It's all about perspective


As a burgeoning sociologist, my colleagues and classmates are constantly talking about the differences that: separate us, bind us, keep us downtrodden, keep us uplifted, or just generally keep us. We have had a very limited opportunity to study these things with two tragedies: Hurricane Katrina and the California fires.

Reading through news stories, blog posts, and listening to news programs, it lifts my heart to know that the discussion is not focusing on one aspect of the problem. No one seems to be focusing purely on race, or class, or economic status, or education. It seems that the talks are on all of those subjects and several not listed. Unfortunately I am seeing a deadlock in the discussions.

It seems that since we, as a society, are unable to put one single perfect all encompassing label on the problem, we are leaving it, frustrated that the problem is too hard and multi-faceted to tackle. What is happening to the discussion? There are many of us out there who are blaming it on one single thing, yet these people and their arguments are quickly becoming passé to the grand majority of the country when confronted by other arguments who say it is something completely different.

This may seem like a very clear “duh” moment, but it has to be said. There is no single perfect label to place upon this mess that Katrina and the fires of California have opened our eyes to. The problem is systemic; meaning that it has integrated itself into every aspect of our lives, is perpetuated from several different angles of society, and has as many outcomes as it has reasons.

From Gender Through the Prism of Difference:

We use the image of “the prism of difference” to illustrate our approach to developing this sociological perspective […]. The American Heritage Dictionary defines prism, in part, as “a homogeneous transparent solid, usually with triangular bases and rectangular sides, used to produce or analyze a continuous spectrum.” Imagine a ray of light – which to the naked eye, appears to be only one color – refracted through a prism onto a white wall. To the eye, the result is not an infinite, disorganized scatter of individual colors. Rather, the refracted light displays an order, a structure of relationships among the different colors – a rainbow.

It would be beneficial for us to look at these problems through this same model. Race is not the sole reason for what happened in New Orleans. Not that I’m downplaying its importance, because it was a significant reason, I am merely stating that it was not the only reason.

For example; being poor stretches across all boundaries, it is not racist, it takes everyone regardless of color or gender. Yet a person who is poor, who is also white, is 25-35 years old, and male, has a much higher chance of getting out of the poor house than say, if he was black, or if he was a she, or if the black man was 18-24, or if the hispanic woman was middle aged, etc.

It is an interesting concept, this prism of difference, and is still in its infancy, but I see within it the potential for solving many of the world’s woes. Taking a step back and looking at the system that brought us to where we are, rather than trying to find one single thread to follow back to its source. It takes many, sometimes hundreds, of tributaries to make a mighty river. The Mississippi river is fed by 18 different major tributaries including: the Ohio, the Missouri, the Illinois, and the Arkansas. Each one of those are fed by their own tributaries (the Missouri alone has over 50).

It takes all of these different paths winding and cutting their way together to make a massive river, to eventually spill out into a massive ocean. All of the individual working to create a single working to create a conglomerate. Racial inequality, sexism, ageism, classism, and a host of other “ism’s” work in concert to create the social problems that we see. It is only by recognizing that each of these exist because they are fed by the others and that none of them can exist without the others will we be on our way to ridding the world of its differences.

Just because we have no single perfect label for the problem doesn’t mean the discussion should halt. We must keep talking! We must keep working towards a solution, which will probably just as systemic and multi-faceted as the problems we face.

To quote the great one: “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

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