Era of the Turnovers
I wrote this essay trying to answer questions I had about poverty and racism. As such, I have set it up in such a way making it easiest for me to write it, as well as hopefully making my answers obvious enough to be considered appropriate. While the first question relating to the structural barriers to success and the reinforcement of inequality will be my main focus, the second question relating to ways that minority populations—especially that being represented in the book “In Search of Respect” by Philippe Bourgois of the Puerto Rican residents of El Barrio—practice their agency will be written interstitially within the main body and can hopefully be extracted without having to be explicitly mentioned. I myself being of Puerto Rican descent have regrettably left out my own personal experiences as they would only relay bias and would inevitably clash with the intended feelings that may become associated with my conclusions. I am in no way wanting to justify subjugation, racism, and inevitable cultural declination; however those things as the adjective used to describe the latter issue of this topic, I believe, are inevitable. With that said, I will lay out the thesis as such that the ultimate reasons behind minority economic or social stagnation are: heritage, inflexibility, racism, and time.
When considering in what ways one’s heritage may hinder their social or economic mobility one must focus on the several different aspects associated with it in relation to mainstream White America. The two aspects most worthy of mentioning are language and pride. Before I begin I must first go into the definitions of certain words and what I mean by them. What I mean for example by White America; It is hard to go into a topic as such being written without going into some of the ideas of oppression on minorities and the dominance established by a white majority. We live in a country where whites represent the largest representative population, as such, some things like business and cultural understanding fall in line with the view points and perspectives of that race. Some things established by a majority may then be considered by that majority as main stream and equivalent in all of us—such things in this manner are construed by them as assumptions. For example there may be social preferences placed by the majority towards hard work as a prerequisite to attaining goals, while in minority populations hard work may not be as important as, say, such a thing as social cohesion. I don’t want to get to far into this as it is not the topic of the essay; so, only take from this that there are social and cultural differences between the two—majorities and minorities—which may not mesh or coincide, thus leading into a break down of communication based on simple misunderstandings of our different motivations. Going into language issues, in mainstream culture it is not prevalent to hear different accents or languages. Over time White Americans have learned to associate the accents of others towards the behaviors that they’d seen of them; like Pavlov’s dog, a theory of association to circumstances representing an impending or assumed event, they had learned to associate the accents of Puerto Ricans as meaning or alluding to illiterate, uneducated, street trash.
Primo: What bothered me was that when she called on the telephone, she wouldn’t want me to answer even if my supervisor […] wasn’t there, and the phone be ringing for a long time. So when I answered it, my boss sounds like she’s going to get a heart attack when she hears my voice. […] They just got their own accent. But that bitch didn’t like my Puerto Rican accent. […] Okay, maybe I don’t have the education to type; so I will not type. But don’t diss me for answering the phones instead of letting it ring forever. Maybe it’s important! Bitch! (p. 146)
From this excerpt some contrasts and comparisons can be made. As mentioned by Philippe in an earlier follow-up, he states how the boss held closer associations with her clients, as such, she saw a strong Puerto Rican accent as a deterrent towards business. However, in both ways Primo, the one quoted above, and his boss held equal concern for their jobs and the company. In Primo’s eyes not answering the phone could hurt business as it could result in the company missing an important phone call. In perspective both rationales are completely justified. The contradiction was simply a cultural misunderstanding; however, being that the White culture is the dominant culture, it would be Primo’s views that would then become unjustifiable in the mainstream. This would result in hostility from the minority, which then leads into the aspect of Pride.
Primo: I used to answer it pretty well, man. But then after that—after she dished me—when I did pick up the phone, I used to just sound Porta’rrrrican on purpose. Fuck it. (P. 146)
If one’s main goal is to enter into the mainstream, then one must adopt the rules and beliefs of such; this aspect of pride in those terms can be considered in a way as kicking your own self after you’ve tripped.
In continuing this essay, following up
on what I just mentioned, another aspect of minority economic or social
stagnation resides in socially constructed minority inflexibility. In simple
terms, one can define inflexibility as an inability to adapt. This, in a way,
follows up on pride, but the ensuing result, I believe, is too important to
just pass off as a mere side effect. Without going to far into science I will
simply state an understood fact—at least by me—of evolution by way of natural
selection, that a creature’s success in surviving relies strongly on whether
it can adapt to its environment. While it may not be statistically sound or
universally determinant, I will make a few examples to back up my statement
as well as show an example from the book. In simple biological terms a
penguin can not survive in the Serengeti no more than, say, can an ostrich
survive in the tundra. Some creatures without adaptations were never meant to
live in certain environments; however through globalization—the process that
human beings have been working towards, as in all cultures reaching one
another and over lapping upon one another so much that they risk invading
each other’s personal spaces—it becomes ardent that adaptation to the
dominant is not only necessary but inevitable. Those that can’t follow
through on this will die off in such a way as the prairie chicken—a wild
chicken that used to inhabit and roam the fields of the
Caesar: I had a few jobs like that where you gotta take a lot of shit from fat, ugly bitches and be a wimp. My worst was at Sudler & Hennessey—the advertising agency that works with pharmaceutical shit. I didn’t like it but I kept on working, because “Fuck it!” you don’t want to fuck up the relationship. So you just be a punk. Oh my God! I hated that head supervisor. […] She used to make me do fucked-up errands for her—wack shit. […] That bitch just didn’t like me. (p. 146)
In terms of understanding this excerpt, in the work environment often times menial tasks are associated with low level jobs; however, in perspective Caesar, the one quoted above, being a minority associated these tasks as mistreatment. He tried to cope as long as he could, but it would inevitably be these socially contrasting perspectives—minor tasks versus miss treatment—that would subsequently lead to his being fired.
Now, in keeping on track of the format, I will now try and support my opinion of racism. I see racism as described in the book in three ways: racism by way of the dominant; racism of the minority onto themselves; and racism of the minority onto other minorities. In going into the topic of racism imposed by the majority besides that type of overt racism which has in a way already been mentioned—in terms of association and stereotyping—there is in the book a good example of explicit racism by way of discrimination by gentrification. In trying to capture a true definition and understanding of both, Dictionary.Com defines discrimination as “the processes by which two stimuli [referring in this case to peoples of races] differing in some aspect are responded to differently [and sometimes unfairly]” and gentrification as “The restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.” In this way discrimination is what is being committed and gentrification is one example by way of how it is being committed.
Two subsectors within the unionized construction industry were reluctively more open to El Barrio’s African-American and Puerto Rican population: building demolition and high-rise window replacement. […] Most blatantly, in demolition, though El Barrio high school dropouts, proud of working legally, clear away the hulks of arsoned and abandoned working-class tenements to make room for the construction of new, luxury structures that they, and their families, will never be able to afford. (p. 164)
This refers to in way of a type of dominantly established systematic racism used to concentrate minority and lower class citizens into separately located areas away from the middle-middle, upper-middle, and upper classes. This act inevitably goes into explaining the next ordeal—racism of the minority onto themselves. By shoving all the minorities into one central locale as well as looking back at what has been previously mentioned by way of heritage and inflexibility, an adaptive and exclusive type of street culture was created—exclusive by means of only those that live there would have it, making it a relatively closed system, and a “street” culture by way of referring to the environment from which it came. Anyone residing within this environment but not attributing to it will subsequently be discriminated against. The book refers to these types of people as “turnovers” (p. 170) or those that had learned to adapt to the white culture to be seen as traitors of their own—this is subsequently the category I myself would reside. This in itself is self negating for it causes them to, in a sense, restrict the progress of their own race in succeeding into the mainstream by reducing themselves to the stereotypes they have learned to ascribe to. Now, in the final form of racism, when each minority class tends to hold racist views against another, they only further to subjugate their own selves into the exclusive culture they have created, thus becoming victims unto themselves.
Finally, by way of explaining my final aspect of stagnation, I will quickly allude to time. In a way, time will always be a factor in how they can’t escape, because the longer they remain separate from the main culture—and isolated in their own—the less and less able they will become to be able to fit back into it. Like the theory of the founder effect, best described by Darwin in terms of animals residing on the Galapagos, if you take a part of a population, even a representative part, and place them into a small exclusive ultimately isolated environment, adaptation and change will occur; however though, alluding back to previous mention of globalization, if you throw that newly adapted group back into the mainstream, hardship, confrontation, and struggle is inevitable. This will either lead to their extinction or a new form of adaptation—as in my case as a representative of the “turnovers.” This impending extinction, as is the case with our species’ reaction to all extinction, is the basis, I think, of most forms of public reform from affirmative action to welfare, in an effort to slow the demise of or hopefully conserve the different cultures of our species residing within this country.