On Becoming White Essay

2162 words - 9 pages

On becoming white

As a European immigrant in the USA, I have encountered many new cultural phenomena in the last 4 _ years that have challenged me to perceive who I am differently. This experience has been even more polarized by the fact that I have lived most of that time in Los Angeles, a melting pot to be reckoned with. Coming to America, I expected these adaptations to my Irish self but the intensity of becoming cognizant of my label of 'whiteness' has mocked the limitations of my anticipations.
This cognizance really ensued when I first started work as an educational therapist in a residential placement for severely emotionally disturbed teenage girls. Being in such a ...view middle of the document...

This young man was in fact the plumber's son! He then went onto talking about how America is today, and how being a fellow American, I should understand that. Of course I immediately responded with: "I'm not American," to which he countered: "Oh! I thought you were white!.....I mean American."

I think that this slip by the plumber reveals something of great importance about attitudes, assumptions and beliefs about ethnic identity that is very open to semiotic analysis. It seems this man did not really separate the notion of being white from being American. Saussure may have said that the signifier was my white color and the signified to him from his cultural perspective was that I am a true American. Once he realized that I was in fact an immigrant/foreigner, I believe he experienced some sort of dissonance in his system of labeling his world, that led him to imply that I must not be white if not American. So then, what is the nature of the sign of one's skin color? This can be examined using Peirce's classification at the level of the object in terms of Icon, Index or Symbol. Many people would argue that it is merely an icon in that the colors we use to describe skin colors actually resemble real skin tones. If this were the case, why would this man experience any doubt that I was 'white' just because his knowledge of me changed? This should be a direct perception, the psychological concept of 'color constancy' should hold true for me just as it holds for a piece of white paper no matter the conditions in which we view it. The possibility that my 'color' is a solely iconic assignment seems dubious, so what else might it be? Some groups such as white supremacists might view it as an icon also but more importantly as an index of the God-given purity of their 'race', their righteousness and superiority. Here 'color' is considered an index of inherent qualities they assume they possess. It seems to me that 'white' can act as an index in some more general contexts where it might index where most of the wealth probably resides in a group for instance.

Not only does skin color have iconic and indexical components but I believe there are strong symbolic components as well. Supremacist assumptions about 'white' as an index are obviously based on a deeper symbolic history discussed below. Although less blatant than in white supremascism, such symbolism is potently entrenched throughout American society as unwittingly exemplified by the 'everyday' plumber I encountered. Color then is seen here as encompassing more than merely a label for your skin tone but embodies who and what you are assumed to be in society. This is evident in the fact that even though Caucasians really have skin tones that could be literally described as 'pinky-browny-yellowy' (with bits of blue for veins), a long time ago it was settled that the dominant majority should be considered 'white'. This is convenient when one considers the connotations of the color white in this...

Other Essays Like On becoming white

Capital Punishment Essay

630 words - 3 pages country [England] is the mark of a civilized society. I believe we are rapidly becoming uncivilized. Some of the things that happen on our streets and in people’s homes certainly do not constitute civilized behavior."(1) Here he infers that the English streets are not becoming safer but more dangerous. He also infers that the rate of public displays of uncivilized conduct, are also increasing at a dramatic rate. I would like to point out that

Black Soldiers In The Civil War

996 words - 4 pages pursue the right to fight. In the North, Blacks launched letter-writing campaigns, started petitions, and held meetings all for the benefit of becoming soldiers. In addition, free blacks petitioned legislators to “remove the word white from militia laws and allow blacks to take up arms against the rebels (McPherson 2008)” Northern blacks although persistent were continually denied their right as soldiers in the military. Southern Blacks


534 words - 3 pages Jennifer PatelGodzilla Returns Once Again…Most of us remember the old black and white Godzilla movies we watched as children. This film has been re-made multiple times and is one of the few movies to carry over from generation to generation. Originating from Japan, and becoming a Global phenomenon Godzilla will forever be the movie that has had such a huge cultural impact on the world.Godzilla was shot on Arri Alexa Plus 4:3, Panavision

Black Civil Rights

683 words - 3 pages 1909 black advancement organizations began to increase all over North America. Unfortunately with the rise of these groups also came the rise of racist white groups like the Ku Klux Klan and others brutally killing blacks. All blacks coming into N. America were being brought into a very hostile environment. The first sign of blacks becoming more equal was the blacks to fight in the World War. For the first time they were

South African Apartheid

996 words - 4 pages , Coloured, Blacks, and Indians. All races, over the age of 18, were issued identification cards based on their racial group. The second law was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Under this law it was determined where a person would live based strictly on their race. Each race was allotted its own area; this later became the basis for forced removals. In 1951 black shackland slums were destroyed and white employers were forced to pay for the

A Soldier

3533 words - 15 pages words, the proper place for blacks was anywhere, as long as it was below the superior white race. The film displayed the whites becoming full of anger to hear Sergeant Waters talk back to them while he was drunk on the bridge. The white officer even told the sergeant, "nigger you can't talk to me like that," and repeatedly hit the black Sergeant because he simply talked to the white man as if he was equal. Or better yet, the insults, and

Hemingway’S Hills Like White Elephants

2522 words - 11 pages preferable doctors in America, the couple is forced to move back to America at the time that Hemingway is becoming well-known for his writings (Ball). Hemingway’s writing career is put on hold for a while (Ball). In 1924, the couple moves back to Paris (Ball). Around the same time that Hills Like White Elephants is written, the couple gets a divorce (Ball). Three years after a baby postpones Hemingway’s career, he writes a short story about a man

Doctor Straight White Male

907 words - 4 pages Doctor Straight White Male It is highly unlikely that you have never watched an episode of Doctor Who. It’s just part of being British, along with tea, sarcasm and aggressively insisting that you’re ‘fine’ even if your legs have just blown off. You either grow out of Doctor Who, or become an avid fan – there is no in-between. However, recently more and more fans have been switching off on a Saturday night, for one main reason – Steven

Manifest Destiny

709 words - 3 pages command to subdue and replenish the earth. Making a statement as firm as that, you can bet Senator Benton heard a lot of criticism. He replies to such criticism by saying that thirty years ago, the white race spreading to the Rocky Mountains was ridiculed, and today it is becoming history, and he argues that Asia will also become a part of history. In his speech he defines the different races as a hierarchy. He says that the white race is on

In "Fern Hill," by Dylan Thomas depicts a child's magical childhood and the restraints time has on life itself

523 words - 3 pages to see the meadow "white with dew" (29) to display the farms youth. The child will no longer simply envision the farm as a playground, but a magical land.Time is completely in control of everything that surrounds the boy. Everyone is forced to grow up now because it is becoming "the childless land" (51). Time is demanding the land and people to mature; to move on and live their lives. The boy "sang in chains" (54) and gradually the chains cause

Rise and Risk of China

1702 words - 7 pages The Rise and Risk of China Introduction Australia has felt the full impact of Chinas “extraordinary economic growth and active diplomacy” (Ikenberry 2011, 23) in East Asia. The power transition of China “becoming a formidable global power” (Ikenberry 2011, 26) is of growing importance to Australia’s economic prosperity and security (Shen 2009, 110). But as relative power begins to shift, the latest defence White Paper released last Friday

Related Papers

White Collar Crime Essay

2574 words - 11 pages mainly concerned with “who the alleged perpetrator was, rather than what that person might have done” (Baker 2004). He was focused on redefining the definition of crime by examining the social class of the individuals committing crimes. When talking about social class and white-collar crime we can go back to what Sutherland’s definition was. He mentions social class within the definition, stating that the crime is committed by a person of high

Portrayal Of Two Disney's Princesses Comparison Of Snow White And Beuty And The Beast

428 words - 2 pages , dusts, washes, and scrubs until the little house is all neat and tidy. Then, later that night when she meets the seven dwarfs for the first time, she cooks dinner for them. Furthermore, Snow White becomes the helpless victim when she naively accepts the delicious looking apple from the disguised Queen. One bite from the poison apple places a spell on the princess. However, the heroic Prince breaks the spell by magically kissing the unconscious

"A Time To Kill", Directed By Joel Schumacher, Based On The Novel By John Grisham

854 words - 4 pages gunned down two young rednecks who kidnapped and viciously raped his 10 year old daughter. His case is made that much harder as he comes up against the ruthless District Attorney Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey) who figures that winning this case will be his ticket to becoming governor and who also happens to be a good friend of the judge, Judge Omar Noose (Patrick McGoohan). The townsfolk of Madison County do not take kindly to a white lawyer

Liberation Theology: Saving People Of Color From Oppression

2341 words - 10 pages . In other words, God worked through blackness to help in the liberation process (Hopkins 166). Putting God on the side of the oppressed has enabled African Americans to explore their history and reclaim its richness. In addition, it helped African Americans in affirming their blackness through self-love and with this, compassion for others. What does this mean for the prospects of a White Liberation Theology? If Jesus is only found on the