Thursday, September 1, 2011

Charles Horton Cooley on the Self, Oppression, and Inhumanity

Upon reviewing some fantastic Charles Horton Cooley this morning, I came across this gem:

The immigrant has for the most part been treated purely as a source of labor, with little or no regard to the fact that he* is a human being, with a self like the rest of us. There is nothing less to our credit than our neglect of the foreigner and his children, unless it be the arrogance most of us betray when we set out to "americanize" him.--Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, pg 262
I find it jarring that this is still so relevant and significant in 2011. I don't know if hatred of immigrants is at an all-time high as compared to earlier periods in our history, but it's certainly at a peak right now in the U.S. In a country that looks down other countries for human rights abuses, we often offer citizens of other countries no better treatment, if not worse. Somehow being an immigrant (or being perceived as one) means your human rights are stripped. Immigrant folks who aren't "americanized" enough stand out and are at risk for the greatest abuse. 

Cooley goes on, noting other groups of people treated as less than human:

The negro** question includes a similar situation. There is no understanding it without realizing the kind of self-feeling a race must have who, in a land where men* are supposed to be equal, find themselves marked with indelible inferiority. And so with many other classes; with offenders against the law, for example, whom we often turn into hardened criminals by a treatment which destroys their self-respect--or rather convinces them that their only chance of self-respect is in defiance of authority. The treatment of children, in and out of school, involves similar questions, and so of domestic workers, married women, and other sorts of people more or less subject to the arbitrary will of others.

Again, the relevance of this passage is striking, despite social progress of the last 100 years. Charles Horton Cooley, keeping it real since (at least) 1902.

*I must note, of course, Cooley's androcentric language. Using "he" and "man" as universal serves to render women (including the married women he mentions) invisible, outside of the universal, other. Though, of course, this was common in Cooley's time.

**Since I often have to remind my students of this, I'll leave a note here as well. Words like "negro" and "colored" used to be acceptable and common terminology. When used in a quote, it is appropriate, but that does not mean it is appropriate for use outside of a quoted context. Similarly the term "people of color"--a currently acceptable and self-determined phrase--is not interchangeable with the phrase "colored people," nor does it signify that the term "colored people" is a currently appropriate term.

No comments:

Post a Comment