Race as a Brand

26Apr08

I was thinking this morning about Culturism again.

Our brains are setup to work with “stereotypes.” In the Cognitive Science world this is called … I forget what it’s called – schema or something. We categorize, lump, and simplify concepts, places, objects and we make associations in our brains. We associate “fire” with “hot”, “orange”, “cooking”, etc.

In the marketing world this association nature of our brain is used to try and associate a concept/feeling/product with a brand. Soda is strongly associated with Coke. Cool computer is strongly associated with Mac/Apple. Music with iTunes, etc. This technique of “branding” and manipulating your “brand image” works – b/c our brains are setup to work this way.

I think this explains part of racial problems. B/c our brains work like this, we create racial stereotypes, categorizing entire races and use short-cuts to describe all of the members of the race a certain way. Specifically, I think minority cultures in the US act like a brand. My interaction with those brands creates my stereotype for the rest of the members of that brand. Or, how I see that brand advertised, on tv, in movies, affects the way I think of the brand.

Ok, so very specifically, if I mostly see African Americans portrayed in movies and tv as gangsta rappers, thugs, etc, then I’ll think that way of all AfAms, or at least my brain will automatically (unfortunately) tend that way.

I think this is part of the reason that AfAm culture has the gangster rap, ebonics, ghetto “brand image” tied (at least loosely) to it. Although, just like White culture, the individuals of AfAm culture fit no stereotype and are as diverse as anyone, it’s hard to escape that “brand image” when the majority of advertisements (in TV and movies) for the brand carry that image.

Please don’t think I’m racist, I hope I haven’t offended anyone! If you disagree consider this: why are individuals of the AfAm brand who talk and dress “white” sometimes jokingly referred to as White, or sell-out? I had a conversation with my AfAm friend, Josh, the other day (AWESOME GUY!) who said that
Tiger Woods is considered a sell-out among many African Americans – because he dresses and talks a certain way. People probably feel the same about Barak Obama – who also dresses and talks “white.”

Well, anyway, this post is really long. I have much more to say on this.

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4 Responses to “Race as a Brand”

  1. 1 Asher Emmanuel

    I like the observation you make here. We tend to notice and note the few individuals (thoughts, cultures, etc) we come into contact with and then apply that generally to a large group of people. So we may meet a few Catholics or a few Irish-Americans and walk away feeling that most Catholics or Irish-Americans think or feel a certain way. While there is a possibility that most Catholics or Irish Americans think and feel a certain way that is almost certainty descriptively untrue and hence we have the word stereotype (generalization).
    In philosophy to generate a conclusion about a board aspect of things from a specific example is a generalization fallacy. To go back to the previous example to encounter a few Catholics thoughts and then to think that all Catholics think this way is a generalization fallacy. Yet as you stated in your blog you (and many people with you) do it all the time. Whether its the food we eat at a restaurant, a political figure we listen to, or a particular church we attend.
    Because this blog is Church centered I want to turn my attention to the “Church”. Are churches doing a good job at teaching this principle to its congregation? Do churches continue to teach the virtues, ethics, social justice, or has the “Church” ignored (de-emphasized) these things? An even more pressing question. Is the “Church” the place where the grosses stereotypes are committed? The “Church” is suppose to be the one place on earth where racism, and other forms of prejudices are corrected. Yet it was Christians who argued for the institution of slavery of America and (according you to your account) it is on Sundays that America is the most segregated.
    Surely Jesus made it clear how we are to treat one another. I just wonder how we are doing (Christian and non) on these matters….

    Luke 10:27- ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

  2. 2 jessephillips

    Asher, thanks for engaging me in this dialogue! First, let me understand what you’re saying (I’m a little slow) – are you saying:
    – lumping people into categories is wrong, this is stereotyping
    – no individual can be described by a group they seem to be part of
    – the Church should be the place that is teaching against forming these stereotypes

    Is that correct? You make a great point. I think in my post, I almost said it’s impossible to avoid these stereotypes, but I see that that’s wrong. Even if it is especially difficult to avoid forming generalizations (stereotypes) (and I think it is, b/c of the way our brains work) – we still need to fight that tendency, question our stereotypes, and make a conscious effort to treat each person as an individual, not associating them with others who maybe dress or talk similar, or who have a similar skin tone.

    Still, would you affirm that there are groups? I think there are for several reasons. I noted above how my friend Josh said that many African Americans would consider Tiger a “sell out”, presumably b/c he talks and dresses more like the white “group”, rather than what they perceive to be the African American “group.”

    Their perception of Tiger as a “sell out” NECESSARILY REQUIRES the presuppositions that 1. there is an African American group 2. Tiger is a part of it 3. he is doing something wrong by crossing to another group 4. one changes groups by changing your language and mode of dress. – is this true? I would argue that, to the people who think like that, it is true – and to them, it’s culturism, not skin-color-ism.

  3. 3 Asher Emmanuel

    That is a good question. Whether stereotypes actually name a specific group of people. Are stereotypes aimed at a “certain group of people” or do stereotypes not only falsely describe a people, it allows assumes there is a people?

    I would affirm that there are “groups” of people. For the perception of Tiger to be “sold out” requires the presuppositions of groups. Whether it be the African Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, and so forth. Notice though how we form these groups. While some people are linked together by cultural differences American people verses French people, many of the categories of people are race/ethic driven. For your friend to say that the “African Community” to view Tiger as a sell out because he is involved in the “White Community” makes its distinction on race. While it may be true that the “White Community” has certain norms and practices that are associated with it, it is based (foundation) is built on race.

    As I was saying a few Sundays ago race is a relatively new word. In the 1800’s hundreds I believe was first termed. It might have been a hundred years earlier but I need to double check it. In any case the word is relatively new verses human history. In Ancient Greece for example Aristotle was Anti-Persian. To be fair he was anti-anybody who was not Greek. This meant that he did not consider women or slaves to be fully human. Was negative thoughts about the Persians based on skin color? No. It was because the Persians were from a different region then himself and he viewed their culture as barbaric and uncivilized.

    I would argue that culturism was dominate force of discrimination until recently when the word race was invented. The notion that biology is what fundamentally separated one human from another. Hence the major crimes in the 18th, 19th and 20 century. American slave trade, Holocaust, Balkan wars, and even recent crimes such as Darfur.

    While people may notice that a “group of people” have some things in common I would argue that many times these groups are based upon race/ethic categories. Then the “culturalism” is added unto it.

    Yes, the church should be the first place where these stereotypes and destructive bias are addressed and dealt it. For many people the church is the place where they recieve moral teaching and a perspective to view the world and people. The church, in general, tends to preach about equality of all and showing dignity to all people yet in practice Christians are lacking. I think it goes to the lack of training and knowledge.

    When was the last time you heard of social justice in church? When was the last time you heard of the Christian virtues and a Christian’s responsibility towards a democratic nation? The church as failed in these areas and it is my suspicion that its the lack of these values that continue to give life to racism, and culturalism.

  4. 4 Asher Emmanuel

    For clarity sake. When it comes to naming a group of people we don’t name people by Group A, Group B, Group C. Rather we use racial/ethic terms to distinguish people. Jewish, African, Irish, White, Latino, etc. One can say that Irish people have similar characteristics and norms specific to that culture. A culture is made up of people and we tend to divide people by racial/ethic terms. Sexuality, religion, and gender are other categories.

    I think it is important to note that the major horrors of the last few centuries have not been over culture. People may argue over what culture is best but people do not go to war for culture. The ethic/racial, and religious wars are the most destructive and horrible type of wars but it reduces to opposite side to a thing and not a human person. It is ethic/racial categories that we ought to be very weary of and not cultural.


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