Essay 2: Diversity Issue Reflection
During this semester we have examined the issues related to diversity in the United States and the world through texts and art inspired by them. Diversity issues in the United States have always been present and continue to be one even as the country learns from its past mistakes. When pondering the word diversity in the past my mind would immediately go to issues on race. Rarely did I think of the gender and language in relation to diversity issues, yet, I found that they play as big a role as any when looking at how diversity can affect you, me or any other living person in the United States and the world.
These three characteristics of diversity are common concerns that come up in the daily news and relate to how a particular person may be treated in relation to them. It does not matter where we look; oftentimes, we are confronted with some form of discrimination directed towards ourselves or others. In this essay I will examine some of the sources we studied and how they relate to diversity issues in the world. My main focus will be on race and while we continue to move forward we also find ourselves falling back into past habits when not watched.
In the United States we have accepted numerous cultures within our borders as the so-called “melting pot” of the world. While this may be true it seems that the news is frequently showing a recent story on how race is still a matter that is yet to be resolved. Even now we find the white man has the power in the United States. It wasn’t until 2008 that we believed it possible to have a black President of the United States, Barack Obama. In Obama’s “A More Perfect Union”, when his race and background were becoming a major concern during his run for presidency, he states that “race is an issue that this nation cannot afford to ignore right now” (479). This is a statement we should hold close to our hearts as we continue to learn from our past mistakes. We must always think about our actions and how we think about others. Not simply to save ourselves, but to better the lives of our children and all others that follow behind us.
Just as Obama’s words are strong there are others that are just as strong and are on the opposite side of the spectrum. Today I found myself looking at an article on KSL’s website about a male nurse who wrote 5 words on a comment board that will most likely change his life forever.
When looking at race, especially when being of the majority in a country that overtook the natives, we often fail to notice those who were here before us. The Native Americans who foraged these lands, hunted them and used them as a means for survival were looked upon as though they were savages by the immigrants coming in during the westward expansion. As shown in Warren Neidich’s visual essay “Early American Cover-Ups” that captures the treatment of the Native Americans through the camera lens (456-458) in many ways they were treated no better than slaves, being herded to their designated areas, where they could be controlled and watched without being a threat while their lands were stolen from them. While Neidich’s photographs are reenactments by actors and actresses they are still “perfectly innocuous and painfully provoking” (Phillips, 454) when viewed for the first time. They show the violence Native Americans were forced to endure simply because they were different. We must also keep in mind that Neidich is still only portraying what he wants his photographs to represent. Whitni Bowels wrote that “in these photographs only half of the story or event is being told, allowing for the viewer to begin understanding what horrors have happened throughout history” (Canvas).
The United States is not the only country where the natives were taken over by another country as they found their way west. In Jamaica Kincaid’s story “Columbus in Chains” we see her view of bring a native in Antigua that has been taken over by the British. The students are made to submit to the colonizers during this time and learn their histories and forget their own. Kincaid’s story is from the perspective of a girl who has descended from the African slaves. While it was written in a time where her people were free, they still “knew quite well what had really happened” (500).
Having Annie John’s perspective on the life of a girl growing up in a society that wasn’t truly meant for her, but had been put in place after her ancestors had been enslaved, allowed me to see how differently life could have been for anyone. You can easily comprehend the resentment one might hold towards another if they were put into the same shoes. Jordan Baum commented on Annie that she thought “she was also hesitant to admit that such a thing happened to her ancestors” (Canvas). Annie expressed her anger by writing the words “The Great Man Can No Longer Just Get Up and God” below a picture of Columbus bound in chains in her textbook. In many ways it was Columbus being put in the place of a slave for doing wrong by his country and she relished this idea only to be punished for it by her teacher, Miss Edward, after she made the discovery of Annie’s words on the page.
One influence of race that I had not considered was how drastically it can influence an outsider, even when they are a person in power within a country. In George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” I was able to see the opposite side of Kincaid’s short story. Orwell writes of when he was a police officer of the British Empire in Burma. Orwell found himself in the dilemma of doing what he thought was right or do what was expected of him by the Burmese people (resulting in the death of an elephant). He had been followed by some two thousand Burmese men and woman on his hunt for the elephant and his decision was due to the fact he was not “thinking particularly of [his] own skin, only the watchful yellow faces behind” and was not “afraid in the ordinary sense, as [he] would have been if… alone” (507). His essay reflects on how we can essentially be forced into doing something we would normally not do so that we can please a crowd that essentially hates you and the country you stand for. It also brings light to the fact that humans yearn for the ability to fit in, even if they must do something unethical.
Segregation is still here and continues to pop up in places we thought we had previously tackled. In a recent poll by ProPublica on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they found that “[b]lack children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades” (Hannah-Jones). In many ways this is a step backwards for our country. The schools in the South are being released from court-enforced integration laws that were applied to them after Brown vs. the Board of Education. As a country we need to fight these issues that should not have to be enforced in the first place.
Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “Segregation Now.” http://www.propublica.org/article/segregation-now-full-text. April 14th, 2014.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Columbus in Chains.” Pages 498-503.
Neidich, Warren. “Contra Curtis: Early American Cover-Ups”. Pages 456-458.
Obama, Barack. “A More Perfect Union.” Pages 476-483.
Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant.” Pages 503-508.
Philips, Christopher. “Necessary Fictions: Warran Neidich’s Early American Cover-Ups”. Pages 453-456.