Free «Ethics Essay: Racism» Essay Sample
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Understanding how such social constructions as racism are formed is vital for developing strategies that can be used to mitigate their effects on the society. Two authors, with different ideas, provide arguments that enable a reader to understand how racism is formed and how the community comes to accepting this racial formation. Louis Althusser, the Marxist philosopher from France, offers a theory of ideology, which is built on the two main concepts. Ideological Status Apparatus (ISA) is one of the concepts discussed in his article. It presupposes the development of the private or domestic institutions, which are influential in shaping a dominant idea of particular community. The Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) includes public institutions that also influence or manipulate the reproduction of the sustainable theory in a community. Another author, Judith Butler, explains how the speech, which she states individuals cannot control, is used to recognize and label aspects of the human social life. According to the two authors, racism is formed because of the state apparatus, interpellation, and language; thus, one can understand how racism is developing.
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State Apparatus and Interpellation
Althusser explains that, for a society to be fully functional, a social formation or system has to be created in order to enhance the reproduction-production element of a community. It means that there has to be active labor and power that will guarantee that the society flourishes. In line, there has to be a subject that will be used as the workforce, while another subject will become the power in the community. Through the explanation of the state apparatus, Althusser (1971) describes individuals as creatures being controlled and directed by a social force and not independent individuals that have the capability of forming their identities. When connecting Althusser idea to racism, one can understand that the white society is the power in the community and has made the black community the passive subject just because of their skin color. Althusser explains the notion of interpellation or hailing, under which an individual is instantly unconsciously transformed to a subject. He argues, “When a person hails or shouts at another person, the individual will likely turn and listen” (Althusser, 1971). It is the same notion that can be applied to racism, in which certain terms, for example, Negros, were used in the colonial period to identify black people. For instance, when one says ‘you Negros’ in a crowd of ten white men and five black men, all African Americans will turn round because the power in the community has turned them to subjects.
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Ideological Status Apparatus (ISA)
Althusser argues that after the hailing, the labeling and recognition of subjects of the society have been found, the passive subject becomes the ISA. It remains behind the shadows of the private sector, and examples include families, churches, and schools. Instead of creating law or order in the community, the “ISA enforces what the repressive status apparatus has established” (Althusser, 1971). Althusser notes that they do not enforce these laws out of love or passion but rather out of fear. However, this fear is not related to violence or arrests, but rather to one’s fear of what the society thinks of him or her and the ridicule that he or she will encounter due to the resistance (Althusser, 1971). The blacks provided the much-needed labor for the white community, for which they were rewarded with little or no pay at all. It made them the passive subjects in the society; thus, they only interacted with one another. They obeyed their masters with no resistance as they knew their position in the community was to be submissive to the whites. This worldview encouraged the spread of slavery to numerous parts of the USA.
After slavery had been abolished, the black community still continued working for the whites for little or no pay. They had established their status in the society, and the eradication of slavery did not work in their favor. Most blacks were afraid of talking and expressing themselves because psychologically, they were made to believe that they were weak and not equal to the whites. Moreover, from the argument raised by Althusser, one can see how racial segregation was enforced during that period. Since the blacks could not oppose or dictate their living areas and conditions, they were forced to accept circumstances, in which they lived. In the modern society, the aspect of racism has continued to develop because African Americans have accepted the names that have been used to refer to them. Also, some of them are afraid of opposing the rules that discriminate against them.
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Repressive Status Apparatus (RSA)
The RSA is located in the public domain. It establishes rules and policies and requires every member of the society to follow them. It belongs to the upper class and controls the politics and the economy of a nation. The RSA performs the role of violence and ideology since it uses the control it has over the community in order to enforce its dominant and authoritarian rule (Althusser, 1971). This notion can be used for illustrating how racism was enhanced during the slavery period. The whites used the RSA in order to dominate over the black community and made African Americans their slaves. They held much power in the community due to their ancestry and ethnicity. Through this power, they made sure that the blacks could work for them for minimal wages, and they did everything to arouse fear in them. They brought down any forms of resistance posed by the blacks. Eventually, when slavery was abolished, they continued to hold high power over issues in the society and made it impossible for the blacks to be treated as their equals.
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Through the Jim Crow laws, the whites managed to maintain their supremacy over the blacks. These laws, created by white politicians were followed dutifully by the blacks, which were afraid of the social discrimination. Racial segregation led to violence, and even though it was either facilitated or ordered by the whites, the blacks were the ones to end being hurt and losing their livelihood. Althusser states that every individual in the society is a subject. The whites were also subjects to the community, but they were the dominant active subjects that created the idea of the blacks being passive subjects.
Language and Hate Speech
Butler borrows some concepts from Althusser in order to explain how the language is used in producing hate speech, which then forms the social recognition. She states, “Hailing begins when a child is born, and the identity given to the child will stick with him/her as he/she grows up” (Butler, 1997). It is through this interpellation that people become subjects to the community, and they subjugate to it. Butler says that the language is a compelling notion and even though one speaks things unconsciously under most circumstances, Butler notes that the language can provide one with power or take power away instead. Giving a particular group of people, the identity immediately objectifies them and makes them less aggressive in the community (Butler, 1997). When a person is a subject to the community, one may feel in control and may have the power to speak up about his or her issues. If this subjectivity is taken away, Butler states that one becomes hopeless and feels intimidated by the community. People have a tendency of speaking ill about others, feel unscrupulous about it afterward, and apologize later. Even though they might apologize, the necessity of one’s existence has already been questioned by the language.
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This argument provides an understanding of how racial identities are formed, as well as how radicalized subjects maintain them. When the whites started calling the blacks negroes, they subjected this group and took away the power of African Americans to form their identities. The whites maintained the power in order to intimidate the blacks through their language. On the other hand, the African American society accepted what they were referred to and due to the fear of ridicule, they recognized themselves as Negroes. In the modern society, racial positions continue to be formed when individuals make racist remarks, for which they later apologize. Apologizing does not mean that the victim is fine; it can take away the hurt but not the confusion and pain of the black society after uttering this name. Butler explains the hate speech as the product of the language that is purposely spoken to offend a particular group. She states that the community has created laws on censorship, which governs or controls what one says in order to make sure that it does not offend another person (Butler, 1997). However, she explains that when subjectivity is taken away from a person, he or she will not have the capability of reporting an individual who uses the hate speech on him or her. Here, Butler is questioning the ability of the state to protect its citizens from ignorant statements against them. Butler has a crucial point here because when slavery was abolished, it was expected that the laws created would offer equal rights to blacks and whites. However, it was not the case as the negative language continued to be used against the African American groups.
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How Racism Is Performed
From the argument raised by Althusser on the interpellation and the status apparatus, one can see that subjects of the society have managed to take power from each other. The whites have formed an identity for themselves as the repressive state apparatus. Through laws and policies they create, the whites have taken the power of identity away from the blacks. Due to the fear of ridicule and socialization, the blacks have accepted the identity that they have inherited from the whites. This aspect has become a norm in the society, even though the blacks continue to fight for equal rights in the modern community. The use of the language in enforcing the interpellation also showcases how racism is performed (Wallerstein, 2004). Under most circumstances, the whites use offensive language towards the blacks and think of it as something normal. When they realize the hurt, pain, and confusion that they have caused to the African American society, they will apologize. However, it will not wipe out the wound of racism that the whites have inflicted on the African Americans. Butler insists that the language is a powerful weapon, which is not to be taken lightly but to be used to influence control over one’s existence in the community.
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In conclusion, Butler’s explanation is used to explain feminism while Althusser’s notion is meant for economics. However, the two authors provide arguments that elaborately describe how the human society has contributed to the formation of racial identities and how the community continues to enforce this aspect. The interpellation encourages hailing that, in turn, allows a person to recognize or identify with what word one has been called. Giving the whites the authority to use the language for intimidating and subjectifying the blacks allowed racism to grow decades after slavery had been abolished. Understanding that each person in the community is a subject will help the African Americans regain power in the society and refute instances of racism. Learning control of the language will also enhance equality in the community, as it will no longer be used for taking away power but for offering it to humans.