The idea of self-concept is very important to each individual as it is the sum of labels we use to describe ourselves. Self-concept often consists of the values, attitudes, and beliefs that we hold, and these three components are reflected in our perceptions of others. Therefore, self-concept also has a significant role in our interpersonal communications.
Formation of self-concept is a social process, because our interactions with other individuals, groups that we identify with, and roles we take have very powerful effect on development of our self-image. However, mainly, it is the perception of us, the groups we belong to, or the roles we assume that shapes our identity. In other words, we develop our self-concept not only based on the way others view us, but also the way they view our social groups or roles. I believe that discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping can shape individuals’ self-concept and interpersonal communications, since others’ perception about a certain group or a role can be based on these factors.
In this essay, I am going to analyze the movie Crash (2004) written and directed by Paul Haggis, which depicts the lives individuals from different cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic classes collide with one another. I am going to focus on how each individual encounter either discrimination, prejudice or stereotyping that affects their self-concept and therefore becomes a problem in interpersonal communications.
In this movie we see how each character is affected by the others’ faulty perception of themselves or the group they belong to, and their own faulty perception of others. When Persian American shop owner, Farhad is buying a hand gun from a local gun shop to protect his family, the owner calls him “Osama”, referring to the founder of militant organization al-Qaeda which was closely linked to 9/11 terrorist attacks. We can see his frustration and anger revealing that this not the first time he has been came across prejudiced views. This situation develops into a belief that all strangers are prejudiced against him and he is in danger of constantly being cheated or mistreated. When he tries to justify the reason why he bought the hand gun, he sounds overprotective and thinks of himself and his family as disadvantaged minority who are vulnerable to threats by saying: “You think I should let crazy people do what they want to us?”. However, Farhad himself has prejudiced views and this causes later miscommunication with the Mexican locksmith. When the locksmith tries to explain that, he has changed the lock but Farhad will have to change door, Farhad does not take him seriously, and says: “You try to cheat me right? You have a friend that fix door?”. Another way to interpret this scene is that Farhad perceives himself as a victim, a potential target of ambiguous discrimination in this situation. He thinks that, because of his ethnicity, the locksmith thinks he can easily fool him and get away with it. Perhaps, it is the combination of Farhad’s own prejudiced views about the locksmith and his belief about how others perceive him leads to this miscommunication problem later resulting in robbery of his shop.
Throughout the movie we see Anthony constantly talk about prejudiced thoughts that Whites have against Blacks. It seems like he justifies his criminal actions by saying that he is acting the way he is “expected” to. For instance, even though he himself acknowledges that he is tired of being considered as a threat to White people, when he sees Jean being afraid of getting harmed and avoiding him, he stoles Jean’s car. It seems like he justifies his criminal actions by acting the way he is “expected” to. It is clear how people holding prejudiced thoughts and discriminating against the racial group that Anthony belongs to have shaped his self-concept. He grew up to represent all the stereotypical expectations about criminal Black men. He also holds flawed reasonings for believing that all white people are racist: “You have no idea, do you? You have no idea why they put them great big windows on the sides of buses, do you? One reason only. To humiliate the people of color who are reduced to ridin’ on ’em.” This kind of thinking might be another way he justifies stealing only from White people.
Apart from showing us the victims of discrimination and prejudice, movie also shows us the characters who are prejudiced against racial minorities and lower class. We are presented a White, upper-class woman Jean, who is prejudiced and also prone to confirmation bias. When Jean sees two young African-American men walking towards her and her husband, she immediately grabs her husband’s arm. And when those men end up stealing her car, she uses just one unfortunate situation as a confirmation of her prejudiced view towards racial minorities: “If a white woman sees two black men walking towards her and turns the other way, she’s a racist. Well I got scared and didn’t say anything, and the next thing I knew, I had a gun showed in my head!”. She is even prejudiced towards her Latina nanny, and is constantly complaining about how poor she is at her job. Instead of appreciating the help of her nanny, she focuses on little mistakes the nanny makes to confirm her thoughts about the nanny: “You know Maria, just once I would like to wake up and find these dishes in the cabinet”. Later in the movie, Jean realizes that the source of her distress is not her stolen car, or any other little mistakes that her nanny, or the dry cleaner, or the gardener does. So, we can see that by constantly misattributing the source of her anger to the people she’s prejudiced about she prevents herself from seeing the real problem and this is also reflected in her relationship with her husband. In other words, she has lack of emotional intelligence. When she falls down the stair, her nanny helps her, and Jean describes Maria as her best friend, who is always there to help and take care of her. Jean’s confirmation bias is limiting her to get to know other people and communicate with them.
We are also presented with the background story of a racist police officer, John Ryan, and this provides an insight to his racist behavior towards African-Americans. In a conversation with the HMO representative Shaniqua Johnson, we can sense the prejudice in Officer John’s voice tone and understand that he blames Black community for his father’s loss. We can see how upset John is for his father’s situation, and his emotions translate into a prejudice and anger towards African Americans. Apart from that, John also seems as the stereotypical “LAPD cop” as LAPD is often associated with racial discrimination, police brutality, and power abuse. For instance, when his young officer partner wants to get reassigned because of John’s discriminatory behavior towards Cameron and Christine, John reacts angrily. However, later we see John risking his life to save Christine right before her car blows up. It is a really shocking moment both for himself and Christine, as we can see both of them regretting their previous behaviors. John portrays almost two opposite stereotypical ideas people usually have about police officers. He both represents racism, brutality, power abuse, and braveness, caring, risk-taking. We can see his good qualities as person when he is with his dad, or when he does everything to save Christine.
On the other hand, Officer Tom Hanson want to get reassigned after witnessing Officer John act racist. As we can see, he is deeply against to racism and tries to convince his lieutenant to get reassigned. Later, Tom saves life of Cameron by convincing him not to do any triggering behavior. It seems like Tom feels obligated to save Cameron, because he thinks Cameron is specifically acting this way because of previous situation. Tom might think that John’s racist behavior was an “embarrassment” both for him and for White people in general because it leads to misperception of all White people as racists. This situation is quite similar to the scene where Cameron thinks Anthony’s criminal behavior is an embarrassment both for him and the Black people confirming that all Blacks are criminals. We later see Tom, shooting Peter because he thinks that Peter was reaching for his gun.
The movie shows us that how belonging to a racial minority group which is subject to continuous discrimination can develop high power distance. When is pulled over by Officer John and asked to show his documents and pass the alcohol test, Cameron acts very quietly following the orders. When the officer frisks Christine in a sexually inappropriate way, Cameron fails to say anything against this. The way Cameron behaves in this scene and some later scenes indicates him belonging to a racial minority group with high power distance for a long time. When later explaining his actions to his wife, Cameron thinks that he had no power over the White police officer, ambiguously hinting to both police officer’s race and his power. The line “Sooner or later you will find out what it is really like to be black” supports this argument. It is the acceptance of power distance that makes him justify his actions to himself even though he feels humiliated. Later in the TV studio he agrees to make the scene in the movie he directs be more racially stereotypical.
Stereotypical gender roles are one of the issues affecting our self-concept and interpersonal relationships. Cameron stays quiet when the Officer John frisks Christine in a sexually inappropriate way and she is upset about her husband “just standing there”. Later when they have an argument about this, Christine thinks that Cameron has failed to “protect” her as her husband. We can see her beliefs about stereotypical male traits such as being strong, assertive, independent, and protective. In the other hand, Cameron feels humiliated because of his inability to show masculine traits when his wife was molested, and this creates a distance between the couple.
It is important to note that the movie also discovers the concept of intersectionality. When Cameron and Christine are pulled over by the white police officer John, they are both subject to racial discrimination. However, in this case, Christine has to tolerate both racial discrimination and sexually inappropriate behavior because she is an African American woman. The intersectionality is also depicted by having both upper-class, educated African American and Chinese characters, and lower-class, uneducated criminal African Americans, Anthony and Peter, and Asian slaves. The movie uses this concept to conclude that stereotypes are not real, and each individual is more than their race, class, or gender.