Z. Wurtz – Week two – System of Differences

It is human tendency to group, or categorize things, whether its plants, animals, or people. Throughout time, differences between people have been created around the world tend to judge others by what they are “not”. This notion continues to create a division between “us” and “them”. Most of these divisions occurred via colonial expansion, as societies migrated and expanded to areas of other societies with social and cultural differences. An example of this is the ancient Greeks and the ancient Chinese referred to people who did not participate in their own culture “barbarians” (Levi-Strauss 103). This is also referenced in Morgan’s “Ancient Society” where there are three stages of human development; savagery, barbarianism, and civilization. During the 19th century two anthropologists, Edward Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan both believed that an evolutionary model could be applied to societies. There also remains false beliefs that people are evolving to become one race and or culture. A difference between people that is most recognized is that of race. Contrary to popular belief, race is not biological, rather it is constructed from culture and is a way of classifying people. In the video “Race: The Power of an Illusion” the students are asked to say who they are most biologically similar too. Each student picked someone who was of the same race as them. Race classification has generally been based off physical appearance such as skin color, nose size, hair, etc. In the U.S., race is determined by blood lineage Race classification is used in a lot of aspects of life, including the census, adoption papers, and many of important forms of documentation. In the video “Race: The Power of an Illusion” they talked about how in medical literature, scientists and anthropologists were studying multiple body parts of African Americans, trying to find something that was specific to them, compared to other races. As seen in the video “White: A Memoir in Color”, when the parents fill out the adoption papers, they have to choose what race they would like their child to be. They didn’t want to select all races but one because they didn’t want to be seen as racist, but at the same time, they didn’t think they would be able to properly race a child that looks different than them. This is a common problem in society that involves how people perceive race. Because of the differences of people pertaining to race, violence against races has ensued, specifically in the U.S. and Brazil. While these two countries classify race on different scales, both have problems with mistreatment and violence against black communities. This type of mistreatment and perception of “less than human” has persisted since the 18th century, and this ideology is used to justify this violence against blacks. Overall the differences between people is merely external and physical appearance based from their historical culture. Having race define so much of people’s lives is an old construct, and with the knowledge we have today, dividing people based on race should no longer happen.

3 thoughts on “Z. Wurtz – Week two – System of Differences

  1. Categorizing things or people is a way for us to understand our differences and similarities, however, people have used this to information to mistreat people of different colors and create a divide. I agree that this us or them concept has occurred even in the era of colonial expansion. The Christian missionaries brought over to conform the inhabitants while disregarding the culture because there were too many differences, so there wasn’t interest in other cultures. It is upsetting to know the difficulties of raising a child or a different color, due to how others use their categorization of race and associate it to its social issues, such as with police brutality among black people. Racial profiling is dangerous and could lead to death among many black persons in U.S. and especially in Brazil. In Brazil, it is three times more likely you’ll be killed I you are black compared to being white. It is sad that with adoptions, that these situations can happen because of differences. The “less than human” ideology may have been used even today to justify violent actions towards blacks.

  2. I thought that you raised a good point at the beginning of your post – that the beginnings of classification, and the origin of “race” as a concept, is to distinguish your cultural group from that of another. You mentioned that many times, the distinction is drawn between your cultural group and theirs based on what they are “not” – or, in other words, what your group “is”. This allows a definition of your own cultural community, because you can now see what makes your cultural group special in comparison to others. It’s easy to see how this progresses into community pride – whether in family, friend group, local community, state, national, or even transnational communities like religion or ideology. And from the distinction of “we” vs. “they”, from this pride in your own cultural beliefs and practices, there is sometimes a conflict that arises out of it – whether nationalism that leads to war, or racial pride that leads to oppression and racism. I thought that your opening point was very astute and insightful, and helped me understand where a lot of the disagreements that crop up in the news every day come from.

  3. It’s human nature to categorize and generalize people into groups or categories. I agree that this is problematic, because it ends up dividing people based on unnecessary factors such as skin color and race. Morgan’s Ancient Society is making a point that has been disproven time and time again. It’s easy to justify violence against people of color when we view them as being barbaric or uncivilized, but these are nothing but excuses covering up the bigger picture. I also have heard people talk about eugenics and act like we are all destined to become one type of race in the future, but I don’t understand how this became such a popular opinion. Many people apply the ideology of eugenics to justify the violent acts against minorities, but nothing in science has ever proven that skin color or race determines the way an individual lives their life. It’s easy to make negative associations and ignore the history that has put these underprivileged races in the situations they currently face. Instead of assuming the race makes people different it would make more sense to refer to culture instead, and this is shown when Levi-Strauss stated that race is a “function of culture” (96). I agree with the fact that people have stigmatized black people into being something “less than human” and this is extremely problematic since it helps justify violence towards them. This has been something that has been going on since the beginning of colonization, and it still continues to this very day.

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