Classification in Society

Updated on January 30, 2019

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., a national holiday is allocated in his remembrance. Personally, it is a time for me to reflect on the impressive accomplishments he achieved for equality. Considering I am a Gen Z member, I was not a witness to either of the civil rights movements that took part in the 1860s or 1960s. It’s normal to see people of different skin colors participating in activities together. It’s typical to engage in conversations with my friends of different nationalities and skin colors. Throughout my academic career, I have come to learn that it wasn’t always natural to see such smooth cooperation between people of a contrasting race and beliefs. There was a time in which it was frowned upon to be courteous to members of the other skin color; people weren’t always treated with fairness and respect. As this concept was taught in elementary school, I was astonished to learn that it all happened not so long ago.

To reference what we’ve been taught in school, Plessy vs Ferguson was the court case that famously coined the term Separate but Equal. This meant that African Americans would continue to be segregated throughout the community to different schools, different bathrooms, drinking fountains, etc. Because of the Civil Rights Movement, this is fortunately not the case anymore. To that degree, I feel people of different races are treated with fairness and respect nowadays, validating the accomplishments of the many great leaders associated with the Civil Rights Movement. However, there’s another problem we have yet to solve.

This entire article is not going to be just a reflection on the past, but also my personal observations regarding racism and prejudice, mainly to suggest that the idea of reaching a fair society has not yet been achieved.

Martin Luther King Jr. and many others, through protest, achieved a response which included legal reforms to grant equality to all citizens. However, as many of us know, just because there's a law doesn’t mean it’s followed. I can’t speak for everyone, nevertheless, I don’t observe distinct racism on an everyday basis. To me, that’s normal. However, to the older population, it comes as a significant change to what the norm once was. Unfortunately, I’m sure there are still numerous cases of racism throughout this country and the world. Which is why at this current time, I can say I feel enormous pride to not only firmly stand against racism, but also identifying to others how we can further improve fairness among the community.

The more I've learned, the more I feel as though I've come to understand the true definition of fairness. My pet peeve, is when references are made to a group of people that specifically classify them by qualities they can't control, such as skin color. The vibe I'm getting from people is that it's almost as if being born a certain religion, means something, being a certain nationality, means something. That important decisions regarding us are not just based on merit and personality, but our skin color and beliefs.

College Admission

A striking example includes college entry exams such as the ACT and SAT. Every time I take the test, I’m astonished at some of the personal information I am recommended to share. For instance, before the test even starts, there is forty minutes worth of information that must be answered. Most of which are logical, such as birthday, address, grade point average, school, career interest and more. However, I and others feel interrogated when we are asked to bubble in our race. Additionally, our religious beliefs are inquired upon. I reluctantly answer, and usually adopt a feeling of anxiety and panic, before the test has even started. I remember one time after I had finished the test, I was thinking to myself that colleges are looking for more diversity, that’s why they want to know if you are a minority. Ironically, as I spoke to one of my friends, who was African American, he expressed clear discomfort while explaining to me that he actually felt interrogated, because the colleges probably don’t want minorities. Clearly, minority or not, everybody feels as though that question is used against them. Like their skin color or religion matters.

The consensus I get is that people don’t want to feel self conscious about their race or beliefs when the purpose of the assessment is to test what we’ve learned in school. I recently talked to a school counselor, and asked why we need to disclose our race. The answer she gave was so that colleges can have another form of identification. I have two issues with that response. Firstly, there is an option that says “Prefer not to answer”, so if I checked that, then what? Second, we already have a name, birthday, email, and numerous number sequences such as social security numbers, why not add one more for colleges to use, instead of questioning us on our race and religious beliefs, both of which are extremely personal.

It has become a central focus point of many political campaigns to emphasize equality among various minorities. Obviously, I too want fairness among all. However, I posses an alluring interpretation in regards to the way in which it’s advertised.

Women's Equality

Women’s rights and equality, for example, is a common objective of various political candidates. After engaging in conversations with many people who feel strongly about the issue, it appears the intention of the movement is to ensure equal pay for women. Another issue that comes to mind is the “Lady Tax”, suggesting that certain products, used by both sexes are more expensive for women than men. After talking to men on the issue, it appears as though a male privilege is put upon them. And for some, they feel the achievements they’ve worked really hard for are not valid, because their of male privilege. I honestly don’t know if there is a male privilege or not in our society, I would like to be optimistic and hope people aren’t viewed by their gender. Although I do know when the words “male privilege” are said to a man that just accomplished something, he gets really upset because now he feels like all his hardwork and determination has been taken away.

I am not educated enough in the controversy to form a valid opinion, additionally it would be poor news writing to present my opinion in this article if I’m not educated. Upon reading articles and news stories, we instinctively look for information that allows us to educate ourselves, and form an opinion. That is what news writing should be. An unbiased description of events, an adequate amount of detail, is why writing articles is so pleasing for me. Without the flow of information, we become ignorant to the world around us. Unfortunately, I can’t say I read articles and news that implement the criteria.

News Media

I’m no different than anybody else. I get my news from where most people get their news from. Media organizations such as “CNN”, “ABC”, “Washington Post”, and “The New York Times”, are the gateway to current news. My issue with these organizations, are the subtle insert of words, with the apparent purpose to spark discussion, which is usually followed with division among people. I’m not going to cite any individual occurrences, but it’s not hard to find an article that, before getting into detail about the story, consist of words to depict race, gender, sexual orientation etc. By incorporating the use of character and appearance describing words in the headlines, it no longer becomes just an issue where each individual person can make an informed decision dependent on their interpretation of the event. It now becomes a “Black vs White”, “Men vs Women”, or a “Gay vs Straight” issue. While these may be serious issues, people should be able to decide for themselves, regardless of the group they belong to.

For example, a controversial issue is police brutality. Just like Women's rights, there are different sides to the story. The two most apparent conclusions to Police brutality is that the Police have a prejudice towards African Americans and lash out using aggressive violence. The other perspective, is that the police are doing their jobs in order to protect the community. (Notice how my interpretation of the situation included both sides, using a fair and unbiased tone). I’m not properly informed enough on each occurrence, but I can say that each episode of police brutality differs in some way, so not classifying all of them as one or the other is the response I get from most people.

On the other hand, the interpretation from most media outlets, clearly feel that classifying people by their skin color, proceeds the overarching story itself. I’m not implying that withholding the race or beliefs of the people of interest is beneficial. If a series of never ending episodes of police brutality is constantly reported, it would prove to be useful information to know the race of the victim and the aggressor. When police brutality occurs, or any other newsworthy event, an unbiased, robotic recap of the event should probably come first in my opinion. Afterwards, I believe it would be imperative to inform the public on every detail known about the situation. It may turn out that there is a racist motive after all. So the details regarding race, religious beliefs, and so on, should be included in the article. Without that piece of knowledge, the public would be oblivious if a genocide were to occur. By reporting like this, the people are informed, and not prompted to choose a stance based on anything other than their opinion.

My issue with the media outlets I previously mentioned is that by including words to characterize people, readers are consciously or subconsciously going to interpret the article differently. When the issue of police brutality is reported, by emphasizing that the officer was white, and the victim was an African American, people are automatically segregated by their race. Those subtle insertions of words make it become “Black vs White” for some people, and without even talking to someone, you know what side they’re on. Instinctively, I don’t want people to look down on me for something I didn’t do, but I can’t help but feel responsible when I see the headline read Unarmed Black Man Fatally Shot By White Police Officer. It’s a tragedy to lose someone to a wrongful death, how should we solve this issue? What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Those are the questions we should be asking. However, since the headline is entirely focused on racial tensions and not the actual story, I find that the people I talk to aren’t focused on the solution to the problem. Instead they’re reading the article with an entirely different mindset, in order to defend themselves.

Through my daily encounters with people of my age, Gen Z and Millennials, it has become extremely evident that nobody likes even the slightest use of words or phrases that faintly suggest they are at fault for something they didn’t do. Once the spark is lit, it appears an intense urge to defend ourselves is the most important thing in the world. This applies to any aspect unique to the individual, such as our favorite candy, or our favorite TV show. This even applies to physical features such as blue eyes, or freckles. For instance, if I were to go into my classroom, and say “people with curly hair are”, instantly, everybody with curly hair would turn around and look at me ready to defend themselves and each other. I personally don’t think it’s a bad thing to defend yourself, considering myself and others my age especially, do not like being classified. However, when a bigger problem is upon us, we need to come up with a solution together.

This mentality even applies to news stories. For example, when CNN decides to put the words “white” and “black” in the headline of the article, the response is not one that promotes unity among people. For instance, if it’s worth mentioning that the officer is white, then one has got to defend himself because they're white. I had nothing to do with the incident, so it’s not my fault, now becomes the mindset for many people. When that kind of self concerned, defensive mindset is assumed, the reader is now passing up on the actual story, and now is looking for information they can use to defend themselves so they don't appear racist. The fact is somebody may have wrongfully died, and there is a solution that needs to be found.

In school we recently read an article about the idea of “man-spreading”, the action taken forth by a man to spread himself out to an unusually wide extent. And again, without even reading the article, men and women are divided, because men who don’t “manspread” are not at fault, and they don’t want people to think they are. If the problem of individuals spreading themselves out is truly worth writing an article about, then would it be such a burden to not include any classifications towards people? Not making a reference to men, but instead opting to direct the article towards people in general, that way nobody is divided and the problem can be solved together as a team.

I am unsure on whether mediums use this tactic deliberately to start drama or if they are truly unaware. Additionally, we as a people, not just the media, need to stop classifying people if it’s not necessary. It promotes division among each other, and problems don’t get solved. If instead of pointing fingers, we worked as a unit, I believe we could go after the people with prejudices and solve injustice. I want the same end goal as you, a nation with fairness for all, and free of prejudice. However classifying people certainly doesn’t help us get there, it leads to stereotypes. Try not to regard people by their race, beliefs, or gender, before you refer to them by their name.

I humbly thank you for reading my article. All money that I make from views and comments on this page (Not that it’s ever a lot LOL) will be donated to the Veterans Association (VA) to help aid our Veterans. Please take this article lightly as it is just something for one to think about. It is not my intention to critique various political movements in any way. It’s just something I’ve noticed in society. Thank you, and let's work together to promote fairness for everybody.

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    © 2019 Cody Piunno

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