So I have to take time to write a paper, I might as well use it for some other purpose than driving me crazy. Anyways, writing this paper was probably the worst month I've had. Mainly because every hour I spent on it, had at least 2 spent avoiding it (facebook, trimming fingernails, cleaning computer, etc.) backing it up. I'm so glad it's done. Can you notice where I started, and stopped, and started and stopped.
The book we read for the class was called Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin.
It's awesome if you want a book to read. The guy spends about a month down south as a black man, and it is an amazing read, although some content may not be exceptable for kids. Because of that I probably wouldn't have read the book if it hadn't been assigned.
It's approximately 11 pages long. Have fun. Oh, and if its terribly horrible I don't mind you saying that in the comments. I decided to get a science major to stay away from papers. But know I realize that you can never get away from writing. So this paper, at times, felt like pulling my own teeth, with my bare hands.
At least once in everyone's life they come to realize that they are not in control of what happens. Around them, they are surrounded by others greater and more powerful then themselves leading the way for what they experience. What they experience, in many ways, is the result of what was created for them as others competed to fulfill their own needs first and foremost. This in turn creates a conflict between those who are on the top and those who spend their lives or even the lives of their children and grandchildren fighting for the rights they deserve. The book Black Like Me, takes an in depth look at this struggle through the eyes of a white man turned black. John Howard Griffin analyzes many aspects of blacks life, through his sociological mindset. Many of the ideas and viewpoints of his journey reflect on a conflict perspective to show the plight of the black man living in a place cultured predominantly by white tradition and power.
The voice of the conflict perspective is spoken through many people, each focusing on a different aspect of the struggle. Max Weber and Karl Marx stand out as the leading voices in this viewpoint. In many ways they both agree that man spends his whole life aiming for economic wealth. But the way in which they present their ideas is quite different. Weber emphasizes rationalization and Marx the self-alienation of individuals (Lowith, 1982).
The underlying theme of the conflict theory is a powerful few ruling over a mass, governing them by rules and regulations that benefit the elite instead of the masses. Views and standards that they develop become incorporated into the culture of the time, and eventually even the lower classes pass on customs and beliefs that assist in widening the gap between the two levels without the realization that they are enabling their lower status.
The conflict perspective was begun by the work of Carl Marx at the time of the industrial revolution. He saw how the bourgeoisie held a lot of power and used this power to control those less powerful. The proletariat were plentiful and in need of work to support their families. Bourgeoisie fulfilled the needs of proletariat by supplying work in exchange for cheap labour. But the needs of the masses were not completely met. Although they were gaining an income, the money was usually not sufficient to cover most of the basic needs of the family. The bourgeoisie knew the proletariat needed the jobs and their only asset was their ability to work, so they exploited them in order to improve their standard of living.
This exchange prompted Marx to develop the idea of conflict as a means to sociologically examine human interactions. It was quite different from the functionalist in that conflict in a community was seen as a good thing to be desired, not something to be rid of. Marx believed that this struggle between the two extremes would result in the lower class releasing their predicament and fighting to be rid of the control of the higher powers. This would in turn result in the rebellion of the workers who would create a classless society of equals commonly known as communism. Critics believe that this is only idealistic and in realistic setting would not occur because of the human need for power.
As the conflict perspective became more widely spread, it began to expand to include the work of Max Weber, C. Wright Mills and others. Their ideals were not as widespread as Marx's, but they too believed that conflict is needed in a society to provide the structure for its existence.
To provide support for the theories sociologists develop, there are a variety of methods they use to collect data. Each method serves a different purpose so it is important to find the method that best fits the data you are trying to find. In most instances this would include utilizing more than one method in order to provide a complete understanding of the issue. Although this could be a combination of any of the forms available, some methods work better together than others. This is why it is important to match up the methods you will use with the data you are trying to find.
John Griffin used a qualitative method. What he was trying to study, (, what it would be like to be a black man in the south, could not be answered by numbers or other measures of quantity Griffin, 1962 p.7). Instead, he needed to used the qualitative information to answer his questions. The answers he found through his study would help him to develop a better understanding of what he was presenting to the outside world (Kendall et al., 2005). When dealing with qualitative research methods Griffin found it useful to become a part of the community he was researching.
There are two ways of doing this, covert and overt participation, each with their pros and cons. Overt participation, similar to participant observation, allows interaction with individuals who understand that they are part of theresearch and are willingly allowing the researcher to be a part of their community for that purpose. (McNeill, 1990 p81-82). In this way the individuals being researched are able to choose if they would like to be studied or not. On the other side covert participation may violate the choice of the individual, since the researcher is trying to blend into the community, yet they are gaining research material through this process. Depending on the community they are infaltrating, covert participation may make it difficult to be both a law abiding citizen, and an unseen inflatrator of the group you are studying.
Both methods are excellent sources of information, although covert tends to have ethical problems and therefore is becoming less likely. In regards to the issue of studying blacks the book addresses both methods. A PhD student took it upon himself to examine blacks, but as a white he brought with him his preconceived beliefs and ideas. All the information he learned about from the blacks went to prove what he already thought about them, and made it difficult for any new information to be found out. It also prevented the blacks from seeing him as someone who could help them, since he apparently saw them in the same light as all the other white men did.
When John Griffin became black he, in essence, left all his white beliefs behind and began to see things in a different light. Since he became a black, he also began to think as one and see as they did. This allowed him to develop a completely different mindset which helped him gain an understanding of the issues they faced as he interacted with them as a black himself. As Griffin viewed the blacks as a white he saw a different side than he had seen when he was disguised, this shows the importance that the covert participation played in his observations.
But the fact that he might not have seen that side had he been white plays a role in the ethical considerations of research. Looking back on it, you can find problems with the covert method, in that people were deceived into thinking he was black. As ethical methods are developed, rules are put in place that require permission to be obtained from those observed before observation is done. His method also violates the anonymity of the individuals involved, since it was impossible to present his findings without alluding to people who were very prominent in their community.
While he was hidden as a black man his means of gathering information came primarily from his coversations with others, black and white alike. While he talked to them and interacted with these people, he found out more about the issue of the blacks against the whites. As he gained more knowledge about what was actually happening, through the eyes of blacks, he was able to develop a more accurate view of what the problem was that the Americans were facing. When he began, he knew that there seemed to be some descrepancies between how the white people said they viewed black people and the way they actually did.
The perspective of a white when he interacted with a black was so different that the white believed that everything was acceptable when in fact he was only seeing the side the blacks wanted him so see, and not the real side.
And yet in all this the Southern whites are led to believe that they are living harmoniously with the blacks (Griffin, 1962, p. 7). This is, as Freie presents, (1998, p. 4) common to many, in that, we may feel as if we are a community, yet refrain from actually going further than surface relationships. Grifin saw white city leaders asking him for help to make a difference, yet they never went so far to ask the black leaders in their city the same questions (Griffin, 1962, p. 174). Instead of reaching in and dealing with the problem face to face, they went halfway by using Griffin as their means of understanding the prevalent issues. Needless to say, it is not until the white and the black begin to interact on a more personal level that a real sense of community and humanity will be felt.
In his interactions with the blacks Griffin performed a form of informal interviews, which are ideal for qualitative research. From these conversations he was able to see the viewpoint and circumstances of a wide variety of individuals, all of which focused on a specific point in the struggle between the whites and blacks. Even though the issues brought up by each individual may have only highlighted on one part of the problem, together they made a network of voices which showed the direction that the attitudes led in. Researcher Patrick McNeill notes that in order to determine the cause of a situation, the individual needs to compare both a time when the problem is present and a time when it is not (McNeill, 1990, p. 63). By discussing the problem with whites as a black man, and then both black and whites as a black man, he was able to gain a better picture of what was occuring.
This problem, especially one this big, covers a wide array of issues. Each as seen by a sociologist adds a little bit of understanding to the issue as a whole. The book black like me covers the majority of this issue by addressing individual aspects that are faced by blacks in everyday circumstances. It can be seen how the culture which was created through this struggle ties into the issue and how these two races of different ethinic backgrounds contrast in their view of their surroundings. All these areas come together to show the truth behind the inequality experienced by the blacks from the whites in America.
The culture is what helps to make this conflict, between two groups of humans, with only differences in skin pigment, possible. The idea that whites are better than blacks is unique to just some areas of the world, indicating that the whites took a stand to position themselves above those who were black. The black originated as slaves who were under the rule of the whites. Through this categorization, blacks were generalized to be under whites due to their skin colour, not just their imposed slavery. As blacks changed from being slaves to being neighbours, white men and women still carried the belief that as a race blacks were not as good as the whites. Since they were and still are a majority, whites had the opportunity to integrate beliefs into their system which ultimately continued the stratification of whites and blacks.
The most powerful of these beliefs, was the idea that the colour of your skin mattered. It wasn't just that white was good and black was below them. They saw the lighter black, those of a carmel colour, as better than the dark black men or women. These were favoured and given more opportunities than the very black individual would ever have. Yet, they knew as a black, they would never have the opportunities that the whites had. But it wasn't just whites who showed preference, as the ligher blacks were given leeway, is some aspect, some in turn shunned those darker than them. Griffin recalls an instance in which a light coloured black, began to deride the darker men on the bus, calling them filthy and uneducated, just because he was lighter. He viewed himself as superior and therefore berated the others sitting in the back of the bus with him, although he never would have been able to sit in the front with the whites.
Another force prevalent in forming the common culture is the media. As indicated by Hooks (1997) the image of blacks is seen in a gradient. The beautiful and sought for women, in movies and music, are those of a lighter skin tone, and less often a dark hue. Since TV shows have only a short air time they rely heavily on predeveloped stereotypes, which create an avenue for reinforcing negative black stereostypes. This includes blacks portrayed as thiefs, in lower class jobs, or even the absence of black actors in prominent roles.
This degrading of a society has its roots in Africa, when the black ancestors were overpowered and brought to America as slaves. This internal colonialism has been one of the contributing factors to the black's problem. They were taken from their homeland where they had developed a way of living, and brought to a new land dominated by a people seen as superior to them. As they eventually left their role as a slave, there were still ways for them to be exclude from rights in society. In some areas the black neighbourhoods were located on the outskirts of town, outside of any voting jurisdictions. This allowed the whites in power, an excuse to disallow any voting rights that they may vie for. By excluding them from political rights, their influence in decisions is easily limited, even when it directly affects them. Their taxes in some instances were used for financing opportunities or organizations that were not beneficial to the blacks. This includes swimming pools in which they were not allowed to swim, yet in essence paid for through their taxes, and white citizen councils which were directly against them.
This discrimination allowed the continued discrimination of the blacks. Blacks had limited access to the means by which they could increase their self worth, and since this caused many to be uneducated the whites believed them to be unfit. They even went so far to say that if the blacks were given the same opportunities they would realize that they couldn't make it, and so it was better for them not to have these opportunities. Yet there were many examples, of the which most whites were unaware, of young blacks who studied hard and made something of themselves. But even as the blacks became educated they had such limited opportunities compared to the educated white individual that many saw education as a waste of time (Griffin, 1962).
This led to lesser jobs being taken by the blacks, many times jobs that the white man would not take. In times when jobs became scarce, some individuals resorted to selling themselves for the pleasure of the white man. This cycle resulted in the lowering of blacks in the eyes of the white. Griffin has a conversion with an intelligent white man who believed that the morality of the black man was less of that of the white man (Griffin, 1962, p. 88-94). Yet the circumstances placed upon the black man, less educational opportunities, fewer jobs, and exclusion from culturing activities, led to this demise, not the inferiority of the blacks.
Women were even harder hit in this regard. As the cycle advanced it became more difficult to support a family, and when the children are hungry there are only so many places to turn to. The white man desired the companionship of the black women and would pay for this pleasure. This eventually perpetuates the problem yet further when there are more children to feed and they follow their mother's footsteps in hard times. Yet some white men believed that by fathering a black child they were added to the value of the child when instead they degraded the women in believing they were there to do what he wanted. In another instance Griffin talked to a man who would not employ any women who would not bow to his will. It was not her immorality who made her do the things she did; in fact it was quite different. In order to sustain her family and try to change their standard of living she had to submit to the authority, howbeit domineering.
It is easy to see how the conflict theory is shown through Griffin's timeas a white man; for each aspect that he faced showed the power struggle that conflict theorists love to see. The majority of this struggle is seen between the white majority suppressing the blacks, which Griffin has highlighted time and time again. He showed how this suppression has affected the black and caused them to become even less, which creates a greater power for the whites. For as they learn to take the power from the blacks, they gain a greater power for themselves.
Yet in all this, blacks and whites as well, were fighting to change this. Griffin and other of his scholarly friends saw that this power differentiation between the two races was not right and in the later part of his book he shows the struggle that went on to try to bridge this gap. You can see the need for power that was very present in the whites, as they fought back to keep on top. So, in this aspect the conflict theory is somewhat abandoned. Now the differences are lessened as supporters are trying to eliminate the power that whites had over the blacks.
Throughout this paper it has been shown, through examples from Griffin's experience as a black man, how the issues that affect the blacks came about through the culturization of the whites. This mindset created in the whites, that they were somehow better than the blacks, created a struggle which characterized the views of conflict theorists. And as we saw how Griffin came about these discoveries, by examining his methods of research, we can see how he developed a more accurate viewpoint of both races which allowed him to see the blacks in a different light. It is hoped that through this examination of a very serious issue it may be realized that the culture in which we live may have been created to serve the purpose of another.
So know that you've gotten to the end, what do you think? Terrible, well-written, good enough for a C?
Oh, I forgot to say that the paper was for my sociology class, and the funniest thing was when I was doing my "research", the part I had the most trouble with, I found a book that said that Black like me wasn't really sociology. I got a few laughs, during a stressful time, out of that comment.