Modern America is considered to be a melting pot, in which a variety of races, cultures, or individuals gather into a unified whole. The ideas of being a new American for people who have migrated from their homeland to America are to leave behind all their past cultures and practices and embrace their new American ways. Is that what really happens? If it was, would there be still racism in America? The number of people immigrating to America has risen over the years, but so has the number of active hate groups. The idea of unity in the melting pot of America is a myth because of racism, stereotypes, prejudice, and cultural segregation of its people.
Most people would say that racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race. It’s more than that. It’s the belief that those characteristics of each race determine whether or not the race is superior or inferior to the other races. Racism has dated back to hundreds of years in the past. Even former president Thomas Jefferson said, “I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” (Jefferson, 502). To Thomas Jefferson emancipated slaves as well as the owned slaves and their physical and mental characteristics were not up to par with their white owners. Not just because of their status as slaves, but because what race they were. Only because they were a bit different from the white people that owned the land at the time. One of the most interesting, yet unsettling facts was that many of America’s founding fathers practiced the principle of ethnocentrism and did not seem to consider this an act of racism.
Ethnocentrism has been defined as “a generalized rejection of all out groups on the basis of an in group focus” (Parrillo, 505). An example would be how some races have been identified as dirty, violent, or law breaking. This grew even more in the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11. It is very important to understand that prejudice is rejection of a person or people based on the group or race in which they share similarities. That is not to say that either of these should be acceptable if the intent is to improve the social condition. Another barrier to improving racial and ethnic relations is created by how the media presents situations that have occurred involving people of race and ethnic background. For example, during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina many of the pictures portrayed people of different ethnicities finding food from a grocery store. However from the two pictures the white couple were considered survivalists while the single black male was considered a looter, “People complained that the captions accompanying the images were racially suggestive: black people “loot” and white people “find” (Harris and Carbado, 525). It’s not very fair to say one is “looting” and the other as having “found” their supplies by looking at their race, but this is how it was portrayed by the social media in this situation.
Media in all its forms has a lot to do with the reinforcement of prejudice and self-worth by presenting stereotypes that clarify class standings often portraying race and ethnic diversity in a negative way. This is a form where “self-justification serves as a source of prejudice is the dominant group’s assumption of an attitude of superiority over other groups. In this respect, establishing a prestige hierarchy – ranking the status of various ethnic groups – results in differential association” (Parrillo, 508). This also clarifies how the myth of difference and hierarchy is established since the weaker group will submit to the stronger group and thereby establishing a so called “pecking order”. Sometimes the pecking order is very subtle, such as the idea that an Africa-America could become president gave hope to the idea that racial and ethnic relations could improve. Many people of all races and ethnic diversity considered this a turning poi nt in history. That hope crashed quickly after the smoke cleared and the illusion faded in the knowledge that the president did not have the power to make this happen. Erin Kaplan makes this very clear when she wrote, “It’s a schizophrenic attitude: we are encouraged by the black person’s potential enough to give him a job, but are we ever wary of giving him power. This is why as soon as Obama stepped into the White House, he had to be punished. Whites are used to controlling black opportunity, to giving and taking it as they see fit. President Obama in that way was never president-in-waiting, he was an opportunity – the bright and capable intern who deserved a shot.
But being in charge was not part of the deal” (Kaplan, 545). America is known as the land of equal opportunity. Sure there are opportunity in jobs for all races and even education. The myth of unity is truly the fantasy about this amazing “land of opportunity” that so many immigrants wanted and expected once they arrived in America. Instead, the citizens and the life style established in local communities rejected them. “The cognitive level of prejudice encompasses a person’s beliefs and perceptions of a group as threatening or nonthreatening, inferior or equal, seclusive or intrusive, impulse gratifying, acquisitive, or possessing other positive or negative characteristics” (Parrillo, 505). We focus on most of the negative racial stereotypes about people that we drive them away from our communities and force them into places like the ghetto or less fortunate places because we don’t give them the opportunity that they dream of and that they really deserve.
Racial segregation even takes place in schools. Kids found it easier to get along with their own race. When I was in high school kids were first separated into little cliques of the average high school, like football players, band kids, kids who went to certain clubs, and leadership, etc. Then there were the sub-cliques which were by race. All the white cheerleaders would hang out separately from the others, the “ghetto” football players would hang out together, and Asians in drama would stay together. Even though my high school was known for its diversity, everyone was still segregated. The kids would make stereotypical comments about one another.
As one of the Asian kids in high school I had a lot of Asian friends. There was even a place in my high school where all of the Asian kids would hang out after school called Asian avenue. People would always ask me if I was good at math or say that I only get good grades because I was Asian, since the stereotype is that Asians are super smart. “Social norms – the norms of one’s culture – form the generally shared rules defining what is and is not proper behavior in one’s culture. By learning and automatically accepting the prevailing prejudices, an individual is simply conforming to those forms” (Parrillo, 515). I gave into this social norm of how Asians were smart and got good grades.
In conclusion, America is considered a land of opportunity, but for some that was true, while others were judged by the way they looked and cultural differences. There have been barely any attempts to stop the hate crimes in the media and on the street. With a new president in term people hoped for a change, however many were disappointed by the outcome. The land of equality is a lie to many who are looked down upon just because of the color of their skin. Each time change might occur the hierarchy manipulates it into submission and causes tension to rise.