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Using Semiotics to Understand Race & Identity

AFism
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4/10/2015 10:02:14 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
Recently read this article and it is probably tl;dr so I will share with you a key paragraph. The full article is here: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org...

I think that this sign system is the foundation of why there is discrimination today, and why there is a need for all the legislation that we have that were geared towards non white people. The sign system in itself is a demonstration of white supremacy, because the sign systems law's are made by white people and the law is perpetuated as a truth that permeates through all races. To speak in plainer terms western white society dictates the signified regardless of the signifier in America and other colonized countries through television, media, and the way we use language to speak to one another under the social constructs that were set for us.

For example the language, or the frame in which legislators used to talk about black people in the constitution were the terms persons and Chattle. This language would differ when addressing black people in person, The term Negroe, Nigg*er, Boy etc. would be used to talk to a black person in this time period. There are ample examples etc.

Here is an excerpt.

"Semiotics is fundamentally the study of sign-systems. A sign-system has two parts: the signifier (the thing we see), and the signified (what we think of when we see it). Non-white skin is part of a sign-system, where one"s skin-colour is the signifier and what is signified is wildness, savagery, and animalism. Non-whiteness, in the minds of white people, signifies what is lacking: a lack of enlightenment; of respectability; of culture. It signifies danger: danger to white values; to white norms; the danger of a square peg refusing to fit into a round hole. Mostly, it signifies other: them, not us."

What are your thoughts?
Skepsikyma
Posts: 8,280
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4/10/2015 10:44:26 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/10/2015 10:02:14 AM, AFism wrote:
Recently read this article and it is probably tl;dr so I will share with you a key paragraph. The full article is here: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org...

I think that this sign system is the foundation of why there is discrimination today, and why there is a need for all the legislation that we have that were geared towards non white people. The sign system in itself is a demonstration of white supremacy, because the sign systems law's are made by white people and the law is perpetuated as a truth that permeates through all races. To speak in plainer terms western white society dictates the signified regardless of the signifier in America and other colonized countries through television, media, and the way we use language to speak to one another under the social constructs that were set for us.

For example the language, or the frame in which legislators used to talk about black people in the constitution were the terms persons and Chattle. This language would differ when addressing black people in person, The term Negroe, Nigg*er, Boy etc. would be used to talk to a black person in this time period. There are ample examples etc.

Here is an excerpt.

"Semiotics is fundamentally the study of sign-systems. A sign-system has two parts: the signifier (the thing we see), and the signified (what we think of when we see it). Non-white skin is part of a sign-system, where one"s skin-colour is the signifier and what is signified is wildness, savagery, and animalism. Non-whiteness, in the minds of white people, signifies what is lacking: a lack of enlightenment; of respectability; of culture. It signifies danger: danger to white values; to white norms; the danger of a square peg refusing to fit into a round hole. Mostly, it signifies other: them, not us."

What are your thoughts?

I think that the general principle is true. I think that applying it exclusively or categorically to white people is ridiculous and counter-productive. This phenomenon is a very nuanced, complicated thing, and othering happens in various levels and tiers, along lines of class, race/ethnicity, religions, politics, etc. What do you mean by 'non-white person?' Andalusian poet? Abyssinian merchant? Aztec priest? Ottoman black eunuch? Persian philosopher? Malian gold trader? Ormuz slavemaster? Egyptian doctor? Dervish soldier? Iroquois leader? American chattel slave? American black nationalist? American black businessman? American black sports star? American black scholar? The variety is too much for anyone to process.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
AFism
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4/10/2015 11:26:40 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/10/2015 10:44:26 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 4/10/2015 10:02:14 AM, AFism wrote:
Recently read this article and it is probably tl;dr so I will share with you a key paragraph. The full article is here: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org...

I think that this sign system is the foundation of why there is discrimination today, and why there is a need for all the legislation that we have that were geared towards non white people. The sign system in itself is a demonstration of white supremacy, because the sign systems law's are made by white people and the law is perpetuated as a truth that permeates through all races. To speak in plainer terms western white society dictates the signified regardless of the signifier in America and other colonized countries through television, media, and the way we use language to speak to one another under the social constructs that were set for us.

For example the language, or the frame in which legislators used to talk about black people in the constitution were the terms persons and Chattle. This language would differ when addressing black people in person, The term Negroe, Nigg*er, Boy etc. would be used to talk to a black person in this time period. There are ample examples etc.

Here is an excerpt.

"Semiotics is fundamentally the study of sign-systems. A sign-system has two parts: the signifier (the thing we see), and the signified (what we think of when we see it). Non-white skin is part of a sign-system, where one"s skin-colour is the signifier and what is signified is wildness, savagery, and animalism. Non-whiteness, in the minds of white people, signifies what is lacking: a lack of enlightenment; of respectability; of culture. It signifies danger: danger to white values; to white norms; the danger of a square peg refusing to fit into a round hole. Mostly, it signifies other: them, not us."

What are your thoughts?

I think that the general principle is true. I think that applying it exclusively or categorically to white people is ridiculous and counter-productive. This phenomenon is a very nuanced, complicated thing, and othering happens in various levels and tiers, along lines of class, race/ethnicity, religions, politics, etc.

Obviously... Just trying to get the conversation rolling with an example I could best explain. I elude to that in the title. The hierarchies and law differ from country to country. I chose America since it was the most blatant example. I was planning on bring this up later, but seeming as though semiotics doesn't get too much shine, I just thought I should start with smaller potatoes first.

What do you mean by 'non-white person?' Andalusian poet? Abyssinian merchant? Aztec priest? Ottoman black eunuch? Persian philosopher? Malian gold trader? Ormuz slavemaster? Egyptian doctor? Dervish soldier? Iroquois leader? American chattel slave? American black nationalist? American black businessman? American black sports star? American black scholar?

All of the latter, Any one whose race doesn't read caucasian or any one who isn't biologically of a mostly caucasian lineage. It gets blurry when brown people are perceived as white people due to their lineage, but then that all comes down to if that person decides to reaffirm what others want to construct as that persons identity.

The variety is too much for anyone to process.

I find it humorous that you say it is too much variety, but then complain that my examples are too narrow-minded. I specifically started with a black and white example for this purpose lol. I wanted to ease in to the variety since there is so much intersectionality of race, gender, class etc and since all of the latter are dependent upon where you fall on the spectrum in all three categories.

I'm glad that you see the overall use of semiotics as a tool to see why race is an issue. Im realizing thought that maybe I'm talking over a lot of people's heads? I thought I gave a source that described it pretty clearly. Eh maybe no one cares
ZenoCitium
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4/11/2015 8:37:43 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
The interesting contradiction is that groups also desire the exclusive characteristics of their race. Sometimes to such an extreme, that they would even prefer to be called "African American" as oppose to just "American".
AFism
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4/11/2015 4:40:42 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/11/2015 8:37:43 AM, ZenoCitium wrote:
The interesting contradiction is that groups also desire the exclusive characteristics of their race. Sometimes to such an extreme, that they would even prefer to be called "African American" as oppose to just "American".

Oh yes. It is indeed interesting because many racial groups tend to reaffirm the already allowed signifiers.

Those people tend to correct in that way because american inherently signifies white, and that if they could truly just be American they wouldn't have the coined term in the first place. Do note that people do not usually use the term white american, Caucasian american, European American etc. to talk about white people. If you notice in the media they rarely say that. They instead say Americans, or white people if specifically addressing race. They don't see that when you say african american that that inherently signifies sub person or second class citizen. To call a black person african-american not only is a fallacy since they aren't african but a born american, but also immediately tells you that their ancestors were taken against their will from Africa and brought here to America.

Interestingly enough though that is one of the only ways to identify as a person of color without seeming militant etc. because that identity was constructed by white people.

If you identify as just Black, or by your true heritage, a whole new set of laws come into play.
ZenoCitium
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4/11/2015 9:12:37 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Those people tend to correct in that way because american inherently signifies white, and that if they could truly just be American they wouldn't have the coined term in the first place. Do note that people do not usually use the term white american, Caucasian american, European American etc. to talk about white people. If you notice in the media they rarely say that. They instead say Americans, or white people if specifically addressing race. They don't see that when you say african american that that inherently signifies sub person or second class citizen. To call a black person african-american not only is a fallacy since they aren't african but a born american, but also immediately tells you that their ancestors were taken against their will from Africa and brought here to America.


From my experience, African American is a term preferred by most black Americans. Also, it seems like the media uses the term Caucasian for white Americans.

http://www.gallup.com...
AFism
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4/11/2015 9:19:23 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/11/2015 9:12:37 PM, ZenoCitium wrote:
Those people tend to correct in that way because american inherently signifies white, and that if they could truly just be American they wouldn't have the coined term in the first place. Do note that people do not usually use the term white american, Caucasian american, European American etc. to talk about white people. If you notice in the media they rarely say that. They instead say Americans, or white people if specifically addressing race. They don't see that when you say african american that that inherently signifies sub person or second class citizen. To call a black person african-american not only is a fallacy since they aren't african but a born american, but also immediately tells you that their ancestors were taken against their will from Africa and brought here to America.


From my experience, African American is a term preferred by most black Americans. Also, it seems like the media uses the term Caucasian for white Americans.

That too yes.

Many of black people i know prefer black. I guess it depends on your circle.

http://www.gallup.com...
AFism
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4/11/2015 9:24:30 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/11/2015 9:12:37 PM, ZenoCitium wrote:
Those people tend to correct in that way because american inherently signifies white, and that if they could truly just be American they wouldn't have the coined term in the first place. Do note that people do not usually use the term white american, Caucasian american, European American etc. to talk about white people. If you notice in the media they rarely say that. They instead say Americans, or white people if specifically addressing race. They don't see that when you say african american that that inherently signifies sub person or second class citizen. To call a black person african-american not only is a fallacy since they aren't african but a born american, but also immediately tells you that their ancestors were taken against their will from Africa and brought here to America.


From my experience, African American is a term preferred by most black Americans. Also, it seems like the media uses the term Caucasian for white Americans.

http://www.gallup.com...

Just read the survey and "The results of available survey research indicate no strong consensus among the American black community for how their racial group should be described." Seems like the majority says it doesn't matter.

If this is the case who is constructing their identity for them because it is evident it is not themselves, hence my semiotics preposition.
ZenoCitium
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4/12/2015 10:24:19 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
If this is the case who is constructing their identity for them because it is evident it is not themselves, hence my semiotics preposition.

The poll concludes that blacks don't care whether they are labeled "black" or "African American". We should not conclude that anyone else has created that identity.

I did see a recently interview between Oprah and Raven Symone. In the interview, Raven claimed that she is not African American but just American. This ignited a lot of backlash from the black community to which Oprah said herself, "Oh girl, don't set the Twitter on fire," and "you are going to get a lot of flack for saying you're not African-American." To me, there is a definite desire for black Americans to be labeled African American. I was remarking that this is contradictory to the claims in the article you sourced, where black women wished to shed their African identity (ethnic or exotic).

Similarly, when a person has both black and Caucasian heritage they still refer to themselves as an African American. President Obama claims that he is the first African American president, but in reality he is simultaneously the 44th Caucasian president. Doesn't it seem like these actions welcome the use of semiotics to differentiate race?
AFism
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4/13/2015 12:54:36 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 4/12/2015 10:24:19 PM, ZenoCitium wrote:
If this is the case who is constructing their identity for them because it is evident it is not themselves, hence my semiotics preposition.

The poll concludes that blacks don't care whether they are labeled "black" or "African American". We should not conclude that anyone else has created that identity.

Just posing a question. In my opinion there is.

I did see a recently interview between Oprah and Raven Symone. In the interview, Raven claimed that she is not African American but just American. This ignited a lot of backlash from the black community to which Oprah said herself, "Oh girl, don't set the Twitter on fire," and "you are going to get a lot of flack for saying you're not African-American." To me, there is a definite desire for black Americans to be labeled African American.

Sure for some, but it is popular because outside of the black community approved of it, and it became PC. Just like when it was in the 60's and the black power movement was popular, there was a divide between a group of people who called themselves a negro and a black man/woman, there is one today regardless of what any poll says, as you see it is now an interchangeable term, the terms are used differently in different settings. You become black in private spaces and african american in public spaces, In their minds usually. But you are read socially always as black, and regarded as an african american. If that doesn't make sense I can explain more.

I was remarking that this is contradictory to the claims in the article you sourced, where black women wished to shed their African identity (ethnic or exotic).

Lol, Dont you see? That that is intrinsically the signifier of a black woman in this system. Nevertheless, the hypersexualization, objectification and pure fetishizement is a function of using ANY term regarding a black woman because she is inherently so in this system of signs regardless of what she wants to be called or what anyone else wants to call or is calling her or him. That is shown in the "wild side perfume ad". The very bodies of this group of people are seen in that way regardless of what ever term you use. This is how it functions into your identity, and this is the discourse you are embarking on. Does it really matter If I call my self black or African American if i'm seen in this same way? The root of resentment to Raven was that the black community felt that by saying she was just american that she was throwing away all of her black history and that be it is a fallacy since being just American means just white.

Similarly, when a person has both black and Caucasian heritage they still refer to themselves as an African American. President Obama claims that he is the first African American president, but in reality he is simultaneously the 44th Caucasian president. Doesn't it seem like these actions welcome the use of semiotics to differentiate race?

Okay, I don;t think anyone would call Obama caucasian in America, I thought this was hilarious. All jokes aside that is the point. The system of sign inherently differentiates race which is why I brought it up in the first place. If our society is built on a system of signs and signifiers that automatically tell you that black is bad white is neutral, or white, rich, straight cis gendered male is neutral and different is bad, then the people who make policies under this law will we reflect this in their policy making. This thinking will reflect itself throughout society in everyones lives. It's late so excuse the rambling.

In short you can use semiotics to see the disparities in how different races are represented. You can use yourself as an example to confirm this, but I'll give a packaging example of tooth paste products.

If you notice, your leading tooth paste brands always have a white tube right? If you see an unmarked white tube, you automatically think that its a tube of toothpaste or ointment. And you assume that what comes out of the tube will be white, white and blue, gel blue or white and green. The color white signifies divinity in some instances, but in this instance , cleanliness, sterility, and pureness. Never have you once for a moment ever seen a LEADING toothpaste brand right now that has a black tube, with black toothpaste. Black in our system of signs signifies mysteriousness, exoticness, dirtiness, vastness, strength, or in some instances evil. If you ever saw a black toothpaste you would automatically be distrusting of the product. You can replace tooth paste with any hygiene product that isn't bought for its pigment like lotions, scrubs, soaps, salts, etc ( not like makeup nail polish hair dye etc). This same example can be applied to movies where god was depicted in all white and devil was depicted in all black. Its all in the programming.

Obviously since races are identified as colors in our society you get all of that attached to the word black. The interesting thing is this: people are more likely to be less cognizant of the shade white and more cognizant of the shade black. This is shown in my toothpaste example. It is normal for toothpaste packaging to be white. It is normal for a cast on a t.v. show to be all white. This makes white the norm, neutral, a blank slate, a sign almost empty of it's signifier. There are some instances where you do not recognize white as a sign at all. There are never instances where you aren't cognizant of blackness in this system. Not unless you are conditioning yourself to think otherwise of course, or if your so entrenched in it you can't see it.

Lmao this is so probably tl;dr