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.