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The Stigma of Race

November 2, 2012

Recent debates and political speeches continue to remind me of the racial stigma’s people face, despite claims that it is no longer an issue. Do we continue to live separate but equal? Even after Brown v. Board of Education? We may attend similar schools, or live in the same neighborhood but the statistics are still do not show true equality. Minorities continue to have barriers despite government attempts to level the playing field. Discrimination continues to be an issue of the present. A quote from a biopic that is applicable to minorities and other stigmatized people is:

 Being Mexican-American is tough. Anglos jump all over you if you don’t speak English perfectly. Mexicans jump all over you if you don’t speak Spanish perfectly. We got to be twice as perfect as anybody else. And we got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are and we got to prove to the Americans how American we are. We got to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans. It’s exhausting. – Edward James Olmos as Abraham Quintanilla (Selena, 1997)

This attitude still seems to ring true for all multicultural people in the US, and it can be seen in the criticisms of President Obama. The New York Times demonstrates this attitude by saying “Those close to Mr. Obama say he grows irritated at being misunderstood — not just by opponents who insinuate that he caters to African-Americans, but also by black lawmakers and intellectuals who fault him for not making his presidency an all-out assault on racial disparity” (Kantor 2012). A large criticism from his “black advisors, friends, donors, and allies” is that President Obama is not commenting on his experiences as the first black president or advocating for them. In addition, he is criticized for disproportionally helping African Americans by funding underfunded schools, and medical programs. However, that should be a red flag to Americans that the people most affected by poverty are often African Americans, showing just how inequalities of the past continue to effect the current population.

 Erving Goffman (1986) explains that the duty of a stigmatized person is to educate the non-stigmatized. President Obama continues to be the token black American that represents not only this country, but also a whole community of people. According to Kantor (2012) he is also responsible for breaking barriers of discrimination that have been long ingrained in our society. Goffman’s idea of resiliency and overcoming adversity is seen as “special” or “impressive” when someone with a stigma does the same thing as a non-stigmatized person. One of the press aides of the Black Entertainment Television even went as far to say President Obama’s administration was a “great American experiment.” This thinking underlies Obama’s achievement in winning his first election and the pressure he will continue to face this election. Despite President Obama’s efforts to remain race-neutral, he continues to be perceived strictly by his race and his action toward it. It will be interesting to see what people say post-election. Will people continue to credit his racial makeup for his accomplishments or can he overcome the stigma and expectations attached to his race?

Elizabeth Reyes

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