Erving Goffman provides a distinct lens to view society, as having heavily enforced social rules and regulations that create expectations of involvement for individuals. Goffman illustrates that individuals are solely responding to the regulations and rules given by society; society is built from structures of rules and regulations. In Goffman’s research, he contemplated about those who were sanctioned by mental hospitals whenever they broke societal rules.
Goffman concludes, “Just as we fill our jails with those who transgress the legal order, so we partly fill our asylums with those who act unsuitably – the first kind of institution being used to protect our lives and property; the second, to protect our gatherings and occasions. ” (Goffman 248). However, Goffman’s approach failed to acknowledge and analyze the significance of race and the niceties as to what group creates the “norm” that regulates all of society.
In the United States today, White middle class culture produces the “norm” for our society, which disregards institutions being used as a sense protection for our lives and property, but instead institutions that are used to unjustly sanction those who break the rules. Goffman analyzes society as if it were a stage in which everyone performs on. My question is, who creates the “floor” of the stage that everyone is performing on? I believe that the floor of the stage is defined by White American middle class values and culture.
Society is located on the stage, but there are different “rooms” on the stage, which contains a gathering. I believe you cannot technically ever leave the floor of the stage, in so there are different gatherings occurring in different spaces on the stage. However, every gathering is regulated by the floor to some extent, but those who were raised with the dominant values and culture given by the regulation, never have to acknowledge their reality because it is the “norm. ” In addition, those who were not raised with White middle class values, convey the “wrong” or inappropriate message.
In the U. S. , institutions highly regulate these “wrong” doings through out-of-school suspension at young ages, and incarcerating adults. In the United States, we sanction and regulate African Americans and Hispanics at higher rates due to “wrong” actions. First we must recognize the social construction of race, which has shifted from an understanding of Europeans and Africans as heterogeneous cultural groups into two racialized groups who experience different levels of privilege and oppression. In the 1680s, colonial laws separated and created a distinction between Whites and Blacks.
White indentured servants were offered freedom, and from this point Whites were structurally set apart by our laws, from people of color. This created a difference between blackness and whiteness, and perpetuated the distinction and separation of races systematically. Michelle Alexander states, “slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be Black (a second-class citizen)” (Alexander 197). She also stated Blackness transformed during different time periods, and these definitions have worked to create a societal consciousness of inferiority to the race as a whole.
The symbolic production of race developed through institutional racism, which is the embeddedness of racially discriminatory practices in institutions, laws, and agreed upon values and practices of society. American institutions are framed by white middle class culture –unmarked, considered normative and appropriate by society. Institutional racism has structured our society since the 1680s and has evolved into White privilege, or advantages enjoyed by White persons beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social spaces.
Blackness and Whiteness are difficult to compare, as John Hartigan describes that people who are black can describe some known idea of Blackness due to the fact that it affects them on a daily basis, whereas Whites often find it difficult to describe whiteness. The article “Understanding Whiteness,” conveys the understanding of white privilege and advantages that are commonly experienced. American culture allows those who are white the privilege of not thinking about race in most situations or gatherings they encounter, as they are the majority.
It is much easier to see the advantages of being White, when you are the minority or a person of color consistently regulated by white middle class environments. The article “Understanding Blackness” analyzes the black middle class toolkit, in which the African American middle class must confront tensions between two identities clashing; white middle class cultural values, and a desire to maintain black cultural values or double consciousness. The middle class black family refers to a “toolkit” in order to be able to maneuver through different social spaces that are regulated by white middle class culture.
Most white-dominated social spaces force black families to teach their children to code-switch in order to speak “eloquently” while in a white middle-class environment. However, parents remind their children not to forget they are black, which reinforce the balance between the floor and the gathering individuals may participate in. The systematic issues remain a part of our institutions today, and can be seen through events such as the fight for racial justice in Ferguson, Missouri.
Dante Barry discussed his experiences during the first week of protests, and his violent encounters by the police force. These stories circle through the media across America, and tend to negatively portray blackness in light of the policeman and the institution. This portrayal of blackness is significant for the public understanding – depiction of a student versus a thug or a Ferguson riot versus a protest. The influence of the media as an institution is an additional part of influencing individual’s perception of entire groups of race.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander depicts as patterns of inequalities in our institutions are rooted from society having an understanding of what a criminal appears to be, whether it be consciously or unconsciously; this specific image is about those who are African American and Hispanic. Students of color have an image of criminality projected onto them and are impacted by this perspective whenever they enter the American education systems and are tracked or selected out by our school’s disciplinary institutions.
Disparities begin with preschool aged children who are suspended at unjust rates; “black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension” (Heitzeg 12). While white students represent almost the exact opposite with 43% enrollment, but only 26% more than one out-of-school suspension (Heitzeg 100). From the moment students of color enter the education system they are tracked into suspension based on race and class, which makes them prone to the cycle of criminalization and incarceration.
Furthermore, the documentary Prison State, shows how our current education systems place Black and Hispanic students on a trajectory towards a cycle of prison. Students of color who are given out-of-school suspension, are sent home without school work, supervision, or an established routine. Out-of-school suspension does not equate to students sitting at home reflecting over their actions or behaviors in order to overcome them. Students need to be given attention and long-term intervention that will acknowledge the issue and rationalize the situation.
The documentary told the story of Demetra’s life, an African American girl who by the age of 15 had already encountered the criminal justice system from a reference from her school system. Demetra grew up in a community where her relatives, friends, and neighbors have been locked up, in an area where incarceration has become normalized because most of the people she knows has been locked up. By the time Demetra was 14 years old, she had 11 charges, been placed in juvenile jail 3 times, and into juvenile housing.
Demetra, a child, was identified at an early age as a criminal, and then treated that way throughout her life. She stated, “I don’t like to feel like I need nobody. I don’t need nobody, being locked up makes me mad, not like I’m never going to do something again. ” Demetra used this as self-protection because she had been taught by her family members that she was not loved, she had never been loved and did not have hope. She did not see herself as a successful student, and she no longer cared about anything after being locked up for a year.
She viewed and understood herself as a criminal, and eluded to knowing that she would continue to get caught, and she would continue to run away. Demetra’s story is an example of how our educational institutions are suspending and incarcerating students of color because of fights, truancy, and behavioral problems, instead of finding long-term solutions. However, this is not a single story, but one that mark Black and Hispanic students who “represent over 70 percent of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement at school” (Heitzeg 100).
Students of color are labeled as criminals, which moves them from one stage to the next: school suspension to school disciplinary institutions, to actual incarceration. One of the jailers stated, “Incarceration has become the answer to every social problem we have. ” I find this extremely relevant in reflecting on how we are dealing with those who exhibit distinct behaviors in our educational systems. Instead of incarcerating those who we need protecting from or are afraid of, we are incarcerating those of color who do not meet the “norm. We are selecting them out at extremely early ages through our education systems, and placing them on a cycle of incarceration. The difference in sanctions between blackness and whiteness, show how our institutions in the United States overregulate and disregard those who are Black and underrepresented groups. Instead of institutions creating long-term solutions to the difference in cultures clashing, our society suspends and incarcerates those who are not harmful to our society, but represent different cultures.
The U. S. society is regulated by white middle class culture that effect all gatherings to some extent. White middle class culture creates an othering effect towards those who are underrepresented and regulates their culture by restricting and sanctioning them through institutions that are structured on white middle class values. Goffman provides us with the lens to analyze the U. S. society in depth and the regulations that form our society.