Monday, July 30, 2007

Ignorance v. Racism

Im going to shift gears a little bit and throw the focus away from my usual reporting of what's hot in the media to a breakdown of two words that seem to jump up quite often within the context of the cultural community: ignorance and racism. The one thing that I have noticed is that individuals seem to utilize both of these concepts as if they were interchangeable, but is that really the case?

Ignorance revolves around being unaware or uninformed about a particular topic, issue, etc. Racism, on the other hand, is based off the mentality that there exists a racial hierarchy with a race(s) bearing greater importance than that of another race(s) and thus, each individual should act in accordance to this supposed hierarchy. In other words, there exists a deliberate attempt to discriminate or inflict harm (physical, emotional, psychological) upon those who are deemed to be on a lower rung than that of the "superior" race. So with that thrown out there, can we still view these words as interchangeable?

Both words have negative connotations and bear an undesirable mark upon whom it has been tagged upon, but the reality of the situation is that an individual who is ignorant is not automatically racist. Someone who is viewed as racist may or may not be ignorant, depending on the extent of the individual's expression of this mentality. Let me throw an example out there....

About two years ago, one of the most influential organizations on the UofI campus (which I won't directly name), promoted the production of "Grease" to be performed on campus at Assembly Hall. What happened during the performance was that one of the actresses said the word 'Jap' (as was depicted in the script) to characterize a Japanese American in play. This created an uproar within the Asian American community due to the fact that the word 'Jap' is derogatory against Japanese Americans. The reason for this is because this word was utilized with such hate and disrespect during the time when individuals of Japanese descent were thrown into internment camps during the WWII era.

The situation rose where many Asian Americans viewed this organization as being racist for condoning the usage of such a derogatory word. The problem was, however, that this organization had absolutely no idea that this word was derogatory, nor would they have utilized such a word if they were aware of it being so offensive. This organization is the largest one on the UofI campus and works directly with the UofI administration (based on my experience, they have a pretty good track record). Anyways, this was about the time that I started to become involved with the cultural community on my campus and it really struck me because I definitely understood why the Asian American community was offended, but at the same time, was wondering whether this organization really allowed this word to be utilized with the understanding that it really was derogatory.

I would view the organization as being ignorant: they made a mistake that offended a cultural community due to the offensive, historical background of the word. Would I go as far to say they are racist? No...they did not know that the word was offensive and thus, allowed it to go on without the realization that it would create such controversy.

The point of the entry is to try to be more aware of the world around us. What we may find offensive, may not be directly understood by another person: not everyone shares a similar understanding of the world's history. What is offensive to one person may be completely okay to another. Rather than being annoyed with those who are ignorant, try teaching them so that they are aware of why something is viewed in the manner that it is. It really is the only way people will learn and thus, force ignorance to be suppressed.


Anonymous said...

wow, if a university org doesn't know that the term "Jap" is racist. Then they are pretty stupid.

I recently moved to Univ of Iowa to study and have encoutered some pretty ignorant people

Anonymous said...

good one.... thanks for sharing....

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