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Can We Become Better People?

Excellent example of paper 1 by Hanna Hramyka (Anya) - Winter 2009.

The image of America radically changed during the last eight years. Its face is now scared with incompetence in international relationships, failed policies and a war which might last for many more years to come. But regardless of all the above, America is still the place one wants to be to make his dreams come true and to live to the best of his potential. I was one of these people as well. I always wanted to prove to myself that hard work pays off and that good things happen to good people.

I flew to Memphis Tennessee in hope to discover my own America. The choice of place was absolutely random since I didn't possess a lot of knowledge about how diverse the country really is. Mississippi State became my home for the following three and a half years. Years filled with discovering how American South still fights with the issues of racism and inequality in the twenty first century. Society I lived in identified itself as made of blacks and whites; racial profiling was commonplace and seldom got in a way of getting to know people. Myths about America being liberal and tolerant towards different cultures and races vanished. I now realize that I was too fast to place my judgment on the entire country, but the fact remains. Time stopped in the South and revealed the worst in people. I have met so many angry young African Americans that I couldn't help but wonder WHY? So here comes a question: what exactly makes people behave certain ways and what shapes their vision of the world? Why do we do what we do and can we change ourselves to the better?

According to Andersen and Taylor (2007),"Sociology is the study of human behavior" (p.2) and that "all human behavior occurs in a social context. That context includes culture, groups, social interactions and social institutions- all of which shape what people do and think"(p.2) It also suggests that to understand others better one needs to imagine being switched at birth with a person of a different background, race or faith. So I decided to do just that to answer my own questions. And since I am talking about Mississippi, I might as well choose a lovely little town called Whitehaven (an actual place located in the southern part of Memphis). Originally a farm community, Whitehaven was developed as a whites-only residential suburb in Memphis in the 1950s and early 1960s. So just for a minute I imagined myself born there 16 years ago in 1993. My name is Laquisha Jones and at the time Whitehaven was developed my grandmother was a slave at a plantation 20 miles south. Her stories used to make me cry when I was just a little girl. Now they simply make me mad. She is 70 years old now and goes to church every Sunday. She says that it unites people of our culture. I don't really like going to church. Sunday is a day off school and getting up early never makes me happy. I go to Whitehaven High School. Every day I walk to school through our neighborhood which is one of the poorest in the country. My mother promised to buy me a car when I am 16. My birthday was 9 month ago and I still walk to school. She works two jobs to support me and my grandmother. She is a housekeeper in some hotels in Tunica, Mississippi. She works very hard and could probably save some money by now if she didn't like to gamble so much. Sometimes she wins, but most of the times she doesn't. I can always tell the way she slams the door of her old car when she gets home...

Laquisha is not exactly a made up person but a collection of life stories I heard while living in Mississippi. So if social context shapes what we do and think and how we are perceived by the others, then Laquisha Jones, in my understanding, doesn't stand a chance. So I wonder if an African American girl who was born in a very poor community is more likely to drop off high school and get pregnant than the white girl same age born in 10 miles away? What is in the future for her? On our sociology class we discussed how parents' education and wealth provide a starting point for their children's secure and prosper future. Laquisha heard stories of injustice and humiliation from her grandmother since she was a little girl. It comes as no surprise that they shaped a negative image of white people in her eyes. She doesn't hate them. She just prefers to socialize with people of her color. Her social interactions consist of other teenagers from her neighborhood from broken families and same heritage. They might spend a lot of time together but the benefit of this time for their development is under a big question mark. Social institutions as church and schools are considerably underfunded. It comes as no surprise that she is not involved in any extracurricular activities. Considering how important it is to occupy young minds and spirits to stay focused and goal-oriented, kids from less fortunate families are left to entertain themselves.

A conclusion may seem very disappointing and frustrating. I always believed in the best of people and thought that background though important does not define your life and future. That aspirations and dreams will do. Strong will and a desire to succeed can overcome poverty, racial issues and heritage. But the fact remains unchanged. Children who are brought up in broken families, with the baggage of segregation and misfortune are more likely to adopt social behaviors of victims and never to reveal their true potential.

In this paper I might not have expressed myself as clear as I would like to. For the past three and a half years I have lived in very different environment. It was like if people were refusing to breathe the same air with the people of different race. There was a tension in the air and so much anger. I think largely due to this fact that I decided to take this course and to learn sociology. I am hoping to understand why people behave the way they do. It certainly is clear by now that a lot of factors contribute to who we are: culture, interactions, family, background and so on. We all have a certain status attached to us and it can be a lifelong challenge to change the mind of the crowd about us. But before we do that, we have to give ourselves a chance to become better than our surrounding or past. Poor neighborhoods can teach you how to be grateful for what you have, broken families can show you the kind of parent you want to be, and poor education gives an excuse for ever thirsty quest for knowledge. Everything can be overcome if you put your heart to it.

Sociology encourages us to look for truth and answers around us. Human behavior can be a direct result of our surrounding. So can we become better people? Yes, we can, but only if we learn to use every circumstance to our advantage and realize how much our life touches the lives of others.

Works Cited:
Andersen & Taylor. Sociology in a Diverse Society.