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Essay/Term paper: Bias

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Term Papers

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What does the word bias mean? Bias is a mental predilection or prejudice. The essay "The View from the Bottom Rail" by James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle opened my eyes on how American history could be looked at as one sided and even bias. Even today there is still bias in America. In today"s society, racism and stereotyping occur in all aspects of life. It can occur because of one"s gender, race, religion, culture, economic status, etc. It even occurs amongst our finest, our law enforcement officials.

"The View from the Bottom Rail" explains the history of slavery. It implies a lack of accuracy from the people that the information was obtained, either black or white. Most of the black slaves could not read or write. The ones that did, hid it from their masters. Because of this, most of the written books and documents and even diaries on slavery were written by the white masters. At that time most of recorded history was based on how the white masters viewed slavery. You did not get a view on slavery from the slaves themselves.

In the 1920"s, black scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Charles Johnson, and Carter Woodson, started a project to collect oral evidence from former slaves who were still living. Even these interviews could not be viewed as 100% accurate. One example, is a geographic bias. The people that were interviewed were only a very small portion of the millions of freed slaves. Counting the number of slaves interviewed from each state, it was discovered that there were only 155 interviews from black people living in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky, which is about 6% of the total number of published interviews. Twenty-three percent of the southern slave population lived in those states. In these statistics, the upper-south was unrepresented.

Another example would be the ages of the ex-slaves interviewed. Two-thirds of them were over 80 years of age, leaving the question of how accurate were their memories. Also, most of the interviewees were under the age of 20 when they were slaves. Since the conditions for children were not as harsh compared to adults, they might have an optimistic view of slavery.

Finally, the different effects the interviewer had on the interviewees. There were two interviews done on the same lady named Susan Hamlin by two different interviewers. One interviewer was a white lady named Jessie Butler and the other was a black man named Augustus Ladsons. Susan thought Jessie was from the welfare office. Susan possibly told Jessie what she thought Jessie would want to hear in order to increase her chances of getting a welfare check. She spoke of her master as though he was the kindest. All the slaves loved their master. He gave them shoes in the winter. He kept the children with their mothers and when the war started he took everyone including the slaves to a safer place. On the other hand, Susan told Augustus a totally different story. She spoke of the whippings in cruel detail. She also spoke of how the slaves families were torn apart, and children were taken from their mothers. There were no shoes given to the slaves in the winter. Which interview is closest to the truth? How do you tell?

In my past I have experienced many bias situations. I am a Puerto Rican male living in America. I have hazel eyes and light skin. Because of my eyes and skin color, I have been mistaken for Caucasian. I have had to deal with people calling me "white boy" all the time. As a child, one of my uncles gave me the nick name "gringo", Spanish word for white boy. I grew up in East New York (Brooklyn, NY), which is a predominantly African American, with a few Latinos and almost no Caucasian. In East New York, the African Americans and Latinos tend to get along. For me this was not so. Being that I looked Caucasian, most of the African Americans and Latinos tended to harass me and start trouble, which caused tension constantly.

In Denver back in 1992, the Denver Post ran an article on police harassment among Hispanic youths by Judith Brimberg. The article stated there had been complaints to Mayor Wellington Webb by Northwest Denver residents concerning the police harassment on Hispanic youth because of their skin color. The Mayor subsequently notified the Civilian Complaint Department of the city of Denver. After the investigation a report was released on August 8th,1992 stating that hundreds of complaints of unprovoked harassment were filed with the Police Department, but were never reported to the Civilian Complaint Division. Mayor Wellington has ordered the District Attorneys' Office to begin an investigation of the Police Department for possible obstruction of justice charges. As of this writing the Police Department had no comment. Felipe Suarez, President of Community Board 14 in Denver said "This investigation is long overdue, our people have been treated like second class citizens for too long."

This article is just an example of how racism and stereotyping exist today amongst our law enforcement officials. It does not seem to matter if you live in an urban or suburban community, police harassment seems to be all over the United States.

In conclusion, history can be very misleading. If one is to seek out the truth, he/she would have to view the primary source of materials in terms of the context in which they originated. They must also take into account all the possible bias that may exist in their sources. Racism persists as a trigger for discrimination, just like all of the "isms" that divide us: race, ethnicity, culture, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, citizenship status and economic class. Communities or institutions that discriminate are neither whole nor healthy. We as individuals should be committed to creating healthy communities through civil discourse and respect, which include each of us as individuals and all of us members of the whole.


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