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Is racism inherent or taught?

Created: 10/16/10

Replies: 25

Posted Mar. 19, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
admin

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Is racism inherent or taught?

Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?


Posted Mar. 19, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
judyk's Gravatar
judyk

Join Date: 10/16/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I can't say if Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist. I recently read My Hollywood, by Mona Simpson and the young children seemed to forget their nannies soon after the nannies left while the one older child retained much of what she learned from her nanny. In any case, both books are fiction so what might have been for any given character is in the hands of the author, not me.

Regardless, I definitely think that racism is taught. It only appears to be inherent because of how much we absorb from our social and familial surroundings and customs.


Posted Mar. 20, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
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CindyA

Join Date: 10/17/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Children don't hate people unless they are taught to, or they are emulating their parents. Were racism inherent, I think we would all be racists; there would have been no improvement of attitudes, no enlightenment, no positive changes down through the years. Of course racist attitudes are still taught (actively or passively) by some, and we--all people--still have far to go before we are a nation of equals, but if racism were inherent, slavery would never have ended.


Posted Mar. 21, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I agree with Cindy and Judy that racism is taught to a degree, but I think that humans are also born with an inherent affinity to their own 'tribe', an arguably necessary evolutionary trait that enables us to form family bonds, feel an affinity to our community, experience pride in our nation and so forth. However, the flip side of the ability to feel a connection to a group, is not feeling a connection to other groups, which will tend to express itself in sweeping opinions based on limited, if any, actual knowledge. In short, we pre-judge groups that we don't know. So, I think children are born with a natural tendency to prejudice of all sorts and, however hard we try, we are all prejudiced to some degree.

So the question to my mind is not whether racism is taught but whether it can be exacerbated by teaching? To which I'd answer definitely yes! The flip-side then is that racism can also be lessened through education - not just in school but through life. In fact, here's a radical thought for you - if we as individuals haven't, in the past month, either read something, watched something, visited somewhere, or talked to someone who challenged at least one of our prejudices, are we in danger of becoming entrenched in our opinions? :) Which reminds me of a blog post from a couple of years back about the library movement: http://www.bookbrowse.com/blogs/editor/index.cfm/2008/12/9/Check-out-a-prejudice-from-the-Living-Library


Posted Mar. 22, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
SarahD451

Join Date: 10/16/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I agree with all previous comments, but particularly Davina's. However, I think the original question is most interesting, particularly after reading the above comments, when it is reflected back to the book. Stockett is clear in her general statement that racism is taught and that the only way out of prejudice is through a type of education about 'the other.' In the novel, this education is brought about through an intense emotional attachment between black and whites. The white women in the novel who are the least racist are the ones who have the healthiest relationships with their black counterparts. For example, Skeeter knows there is something fundamentally wrong about the way whites treat blacks, and she knows this because she loved her black nanny like a mother. She was taught to hate blacks, but her feelings, the intense emotional attachment she had with her black maid, instructs her otherwise.

Our conversation then comes to a point of instinct versus instruction, and whereas evolution may induce us to fear, "The Help" implies that instincts can play a different role in human relationships across color lines. Though Abileen is upset by Mae Mobley's budding racism, I suspect that Mae Mobley will have a fighting chance of ending up like Skeeter, a woman who defies the education of her youth to follow what her heart knows to be true. Abileen is kind to Mae Mobley while her mother is neglectful and selfish. Surely, this will make a greater impact on Mae Mobley's way of thinking about blacks than what she learns at school.

If racism can be taught, it can just as easily be untaught, and I think that this is a critical message of "The Help."


Posted Mar. 23, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
katheriney

Join Date: 10/20/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

In response to CindyA's comment that slavery has ended - I think it is important to add that while slavery ended in the United States there are 27 million people living as slaves today throughout the world. According to E. Benjamin Skinner's book "A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery" (an excellent and horrifying book on the subject) there are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history. It is a global human rights issue that is not given nearly enough attention.


Posted Mar. 23, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
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valeriec

Join Date: 10/20/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I grew up in the south. While we considered ourselves open-minded and non-racist, I was also told,when I left home for college, that I better not bring a black boyfriend home. I went to a liberal college in Oregon, and considered myself non-racist. When a black classmate expressed an interest in dating me, I was forced to confront my issues. If I had still been living in the south I doubt I would have dated him. It took awhile, but eventually I didn't see his color, just the person he was.

I think racism is learned. It can also be un-learned.


Bluemotmot
Posted Mar. 23, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
dorisk

Join Date: 10/20/10

Posts: 14

RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I definitely feel racism is taught. I was a public school teacher and observed how young children accept others of different color, faith or whatever. They do make fun of each other sometime to an extreme. But it is usually because of other factors rather than race. In the area I live in there is more prejdice toward Native Americans as that is the "minority" in this part of the country.
But again, unless someone tells them there is something wrong with that person or tribe they pretty much accept each other.
This is not as true of older children who have been "taught" to discriminate against others because of race.


Posted Mar. 23, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
guntak

Join Date: 10/20/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Racism is fear of someone who is different from our selves. It is not taught, as such, it is the neglect toteach children about other cultures, different skin color, that if one does not speak English they are not necessarily stupid. Tolerance of others is a life long learning process.


Posted Mar. 24, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Helen M

Join Date: 10/21/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

What an interesting discussion. I am completely on the side of taught but I honor the fact that it is taught through ommission as well as actively. I grew up in a conservative white community with virtually no non-whites. It was a very sterile community.......one would have had to actively teach tolerance. Racism can be so subtle..........that is what I was raised in.........so today I have to dig a little deeper to find those racist places in me. I think they are not there, but, wait, look deeper. So taught, in so many ways........Helen M


Posted Apr. 11, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
dorothyt

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I am reminded of the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" in Rodger and Hammerstein's musical "South Pacific." Lt. Cable, from Philadelphia, is in love with a Tonkenese girl and realizes that he cannot marry her and take her home to the family, and he sings about how he and his peers have been raised. I have always believed that racism is taught, but Davina's post has made me think more about the fear of that which is different that all of us have. We need to teach our children not to let that fear affect the way we think about and treat others, whether it is race, religion or disability.

(Don't you love the way good literature makes us think about and discuss important topics?)


Posted Apr. 15, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
caryll

Join Date: 04/15/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Both. I believe that human beings have a natural instinct to be cautious of those unlike them in some way. However, no matter the instruction at home, as the world opens up to you, the more you see and do, depends greatly on how you react to those situations. You will find your own course to be prejudicial or accepting.


Posted Apr. 15, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Beth350

Join Date: 04/15/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I too believe that it is taught. As I read the question, the tune to the song Dorothyt mentioned,("you Have to Be Carefully Taught") popped right into my mind before I even read her response. While we might have some inherent distrust of what we percieve as "different," it is our training and upbringing that causes us to take note of those differences. Young children do not make those kinds of disctinctons on their own.

I grew up in a town where racism did not seem prevelent because there were almost no non-white residents. It didn't enter into our everyday lives. When the civil rights movement in the 1960s began to appear on TV, I really could not understand why anyone felt the need to separate racial groups. I had never seen a "white only" sign.

Stockett does an excellent job of portraying the racial situation, giving people like me a somewhat better understanding of the way things were in other parts of the country.


Posted Apr. 17, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
susanr

Join Date: 04/14/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I think that racism is taught but I think it is taught not only verbally but also by actions. I agree with Beth350 - I grew up in an all white suburb of Detroit and didn't understand the civil rights movement when it first started. Reading books about other parts of the county during that time period, have helped me to better understand. Stockett does an excellent job of explaining that time period in American history to her readers.


Posted May. 07, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Barbara

Join Date: 04/29/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I believe it is both. Children can be "victims" of their environment. Such as segregation, parental
behavior, & media contributes to young minds in their formative years.

History has proven that the global environment can make a difference. The Civil War South, Nazi
Germany, French Revolution, and as far back as biblical times.

Young children don't have freedom of choice until they are mature enough to weigh the issues and then,hopefully, make the right decisions for themselves.

I say this with respect for all of our opinions.


Barbara


Posted May. 07, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Beth350

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I believe it has to be taught.


Posted May. 19, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
dave s

Join Date: 05/19/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Both. My two children went to a Spanish immersion elementary school where there were kids from around the community with a wide range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. They had a wide range of friends as a result and were not cognizant that differences were something to be feared.

But as we get old, I think we become adverse to things we don't understand or are different from our way of life---this is true of all people whether they want to admit it or not. Being upfront about this reality, therefore, is the best way then to remind ourselves that we constantly have to fight the inclination to dismiss or criticize people that are different from us, whether those differences are a matter of race, national background, cultural, etc


Posted Jun. 13, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
anneb

Join Date: 06/13/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Both. It's taught at first, but as we grow, we see things that change our minds. Yes, it can be unlearned! Very nice talk, too. I really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts!


Posted Jun. 13, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
susanne

Join Date: 06/13/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I believe racism is taught either verbally or what children see in adults around them. We all have preferences toward many thing people and things. But to inflict harm to anyone is unnecessary and unaceptable.


Posted Jun. 14, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
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kageeh

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I don't believe racism is wholly or even partially inborn. Observe very young children who will, unless told otherwise, accept and treat as equal anyone who is kind towards them or, at least, not unkind. I grew up during probably the most racially turbulent and anti-Semitic times of the 20th century in an all-white affluent suburb where the only people of color I saw worked in my and my neighbors' homes. I loved the people who worked in my home as much as I loved the people to whom I am related. I knew only that they had fewer financial resources and less education than I was privileged to have so they had to work, unlike our mothers and female relatives. I also knew that, because they worked and because times were rapidly changing, their own children were to become as privileged as I was. I realize I had unique parents for that time but those classmates with whom I still communicate feel the same, even if many came to the realization later in life.

To children who are not taught otherwise, everyone is different from everyone else in both large and small ways. Why would differences in skin color be a reason to shun people when hair color was not? Half of my extended family members, all of the same Eastern European heritage, were far darker-skinned and -haired than the other very pale sun-averse half; one of my brothers in no way resembles anyone else in my nuclear family. My very red hair was as unmanageable and nappy as the people we then knew as of the Negro race. Consequently, I never saw physical attributes alone as a reason to separate people.

But I also realize that not only are prejudiced people taught, even if very subtly, to fear or debase those who are different, they also must be separated from them physically because familiarity with diversity in all its myriad forms within our communities usually breeds tolerance, acceptance, and, most of all, color blindness. There are no pure races anymore; America (and it is not alone) is surely and quickly becoming the melting pot we were always told it is supposed to be. We can only hope that when the one-dimensional bigots still among us die out, racism will truly be something learned only from history books.


Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don't have film.
Posted Jun. 14, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
judyk's Gravatar
judyk

Join Date: 10/16/10

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

kageeh, I love your post. I agree with you completely and you have stated my view of racism better than I ever could have done. Thank you.


Posted Jun. 14, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
rgoldberg1@cox.net

Join Date: 06/14/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I agree with a lot of what has been said before. I also believe that racism is not inherit in people. It is the fear of what we don't know or understand that makes some people be racist.
Sometimes we gravitate to our own kind of people (tribal). I grew up in Belgium, in a Jewish neighborhood, went to Jewish schools and didn't have any Christian friends. As I was growing up and read books that were culturally different from what I knew, it made me have a much better understanding of the different ethnic groups, their beliefs and values.
Reading this book has made me understand some of the Southern culture which I'm not familiar with.
I enjoy this conversation and hope to learn much more.
Betty G.


Posted Jul. 16, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
topcitydiva

Join Date: 06/14/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

Racism is taught. It is a learned behavior and an expectation for many. The author did a good job of demonstrating that in the book, particularly in Skeeters character, I think where that was most evident was in the chapter where Hlly was going to tell Skeeters mom that she (Skeeter) was responsible for the book. Skeeters reaction - the need to "protect" her mom or whatever is a clear demonstration that after racism is taught it is expected that one will "follow the rules".


Posted Jul. 18, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
tillieh

Join Date: 04/28/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I too believe it is taught. My father grew up in NC during the 30s and 40s. He is not prejudiced and raised both myself and my brother to not be prejudiced. However, my brother was rebellious and did drugs for many years which landed him in the incarcerated domain. It was during this time that my brother developed his prejudice and has tried to impose it on me. My children were raised in a neighborhood where we were the only white family on the block. Although I raised my children to be nonprejudicial, because of the paths they chose have developed some prejudices.

I believe it is taught but can be undone due to life's circumstances. Although it is ingrained, the mind can become warped because of the paths we choose in life.


Posted Aug. 11, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
peg

Join Date: 08/11/11

Posts: 29

RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I think it is taught either by family or in some cases by negative experiences. I was raised in a home with a black caretaker in Chicago and a s.c. Mother. As an adult I live in a mixed and am comfortable.

The book was well written and allowed me to see a part the south that I did not know.


Posted Sep. 02, 2011 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bettyt

Join Date: 05/12/11

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RE: Is racism inherent or taught?

I think racism largely comes from the natural tendency to distrust those who are "different" from us. But once those differences start getting broken down and people find that beneath the color of the skin, and beyond the religious differences, we all are pretty much the same. We all have families that we love. The black man, the Muslim man, the Jewish man, the Catholic man all cheer for the same football team. The women are all frustrated because they can't get their men glued form the TV set when there is a ballgame on. We aren't so different and the prejudices lessen.


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