In one of my other classes, we are discussing the European collective identity and how many aspects of European culture in the past reflected Europe’s power to exploit “inferior” cultures. For example, European superiority is manifested in European art, cartography, and exploration. Artists produced paintings in which other continents were depicted as weaker and barbaric, while Europe was regal and invincible. Words used to describe people of other races were ‘half-civilized’, ‘barbarous’, and ‘savage’. The 1770s introduced an emerging hierarchy of racial groups; some semi-racialized images actually showed Turks being trampled on. To whites at the time, this Eurocentrism justified Europe’s exploitation of other cultures while placing their own values and experiences above those of other civilizations.
Similarly, as we discussed in class, early Americans had a tendency to disregard the values and opinions of blacks and Native Americans in order to create their “ideal” nation. Jefferson, for example, clearly established the physical and moral differences between whites and blacks, which he used to justify his idea that America should consist of purely white people. Like the Europeans before, he determined that whiteness was the norm and far superior to other races, which was the basic idea that led to the mistreatment of other people by both Americans and Europeans throughout history.
Though I grew up in Alabama, my high school was surprisingly diverse. I was exposed to more cultures and different races both through my close group of friends and through my classes in general. I remember my grandmother visiting us (from Europe) a few years ago, and she was quite surprised by the number of different races she interacted with, as she was not used to doing so. I distinctly remember her referring to one of my friends as “the black one”, without bothering to remember her name. At the time, I do not think I understood the deep-rooted racism and prejudice she exhibited, which I think can be attributed to the lack of diversity in her hometown and throughout her childhood. People need to be exposed to various cultures and races in order to fully appreciate the diversity of mankind. One cannot be open-minded while ignoring the equality of all people. Race issues have clearly fueled many events in history, but I would like to think that each new generation will be more accepting and nondiscriminatory toward others.