The Pursuit of Happyness portrays prejudice and racism

Chris battles dominant ideology to obtain his goal

“Would you move my car? It would really help me out.”

“I’m pretty sure I can do it.”

“No you can’t.”

These three quotes from the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness reinforce the hegemonic practices of racism and prejudice.  By racism I mean the way in which one group suppresses another group through daily action, or inaction in some cases, as a means of maintaining the system of hegemony.  In this sense, racism focuses on the micro scale of individual’s and group’s actions.  On a macro scale, prejudice is a group’s historical beliefs toward another group that makes them inferior based on bias and stereotyping.  You may be wondering how The Pursuit of Happyness relates to these practices.  Let’s revisit the quotes from above.  In the first quote, Mr. Frakesh asks Chris to park his car on the other side of the street due to street sweepers.  Despite Chris informing Mr. Frakesh he has “a green light from Walter Ribbon,” regarding Chris’ internship work, Mr. Frakesh cuts him off saying how he is late for a presentation.  This relates to racism since Chris is singled out from all the other interns, probably because he is African American and everyone else appears to be a member of the dominant society, to get Mr. Frakesh whatever he wants.  For instance, he has to move Mr. Frakesh’s car and get him coffee daily so that the amount of time Chris has to complete his work is diminished. The context of the second and third quote involves a taxi ride between Chris and Jay Twistle, his employer, where Chris says he thinks he can solve the rubik’s cube.  Jay repeatedly tells Chris that he can’t. Jay’s comments highlight the dominant culture’s ideologies that African Americans are not intellectual.  In a NPR broadcast titled Are Positive Stereotypes Racist Too, Professor Lewis, who teaches Sociology and Black Studies at City College of New York, says, “We get the notion that African-Americans show really great proclivity towards sports, which is symptoms that we don’t have proclivity towards academics or other types of things that go beyond physical labor. This stereotype comes out of slavery and things that even Jimmy The Greek said in the 1980s. So we actually limit what African-American men are able to do,” (NPR 2007).  Thus, the original context is key to understanding who created these prejudice beliefs in order to understand how they affected that group then and how these beliefs still negatively affect the group today.  Through the knowledge of uncovering the source of a stereotype, society has the power to either reinforce or reduce those beliefs. It is evident from the movie that this stereotype about African Americans tendency toward sports and not academics is a single faceted view of this group since, to the amazement of Jay, Chris is able to solve the puzzle within a few minutes.  Therefore, in this one scene there are elements which emphasize the dominant ideology about African Americans being less intellectual than White, dominant culture while simultaneously debunking this idea. Still, the struggle African Americans face, as well as other minority groups, in today’s society is proof of what Edward Said, a professor and researcher of post-colonial theory, is trying to discredit. “To produce knowledge you have to have the power to be there and to see in expert ways things that the natives themselves cannot see,” said Said, (Edward Said on Orientalism 2012).  Said believes it is this idea that causes people to see knowledge as objective and written by experts, chosen by members of society, who are restating the values and beliefs of the white, heterosexual dominant class. The constant restating of dominant ideologies begs the question how can society foster happiness for everyone when it is more interested in one type of happiness?

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5 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happyness portrays prejudice and racism

  1. I think some members in the workforce may battle some type of racism or prejudice at some point in their career. Some people would say, “well you have to start somewhere,” and that’s what was depicted in the movie. I’d have to see the entire movie or more in the clip to make a better comment on if he was singled out from the other interns. With that being said, there are different types of racism and prejudices in society. It could be female vs male for a job/promotion. It could be fat vs skinny. Or perhaps religious or sexuality. Since I’m no longer in the workforce, I do not know how society is dealing with the changes taking place but I do know that my husband’s company has changed their policy regarding tattoos and piercings. I bet there are people that are prejudice against these. We tend to judge people by their looks. Well, Hitler did this and look where it got him. There is only on superior judge in this universe and we all must face that day.

  2. Adding to earlier comment. When you say “media reinforces” do you mean the movie industry as well? If so, I think most movies have a point they’re trying to get society to believe. For example, Happy Feet. All the fish in the sea were disappearing and the movie showed that humans and their activities were to blame. So this puts a thought into our minds that we need to change our activities for the better or our continued actions will have consequences. The media is very influential on society but as a parent we need to be responsible and teach our children the correct values to follow, as well as how to determine what is fact on the news or at the movies.

  3. To answer your question robrienco, media reinforcement of common ideologies is describing each medium outlet as one. There are three types of media outlets: print, electronic and new age. Some examples of each medium are newspapers, magazines, television, radio, internet, cellular devices, and computers. I think you bring up a great example with Happy Feet. Media messages are rarely black and white once we dig deeper into the topic being discussed. However, as a society, people tend to listen to what the media outlets tell them and think that’s all the relevant information when in fact the media only scratch the surface during newscasts or in articles. The point is to spark society interest on a topic and hopefully cause reflection and thought that leads to a greater interpretation of the larger picture. Knowledge is not something one can obtain from watching a 2 minute segment on an issue; knowledge is built upon through multiple resources so that each individual can establish his/her beliefs on said issue.

  4. This is such a sad situation but real even today. I think it is more prominent in white collar jobs than it is blue collar jobs. In a place where all races are working to achieve the same thing they have to depend on each other (ie: factory assembly lines). If one link is broken the end result is not the same. However, people want to put blame somewhere other than on themselves, guess who it goes to. Another issue is the family unit. If the parent is a strong role model with good work skills that is passed on to the children. If not, it fills our schools with kids who can’t learn because they lack food and clothing because the adults have been so beaten down that they are unable to feel they are achieving anything. How do we change that?

  5. I think you bring up a valid point about assembly lines. It is analogous to sports because without each player contributing to their part, the end result will usually be worse than if everyone worked together. On the issue of children’s necesities, I think we face a deficit in assistive welfare programs that provide families with food and shelter. However, society tends to view minorities who utilize the welfare system as cheating it. By this, I mean people view minorities, for instance African American, as lazy and expect a repayment so to say due to their past struggles associated with slavery. When in fact this line of thinking also damages white people’s access to the same welfare programs. Generalizing that all minorities are taking white American’s hard earned money is a way of reinforces the hegemonic order about minorities jeopardizing American culture. White americans use welfare programs just as frequently as minority groups; however, the media fail to equally show this so it appears that the minorities are reaping all the benefits and leaving none for the white man. Going back to the children, every child needs a role model to look up to for guidance. Still, when minorities are constantly seen as a threat to dominant beliefs, their role models are no longer their mother or father, or even someone in their race. They start to see the world from a privileged versus unprivileged mindset and believe that they are destined for the same lower-class lifestyle of their parents. We need to be more aware of how the media portrays complex issues, like welfare, in order to understand how that shapes societies youth and future.

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