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Bias again


What does the word bias mean? Bias is a mental predilection or

prejudice. The essay "The View from the Bottom Rail" by James West Davidson and

Mark Hamilton Lytle opened my eyes on how American history could be looked at as

one sided and even bias. Even today there is still bias in America. In today's

society, racism and stereotyping occur in all aspects of life. It can occur

because of one's gender, race, religion, culture, economic status, etc. It even

occurs amongst our finest, our law enforcement officials.

"The View from the Bottom Rail" explains the history of slavery.

It implies a lack of accuracy from the people that the information was obtained,

either black or white. Most of the black slaves could not read or write. The

ones that did, hid it from their masters. Because of this, most of the written

books and documents and even diaries on slavery were written by the white

masters. At that time most of recorded history was based on how the white

masters viewed slavery. You did not get a view on slavery from the slaves


In the 1920's, black scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Charles

Johnson, and Carter Woodson, started a project to collect oral evidence from

former slaves who were still living. Even these interviews could not be viewed

as 100% accurate. One example, is a geographic bias. The people that were

interviewed were only a very small portion of the millions of freed slaves.

Counting the number of slaves interviewed from each state, it was discovered

that there were only 155 interviews from black people living in Virginia,

Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky, which is about 6% of the total

number of published interviews. Twenty-three percent of the southern slave

population lived in those states. In these statistics, the upper-south was


Another example would be the ages of the ex-slaves interviewed.

Two-thirds of them were over 80 years of age, leaving the question of how

accurate were their memories. Also, most of the interviewees were under the age

of 20 when they were slaves. Since the conditions for children were not as

harsh compared to adults, they might have an optimistic view of slavery.

Finally, the different effects the interviewer had on the

interviewees. There were two interviews done on the same lady named Susan Hamlin

by two different interviewers. One interviewer was a white lady named Jessie

Butler and the other was a black man named Augustus Ladsons. Susan thought

Jessie was from the welfare office. Susan possibly told Jessie what she thought

Jessie would want to hear in order to increase her chances of getting a welfare

check. She spoke of her master as though he was the kindest. All the slaves

loved their master. He gave them shoes in the winter. He kept the children

with their mothers and when the war started he took everyone including the

slaves to a safer place. On the other hand, Susan told Augustus a totally

different story. She spoke of the whippings in cruel detail. She also spoke of

how the slaves families were torn apart, and children were taken from their

mothers. There were no shoes given to the slaves in the winter. Which

interview is closest to the truth? How do you tell?

In my past I have experienced many bias situations. I am a

Puerto Rican male living in America. I have hazel eyes and light skin. Because

of my eyes and skin color, I have been mistaken for Caucasian. I have had to

deal with people calling me "white boy" all the time. As a child, one of my

uncles gave me the nick name "gringo", Spanish word for white boy. I grew up in

East New York (Brooklyn, NY), which is a predominantly African American, with a

few Latinos and almost no Caucasian. In East New York, the African Americans

and Latinos tend to get along. For me this was not so. Being that I looked

Caucasian, most of the African Americans and Latinos tended to harass me and

start trouble, which caused tension constantly.

In Denver back in 1992, the Denver Post ran an article on police

harassment among Hispanic youths by Judith Brimberg. The article stated there

had been complaints to Mayor Wellington Webb by Northwest Denver residents

concerning the police harassment on Hispanic youth because of their skin color.

The Mayor subsequently notified the Civilian Complaint Department of the city of

Denver. After the investigation a report was released on August 8th,1992

stating that hundreds of complaints of unprovoked harassment were filed with the

Police Department, but were never reported to the Civilian Complaint Division.

Mayor Wellington has ordered the District Attorneys' Office to begin an

investigation of the Police Department for possible obstruction of justice

charges. As of this writing the Police Department had no comment. Felipe

Suarez, President of Community Board 14 in Denver said "This investigation is

long overdue, our people have been treated like second class citizens for too


This article is just an example of how racism and stereotyping

exist today amongst our law enforcement officials. It does not seem to matter

if you live in an urban or suburban community, police harassment seems to be all

over the United States.

In conclusion, history can be very misleading. If one is to

seek out the truth, he/she would have to view the primary source of materials in

terms of the context in which they originated. They must also take into account

all the possible bias that may exist in their sources. Racism persists as a

trigger for discrimination, just like all of the "isms" that divide us: race,

ethnicity, culture, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability,

citizenship status and economic class. Communities or institutions that

discriminate are neither whole nor healthy. We as individuals should be

committed to creating healthy communities through civil discourse and respect,

which include each of us as individuals and all of us members of the whole.

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