Monday, November 3, 2008

Race, Spectacle, and Performance

Today in class we approached the subject of "performed" behaviors in American society with regard to the "race question" (following our reading of Wachtel).    It appears that, according to the class, people in America are taught to self-police their speech (we heard several examples of this in class, "Oh no!  You can't say that!") and to perform a kind of tolerance in keeping with what might be a mythological dream of what American is and represents.   We seem to espouse racial harmony and to respect, in a culturally relativistic sense,  ethnic and religious diversity.  Nevertheless, it appears that many of you think that, a) there is something of a "race problem," and b) the only way the situation concerning this "problem" will be improved is by the passing of time.  So, if that's what many of you believe, why "perform"?  By performing, do we in any way move closer to actual harmony, honest mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance?  In essence, through performance do we move closer to not needing to perform?

14 comments:

tim said...

In my opinion, there is very little difference between the good performance of cultural tolerance and actual cultural tolerance, in practical terms. As long as the performance pervades most of society, I'm not sure "real" tolerance would be preferable.

Basically, if the performance is good enough, it doesn't move us closer to harmony, honest mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance. If the performance is good enough, it doesn't have to. For all practical purposes, we are already there.

Sam said...

I think the act of "performing," is an important part of changing a generation's outlook on things. If we act as if a better future is already at hand, then we feel as if we are playing a role in that future. I do not believe that time is the only healer of racial wounds. History is never made out of nothing, but is a result of accidents, actions, and even thoughts. By pretending the world is better than it is,we provide a living example for future generations. These future generations see this example and embrace it. That is how this change is achieved.

Vicky said...

I view the outward appearance of cultural tolerance, or "performing" as the first step toward a change in racially prejudicial attitudes.
The manners in which we choose to react to one another are rarely without forethought. The reasons for "performing" are diverse and complicated.  It might be a matter of indifference on our part or some other considerations might also include, fear of rejection, or fear of retaliation, and then there are those of us who desire a sense of harmony and understanding in our lives.  I have heard the tongue referred to as a weapon, it would be to our advantage to use it wisely.  We must weigh the balance and be wise in our choices as to what kind of "performance" is necessary or not necessary, as the case may be, at any given time.
“What you think you become”. Buddha

jon s said...

I think I agree with Sam, because it is very hard for a single generation to really change something as huge as racism. When we "perform" tolerance etc. then the next generation grows up seeing this as the right thing to do, and will be far more accepting of true tolerance and acceptance. So while we, as performers, may not move towards actual harmony, mutual respect, etc. society as a whole moves that way.

nikki said...

I think the idea of performing isn't as glorious or virtuous as other proposed solutions of racism, in fact it's somewhat hypocritical, but I agree with everyone that it is the most realistic and achievable solution. Like Tim said, if everyone judged others on character rather than color or past wrongdoings, who's to say that we haven't achieved racial harmony? It may not be genuine initially, but it's a far cry from our current state.

Dan said...

Performing ways in which we can improve the race problem is the most important. Like tim said if the performance is good enough it is the only performance available. Performance that may try to hard or not hard enough could just leave more reasons to be racist. Performance through time and generations will move closer to acceptance. For the people that are unrespected, being a certain color or race can help the performance just by gaining respect from the other race. For example Obama is the President elect, and 60 years ago there were places where african americans were not able to drink from the same water fountain. By his performance, racism starts to decline and as time passes then thats when we move to actual harmony, respect, and tolerance.

John said...

In my opinion, the more a thing is acted out, the more likely it is that one would become the sort of person who would do it naturally.

However, if this "performing" is mandated for a person, I think every good consequence goes out the window. It becomes far more likely that a person would simply bottle up any feelings of resentment instead of getting rid of them in a constructive manner which could then lead to acts of outright discrimination or violence when the person snaps.

Sam O. said...

I think "perform" is a horrible word to describe peoples move towards being less racists. The word "performing" may describe those that that self-policy themselves and others by saying "Oh no! You can't say that!"; these types of people our trying to sweep the problem under the carpet, but instead show their misconceptions about the issue. By continuing to try and hide the problem it allows it allows it to persist and strengthen. Attempting to eliminate peoples racism by having them hide it, provides a context for the problem to continues to exist. When people stop "performing" and instead start to take action we will see an end to the problem. We as a culture need to ask ourselves questions as to what the problem really is, so we can address it; rather than just sitting on our hands hoping that it will go away.

mp93 said...

Just as Vicky stated above: our thoughts shape our actions. This statement is very true but it is important to note that the reverse is also true, if a person acts a certain way long enough, no matter how half-hearted it is, their thoughts will eventually began to match their actions. The mind is constantly trying to keep self image consistent with a person's actions. If a person begins to act tolerant, the mind will eventually alter the person's self image to bring balance to this change.

Ian said...

The point of 'performing' and self-censorship is to try to accelerate the race issue. Although when we think about it, it makes sense that it will naturally take time for racism to diminish, one feels subconsciously that policing oneself and not making race an issue will help alleviate the problem. Self-censorship may not help the race problem as a whole, but it makes individuals feel better about the issue.

eric said...

As a society, our "performances" do nothing to reduce the time it will take to heal the race problem. If anything, putting on an act to avoid offending anyone and to be politically correct is detrimental to the time-healing process. Although putting on a performance is marginally better than openly expressing criticism and disdain for another race, it is still ultimately unhelpful because everyone knows it is fake. Our attitudes must reflect acceptance and equality but at the same time, they must be genuine if the race problem in America is ever to be completely resolved.

Alex said...

I agree with what seems to be the majority opinion. That "performed" behaviors aren't necessarily a good thing, but if you "perform" a certain way long enough it becomes second nature for you to start acting that way as opposed to simply "performing". Also, these "performed" behaviors, as Sam said, also act as an example to other generations as to how we should act towards each other. A lot of people have role models and those people attempt to act as their role model does, at least in some particular way. Especially the younger generations who look up to older siblings, parents, and friends as a sort of guide as to how they should act. Although "performing" behaviors isn't as good as the "real deal", it is a step towards a more harmonious way to live.

roryrowley said...

I agree with Tim, by performing are we merely putting on an act in order to be perceived as culturally and racially tolerant, or are we actually tolerant?

I believe performing possibly masks those who are not tolerant so that they can appear to fit in with those who are actually tolerant, thus not changing anything but just simply pretending. I think that if everyone put their thoughts out there, accepted or not, we would have a better chance at finding change, because then we would be able to realistically view the state of our country for the changes we have truly made or not.

Danny said...

I believe that "performing" is not helping out. In fact, it is just reaffirming that we have problem! We certainly do have a racial problem in our society, but we need to understand that is not going to go away "overnight". Our racial gap is closing! Slowly but surely! Just look at our presidential election. Obama won by a mile! Considering that not too many years ago african americans couldn't even vote, this is huge a stride in our racial gap.

Give it some time...