles” is the key to developing the reflexive self (Class notes, SOCI 201, Winter 2010). An example to illustrate this argument from Black Like Me is found on page 59. As Griffin traveled to Mississippi on a bus, he met a group of black fellows who tried to prepare him for the city that he was about to enter. They passed on tips about how to act, where to stay, and how to interact with the whites after he got to Hattiesburg(Griffin, 1996: 59).
This example is an illustration of the theoretical argument because it was critical for Griffin to understand how he, as a black male, was expected to behave in a land of lynch mobs. Something as little as looking at a picture with a white girl in it could get him into trouble. Trouble for a black man in this part of the country could very likely lead to a sever beating or death by the hands of an unruly mob. He needed to be “educated” to know his roles in various situations, so he could behave “decently” in order to stay away from such troubles.
The discriminating social stratification in 1950’s developed a set of servile behavior on the blacks. They were thought to be inferior to whites, and were treated accordingly. Moreover, different parts of the country had various ranges of sensitivities while dealing with the blacks. For example, in Mississippi things were particularly tense after the Parker lynch case. No black man would dare look into any white man’s eyes in fear of the repercussions. On the bus, a man warned Griffin to watch himself closely until he caught onto Mississippi’s ways.
In an extreme case like this, it was vital to learn about their roles and behave accordingly. Part B – [My Sociological Insight] One thing that I found sociologically interesting about Black Like Me was how dominant ideology affected people’s behavior and how people took it for granted. Any racial prejudice or discrimination nowadays is considered extremely offensive. However, the whites, by common consent, could show their contempt through facial expression or body languages to any black person in the Deep South in the 1950s. The most brutal part was they were actually expected to act viciously toward their colored counterparts.
If any man was “brave” enough to challenge the prevalent ideology, he would face heartless retaliation and be deserted by his friends and community. P. D. East, the author of Magnolia Jungle, was one of the few that experienced this in the hardest way (Griffin, 1996: 74). East was a successful Southern businessman who ran a little newspaper, The Petal Paper. The paper prospered as he tried hard to keep in line with “popular opinion” and never mention Negroes except in a manner harmonious to the Southern Way of Life. He made himself wealthy and popular among the townspeople.
However, he started having trouble sleeping at night and felt he had abandoned his editorial responsibility and prostituted his conscious. After 1954 Supreme Court decision on segregation, he applied a “fair” editorial policy to his paper and started preaching justice. The paper lost its subscribers and ads; he received anonymous threatening calls; and his old friends turned against him. People called him a “goddamn nigger-loving, jew-loving, communist son-of-a-bitch. ” As a result of this, wherever he went he carried a gun (Griffin, 1996: 76).
The white supremacy ideology allowed the white people to mistreat the blacks because they were thought of as lower beings. As a result, the blacks learned to behave in certain ways to “obey” the roles. For example, there was no segregation section on the buses, however black people would automatically walk to the back of the bus even if there were empty seats in the front. (Griffin, 1996: 12); they learnt to be “yes-men” when white people talked to them. (Griffin, 1996: 103); and they said nothing when white people showed them any sign of impatient or contempt.
The ideology overwhelmed the disadvantage group and forced them to act accordingly. “The Negro, too, fares better in the country. But most are deprived of education. Ignorance keeps them poor, and when a town-dwelling Negro is poor, he lives in the ghetto. His wife has to work usually, and this leaves the children without parental companionship. In such places, where all of man’s time is spent just surviving, he rarely knows what it means to read a great book. He has grown up and now sees his children grow up in squalor. His wife usually earns more than he.
He is thwarted in his need to be father-of-the-household. When he looks at his children and his home, he feels the guilt of not having given them something better. His only salvation is not to give a damn finally, or else he will fall into despair. In despair a man’s sense of virtue is dulled. He no longer cares. He will do anything to escape it-steal or commit acts of violence-or perhaps try to lose himself in sensuality. Most often the sex-king is just a poor devil trying to prove the manhood that his whole existence denies. This is what the whites call the ‘sorry nigger’…. ” (Griffin, 1996: 92)
I can’t imagine how many whites had to act against their conscious or will in order to have a “normal” life in 1950s. How many of East’s friends were acting out inline with their own true values, instead of conforming the dominant ideology. People witnessed the outcome of swaying away from the “core value”. They knew what would happen to thems if they did something similar or for what they did not do. For example, they would be categorized the same as East if they did not turn against him. Even though the racial issue is not as bad as 50 years ago, we still undergo dominant ideologies’ influence in nearly every aspect of our live.
The same set of thoughts could be accepted in one generation and become completely indecency in a matter of 50 years. For the society to be a better place for all human, we have to constantly challenge and debate the dominant ideology. Taking nothing for granted to ensure the well-being of everyone. Either we alter our comfort to conform to the ideology or we accept the altered truth that conforms to our comfort. (Griffin, 1996: 74) REFERENCES Class notes. SOCI 201 Winter 2010. Linda Henderson, University of Calgary. Griffin, John Howard. 1996. Black Like Me. New York: Signet Printing.
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