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The term “multiculturalism” has recently come into usage to describe a society characterized by a diversity of cultures. Religion, language, customs, traditions, and values are some of the components of a culture, but more importantly culture is the lens through which one perceives and interprets the world.
In the past several years there has been a growing trend towards multiculturalism in many areas of our society. Most of these trends are found on college and university campuses. I think this is likely due to a belief that the traditional Christian American values and views are unable to deal with the growing numbers of various ethnic minorities in our society. Phew, that was a mouth full. Although this trend would seem able to change society for the better, I believe that it has been and will be largely ineffective. It does, however, have some possible advantage over society's traditional view.
The Contact Hypothesis states that “increasing contact between groups can in some circumstances decrease prejudice between them.” It is possible that education about various cultural groups alone, could reduce prejudice similarly to actual contact; by increasing recognition of similarities, providing information that goes against the stereotypical grain, and breaking down the illusion of out-group homogeneity. It would likely do so less than contact.
“Multiculturalism might be able to reduce prejudice without building the resentment, which sometimes occurs in contact. It is also possible that it could help encourage re-categorization. For the most part, however, it seems that multiculturalism will do little or nothing to get rid of prejudice and discrimination. Even assuming that multicultural education is nearly as effective as contact, it would not have much effect on society. Contact itself is only successful under certain circumstances.”(D’Souza, D. 8) The weakness of multiculturalism is that it only deals with a few of the many aspects of prejudice. Prejudice seems extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome in our society. The stereotypes that are created by and reinforce prejudice are neither rational ideas nor emotional responses. Multiculturalism treats them as if they were.
“Stereotypes are the result of cognitive processes that are, by their very nature, difficult to change. Information that is inconsistent with stereotypes is usually forgotten, ignored, disregarded or devalued. One could be aware that less than 20% of Americans arrested on drug charges are black, and could feel some sort of brothership with humankind, and still be afraid of being mugged by a crack addict in a black neighborhood.
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“Entering a classroom or bus people (white) will most likely sit near a white person more readily than a minority member. If one needed to ask the time or ask for a cigarette, one would probably ask a white over a minority. They may be aware of these things even as they happen. Even aware of their irrationality. Maybe even familiar (hopefully) with the cognitive processes that cause these small discriminations, but it seems that they are helpless to stop them.” (Baron, A. 180)
I can not pinpoint the root of my or anyone else’s prejudice. I attend now a nearly all white high school, before which, an almost entirely white middle school. Before the middle school, however, I attended an elementary school consisting of a very healthy mix of different cultures. Maybe less than half the school was white.
Neither of my parents is overtly racist. Outside of the media, I have observed more whites committing acts of violence than blacks. On TV however, I have seen blacks behave in mostly negative ways. Or at least I remember it that way.
The prejudices, which I have, are based on many observable traits other than ethnicity, as I suspect are most other peoples. I will have a less favorable impression of a black man in ”typical" urban, hip-hop style clothing than of the same man dressed differently. Give him dreadlocks, braids, or a tall floppy head of hair and I will view him even more favorably. This seems to be the result of something other than direct experience.
My interactions with blacks have not been more positive or negative based on the person's mode of dress. “It seems that most stereotypes are based mainly on media images”(Baird, R.M. & Rosenbaum, S.E. 12). I also hold many stereotypes about members of various subcultural or demographic groups; wealthy students, middle class students, po’ students, business men (note “men”, stereotypical business person is male), marijuana users, cocaine users, etc. Some are as strong as the racial stereotypes I hold, and some are stronger. For example, given a black pot smoker and white business major that are otherwise identical, I would react more favorably to the latter.
When a person belonging to an "outgroup" becomes more than a stranger or casual acquaintance the stereotypes that I hold about that group are quickly removed from that individual. But I don't think that I change the stereotypes that I have about his or her group. I have personally experienced very little open racial discrimination towards myself. As a heterosexual, white, male I don’t really have to justify who or what I am. Most racial discrimination that I have faced was from African(I’m assuming)-American boys, with whom I shared a neighborhood with as a small child. Although never confronted directly, I was aware of the occasional dirty look and the usual “cracker” reference. But this is far from common and has not had a real impact on me.
More often I am discriminated against because of my appearance. I have been subjected to a few bogus suspensions from middle school, just because I “looked” suspicious. One time, I was called down to the office, and blamed for throwing seat-tape on the school bus. I denied it, and told them to check the video tapes on the bus, after all, there are video cameras on each bus. Turns out, not one of them had me throwing anything of the sort. I still was forced to serve the suspension, just because I’ve gotten in trouble a couple times that month.
Although these instances have affected me, they seem to have not been strong enough stimuli for me. As for reducing prejudice, there seem to be no easy solutions. It seems that there is a limit on how far rational and emotional arguments can go in eliminating it. I would like to think that I am close to that limit, because short of getting to know everyone personally, I can't imagine how to reduce my own prejudices. Perhaps multiculturalism could help some people to begin to reduce their prejudices. But can multiculturalism really succeed? Even if people of all colors, genders and religions, were to somehow magically get along together in one community, wouldn’t there still be prejudice? Some people may be looked down upon as invalid. People with mental problems and disorders would no doubt be prejudiced upon. The same goes for people with speech impediments. They would have to receive special help, and for someone to acknowledge that is in a way prejudice. I believe that cultural equality, multiculturalism, peace, whatever, is an impossible goal. People are always going to be different, and that’s not bad at all.
Baird, R.M. & Rosenbaum, S.E. (1992). Bigotry, prejudice and hatred: Definitions, causes & solutions. Buffalo: Prometheus Books.
D'Souza, D. (1995). The End of Racism: Principles for a Multicultural Society. New York: The Free Press.
Baron, A. (1992). Valuing ethnic diversity: A day-long workshop for university personnel. Journal of College Student Development, 179-181
Steeh, C. & Schuman, H. (1992). Young White adults: Did racial attitudes change in the 1980s? American Journal of Sociology, 340-367.