race/ethnicity

race/ethnicity

madison

race and ethnicity 2010: madison, eric fischer

red is white
blue is black
green is asian
orange is hispanic
yellow is other
each dot is 25 residents (data from 2010 census)

I don’t understand the segregation of people of different ethnicity at UW-Madison. Whites only hang out with Whites, Blacks hang out with Blacks, and Asians hang out with Asians. Even within Asians, they only hang out within their own ethnicity. Is it because they feel they are more comfortable within their own people? Is it because of their culture and can’t relate to the cultures of others? Is it the language barrier?

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I have heard so many people say that Madison is the most diverse place they have ever been to, and for me it’s just a school mainly of white people. Going outside of the University’s limits is when you will start to see the diversity, but it is still very segregated.

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The main facet of culture I struggle with is ethnicity. This is due to the area I grew up in because I grew up in a small, rural, mainly Caucasian town. Internally I struggle with seeing the traditions, customs and views others have because I myself haven’t experienced them. The biggest hindrance for me is the lack of knowledge I have. Sometimes I get scared or feel fear because the culture I’m experiencing is different and change scares me. I mean what if I offend them or don’t like the new experience or even violate my cultural views to try something new? It scares the heck out of me!

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My mother’s grandparents were born in Italy and immigrated to the United States. Because they were immigrants and did not have a lot of money, my mother lived with them throughout her childhood and many of their beliefs, values, and traditions were ingrained in her and passed onto me and my siblings. Many of our holidays are centered on Italian food and traditions, and my family had a large role in the Italian community. There are also many values and beliefs that I was taught about family that come from growing up in an old-fashioned family. Generally, I try to ignore my Italian culture, except for the food, because most of my family has ethnocentric ideas about being Italian, and I believe that no one is better than anyone else. However, thinking about my past and who I am today, it has been so ingrained in me as well; I cannot get away from it.

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By the time I entered high school, I realized how much your ethnicity makes a difference to people based on your skin color. My school was 99.9% white with nearly a handful of students to represent each minority. My school was very racist; you couldn’t go a day at school without hearing the n-word. School administrators and teachers seem to ignore this blatant racism. I also couldn’t go a day without someone joking about my race and ethnicity. I understand to an extent that this ignorance weren’t necessarily their faults, because most of them have never met or seen an Asian in person but only on television, which only further caused assumptions, and stereotypes. Even certain teachers would also like to point out the skin of my color, where I was verbally attacked based on my background. My entire life I tried to break stereotypes. For instance, when people told me that Asians can’t play basketball, I played for my varsity high school basketball team even though there were times when I was on the court at away high school games where the entire crowd was chanting “chink”, I strived on and rose above it. These are things that I do not like to mention and talk publically to really anyone, because I don’t like the attention and I don’t want any sympathy. That was in the past, you learn from it and move on.

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I am Black. My culture is African American. For me, this means being a minority in a still predominately White driven society. I have been told many times that I don’t “act Black”; whatever that means. I am and have always been proud of my heritage but I don’t allow the color of my skin to dictate how I should act or be perceived by others.

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It’s a struggle for me to truly be myself here in Madison because I feel as if I’m being judged every day by the way I look, act and speak. My freshman year I was the only black woman on my floor.  Someone on my floor asked me to come into a friend’s room so that she could give me a new name. When I asked her what she was talking about, she stated that my name was not black enough and needed to be changed to something more “ghetto.” I just looked at her and called her a racist and walked out the room.

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Do African American people find the term “black” offensive?

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I’m embarrassed to admit this, but some facets of other people’s everyday culture that I struggle with judging are their race and ethnicity. Although I know enough to not display it externally, I still sometimes feel uncomfortable with others who are different than me. As I said, I’m rather ashamed to admit this, and I would never say it out loud to anyone. I think that the reason I feel this way is that I grew up in a really small town in Wisconsin, where all but a few students in my high school were Caucasian, and because of this, I never had experience with other cultures until I came to Madison. I don’t have anything against those of other races or ethnicities, but I sometimes worry that I don’t know the appropriate way to act around them. For example, should I use the term African-American or black? Is one ruder than the other?

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Expressing aspects of my culture in public is a lot different especially being in a college that is predominately white. I believe many white people already have preconceived notions about African-Americans because of the negative attention we receive in the media and I am always afraid that anything I say or do will reflect that negativity. For example, when celebrating a birthday many African-Americans will sing the “Traditional” birthday song and then break out in Stevie Wonder’s version of Happy Birthday which consists of singing, clapping and stomping your feet. In the comfort of my own home I have no problem participating in the “black” birthday song, however in public, especially around people of the majority it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like they are judging and stereotyping. Many people instead of inquiring about Stevie Wonder’s version of Happy Birthday and why we sing it, they will stare or move uncomfortably and sometimes both.

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During the in-class activity “Stepping Forward and Back,” I stepped back when I saw other white females standing still. My family is part Native American, something that would not be obvious by looking at the color of my skin. Stepping back made me feel a bit awkward because I wondered what the other females who looked like me would think, as I appear to be of only European descent.

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In public, I have difficulty sharing my ethnicity. This is a struggle because I do not know what half of my ethnicity is. My Caucasian side is Italian and German, but my Black side is unknown. This comes from historical oppression from back to slavery times. In addition, the information I know of my father is limited. He does not know where him being Black comes from. He just knows that he is. I am comfortable talking about my race because it has less boundaries, however, my ethnicity is very vague.

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In public I have trouble sharing that I am part Mexican. This has nothing to do with the fact that I am ashamed or embarrassed of my Mexican heritage, but instead has to do with the fact that I don’t look Mexican. In the past when I have mentioned this to people I have been essentially called a liar. For sake of not arguing with people about something so silly (when I am obviously telling the truth) I’ve just given up. Part of me feels like it isn’t important anyways (or doesn’t matter) so why talk about it.

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In respect to public settings, I sometimes have trouble sharing components of my culture that deal with my Hispanic roots. For instance, speaking Spanish in public or discussing foods that are foreign to those who are not familiar with Mexican dishes can be uncomfortable when others are not accepting of cultural differences. I will often get strange looks from people who are not Hispanic, which makes me feel out of place and even ostracized at times.

* * *

When asked in class to define what my own personal culture consisted of, I immediately started writing down aspects of the “White American” culture, such as that I am white, speak English, usually wear blue jeans and follow Roman Catholic beliefs. Even though the majority of my ethnicity is that of a country in the Middle East, I never even considered writing anything down regarding facets of that culture. However, I don’t believe that it’s because I have “difficulty” talking about my Middle Eastern culture to others, since all of my closest friends know that’s what makes up the majority of my ethnicity. Instead, I believe it’s actually because I personally don’t know all that much about my Middle Eastern heritage.

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Many minority groups of people feel uncomfortable facing the difference with the majorities, such as the education or employment discrimination they face, which makes them more sensitive and more easy to be offended. Sometimes a single gesture, a smile, or glimpse may be viewed as others’ defiance towards them, even though the person did not mean to be offensive. Consequently, even though we may make mistakes during interaction with other people, we should be modest, admitting the mistake and apologizing genuinely.

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