Our Connections, the Walls that They Build, and Where We can Change (Final draft)


Today, if I wanted to, I could call my uncle in Santa Barbara CA, then my grandma in Arizona. Afterwards, I could skype my friends from Germany, Spain, China, and the Netherlands. Of course, I could also facetime my friends down in South Oakland, because honestly, it takes way too long to walk down there and talk in person.

One call.

One push of a button.

That’s all it takes now.


While reading Time and Distance Overcome by Eula Biss, I couldn’t help but think of how easy we have it in the information age. Taking technology for granted is commonplace, and the simplicity of connecting with other people around the world should make us more… accepting? Right?

After all, the internet exposes us to different cultures constantly. Want to know more about the Muslim community? Google it. Read forums. Watch interviews.

You see it on the news all the time…

You know, I’ve noticed the news isn’t so positive.

Are professionals not looked down upon for racist commentary?



Apparently not.


Ethnocentrism:  The idea that your own group or culture is better or more important than others.

I think in an ideal world, the only cause for racism is ignorance.

Ignorance leads to ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism leads to judgment.

Judgment leads to racism.

But if we have so many different avenues of communication, so much information at our disposal, why is racism still around? Why does it still thrive despite the “general consensus” in the media that racism is wrong?

I live in Lancaster County, which (in my opinion) is a hub for close-mindedness. A complete disconnect from college living here at Pitt.

I’ve seen friends, neighbors dedicate blogs against Muslims.

I’ve seen entire graduating classes without a single African American.

I’ve seen Confederate flags put up on display; a man beside it reminiscing about

“The good ol’ days”

He didn’t look a day over 30.

These people aren’t intolerant out of ignorance… How is that possible? They have internet (save for the Amish). They have phones, TV, News, email, everything they could ever want to become informed about other cultures, traditions, and ways of life. Yet throughout this entire modern revolution their attitudes have more or less been preserved, albeit not expressed as openly.

Our connections are building walls

The poles of course, were not to blame. It was only coincidence that they became convenient as gallows, because they were tall and straight, with a crossbar, and because they stood in public places. And it was only coincidence that the telephone poles so closely resembled crucifixes    (Biss 8).


The very telephone poles that were supposed to connect people in the 1920s were used to achieve the opposite.

The word “Improvise” comes to mind.

It seems that the causes of racism run deeper than a supposed lack of connectivity. Racism as I’ve observed has little to do with the environment it takes place in, and more to do with how it’s expressed, and the role heritage plays in it.


In our discussion on the Citizen by Claudia Rankine, there was a section that struck me, as it relates immediately to this issue. In the passage it described a situation in which there was a conflict between an American’s “Historical Self” and their “Self-self”. Seems like nonsense, right? However, as a reread it one thing became clear: our history defines us in very subtle ways. It’s a fact of history that the older generations were less tolerant than we are, yet they have such an enormous influence in the modern era. The structures they build, the institutions they begin, the policies they adopt. They may seem like relics now; attitudes that we like to pretend didn’t exist. They seem so far from the truth.

A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” By this she means you mostly interact as friends with mutual interest and, for the most part, compatible personalities; however, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning. Then you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe the affable smiles right from your mouths. What did you say? Instantaneously your attachment seems fragile, tenuous, subject to any transgression of your historical self. And though your joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant (Rankine 14).

The event, the perpetrators, the victims, all have passed away, but the place remains.

The History remains.

In many of Muriel Rukeyser’s poems, she emphasizes the historical value of places and how those places have lasting influence. Her short piece GEORGE ROBINSON:BLUES gives a strong sense of how memories of events have profound impacts in the present.

Gauley Bridge is a good town for Negroes, they let us stand around the sidewalks, if we’re black or brown. Vanetta’s over the trestle, and that’s our town.

The hill makes breathing slow, slow breathing after you row the river, and the graveyard’s on the hill,

cold in the springtime blow, and the graveyard’s up on high,

and the town is down below

(Rukeyser 87).


We can’t change history. That said, being bound by it, regretting it and feeling trapped by it is a choice. We often go to comparisons of the past and present to justify how much better we’ve become as a society, and it’s true. We’ve accomplished so much in the United States over the years in terms of racial equality, but the unfortunate side-effect of this is that we become complacent. The illusion that we’ve won the fight is detrimental. Momentum is lost over time, which I believe is what we’re seeing today as we observe structural racism in modern society. Racism has adapted into subtlety, and for the privileged it’s even harder to pinpoint in our daily lives.

Momentum. Where did it go?

With this in mind, I’d propose a new continuum:

Ignorance leads to ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism leads to judgment.

Judgment leads to racism.

Racism influences history.

History promotes ignorance.

Rinse and repeat, and in the modern era, adapt.

How do we tackle this then? Where does the new generation step in to promote positive change?

I believe the most effective route is to tackle the issue at ethnocentrism and judgment. Ignorance is never in short supply, we can’t change history, but what we CAN change is how we perceive others. We can reject the racism that our history has promoted for such a long time. We can learn from our mistakes, and tear down the walls that were built to last. We have connections now that we didn’t have before, but can we use these connections to disrupt this cycle instead perpetuate it? That’s our job to decide.



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