Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's not as simple as black and white

One of my favorite topics that we studied in my multicultural education class was racial issues in the classroom setting. Out of all the other topics - ELLs, members of the LGBT community, family issues, poverty - race is the one that intrigued me the most.

I don't consider myself to be racist. I'm guessing that a lot of people don't consider themselves to be racist. And yet... sometimes words will slip out without us realizing the consequence. We'll pre-judge people. We assume things about them based on their skin color. Most of the time, we make these inferences subconsciously without even realizing that maybe... just maybe... we're acting a little racist.

Here is a "What Would You Do" video that we watched in my class. Here's the breakdown: it's a social psychology sort of experiment in which they have a group of white guys vandalizing a car and then a group of black guys vandalizing a car. Same damage, same location, different race. So how do you think the people who saw the vandalizations reacted? Well, if you know anything about situations like this, then you can probably guess which group was scolded more.

Oh, these social psychology experiments conducted by this tv show are so interesting! But that's getting into another topic area... this post isn't about psychology and whatnot. At least, not directly.

So how does this apply to the classroom setting?
We read articles in my class in which studies were listed that prove that teachers tend to treat black students... differently. However, what really hit home for me was a short book titled "Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity" by Ann Arnett Ferguson.
Here's some of the points I picked up from that book:

  • For some reason, teachers look at black students and automatically assume that they will be troublemakers in the classroom and that they are not going to learn as much or as quickly as other students. For most teachers, these assumptions are made without a second thought.
  • At the particular high school that experiments and observations were made for this book, the majority of the students who got detention or were in remedial classes were black, and out of those students the majority of them were male.
  • When the students are in remedial classes, aren't they supposed to learn enough material to "catch up" to their fellow classmates? And yet, these classes treated the students like they are slow learners who do not have the desire or ability to learn. Messed up.
  • This affects the students, big time! If you are treated like you aren't intelligent, then you'll start believing that you aren't intelligent... and that's true for anyone, regardless of race. One teacher, in speaking to one of her female students, told her not to talk to her black male classmates because they'd grow up to be druggies and gangsters who spent their lives in jail. A little black male student was standing nearby as the teacher said this. How do you think the little boy felt when he heard how his teacher predicted his future (and the future of all black boys) would end up? That is just screaming out racism.
Why are teachers so quick to assume??!? Do they not realize how bright, smart, and capable these students are? The only reason that they shut down in school is because they are not treated like the smart, unique individuals they are and the teachers don't listen to them or take the time to get to know them.

Sometimes I wonder how and why some teachers ever managed to get a degree. Why give a teacher a degree if they are going to not use methods of equity (not to be confused with equality) in their classroom? Why hire them if they aren't going to be enthusiastic about their job and make sure that all of their students are understanding the material and feel accepted in the classroom?

In my Performance Studies class, we've been talking about "race as a performance". After all, we "perform" our race in different ways - the music we listen to, the food we eat, the way we talk... and these differences aren't to be confused with cultural differences. I mean, there is a difference between white and black, but the way that we act is not necessarily biological. I mean, can you think of a black that you know who "acts white"? We learn how to "perform" our race by looking at the people around us, just like we learn to "perform" our gender or our role as a parent/child/friend/teacher/student/employer etc.

In a lab for my Performance Studies class, we had to find clips that related to race or gender. Since I love the "What Would You Do" videos so much, I showed this one. Once again... racist. I mean... seriously, people??? It makes me a little sick.

Making assumptions... it hurts. There is a black guy I know who is 6'3", heavily built, who dresses, talks, walks, etc. in the stereotypical way that people assume blacks do. He is the sweetest guy. He wouldn't ever go off vandalizing things or hurting people - and yet he can't walk around his own all-white neighborhood without a cop driving by, asking him why he was sulking around "on this side of town" and asking him to leave. The cop won't even listen to him when he tries to explain that he lives here and was just taking a walk. WHY do people do this? It makes me SO sad and angry that people are so prejudiced and cruel.

How often do you say/do/think things that are maybe just a little bit racist without even realizing it? Make the effort to not assume things about people just because of your skin color. It's something I've been paying a lot more attention to lately, and I hope that it will ultimately make me a much better teacher.

Oh... and happy Black History Month everyone. It's drawing to a close now... time to change my blog background. I know it's not quite March yet (3 more days) but I couldn't resist.

One more thing... exactly 3 months from today, I'll be married!

Okay. That's all.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there! Just dropping by to say we'd love to see you at the BYU Blogger Meet-up. And there's still a few spots open! Check out this post for more details:

    It would be lovely to meet you :)