A typical American society is characterized by diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and language. The diverse and multicultural nature of American society was brought about by immigration throughout the countries’ history. Because of this, it is important to understand that, the social construction of racial and ethnic differences and differences in the hierarchy among the groups of people in the American society, whether physical or cultural only exist as human experience. The main values upheld by American society are; diversity, tolerance and commitment to basic human rights. It is also the American ideal that, all its citizens are treated equally under the law and are all protected equally. Contact zones therefore in this discussion refers to; social spaces where cultures meet and conflict with each other especially because of an imbalance in power distribution and also as an analytical tool to examine history and society (Pratt, n.d). This paper will delve in; analyzing ways in which diversity is perceived in the American society, progress made or lack of it is changing the perceptions, today’s definition of Americanness, how I interact within and between contact zones, what is at stake in thinking of contact zones in the U.S society, interpretation of Prashad’s contention “To act upon inequality with inequality is to allow unequal ness to persist” and reasons as to why the above matter both in and outside the academic context.
First on the discussion, are ways in which diversity, in terms of race, ethnicity and language is perceived in U.S society. America, by being a diverse and multicultural society, can not escape the issue of the social construction of racial and ethnic differences among the people. It is through an increase in contact between different groups that the recognition of the differences intensifies. Racial and ethnic conflicts depend entirely on the kind of social hierarchies constructed along with self identification. However, the conflicts are adaptive to changing contexts, perspectives and negotiations. In the present American society, there are different perceptions held by different groups on the subject of race, ethnicity and language. Asian Americans for instance, are perceived by whites as foreigners. This is supported by the fact that some Asian students in American schools are hulled insults by white students and at times told to go back to their country China because they did not belong in America. Moreover, the working Asian communities are perceived by the whites as hardworking and therefore taking away their jobs (Prashad 3).
Still on the whites’ perception of the Asian Americans, they tend to perceive the English language they use as not being good enough and therefore Asian Americans are required to take English fluency tests despite them being honors students for many years and speaking perfect English. To these students such tests are demeaning, insulting and discriminatory. Furthermore, Tan, whose mother was Chinese, openly admits that, when she was growing up, her mother’s broken English limited her perception of her mother. She further says that she was ashamed of her mother’s English. Language affected greatly the quality of what her mother had to say. Pratt’s mother was not understood and at times ignored in banks, restaurants and even in departmental stores. Moreover, at times looked down upon, not taken seriously and often received poor service.
Pratt in her bid to pursue her writing career was also negatively perceived and often told to major in math and sciences where she was good. In addition, her mother’s English almost limited her opportunities in life because of the kind of language they used in the family setting (Pratt). Asian Americans on the other hand, perceive the whites as not being willing to integrate because however much they try to do so, the same effort is not reciprocated. Instead, the Asian Americans are questioned, challenged and often prevented from integrating. Now on the African Americans, Asian Americans perceive them as being lazy and not working hard and therefore remaining poor(Prashad 5). Furthermore they are viewed as people who like complaining and depending on welfare checks and handouts (Prashad 8). White Americans, who see themselves as the real Americans, perceive the African Americans as being inferior to them and therefore do not stand on equal footing. They still hold this perception even though slavery was abolished centuries ago.
It is important to mention that, progress has been made compared to the early times. In present day America, through the true spirit of democracy, an African American was elected as president and other colored leaders occupy high offices. This would not have happened in the past due to the stereotype perception of white superiority that dominated the American society then. Moreover, there are increased interracial marriages in America today which was not the case in past. Through these marriages, the diverse aspects of the American society are merged and therefore mutual understanding fostered. Racial segregation and discrimination have also reduced significantly. The kind of treatment the colored community was accorded in the past is very different from the present. For instance, whites were not allowed to mingle with coloreds then, there were different schools for whites and different for coloreds. In today’s American society, this does not exist. Despite the frantic efforts to create a level playing field for all Americans regardless of their race, ethnicity and language, the ignorant narrow minded and short sighted thinking is still present in the American society. It is therefore apparent that, because some races within the American society are able to speak other languages at home, very fluent in English and lack some anglicized names like smith, they are not seen as legitimate Americans and often seen as foreigners.
In the present American society, American-ness can be defined as; a diverse multicultural people belonging to America. This definition best describes the present America because; the logic of diversity has completely changed any conception of American-ness as anything beyond the bonds of inclusiveness. Moreover for Americans who perceive learning English is real inclusiveness, they are often told that there inclusiveness means exclusiveness because this thinking only fuels resentment and is a stumbling block to assimilation. According to Sheckely speaking fluent English only does not make one to be considered and therefore incapables to change of how one is perceived (83, 87). In general Americans are very proud to be citizens of the most inclusive country in the world. It is however seen as too white, too Christian, or not black and Hispanic enough. America can embrace contact zones that seek to bring harmony and oneness among all the diverse groups found within it. To achieve this American society today is trying to strike a balance of power between the groups in order to remove the asymmetrical power distribution that existed earlier. By so doing, the social conflict constructed by the difference in hierarchy is eliminated hence fostering understanding and harmony.
Well, the issue of contact zones is a bit tricky, in my case; I find it easy interacting within and between contact zones. For instance some of my friends are Asian Americans and others are African Americans. We are good friends and that is what matters most. As students we all have the same agenda and are bound together by that. Therefore when it comes to being in a learning institution I have contact zones that are compatible. However, I have seen conflicting contact zones within the institution among other students. Well, I am compatible enough with my friends and I have never seen them having any reserved feelings against me. The same goes to those from my race. Moreover, our parents also get along well with each other. I already understand that we are one country ad therefore one people so I respect my friends’ cultural affiliations and I am proud of them for upholding it.
When thinking about the contact zones in the American society, the issues at stake are; economic development, education, health, peace and harmony. The issues at stake are very vital for any country and therefore the concept of contact zones should be handled with the seriousness it deserves. Economic development is the mother of them all because; there can be no development in a society that is in constant conflict within itself (Nylor 1). When exclusionary concept of contact zones is adopted, there may be dire losses that will be suffered because in a society each and every person has a contribution he makes. Therefore, when some groups are excluded it means that, there contribution will be lost. Furthermore, there will be animosity between the groups hence making the environment not conducive for development.
Prashads contention” To act upon inequality with equality is to allow unequal ness to persist”. Well I can interpret it as meaning, inequality in the American society should not be addressed by giving welfare checks to those feeling not equal to others but rather, encourage them to work hard and earn the equality they yearn for. Allowing “unequal ness” to persist means that those who are working hard and those who are not are all rewarded and therefore unfair because others put their efforts and work hard while others do not.
This questions matter a lot both within and without the academic context because these are issues affecting the day to day lives of Americans. In addition, these questions give a deep insight and understanding of the conflicting contact zones and its effect to the society at large. It is important for people within the American society to understand and embrace their diversity and work hand in hand to attain the American dream. This fundamental goal cannot be achieved if the issue of contact zones is not discussed both within and outside the academic context.
In conclusion, the issue of contact zones, as Pratt puts it, is intended partially to contrast with community that underlie much of the thinking about language, communication and culture that gets done in the academy. In a nutshell, different groups within the American society hold negative perceptions about other groups. What is encouraging however is that, as time passes by, some of these perceptions have changed. Additionally, the American society has come to embrace her diversity and leant to coexist and accept the fact that they are all Americans.
Nylor, Larry. The Problems and Issues of Diversity in the United States. Westport: Greenwood publishing Group. 1999.
Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk. Minneapolis: Minnesota press. 2000.
Pratt, Marry. Arts of the Contact Zones. n.d 1999. Web.
Sheckely, Roberts. Notions: Unlimited. New York: Bantam.1960.
Tan Amy. Mother Tongue. N.d. Web.