By Rachel Popa
The Department of Sociology of Roosevelt University and Black Student Union held an event titled “The Making of an Illusion: Diversity, Ideology and White-Male Bonding in the Post Racial Era” in Wabash 611 on April 14 at 4:30 p.m.
The event centered around a lecture given by David G. Embrick, an associate professor of sociology at Loyola University. Embrick’s discussion revolved around stereotypes, racial slurs and the context in which they are used.
“In a racialized social system, does it matter who says what?” Embrick said. “I think language is really important.”
Embrick emphasized that in order to understand race and its role in society, one has to look at it at a structural level, as well as the mechanisms that allow racism to occur.
“Within this racialized social system, we know that race is socially constructed, but it’s constructed in a way that we take for granted,” Embrick said. “We take for granted this idea of knowledge about these racial categories that have been created around stereotypes.”
Embrick elaborated that stereotypes stem from a racial hierarchy that exists in society. Minorities are placed on the bottom of the hierarchy, while whites sit on the top, he said.
“Stereotypes aren’t real–they’re socially constructed,” Embrick said. “They’re used to justify the positions of people within society.”
Over the course of time, people created stereotypes, slurs and epithets to define certain groups of people. These racially and socially constructed concepts aren’t based in reality, but exist in the minds of the majority in order to keep the minority on the bottom, according to Embrick.
Embrick explained that during the times of slavery, black males were seen as “happy-go-lucky simpletons” in order to justify their place at the bottom of society. As time progressed, black males began to be seen as predominantly violent.
Embrick explained to the audience how he got into researching racial stereotypes by being a truck driver and observing the way his co-workers talked. Embrick told the audience a story about how he overheard one of his coworkers talking about how he wouldn’t do manual labor because that’s work that’s better suited for black people.
“All stereotypes are dangerous because they imply that there’s a distinct difference that exists between one another,” Embrick said.
Embrick also explained how Mexican people started to be seen as lazy since they would work on their farms to grow crops for over 10 hours a day in the 1800s, taking short breaks in between. Those who did not work on these farms would see the Mexican people resting and think of them as lazy.
“The translation and the reasoning doesn’t matter,” Embrick said. “People begun to think that it was due to something that was genetic in order to justify not thinking of [Mexicans] as intelligent.”
After discussing race and stereotypes, Embrick began answering questions from the audience.
“What do you think about words that people don’t really think of as slurs but become associated with one group like ‘thug’?” Tommy Foydel asked, a Roosevelt student.
“I think there’s no difference,” Embrick said. “What we’re seeing is the creation in real time of words that are being associated with groups that have dire consequences. Context and history matter. There aren’t any good stereotypes.”
Junior James Siler attended the lecture and said that the presentation was effective in raising awareness about discrimination.
“I’ve always thought that discrimination is a big issue, but this presentation is one of the only ones I’ve been to that really emphasizes the fact that it is such a big issue,” Siler said. “Even the smallest things you do can cause a ripple, and that one ripple can become a big wave.”