Segregation Between White and Black People
It is usually considered that humans perceive and understand the world through their senses. When having interactions with others, we interpret and form expectations of them. As humans, we initially judge people based on observations like their appearances, religion, where they were raised, education, and race. However, due to people’s personal circumstances, people put at more of an advantage or disadvantage. Personal circumstances are when a person is or could be treated unfairly than another person in an equal situation. For example, If two people stood next to each other and had similar backgrounds, but one was wearing a suit, and one was wearing ragged clothing, the usual initial response would be that one person is poor and one person is wealthy. However, we ask the question of to what extent do your personal circumstances influence how seriously your knowledge is taken? In this essay, we will investigate how the relationship between a person’s personal circumstances will affect the perception of their knowledge and how it’s related to ethics and history.
One example of how ethics plays a role in personal circumstances is in the case of People V. Turner. The People V. Turner is a criminal case that convicted Standford University athlete Brock Allen Turner of three counts of felony and sexual assault. The 20-year-old was convicted of intent to rape an intoxicated woman, penetrating an unconscious woman with a foreign object, and raping an unconscious person outside a fraternity house. Turner was only sentenced to six months in county jail while the usual punishment is a minimum of two years in state prison. However, Turner served an even smaller time because he was released after 3 months due to ‘good behavior’.
Although most suggest that he was given a lenient sentence due to being a privileged athlete at a prestigious school, some suggest it was because Brock Turner was not in the wrong. Turner’s probation officer and others advocate for Turner due to his young age and circumstance of being under the influence. His swimming coach back from Ohio says Turner is, “Respectful, courteous,” while his former teacher claimed, “That would be the farthest type of behavior… I would ever associate with Brock Turner.” The victim that was found behind the dumpster later revealed her identity as Julia Carrie Wong. She responds, “Brock Turner may not look like a typical rapist. But the fact of the matter is, despite the fact that he comes from a good family, even though he went to an elite school, despite the fact that he was a star swimmer, he is the typical, quintessential face of campus sexual assault.” This quote relates to our main question to what extent does a person’s personal background impacts how a person perceives their knowledge.
In this case, due to Brock’s elite background and higher class, he wasn’t as associated with the stereotype of how a rapist or assaulter looks like. People are more likely to believe and vouch for a person with a respected reputation. When thinking of the case ethically, it’s unfair for the victim, a minority, since it automatically gives Turner’s side of the story leverage. Especially considering the victim is an Asian American, it gives more insight into how she felt. A woman of color vs. a white man trying to get justice in court where a judge is also a white man. During court, the judge, Stanford alumni, saw Turner as entitled to a light sentence since he had future potential. While he dismissed Ms.Miller and her lost potential wasn’t highlighted in the courtroom. Asian women are constantly dehumanized with fetishization, exotification, and hypersexualization. The legal system and academic institutions have historically been more likely to protect those with more wealth and those of caucasian descent.
When considering a historical event where a person’s personal background played a role in how much their knowledge was trusted, we can think about the historical event of the murder of Emmett Till. Emmett Louis Till was a 14-year-old boy originally from Chicago, Illinois, who was murdered in August 1955. Till was seeing family members in Money, Mississippi when he was blamed for harassing a nearby white lady. A few days after, family members of the lady snatched Till, fiercely beating and killing him before discarding his body in a close-by stream. Till's distraught mother insisted a public, open-coffin burial service for her child to unveil the brutality on blacks in the South.
Some may say that the murder of Emmett Till would be the expected result considering the segregation between White and Balck people. Especially considering that Till was the one who provoked the woman first and had broken a long known taboo about social interaction between whites and blacks. These conditions also set up Emmett Till’s family up for failure since, despite the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt, they were tried with an all-white, all-male jury. Also, because the defendants were white, they had more money and connections to better lawyers compared to the Till family.
Therefore, the two men that killed Emmett Till had their criminal charges acquitted on all accounts. This proved injustice for Till and relates to the main question of if it matters that your background affects others’ perceptions of your knowledge. With this historical case, it proved that the two murders being white were significant for the jury. Since this event was during the Civil Rights Movement, where white supremacy was high, there would be little to no repercussions for a white person attacking a black person. However, if it was in the case where a black person assaulted a white person, the repercussions would be significantly severe. Therefore, this shows how consequently your background affects how others treat and perceive you.
It is significant that our personal circumstance influences how seriously your knowledge is taken. People base ideas and experiences with certain groups and apply them to an entire group. However, the issue is that people do not function as members of a group. They function individually. Stereotypes based on people’s backgrounds result in lost opportunities and disadvantages. With stereotypes often being inaccurate and passed off as facts onto others, it results in injustice and unfairness. Furthermore, from the applications of unfair judgments onto people’s backgrounds, we can deduce that it has only affected people negatively.
If I was put in the same situation as Chanel Miller in the People V. Turner Case, I believe that also as an Asian American minority, I would experience the same conditions and receive similar judgments from others. As I mentioned earlier, Asian women are commonly perceived as submissive and docile. While also being seen as quiet and invisible. It doesn’t help that these depictions of Asian women have been persistent in media as well. Not only did these depictions set up Chanel Miller for failure in receiving justice, but it will further set up Asian women for failure if our society doesn’t change.
Further exploring the extent of how personal circumstances influence how seriously your knowledge is taken, the story of Emmett Till may have played out differently if it took place in Chicago, Illinois rather than Money Mississippi. Illinois had some of the most progressive anti-segregation laws. In Illinois, segregation in schools was outlawed in 1874 while for Mississippi, segregation in schools was outlawed in 1954. This shows how the environment between these two states was drastically different when it came to segregation. When considering this, it is most likely that if Till’s story took place in his hometown, he wouldn’t have been tragically murdered as he did in Mississippi.
Through these examples, we can see how a person’s personal circumstance puts them at an advantage or disadvantage. The judgment based on a person’s background can result either in a person receiving a lenient sentence or even death. However, these judgments are dependent on the viewer and their mindset. Therefore we must be more aware of people’s backgrounds and how it plays a role in their lives. Ignoring the fact that historically many people have been under oppression due to their background, and that people are born with more privilege, is not only being ignorant but also unethical to those being affected by these oppressions.