W.E.B. DU Bois’s Concepts of the Color Line
Even in today’s time, with better education and more social justice advocacy, a large number of people still don’t really understand what prejudice is. There are many types of prejudice, but whenever people hear “prejudice”, we think of racism, because it is seen and used most commonly, specifically against African Americans. Racism against blacks has happened for many decades.
Everywhere, people have been discriminating African Americans in almost every setting, whether it is in the workforce, government, schools, etc. Like Heilbroner points out throughout his essay, “Don’t Let Stereotypes Warp Your Judgment”, there is nothing encouraging about stereotypes. We need to try to stop and get away from stereotyping and learn to perceive others without classifying them. Stereotyping others can cause us to inadvertently harm, not just the ones we stereotype, but ourselves as well.
Everyday, there is racism happening, we have all seen it happen in different types of forms. However, some people deny that prejudice is a thing. They will actively deny being stereotypical or discriminatory, even though it’s the truth. They choose to stick with their ignorance over knowledge and learning to see the world like it actually is. People disregard the thought of them being prejudice and unfair against others because they do not want to confront it. Despite the numerous changes and the end of most forms of legal discrimination, and the progression and development of the country, racism still exists, impacting people of all colors right underneath the noses of the average citizen.
Racism is prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, resentment, hatred or fear of another race due to a variety of factors such as culture, skin color, and bigotry disregarding all human rights. The stereotypes of others are just like rumors, rumors that spread around the world from one person to another carrying a horrid message. Like in his essay, Heilbroner stated that “stereotypes are a kind of gossip”. Spreading gossip about race is one of the most effective methods many use to disseminate and strengthen prejudices and stereotypes towards a specific group, causing malicious behaviors. Although gossip and rumors are spiteful, it is popular and becomes well known when the topic of interest is about the vulnerability of someone else, which is an awful thing to do. One’s upbringing is a very powerful factor in what shapes how people perceive others of a different race. As Heilbroner acknowledged, we “grow up with standardized pictures forming inside us” (21). How our parents, media, others influence us to become racist because of the ways they have grown up seeing. What we see of people that are different from us are images imprinted into our minds from the day we are born, turning our views into a habit that we can’t control. With many parents teaching their kids that African Americans are “horrible” people, they grow up with the mindset that is difficult to change, so whenever an individual sees a black man, they will continue to categorize them as “horrible” people.
Stereotyping others based on others’ opinions is just uncalled for. We take in rumors about a particular group of people and believe in them, causing all our uniqueness to just vanish. Heilbroner recited Walter Lippmann, “For the most part we do not first see, and then define; we define first and then see,” pointing out that we prejudge someone before we are able to get to know them and their personality. That is exactly what happened to Brent Staples.
In his essay “Just Walk on By,” Staples tells his story of how his appearance is what made him a criminal. He mentioned that “[w]omen are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black males are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence” (198). African American males are known to be violent and untrusting people because of what the media portrays them to be. They set up a prejudged view of black people which has others seeing them as criminals. With many women that are already paranoid of the dangers that could happen to them, they become more aware of their surroundings when they see an African American man pass them on the streets. They take precautions, when they shouldn’t have the need to feel like they are more in danger from a black man.
Staples mentioned that many people thought he was “ a mugger, a rapist, or worse” (197). The people, his “victims,” were judging his appearance, his race in particular, thinking he was a violent person when he was just casually walking down the street or anywhere in public. Staples was treated like a criminal, because people just believed of these rumors of black men committing crimes and being dangerous. I had a friend whose mom was against black people, whenever my friend and I would go out with our black friend, she would ask why we wanted to go with him, that he was “dangerous, you can’t trust him.” She judged him without even getting to know who he actually was. Her view of who black people are were made from the media portraying all black men as someone to be feared of, someone unsafe. With many other people associating someone with black skin to a felon, it causes them to feel alienated because of the labels put on them by others. This doesn’t just happen to African Americans, it can happen to anyone of any race.
Racism causes a negative impact on a person’s life, They start wanting to fit in, to be someone that they really aren’t. Even the most innocent person that would never break the law or hurt anyone would have to change their everyday lifestyle just because they don’t want to be harassed or want to be socially accepted. They change to tell the other side that they are not a threat and are friendly, such as what Staples did. He would “whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers,” when he walks down the street during the evening (200). Staples had to alter his regular walk home to ease the tension of the people around him, so they won’t feel like running away from him. Growing up in an area where African Americans were a minority, I would see that many people became weary of them, they would become uncomfortable when blacks were around. Being friends with many of the African Americans, I would notice when they changed their hang out spots just so others wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable. Not only would Staples have to experience these emotional effects, but other African Americans as well. They will continue to think about what they did wrong and why someone would be frightened of them, and to think about why they were such a threat.
There is no escaping from racism, or stereotyping immediately. At the end of the day, we all still have stereotyped someone at least once in our heads. Although racism still exists in the United States, there are paths we could take to be able to change our mindset and become our unique self by seeing the world as it really is.