N. Ance -Week 2 – Systems of Difference

Something I took away about how difference between people has been almost conditioned into our beliefs over time. In the beginning of the first lecture, we hear of how we are conditioned to see people as “them” and “us”, and over time people used false science and logic to make people believe the “others” or “them” to be inferior to us. In this context “us” is white Europeans, who first created those beliefs and wrote about them. In a way this led to the justification of colonialism, the civilized taking over the uncivilized to bring them up in society, according to the Great Chain of Being, “some cultures were advanced, and some were behind.” Lewis Henry Morgan had his system in which the only requirement to be civilized was to be able to read and write, and it also depended entirely on how they gathered food. Now there are plenty of people who did not have writing, but just because they do not write does not mean they should be considered uncivilized. I wonder if Morgan would have included hieroglyphics as writing, because it uses pictures and not the traditional alphabet.

Race is also a socially constructed classification, as said in the article. An example is the census; it really just classifies people into very basic (too basic) categories. Race is solely a visual thing, the other thing that is different is how people look externally, no one race is different than another except in terms of outward appearance to other races. Race is not what is important, culture is important, culture is what gives groups of people distinction. The only reason people look different and races were created is because of natural selection and mutations over thousands of years. Different people lived in different areas and were selected for different traits that were best fit for the environment, creating difference in appearance over geographic locations. Levi Straus says “race is a function of culture” as pointed out in the lecture, and in the reading we had. He goes on to say that culture is more important in determining territory and relationships than race I, even hygiene is determined more by culture than race.

Race was more or less invented as an easy way of categorizing people, and there was nothing wrong with that until people started to view people not in their category as less than them. Race only determines external characteristics, nothing that truly is important. But in a society where people see different as bad, that is where trouble arises, along with oppression and violence toward the “other”. In Americas case, the “other” was (and still in many ways is) African Americans, simply because they looked different. Over hundreds of years’ people were conditioned to think they were inferior and uncivilized and uncultured when in reality they had their own culture and people couldn’t accept it was just different than their own, that just because they look different than you it does not mean they are below you. Once again, culture is more important than race, and race is a social construct. It is one that is used more for harm than good. In the article “Blackness, Citizenship, and the Transnational Vertigo of Violence in the Americas” it mentions that in Brazil “Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts.” In the news recently we hear every day about police violence against African Americans and I did not know it happened in places other than America, so I wonder why it is that police violence is so disproportionate against African Americans worldwide? Is the idea of African Americans being inferior a worldwide thought? I really do not know, I feel that I only hear about it in America and nowhere else.

2 thoughts on “N. Ance -Week 2 – Systems of Difference

  1. Hello N. Ance – You bought up some interesting facts that I have thought a lot about most recently during the issues within our society with police and gun violence. Although you did make some great points regarding race and culture, we would have to say that these two have been tied together to formulate a picture of what the African American culture looks like. Even the idea of culture is a social construct that is created by an individuals society. There is no real premise behind the idea of culture or race. We are all one. I could be a white individuals and be considered to have raised my children in a cultural environment similar to African Americans.

    I think that it’s important that we look at people as people and not as race or culture. We look at them based on similar characteristics and actions instead of the way that they look or the way that most of them act.

    I am not a Anthropology major so most of this is new to me but I firmly believe that we are all individuals and should be treated as such instead of basing how we may or may not act based on the actions of others.

  2. You asked a question similar to my own this week, also inspired by Christen Smith’s article. Is the negative treatment of people of African descent by police worldwide? And if so, is the negative opinion of those people caused by the spreading of American culture throughout the world, or because just like in America, they are viewed as “other” and therefore less human?

    I think that it’s interesting that just as race is a function of culture, so is racism. Culturally the natural inclination to sort people by their appearance has now become a “normal” part of society. This is evidenced by the police shootings you mention, particularly it seems in Brazil. So it seems that maybe culture created race, and then race created more cultural beliefs.

Leave a Reply