It is difficult to guess whether they are protecting or confining whatever that is enclosed inside. Brackets are the labels of people classified into groups based on similar characteristics. They bring about stereotypes that may project a negative or false generalization. The human need for such categorizations may ultimately harm people inside these brackets: bracketing based on abstraction should be eliminated.
“Brackets” have many names. Casually, brackets may be called boxes, walls or lines. Formally, they are known as categories, distinctions or dichotomies. Essentially, all of these are the same: they provide a distinct division between two or more entities, severing any ties that might or would have otherwise existed.
Socially, bracketing is the notion of classifying people into groups based on similar characteristics. When classifying, there are people who are part of the groups and there are those that are not. Thus, the construction of social brackets allows for the existence of limitations and intolerance. The average man would like to say that neither exists today, and society has made enough progress to eliminate these barriers. However, this is truly a misconception. Brackets and the resentment associated still exist at individual, political and social levels. Once created, these brackets exists as labels and never seem to disappear. They also act as impenetrable walls; people can’t go in, others can’t come out. Some of the most common brackets are social class, political parties, age, religion, gender and ethnicity.
Race, for instance, is one of the most debated classifications in history. Its origins stem from science. Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, introduced a classification method for species and developed the idea of race. Linnaeus classified humans into four different categories – Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeaus – based on skin color and behavior (Hossain). He reasoned that since Europeans were the most “civilized,” they were “obviously the most superior type” (Hossain). Other races were then deemed lesser than Europeans, but but the closer they resembled the former, the more superior they were. Such classifications paved the way for racist ideology and stereotypes.
A simplified bracketing of the above is Orientalism, the romanticization of the East and the Middle East by the West. The 19th century idea of Orientalism, fervently criticized by Edward Said, was the epitome of general ethnic stereotypes. While Orientalists believed that the West represents progress and assertiveness, they romanticized the Orient and all of its people as exotic and strange (Sered). However, they also assumed all Orientals to be “separate, eccentric, backward... sensual and passive” (Sered). Like Linnaeus’s race categorization, Orientalism also introduced racist ideas for the public to manipulate.
Another classification is sex, gender and sexuality in which people are bracketed by their physical attributes that make them male and female or by their sexual orientation. Heteronormativity is the concept of a rigid matrix that classifies only conventional heterosexual males and females (Chambers). Judith Butler, author of Gender Troubles: Feminism and the Subversion of Idenity, deconstructs such binary and questions the norm of gender, sex and sexuality. She believes that once these rigid groups are established, they become targets of harassment. Butler states heteronormativity as “identity categories [which] tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes” (Mirabelli). Furthermore, there are people who don’t fit inside these sex, gender and sexuality identities. Even with “normal” males and females, there are varying degrees of masculinity and femininity. Physically, there are also transgenders, androgynies and third genders. In terms of sexual preference, people can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual and pansexual. In short, Judith Butler illustrates that “sexuality can never be fully expressed, meaning that... it is constantly changing” (Mirabelli). Thus the concept of placing someone in their neat little group is virtually impossible.
In truth, false dichotomy is fundamentally inaccurate and harmful. Inaccurate labels are essentially lies that undermine people’s real identities. On one hand, these brackets produce stereotypes that lead to prejudice and discrimination while encouraging ignorance, injustice, inequality, isolation, hatred and fear. On the other hand, the existence of any classifications dividing people is detrimental. Martin Luther King Jr. affirmed that segregation “distorts the soul and damages the personality” and it “gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority” (King 179). Divided groups of people inevitably bring about unbalanced powers manipulating each other to fulfill their own interest.
Unsurprisingly, the balance of power may shift disproportionately and result in abusive relationships not unlike the oppressor and the oppressed; the master and the slave; the shepherd and his sheep; the government and the governed and the majority and the minority. As noted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “many a man believes himself to be the master of others” (Rousseau 57), believing that he has a right to dominate others. “Privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (King 177) and as a result, the oppressed takes radical steps in reaffirming their right to exist. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the dominant group to create “certain rules with a view ensuring [the other group’s] preservation and well-being [as] alienating another’s liberty is contrary to the natural order” (Rousseau 61). In other words, since the classification of minorities may be inaccurate and harmful, the dominant group must protect and preserve them at all costs, especially if the dominant group is or represents the government. The United States is founded upon these principles.
Furthermore, brackets are detrimental because they are false. By giving labels false human faces or incorrect stereotypes, we give others the incentive to abolish that group’s existence. In other words, we first give them their “supposed” identities by classifying them inside brackets and then we completely destroy them. It has been said that “the church always wanted the destruction of its enemies” (Nietzche 703). Nietzche suggests that religion creates such enemies and undermines groups who “fit” the identities of them. Perhaps we are trying to personify our fears into these fictitious enemies and then literally destroy them. This is like the idea of disjunction, in which overt actions have underlying meanings. In creating these groups, we feel they manifest our deepest fears; we impose on them our own meanings. In destroying them, we destroy our own fears.
This leads us to the discussion of the human psychology behind the existence of brackets. Psychological discomfort, mainly fear of the unknown, demands an answer that is “comforting, liberating and relieving” (Nietzche 708). Perhaps Nietzche perfectly sums it up in saying, “With the unknown, one is confronted with danger, discomfort and care” (Nietzche 708). Discomfort from the unknown prompts the question “Why?” and as humans, we struggle for an explanation for the unfamiliar people who seem hostile, their strange beliefs and unacceptable actions. We are them motivated to correctly label them into categories which seem correct or familiar. Another explanation for the creation of brackets may be the human need for order. The brain needs a logical order to process information. Although this order may not be a linear, it is definitely not random. In addition to psychological discomfort, our need for organization may be another key reason to place people in neat boxes.
However in reality, there are no concrete categories that people can fit into neatly. First, categories deprive people of their individualism and oversimplify their identity. Furthermore, people might fit into multiple brackets in multiple varying degrees. The brackets, in that case, are blurry, overlap and resemble brackets only in name. Finally, people might be categorized incorrectly, in which case, that classification is annulled. Many have suggested that walls of racism, sexism, and all stereotypes will disappear with time. Martin Luther King Jr. most famously quoted Walter Savage Landor, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” If people wait for their, their turn may never be here. The African Americans had waited “for more than 340 years for [their] constitutional and God-given rights” (King 177) when King was jailed at Birmingham for protesting at a march. How much longer did they need to wait for justice? The government has robbed them of their civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution; a correction should have been made immediately when hostility towards the African Americans first surfaced. Do not wait for injustice to expel itself, for this may never happen. Instead, take action that will accelerate justice for those that are denied it.
While expressing immense sympathy towards other nations in need, many countries discriminated within her own borders. In the US, many people have faced this discrimination, including African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, Latino Americans and most recently, Middle Easterners and Sikhs. It appears that it is easier to aid others than to look within. It is easier to be removed and to be the third person looking in on these problems. One becomes sympathetic, believing that they could empathize perhaps, and perform “heroic offers” (Handout James). “The weeping of a Russian lady over the fictitious personages in the play, while her coachman is freezing to death on his seat outside, is the sort of thing that everywhere happens” (Handout James). To solve this, there are two possible routes: either help ourselves first before we help others or do not sympathize, for that distracts our energy and time to others. There is a third option: help others while we help ourselves. We cannot lend aid to other countries aboard while solving our own problems of finance, education and civil rights simultaneously. Thus it would be wise to dissolve any sympathies or if we must sympathize, “never to suffer one’s self to have an emotion without expressing it afterward in some active way” (Handout James). We should examine our beliefs and values. We must sort through our deepest thoughts and throw out any paradoxes.
Another solution to overcoming brackets is to not let it bother us and to let go of them. On 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman asserts that racism will stop when people stop talking about it. As long as people do not participate in creating and reaffirming the existence of brackets, these labels perish. This includes mentioning racism or any false dichotomies with any intention, serious or comedic otherwise. Do not give special treatment to any group. For instance, Freeman finds Black History Month “ridiculous,” exclaiming, “You’re gonna relegate my history to a month?” (Freeman). To him and to many others, “Black history is American history” (Freeman). Essentially, Freeman insists on letting go of these classifications, which will dissolve by themselves, and everything will blend together. This is similar to the principles of Zen Buddhism. When people accomplish the “necessary detachment and self-liberation” (Herrigel 38), they gain an “aimless” (31), “purposeless and egoless” (37) “supreme spiritual alertness” (39). “By letting go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours behind you so decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension” (32). In this way, Zennists are able to empty themselves and become free. We must do the same. “Physical loosening must not be continued in a mental and spiritual loosening, so as to make the mind not only agile, but free” (35). By ignoring the brackets’ existence and letting go of them as well as the emotions they bring, people can defeat labels and classifications.
Brackets are tools to limit and simplify individuals by categorizing them into untruthful classifications. The psychological reliance on such groupings harms labeled individuals. Hence, the notion of bracketing should be relinquished. As a world of multiethnic, multi-gender, multi-everything people, we must dispel brackets and reach across varying lines. The world should not be “you” or “I” but “we” and “us.” Martin Luther King Jr. says, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (King 174). We must stand together; we must appreciate diversity and individualism. However, when those differences impede progress or harm people socially, economically, politically and psycho-socially, they must be nullified. We cannot be separate individuals. Divided, we do fall.
Works CitedChambers, Samuel. "Heteronormativity and the Politics of Subversion." All Academic Research. American Political Science Association, 02 Sept 2004. Web. 3 May 2011.Online Article
Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1999. Print.
Hossain, Shah Aashna. "Scientific Racism in Enlightened Europe." Serendip. Bryn Mawr College, 2008. Web. 3 May 2011.Online Article
James, William. “Habit.” Handout. Reading and Composition. (Professor Mark McQueen.) Pasadena City College. Mar. 2011. Print.
King, Martin Luther. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2006. Print.
Mirabelli, Rebecca. "My Anatomy, Your Sex: Deconstructing the sex/gender binary and heteronormativity through the isolation of gender from sexuality." GirlSpeak. Young Chicago Authors, n.d. Web. 3 May 2011.Online Article
"Morgan Freeman on 60 Minutes." Youtube. Web. 27 April 2011.Video
Nietzche, Friedrich. "Morality as Anti-Nature." A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2006. Print.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. "The Origin of Civil Society." A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2006. Print.
Sered, Daniel. "Orientalism." Post Colonial Studies. Emory University, 1996. Web. 3 May 2011.Online Article