Monday, March 12, 2007

More thoughts on racism.

This excerpt is taken from Beverly Daniel Tatum's "Talking about Race, Learning about Racism: 'The Application of' Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom." My remarks are bracketed and bolded. The excerpt:

Working Assumptions
[note: these are the assumptions she discusses with her students at the beginning of the course]

1. Racism, defined as a "system of advantage based on race" (see Wellman, 1977), is a pervasive aspect of U.S. socialization. It is virtually impossible to live in U.S. contemporary society and not be exposed to some aspect of the personal, cultural, and/or institutional manifestations of racism in our society. It is also assumed
that, as a result, all of us have received some misinformation about those groups disadvantaged by racism.

[What I like about this is that she does not, as I have seen some people do, tell her white students that they are racist. What she does is reveal the workings of systematic racism so that the students can come to a realization of what it means to have grown up in racist society. I think this makes for less defensive students!]

2. Prejudice, defined as a "preconceived judgment or opinion, often based on
limited information," is clearly distinguished from racism (see Katz, 1978). I assume
that all of us may have prejudices as a result of the various cultural stereotypes
to which we have been exposed. Even when these preconceived ideas have positive associations (such as "Asian students are good in math"), they have negative effects because they deny a person's individuality. These attitudes may influence the individual behaviors of people of color as well as of Whites, and may affect
intergroup as well as intragroup interaction. However, a distinction must be made between the negative racial attitudes held by individuals of color and White
individuals, because it is only the attitudes of Whites that routinely carry with
them the social power inherent in the systematic cultural reinforcement and institutionalization of those racial prejudices. To distinguish the prejudices of students of color from the racism of White students is not to say that the former is acceptable and the latter is not; both are clearly problematic. The distinction is important, however, to identify the power differential between members of dominant and subordinate groups.[my emphasis]

3. In the context of U.S. society, the system of advantage clearly operates to
benefit Whites as a group. However, it is assumed that racism, like other forms
of oppression, hurts members of the privileged group as well as those targeted by
racism. While the impact of racism on Whites is clearly different from its impact
on people of color, racism has negative ramifications for everyone. For example,
some White students might remember the pain of having lost important relationships
because Black friends were not allowed to visit their homes. Others may express
sadness at having been denied access to a broad range of experiences because of social segregation. These individuals often attribute the discomfort or fear they
now experience in racially mixed settings to the cultural limitations of their youth.

4. Because of the prejudice and racism inherent in our environments when we were children, I assume that we cannot be blamed for learning what we were taught (intentionally or unintentionally). Yet as adults, we have a responsibility to try to identify and interrupt the cycle of oppression. When we recognize that we have been misinformed, we have a responsibility to seek out more accurate information
and to adjust our behavior accordingly.

5. It is assumed that change, both individual and institutional, is possible.
Understanding and unlearning prejudice and racism is a lifelong process that may
have begun prior to enrolling in this class, and which will surely continue after
the course is over. Each of us may be at a different point in that process, and I
assume that we will have mutual respect for each other, regardless of where we
perceive one another to be.

So - this is essentially what we've been talking about - this distinction between racism and prejudice, the responsibility to recognize white privilege and to act in antiracist ways, etc.

I also want to excerpt this bit from Tatum's piece, which also illustrates some of the things we were discussing on the earlier thread:

In predominantly White college classrooms, I have experienced at least three major sources of student resistance to talking and learning about race and racism. They can be readily identified as the following:
1. Race is considered a taboo topic for discussion, especially in racially mixed
2. Many students, regardless of racial-group membership, have been socialized
to think of the United States as a just society.
3. Many students, particularly White students, initially deny any personal prejudice, recognizing the impact of racism on other people's lives, but failing to acknowledge its impact on their own.

It strikes me that White people, by virtue of the taboos we are taught when it comes to talking about race and racism, often don't notice racism on a first-hand basis unless we are being taught to be racist. So many Whites get our education about race from other places - books, movies, tv, etc. (I suspect that Whites who've grown up in racially and ethnically diverse communities where there is lots of interaction between the various groups don't expect people of color to be native informants for them because they've grown up learning about race and racism in a different way than have Whites who've grown up in racially homogeneous communities. (I could be completely talking out of my ass, here. This is a thought I had and I'm running with it.))

(BTW, I'm sorry for the weird line breaks. I can't figure out how to fix it without spending too much time on it.)


Anonymous said...

You really bring out the fact that it is very hard not have the frame of mind or mind set that brings about the racist or prejudice thoughts or comments. I thought growing up I was a tolerant and respectful person. I was raised that way. Then I moved to the south when I got married to my Navy husband and I found it very hard not to think that way when we lived in an area where we were some of the few white people and we weren’t wanted. I was brought up in the Midwest and went to a collage prep school where the only non-white people where children from very wealthy families. I was not prepared for what I saw when I moved. Now that we are back in a Midwest state I find that once again I am being challenged to be open minded, and I thought it would be like home again. I have a few years of adulthood behind me know, but it is a challenge as I had preconceived notions as to how things are suppose to be and they would be, but they haven’t been.

Plain(s)feminist said...

You really bring out the fact that it is very hard not have the frame of mind or mind set that brings about the racist or prejudice thoughts or comments.

Yes. It's amazing what can slip into your subconscious that you're not even aware of. I blame media and political officials in a big way, actually, for spreading misinformation and stereotypes. For example, most people are familiar with the image of the Black welfare "queen." But most people don't know that there are *far* more Whites on welfare than there are Blacks (and, of course, that the majority of people on welfare aren't cheating). They also don't know that corporate welfare takes a much, much bigger bite out of the budget than does welfare to individuals and families. But still, society blames POC for all of this.