Racial Categorization through Self Segregation
In today’s culture, racial and ethnic categorizations are very much so frowned upon. We have grown up being taught not to think that Asians just study all the time, or that African Americans are all athletic, and all people that go to Vanderbilt are white. Make any initial assumptions about an individual and you will be glared at and rebuked for “being a racist.” In reality, we have not completely discredited these ideas, but rather made the shift from the extreme of saying “all” to saying “many”. We now secretly believe that many Asians study a lot or many Vanderbilt students are white, but always allowing exceptions to the rule to be made. This gives us room to be more open-minded, but from my experiences, oftentimes subconsciously, first impressions of others still are of the stereotype. I believe this to be the case due to the realization that sometimes these stereotypes are correct. The representation of the African American minority in sports is disproportionately high, as is the proportion of Asian Americans attending medical school.
I believe that the distaste seen in stereotyping stems from our American ideals in emphasizing the individual. We believe that everyone is unique and special in his/her own way. By tacking a racial or ethnic label on someone, you take away their individuality and assume that they do not make decisions on their own account, but rather are forced to fit the social norms. Yet though we find stereotyping unacceptable, I find Vanderbilt University students still guilty of racial and ethnic categorizations. A few articles in the Vanderbilt Hustler in 2008 sparked discussion about self-segregation seen on campus.
The articles discussed the separation in Greek life, with the National Pan-Hellenic Council of historically black students and the Interfraternity Council of predominantly white students, adding up to a total Greek population of over 42% undergraduate students (2007). With the many cultural clubs on campus, attendees/members are predominantly of that ethnic group (Asian-American Student Association, Black Student Alliance and Masala-SACE). A columnist for the Hustler also noted the prominence of certain self segregated groups eating at Rand during lunch. I have also noticed the self-segregation seen around Vanderbilt campus, (as I hope I am not making a claim that no one else has noticed) and for the most part, I believe the existence of this seemingly unnatural condition has been accepted by us all.
Is self-segregation wrong? I don’t know. I could argue that it is completely alright. We become friends with people who have similar interests, values, and understanding of one another; if these qualities coincide with individuals from a similar racial/ethnic group, then so be it. Culturally, in Chinese households, the highest regard is placed on the family structure and the importance of education. If a Chinese family still practices these ideal and it is important for me to have friends who understand this, why should I not become friends with other Chinese students? Or I could argue that it’s completely wrong. Probability-wise, there’s no way you could only find things in common with other people of your racial/ethnic group. You’re not trying hard enough to step out of your comfort zone and are giving others the opportunity to label you into a group. Either way, from my experiences here at Vandy, racial/ethnic categorizations do exist and will continue to exist until we come to a general consensus that it should change.