Monday, October 22, 2007

Practicing What You Preach

A quick note today, but I couldn't let this conversation with a student today go by. We're in the middle of Freedom Writer's Diary and of course one of the major themes is how these students grapple with racism and stereotypes. One Middle Eastern female student of mine raised her hand and said she'd just earlier that day been stereotyped by another teacher here. Apparently the teacher had asked her if she ate couscous! The student--quite rightly in my view--felt demeaned. I asked her if she'd shared how that comment by one of my colleagues had made her feel, and she said yes, but apparently the teacher didn't really respond. This left the student with the impression that the teacher "just didn't want to own up" to what she'd said.

It also left me thinking, as I sometimes do, of the invisibility of my own ethnicity as a white woman. My race is the standard. No one will ever look at my skin color and ask me if I, say, eat burgers or hot dogs. I am therefore expanding my call for peace education in every classroom; let's be sure it is a part of every teacher education program too!


Rebecca said...

The invisibility of the white ethnicity is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Ethnicity and privilege associated with ethnicity is a terribly complicated thing. I recently disclosed during a seminar my difficulty discussing identity and race with clients (I'm an 'almost' (!) psychologist), and my belief that the difficulty rested in my having a very unclear idea of what my own ethnic identity consisted of. I, essentially, have no idea what ethnicity means to me; when I think of my ethnicity, I get a big fat blank.

I believe that a good deal - if not all - of this arises from the lack of discussion around 'white,' or 'Caucasian,' or 'European American' identity. This, of course, is at least partially because of 'white' privilege; whites have little need to discuss identity with respect to discrimination or oppression or celebration of ethnicity in response to discrimination or oppression.

However, it got me thinking: I wonder to what extent an openness around discussion of ethnicity of any group of peoples is inhibited by whites having a poor understanding/sense of their own ethnicity, and what that ethnicity means to each person's individual identity?

Is discussion of white ethnicity an important means to the ends: 1) appreciation/support of all ethnicities, and 2) an end to discrimination?

Love ya Cheryl!
Rebecca (Cheryl's sister)

Cheryl Duckworth said...

And what relevance this has to counseling and psychology! I love your comments! :) Since our race is "normal", how would I know where to start discussing how my race impacts my views, life? I "get" that it means I'm priveledged. But that's about it. I always think of this when people talk about "liking ethnic food". Meaning, Asian, Latino, etc. The implication is that "white" food is "normal" and "ethnic food" is different. Even if we mean different better (like Thai food *grin*), it's a barrier and a defining of ourselves as white and hence "normal" and non-white as "other".