Looking Glass Self

Why would an African-American join the the confederate army? We discussed this in class and many students provided valid reasons as to why they suspect black men would join a confederacy that has enslaved, dehumanized, and oppressed them.

I ask myself a similar question every time a Palestinian joins the Israeli army. How could you serve a country that continously agonizes  your fellow people. I think the reason why they feel the need to join the army of their opresser is for the following reason. When an individual is constantly told that he or she is worthless and can never amount to anything, they come to believe in it.  They become the “lesser individual” that they have been told they are.

In “Mean Girls” Regina George consistently taunts and ridicules her friend Gretchen Weiners. Gretchen truly believes she is inferior and therefore follows her every command. Unfortunately,  succumbing to the remarks of others is inevitable for many people.

These “oppressed” individuals develop a “self” which mirrors the expectations and perceptions of the oppressor. This development of self is called the looking-glass self, a social-psychological concept developed by Charles Cooley. Seeing as slavery ended along with the Civil War, one can only speculate why a black man would join the confederate army.

As a Palestinian it never ceases to amaze me when an arab is so sympathetic to Israel that they discriminate against their own kind.  My brother-in-law and I went to McDonald’s in Beit Or, an Israeli city with a large Arab population. I approached the cashier and noticed that his name was Ahmed which gave away his Arab origins right away. I proceeded to order my meal in Arabic and to my surprise he yelled at me in Hebrew! Embarrassed due to the looks of the Israelis waiting in line behind us, and the fact that he refused to answer me in Arabic, I asked him why he wouldn’t answer me. The manager became aware of this issue, yelled at the cashier and took my order.

I thought for a while about why he was reluctant to answer me in Arabic despite being an Arab. I suspect that he was embarrassed of his origins. He would rather be an Israeli than be a Palestinian. He came to believe that Israelies are more superior and that he would rather be an “undercover Israeli” than embrace his true origins. Now the connection between this story and blacks joining the confederate army may differ. But I believe that Blacks in the confederate army and Ahmed truly felt inferior. They were told that their race is inferior and they came to believe it. Ashamed of their origins they attempt to makeup for their “shortcomings.”

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