Breaking down the Walls: A Discourse of Ideology and "Otherness"

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Eric Flowers

EN 411

Dr. Robert Young

6 May 2005

Breaking down the Walls: A Discourse of Ideology and “Otherness”

        As a critic of not only Multi-Cultural Literature, but also U.S. social philosophies, I have been forced to come to terms with some very alarming truths concerning American society.  That is, observing the United States with more of a critical eye as opposed to living as a detached citizen has allowed me to see that the American creed or assertion that it works solely for the freedom and justice of all people is wholly false.  From their day of birth, citizens of the United States of America are lead to believe that their country is naturally honorable, compassionate, and caring.  Furthermore, the U.S. too pushes itself as a warrior who always fights for “the greater good of all man kind.”  However, these are all ideas and claims that I find to be visibly and wholly false.  I see the U.S. as an oppressor as opposed to a liberator.  American citizens only believe that their country is better or more righteous because that is what they learn (or have drilled into their minds) from the first stages of education through graduation of grade school.  This is evident in the simplest of routines for all children, the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag.  Stated philosophically, America’s peoples are interpolated.  This interpolation allows those who are in power, such as the U.S. government officials and large business owners (basically, controllers of the flow of currency) to plant ideas and beliefs into their people and pass them off as inherent or naturally true.  Stated differently, the currency controllers create rules and beliefs that are passed to their citizens as the natural way of life. They create an ideology.  This said ideology pushes the U.S. people to mentally and emotionally separate themselves from the members of other countries.  Furthermore, there are too divisions within the U.S. itself.  The U.S. ideology creates “otherness.”  That is, it (ideology) points out specific groups of people as being negatively different.  It is my full belief that the ideological systems and the creation of “otherness” by the powerful citizens of the U.S. are entirely unfair and immoral.  In two sections, the first engaging ideology through Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel, Black Boy, and the latter “otherness” through critics Chandra Mahonty, bell hooks, and Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, I will discourse the reasons as to how each is created and why they are erroneous.  Finally, I will show the bridge between the two sections as to not only assert, but prove that ideology and its offspring, “otherness,” are flawed creations that should be altogether disregarded and expunged.

Section 1: Ideology; Implanted Truths

Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel, Black Boy, was a ground breaking work that sought to shed a light of truth onto what it truly meant to live in America.  Wright uses his novel to assert his full belief that there is no inherent identity to a person based solely on his or her skin color.  This is overtly shown as Wright says, “I began to marvel at how smoothly the black boys acted out the roles the white race had mapped out for them … Although they lived in America where in theory there existed equality of opportunity, they knew unerringly what to aspire to and what not to aspire to,” (Wright 197).  Here, Wright is pushing forward his full belief that any and all ideas that are attached to race are based on a cultural ideology.    In his piece, “Ideology,” James H. Kavanagh argues that ideas that are labeled as normal, such as race or even gender relations, are actually constructions of a culture’s larger institutions (institutions being mass media, churches, schools, etc).  Kavanagh clearly states this as he says, “ …  ideology designates a rich “system of representations,” worked up in specific material practices, which helps form individuals into social subjects who “freely” internalize an appropriate “picture” of their social world and their place in it,”(Kavanagh 31).  

Similarily, Wright foregrounds how the racial ideology of America shapes the so called truths attached to not only blacks, but every race. Like Richard Wright, I fully agree and declare that the ideas that are attached to all races are mere ideological constructions.  I fully believe that the ideology of America, sustained by large institutions, creates a non-inherent belief that people of differing skin colors are also biologically different.  

        Richard Wright does not open Black Boy with any kind of declaration against American ideology.  Instead, he shows his readers that he, too, was born into a world that shaped his ideas about race.  As a young child, Wright does not inherently know that there must be racial differences between him and the white people he sees every day.  This is best shown when, as a young child, Wright can not understand the outrage of the blacks around him concerning the beating of black child at the hands of a white man.  Speaking of this occurrence, Wright says, “I felt that the “white” man had had a right to beat the “black” boy, for I naively assumed that the “white” man must have been the “black” boy’s father,” (Wright 23).  Clearly, this line of thought reflects how Wright had to be shown what to know, fear, and believe about people of his own color, as well as those who were different.  Put differently, Wright gives this particular example to show that, as a small child, he did not know blacks and whites had to be different.  He as well as the others around him had to be taught that they were different because of the color of their skin.  

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Like Wright, I, too, had similar situations.  At the age of 6, is the year 1989, I witnessed a white man publicly berating a black teenage girl.  The incident became widespread news in south central Alabama.  Blacks were outraged, yet I did not and could not understand.  Similar to Wright’s response, I too felt that the man must have had some kind of right for his attack.  In my mind, he had to have been her father, or at least a close relative.  Neither myself nor Richard Wright were able to see that what took place was all based on ...

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