Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and author who has written extensively about topics related to class, race, and gender. In her book “Cultural Baggage,” she explores the ways in which different ethnic groups experience and perceive America.
Ehrenreich begins by discussing the concept of race. She points out that while race is often thought of as a biological category, it is actually a social construct. Ethnic groups are not biologically distinct from one another, but they are socially defined based on physical characteristics, cultural traditions, and historical experiences.
Race is a powerful social marker that can impact an individual’s life in a number of ways. Ehrenreich notes that people of color are more likely to be poor, to live in segregated neighborhoods, and to experience discrimination. They are also more likely to be underrepresented in the media and in politics.
Ehrenreich argues that America’s obsession with race is harmful and counterproductive. She suggests that instead of focusing on differences, we should celebrate the shared values and experiences that make us all American.
The essay “Cultural Baggage” by Barbara Ehrenreich was difficult to comprehend. However, it begins with a friend asking the writer what her ethnic background is, and she replies, “none.” This leads her to believe that since her friend knows everything there is to know about her forefathers. She then claims she is Scottish, English, and Irish.
She was born in Butte, Montana and her father was a “copper king.” After that, she states that since she has no culture, she’d like to create one.
The article then talks about how people are obsessed with their ethnicity and that it’s become a commodity. People will buy things to signify their ethnicity. For example, African Americans will buy black power fist necklaces or kente cloth skirts. She also talks about how people will use their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior. An example of this is when O.J. Simpson killed his wife. His defense said that he did it because he was black and he was being abused by her.
Ehrenreich also talks about how people will use their ethnicity to get ahead in life. She gives the example of a Korean American woman who changed her name to an Anglo name, Emily, so she would have a better chance of getting into college.
She begins to feel guilty for not knowing much about her background, and she wonders if she should have done more to learn about her heritage. Later on in the article, she remembers that her mother never said things like “your grandmother did it this way,” and she realizes that her lack of knowledge is not entirely her fault. At the end of the article, she asks her grown children whether they feel any connection to their ethnic or religious roots. To her surprise, they all say no; they are proud to be Americans.
She begins to feel some guilt for saying none and for not knowing much about her background which even makes her but later on in the article she begins to remember how her mother never said things such as “ your grandmother did it this way” and thing of that sort. At the end of the article she shares that she asked her children who where mostly grown “if they felt any stirrings of ethnic or religious identity which might have been, ahem, insufficiently nourished at home”. To her surprise they all said no and that they were proud to be Americans.
It is interesting how Ehrenreich does not share her opinion until the very end because throughout the whole article she gives examples of people she has encountered that have some type of “baggage”.
Whether is be a Hispanic woman working at a fast food restaurant who has to put up with people making fun of her or an African American man who is always asked where he is really from, these individuals all have to deal with some type of stereotype because of their ethnicity. Ehrenreich does state that she would like for there to not be any need for hyphenated Americans and just Americans because we are all from different backgrounds.
She also touches on the topic of race and how it is such a touchy subject. People are always quick to judge others based on the color of their skin without getting to know them as a person. It seems as if people are more comfortable not knowing or dealing with people of a different race because it is something that they are not used to.
Ehrenreich shares an instance where she was in an elevator with a white woman and a black man and the white woman quickly got off on the next floor even though she was going up. The author also talks about how when she would tell people she was researching her family tree, the first question they would ask her is “what’s your ethnicity?” instead of asking her what she has found out.
She ends the article by saying how we should all just be Americans and not have to worry about our baggage because at the end of the day, we are all human beings trying to make a living and be successful. It does not matter what race or ethnicity you are, we should all be treated equally.
Ehrenreich’s article was very eye-opening and it is something that everyone should read. It is important to be aware of the different types of “baggage” that people carry with them because you never know what someone is going through. We should all strive to be more accepting of others and not judge them based on their skin color or where they come from. Everyone has a story and we should take the time to get to know someone before making any assumptions.
In the opening chapter, a friend asks Ehrenreich what her ethnic background is. Ehrenreich replies, “None,” which prompts her to consider everything she knows about her family’s history. She continues by stating that she has Scottish, English, and Irish roots.
Ehrenreich’s father was a racist. He would often tell Ehrenreich and her sister that black people were “lazy,” “stupid,” and “smelly.” Her father’s racism extended to Jews as well. He believed that Jews were responsible for all the world’s problems.
Ehrenreich herself is not a racist. However, she admits to having some prejudices. For example, she is uncomfortable around black men. She attributes this to the media, which often portrays black men as criminals.
Despite her own prejudices, Ehrenreich is critical of white privilege. She believes that white people have an easier time in life simply because of the color of their skin. Ehrenreich also believes that white people should be allies to people of color in the fight for equality.
In conclusion, Ehrenreich’s book is an important contribution to the conversation on race and ethnicity in America. It is honest and thought-provoking, and it challenges readers to examine their own beliefs and privileges.