Monday, September 1, 2014

Chapter 3

Chapter 3: "Which Mans Army" by Steven A. Holmes
Stephanie Brabec

In this chapter we are introduced to two sergeants in the U.S. Army who both declare themselves to be victims of racism.  Sgt. Feyer believes that he is denied a promotion that he feels he has rightly earned based on the precedent that whites have never been successfully promoted in his platoon due to its racial makeup. At the same time, Sgt. Williams is convinced that his transfer to Echo Company has been requested because those above him in rank were unhappy with even one of their platoons being run entirely by black sergeants.  As I go through and reflect upon this article, however, I find myself feeling stuck with conflicting opinions.
What really caught my attention was when the author explained that beginning with the integration of the U.S. Army in 1948, the government has been involved in eliminating racial barriers from the structures of the military’s rank system.  Though members of the Army recognize this law, it has been viewed more of an order to follow rather than a value to accept and understand. One of the sergeants in the chapter even likens the Army’s integration law and equal treatment no matter ethnic or racial background to the rule on having to wear a seatbelt!  Here’s where the two competing ideas come into play:
While this act of legislation can be seen as an attempt by the government to enact social change, we all know that racial stigmas against all people still exist today both in and outside of the Army.  The greatest issue is, and this is also a point brought up by the author, that laws change behavior, not attitudes.  Although the government is often looked to for the resolution of social issues, laws are not able to tap into deeply engrained cultural dogma that shapes the way in which we see and wish to treat one another.  So in this first idea, we have to ask ourselves, does an established system of racial inequality or preference still exist here in this particular example?  Does it explain why Feyer was not promoted in his company, and prove that Williams is being transferred to another unit despite his continued success in Bravo Company? 
The second possibility goes along with the concept that we have been having in class about race as a social construct, and dealing with this cognitive dissonance that is created in discussing this matter as anthropologists.  Although there may not be a structural system in place that reinforces racist behavior and attitudes, the fact that both of these men believe in said system is incredibly significant in and of itself.  The reason that it is so significant is because these two men are playing key roles in inadvertently creating this system in which they are then allowing themselves to be oppressed.  In other words, no one is actually taking deliberate action to prevent Feyer from moving up in the ranks or transferring Williams out of his sphere of influence, but because these two men have accepted this as part of their cosmology for understanding their place in society and more specifically within this microcosm, their feelings have been reinforced and therefore justified.  The author curiously excludes substantial evidence that would lead us to conclude without a doubt that these men are in fact victims of racism, as they believe to be.

I leave the rest of the discussion to you all, as I have not come to a succinct conclusion on the matter myself.  Have these two men indeed been targeted due to their race, or is there not enough evidence to support the assertion that Sgt. Feyer and Williams are making?

9 comments:

  1. Is what Frye feels the idea of reverse discrimination? Also, in the reading there are a couple of comments made not to make the black man angry. Does this speak to the fear of racial violence and/or the thought that one might be perceived as a racist? As a side note, we will see the don't make the man angry again in Chapter 5.

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    1. "Reverse Discrimination"...what an interesting concept. What do people know or think about this term? Is it happening here or in other settings that you know about? Anyone care to "push-back" against the idea of reverse discrimination? Anyone think it is a real problem?

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  2. I think you brought up some really good points about this article, especially the conflicting idea of whether the two men are actually being discriminated against or just perpetuating a discrimination that they know to exist and applying it to themselves. One point that the author brought up was the lack of academic background in William's case and the complacent attitude of Feyer. Is it possible that they are being discriminated against because of those reasons rather than strictly because of their skin color? It's difficult to tell without truly being involved in the situation and depending on your individual background you may conclude something different. For myself, I believe it is likely a combination of reasons that the two Sergeants are not being giving the opportunities they feel they are entitled to.

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    1. Let's be careful with our use of terminology...the verb "to discriminate" seems to be used in a couple of different ways in your comment Kamisha. If the thing holding back both sergeants is their education or ability (as is clearly suggested as a possibility by the author..but not recognized by either man!), then they are simply being evaluated and found wanting...they are not being discriminated against. Part of the difficulty of interpreting what is happening in this story is the multitude of different interpretations that are possible to explain what happens to individuals. Kinda like life itself...there are no clear answers...but the issue of race is deeply invested in everything these men do...in spite of the army's claims to be "post-racial".

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  3. While I was reading this chapter, this seemed to reflect one of the ways people are racial discriminated just due to their environment. In Bravo company we see this in play due to those in control. I wish I could say that Freyer and William were denied to move up soley on other factors, and not race but we can see this in hints throughout the chapter. The award stated in the book, since the company was founded in 1998, has been award to only one white person but even then was given back since there was a fuss about it. Also the book mentions that since 1999, it has been reported that in the armed forces two-thirds of men and women have experienced racially offensive encounters. Both Feyer and Williams may have been cheated out and had to follow the system only because of what their superiors say. I would like to believe that maybe there were other factors that led to both sergants being denined moving up, but they even stated that others with the same or lower creditionals have moved up in rank, how come? Also even though this type of discrimination does continue not only in the armed forces, how come they put up with it. Does Feyer and Williams feel obligated to follow the superiours orders or better said they just don't have a choice.

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  4. This was a very interesting read. Some of the comments do bring up some good points about this chapter. One point I wanted to address was the question "whether the two men are actually being discriminated against or just perpetuating a discrimination that they know to exist and applying it to themselves." The reason why I wanted to address that question specifically was because within the chapter, they discussed the stresses of money and the causes it has to a soldier. Money could be a probable cause for a soldier to be think that they are being discriminated. Soldiers are all about the competition, and when money comes into play, it is able to raise many questions to a soldiers mind when they feel that they are not getting what they believe they deserve. Feyer stated, "I'd like to have more than 5 bucks in my back pocket..., I want to be able to go to an ATM and not worry, 'Should I do this?'" This was able to imply that soldiers struggle with money. The reason why I wanted to point out that statement out was because money is able to bring questions and stresses to a soldier that can cause them to think that they are being discriminated. Some suspicions and questions that the chapter brought up that a soldier could think of was "maybe its your shortcomings, maybe someone is holding you back, maybe race is causing you to not get ahead." The amount of competitiveness that happen between each of the soldiers is able to cause to cause them to think less of another in different ways, race being one of the different ways.

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  5. I think that's a really interesting point, Kimberly. I think that it's common that people project their anger and frustration from their personal lives onto others who appear to be different. It's easiest for people to move on from a situation when there is someone to blame for your misfortunes, and I think that might be what's going on here. We've seen this phenomenon happen countless times throughout history as well, the Holocaust being the main example that comes to mind. I'm not sure if there's an official term in anthropology to explain what's transpiring here, but to me it seems to be, essentially, a "coping mechanism" that is culturally acquired, and that varies between cultures as far as who that culture has identified to be the "other."

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    1. Perhaps the term you are looking for is "scapegoating", Stephanie.

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