Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Race, Identity, Stereotyping and Voluntary Oppression

Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Race, Identity, Stereotyping and Voluntary Oppression

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many immigrants and their children ask themselves the question of identity. Often we allow others to identify us and colonize our consciousness. Once we are "given" our identities, we are then stereotyped because of them. We then reap the benefit, or the disadvantages of our stereotypes. In turn social stereotypes that surround us, further shape our self-identity and consequently, the decisions we make. If we have no other outlet or if we feel as though there are no other options, we live those stereotypes. Some are harmful to us and leave us in the disadvantages places even to oppression of ourselves. In this paper, I discuss some harms of stereotyping, how it leads to voluntary oppression, and make some suggestion for ending racial oppression.

Introduction

The question of identity has been a central question for every immigrant generation. Sometimes that question fades away in time and people become a member of the society that they reside in. For instance, original British immigrants to the United States no longer self-identify as "British." They are Americans. Some of us in the United States can get away by being the "non-raced" individual: the generic person, using Michael Kimmel's terms (Kimmel, 2000). Others, not so. Chinese immigrants, regardless of being in the United States virtually since there was such nation, will never just be "American" although they might have no connections left to China or Chinese culture.

Some will argue that my categorization is somehow flawed; racist perhaps. We should be color-blind. Most of us are not, physically or rhetorically. We see physical differences between people and generally that is an indication of what part of the world our ancestors evolved. Since we are not isolated people and live in a very culturally and racially diverse society, it is important for us to understand ourselves in the context of such society in order to decide how we conduct our lives.

However, my paper is not merely about identity, nor is it about the Chinese. It is, however, about allowing others to identify us and colonize our consciousness. I have lived in the United States for over 20 years. About 13 years into it, September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers happened and I found myself becoming Iranian. Not by my choice. It was perhaps the worst time, for me, to do so. I became Iranian because others wanted me to be. They wanted me to explain the terrorists, as though I had a gene that codes for the understanding of the terrorists. I am afraid (or not for that matter) that I don't have such gene. So they quickly realized that I was not really useful in that manner. Others wanted me to be Iranian so they could say that they have me as a friend and so they are not racist against middle-easterners or that Iranians too can be healed. There was even a small group who wanted me to be Iranian so they could hate me. I symbolized the terrorist the same way that the prison guards symbolized the law that kept the prisoners in. So, I had to reinvent myself in the new context. I had to decide who I was to myself and to others as a tool or otherwise. This is the question that many immigrants, consciously or unconsciously ask themselves.

Each person has a history behind him or her - a history that one has no part of making nor asks to be a part of. People reap the benefit or the disadvantages of the life they are born into. The social stereotypes that surround us, shape our identity and consequently, the decisions we make. If we have no other outlet or if we feel as though there are no other options, we live those stereotypes. Some are harmful to us and leave us disadvantaged even to the point of oppression of ourselves. One might believe this to be an unlikely phenomena but psychological oppression is an uncontested concept. I am merely referring to it for what it really is, "voluntary self-oppression". In this paper, I discuss stereotyping, its effect on self-identity and how it leads to voluntary oppression. …

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