Minnesota Swede Blog

The Social Identity Profile: Partitioning Americans Since 1662

In 1662, the Virgina House of Burgesses passed Act XII, which stated

WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ ffornication with a Negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending shall pay double the ffines imposed by the former act.

Although this piece of legislation was meant to move and partition the children of African women into bondage, chattel, slavery, while establishing the forthcoming herrenvolk of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the philosophy helped set into motion and establish the current state of social identities in today’s America. However, one may retort, “But there is no slavery or racism in the United States. That happened in the past and we are all equal today.” This is indeed a simplistic view of the world and an unsophisticated reply that illustrates the common ignorance of many Americans. In addition, the statement lacks insight into the tremendous amount of historical facts and narratives that exist in written record and does not take into account the self organizing, complex system that is the United States.

American Pastime

American Pastime

Yes, it is true that there is no legislatively supported American slavery that exists in today’s American society as it existed for a significant amount of America’s history. There are no African men, women, and children being forced by their white masters to work the plantation fields of the antebellum south in today’s America. There is no chattel, against the very will of their being, harvesting sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, and rice; and there is no white slave master, with the very will of his being, profiting from the labor of the chattel, spilling blood, breaking sweat, and sacrificing dignity, respect, and sometimes life. No! This does not happen in toay’s America. However, this does not mean that the terms Americans utilize in today’s American culture and everyday language do not maintain and solidify the codification of the original policies of the white/male dominated structure. In fact, they do. Unconsciously and without question, partitioning of ingroup and outgroup dynamics happens an infinite number of times throughout a normal day in both urban and rural environments in the United States of America.

In the beginning, the Virginians felt it important to partition one group of human being from another. This is illustrated through their legislation. One can clearly see from the statement of law that the “negro” is associated with slave; whereas, the englishman is not. This piece of legislation also established englishman as Christian; whereas, “a Negro man or woman” were not associated with Christian. Right away and early on in American history, the social constructs that had been used, and are still used today and everyday in this modern society, were being established in political form more than 350 years ago. This means that the United States and its citizens have had almost 400 years of practice and this is salient in the intersectionality of today’s social identity.

Acts like the 1662 Virginia legislation helped to establish the partitioned lines of the ingroup and outgroup dynamics. Today, government census data are used “to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.” It is meant to help identify partitioned groups and their economic, political, and social statuses. It is also meant to identify these categories and allocate government funds in the form of economic support where needed. But the problem and philosophical failing is that the United States Census Bureau derives its power from “Title 13 and Title 26 of the U.S. Code.” Hence, it derives its authority from a governmental institution that bases its philosophy off of doctrinal arguments; that is, its tenets, beliefs, teachings, and prior rulings. These doctrinal arguments and philosophies are decades old and derive from an English system of law of the 17th and 18th centuries – white, male, straight, and perceived Christian philosophies based on enlightenment principles. But social systems utilize partitioning language as potently as doctrinal systems.This is because they are interacting agents in real-world, complex dynamical systems and their ideals and established rhetoric, besides being obdurate, are exlusive.

As examples of how this system of exclusion is perpetuated, Americans automatically and unconsciously approve of everyday language that proposes such questions as

What is your gender? What is your sex? What is your race? What is your ethnicity/Nationality? What is your sexual orientation? What is your Religion/Sprituality? What is your Social Class? What is your Age? What is your Ability? What is your Body size/type? What is your Nation(s) of Origin and/or Citizenship?

These are all questions that encompass the intersectionality of a person’s social identity and they are transposed onto a person willingly or unwillingly by economy and policy, and social norms. These are questions that are answered instantaneously by way of what social psychologists call schemas and heuristics. For example, how is a black man walking down an American city street viewed versus a white man? Many Americans would rationalize the black man as threatening or even a gangbanger depending on how he dresses and/or walks, i.e., Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.

How is a black women who’s name is Latoya, Bonifa, Laquisha, Sha’Tanya, or Courtney viewed during an interview? As blogger sarabeara stated in The 60 Most Ghetto Names when prepping the reader for the list, “NOTE: This is JUST a joke. I did not come up with this list. I just thought I’d post it for fun.” Ignorantly fascinating. Furthermore, as “comments” participant milorox19 vacantly expressed, “Courtney is not a ghetto name.” Of course, milorox19 is correct. But not in the way that milorox19 thinks milorox19 is correct.

To illustrate the ignorance of both sarabeara and milorox19, Sha’Tanya, for example, meets the heuristic intersectionality of identity. That is, when one thinks of the name Sha’Tanya, especially those benefited and privileged from the hegemony of the United States social structure, one thinks black (race), woman (gender), and ghetto (social class). However, when one thinks of Courtney, as does milorox19, one thinks of white (race), woman (gender), and safe neighborhood (social class). This immediate acknowledgemet of who is who based off of a person’s name and all of societals negative and positive connotations that accompany the perceptions and rhetoric is supported by research. As Marianne Bertrand illustrates, “white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names.” As Bertrand further elucidates, “Statistically…discrimination levels were consistent across all the occupations and industries covered in the experiment.”

As another example, the term “ghetto” illustrates more about the user of the term than it does about the person, people, or place that the term is being associated with trough time and space. For example, Americans; that is, the vast majority of Americans, use the word “ghetto” wantonly in everyday language without rhyme or reason and without knowledge of its historical context. Americans, especially white Americans, place this negative connotation on the “black” neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, etc… The list goes on and on. In contrast, white neighborhoods are viewed and accepted as not “ghetto.” They are the very thesis of the “white picket fence.” They are viewed as desirable places to raise children and live safely as a family. Of course, this narrow view is without historical context and does not consider the supported practice of herding Americans, black Americans if you will, into certain neighborhoods, nor does it account for the white terrorism that these Americans faced in the form of urban riots or rural lynchings. Ironically, dichotomously, and incorrectly, these Americans have been viewed as undesirable.

Clearly this is still true today. It is clear in the hiring practices of companies and how companies view names such as Emily and Brendan versus Lakisha and Jamal. It is clear in the pop culture of America and how rationally devoid bloggers and their followers wantonly and superficially throw around the term “ghetto” and display white supremacy in the form of ethnocentric behavior. And it is clear in the housing practices of the past that established the segrageted neighborhoods of today which have helped to establish the contrast between the “ghetto” and the “white picket fence” and its associated cognitions. To be completely clear, people associate black with “ghetto” and white with the “white picket fence.”

The intersectionality of the social profile is a powerful and insidious thing. It has been prevailing and solidifying in its place in American economics, politics, and social being for almost 400 years and there is no end in sight. As a rebuttal, some would argue that the United States is post racial. Many have attempted to make this argument by using Oprah Winfrey as an example. Of course, people who argue this point mistake power for wealth. Oprah Winfrey is wealthy, not powerful. One can exist without the other and in the case of Ms. Winfrey, it is wealth that she has obtained, not power.

Another example of a rebuttal would be the argument that we are post racial because the United States of America has a black president. Again, this statement suffers from the same unreasoned premise. It states that since a black man is the president, and the president is the most powerful position, then black men have as much power as white men and the rest of those in society. Although this progression is logical, it is not true. Power is structural and the United States structure is designed for white, straight men who are perceived Christian. This can be understood through the first 43 presidents of the United States, all 13 Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 99.999 percent of all of the senators and congressman in the United State Congress from the birth of the nation to modern times, all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, all of the signers of the Constitution of the United States of American and the list of documents and achievements go on and on. The STEM fields could also be used as examples; the arts and music could also be used as examples; and all of the professional sports could be used as examples. But there is hope.

Today, thinkers, philosophers, scientists, and modern day abolitionists are utilizing the Social Identity Profile as a tool for social justice, equality, and equity. These practitioners are using this tool as a means to help identify, qualify, and quantify the experience of those long disenfranchised American groups. They are appropriating the constitutional and structural divisions as a source of agency to help facilitate the upward mobility of all those historically disenfranchised Americans, because recognizing such differences of existence within the power structure is the first step to codifying a new structure and a new existence; one that acknowledges the value and potential of all Americans; and one that acknowledges the civil rights of a person and the right to be. Is not America the land of life and liberty? Is not America a democracy?

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