Discussing Diversity and
Power Issues for Professional Development in Adult Literacy
Full Discussion Transcript
From February 18 - 29, 2008, Margery Freeman and
Kathy King facilitated a discussion on the Poverty, Race,
Women & Literacy Discussion List. The focus of their
discussion was diversity and power issues for professional
development in the field of Adult Literacy. This discussion
was held in anticipation and preparation for the 2008
WE LEARN Conference which focused on the differences
that divide women and looked to ways of building alliances
across those differences. "The daily lives of women in adult
basic/literacy education remain especially complex due to
inequities based on race, class, gender, and other diversities."
The following was recommended reading in preparation for
- The Change Agent
Some specific issues:
- Rethinking Schools
Thanks to Ryan Hall, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various topics discussed by listserv members while Margery Freeman and Kathy King facilitated the discussion on diversity and power issues for professional development in the field of Adult Literacy. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of Margery's and Kathy's questions and comments are labeled with their name, while questions and comments from listserv members are labeled with first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Poverty, Race, Women & Literacy Archives and look at postings between February 18 - 29, 2008.
Margery Freeman has been an educator for 35 years. Her breadth of experiences includes public school teaching (middle and high school), early childhood education and child advocacy, and adult literacy education. She has directed programs with local and national organizations, including the National Council of Churches and ProLiteracy America.
Margery roots her work in the principles and practices she has learned through her 25-year relationship with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, a multi-racial, anti-racist organization that promotes community-based organizing for social change. She is a core trainer/organizer with the People's Institute, leading "Undoing Racism"* workshops across the country, primarily with human service and educational institutions.
In New York, where she lives with her husband, David Billings, Margery is actively involved with the AntiRacist Alliance and the Equity Alliance to promote equitable and humane in situations throughout the tri-state region. Margery can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Kathleen P. King is a tenured full professor of adult education specializing in adult education, educational technology, distance learning and professional development in Fordham's Graduate School of Education, New York City, NY. Because of her great passion for the field of adult learning and innovation in teaching and research, she has authored 11 books and over 120 research articles and papers. She is also a frequent keynote speaker for national and international conferences and research presenter. She served as director of university research and professional development center at the Bronx campus for four years leading a complete redesign and revitalization of the center, development of over $10 million in joint grant funding with community partners, and expansion educational services to over 3000 participants locally and 1.5 million globally per year. She is also president of Transformation Education LLC a thriving educational consulting network.
Her educational work and research has focused on adult learning Contexts since 1978 but has spanned grades and content levels childhood- adult education, training, higher education, corporate organizations, government, international and virtual settings. She is also founding editor of the journal, Perspectives: The New York Journal of Adult Learning (www.retc.fordham.edu/persepctives), which is in 7th year of publication as a partnership among Fordham's MS in Adult Education program and the NY state association of adult education (NYACCE) (www.nyacce.org). "Kathy" lives in the metro-NYC area with her partner, Sharon, and their 2 lively bichons; they have 2 sons in college (Seamus and Bill). She is especially excited that she is now teaching adult learners online through the university; as in the Summer of 2007 she and Dr. Heuer at Fordham have been able to launch the School's first distance learning program- MS in Adult Education and HRD. Kathy can be contacted at Kpking@fordham.edu
Margery: I have worked for many years as an anti-racist organizer in the education world, most recently in adult literacy education. My experiences teach me that when we understand the construct of race and racism that shapes our society - when we have a common language and analysis - we can better understand how all of us "fit". Racism divides us all - white people, Latino/as, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, indigenous people. Whether we're immigrants or native-born, we are divided against one another in a society whose institutions privilege one group (white) over everyone else. If we are going to come together to organize for social justice and racial equity - for all people - we need to learn more about racism, what it is, how it was constructed, and how it is kept in place. In our society today, we have been told (most recently by the Supreme Court) that we should be "colorblind." But being colorblind simply keeps the current power arrangements in place. In the literacy world, that means that People of Color are disproportionately mis-educated and that the "school to prison pipeline" is filled primarily by Black and Latino people.
So how do we, as literacy practitioners, respond to this reality in our classrooms and in our communities? What strategies do we use to open up authentic conversations about power and race both with our students and with one another as colleagues?
AS: I'm very interested in the issues of race and class being addressed or not addressed in adult literacy. I recently reviewed the literature on this very same issue, and what I found out was race is virtually absent or silenced. D'Amico (2004), Sheared (1999), Sheared (1994), Peterson (1996), Sparks and Peterson (2000), Guy (1999) are some the few who have given some attention to African Americans and literacy. A few other scholars have addressed other groups such as the Hispanic and Navajo Indians.
One of the core tenets of CRT theory (Critical Race Theory) is that the dominant culture is colorblind to the disparities of race. This colorblindness seems very evident in the field of adult literacy, indeed in the adult literacy classrooms.
Other questions of interest to me are:
- What are the attitudes and behaviors, particularly those from the dominant culture (instructors and administrators), perpetuate the current status quo (knowingly or unknowingly)?
Generally, most adult literacy classes are non-contextualized and lack cultural relevance. From my own experience, this approach is sometimes most convenient, given the daily challenge of meeting the multi-instructional, affective and social needs of the students with usually no sufficient support. Addressing race is more than discussing it or having a Black History lesson, while that is important. It's about valuing the culture.
- How are instructors and programs trained to respect the culture(s)-- class and race, to serve as a core framework, for instructional and program development?
AW: I would be very interested in how you discern racism in individual classrooms or programs you have visited. Also, what do you do in workshops to increase sensitivity about racism, and how have the workshops shaped your responses to racism? That's a lot, but I know you have a lot of experience.
Margery: How do we discern racism in individual classrooms or programs? The majority of us who work in adult literacy are white women. And many of us bring unexamined cultural biases into our classrooms. It is my experience that even when we think of ourselves as "culturally competent," white people rarely take time to analyze what it means to be white. Since we do not "locate" ourselves in a collective way as whites, we continue to see ourselves as well-meaning individuals. When the subject of race or racism comes up we feel uncomfortable, so we avoid discussing it. In fact, the most common response to racism among white people - as Angela Smith has pointed out - is silence. Our colleagues and students of color take that as a message: "This is not a subject for discussion with this person." The opportunities for gaining real understanding about race and racism in our classrooms and programs are lost.
The workshops that AW speaks about are ones that I lead, along with a collective of about 50 people across the country, called "Undoing Racism/Community Organizing" trainings. In these workshops, we analyze the power dynamics of this country, create a common language and analysis about racism, and develop strategies for "undoing" the institutionalized racism that continue to operate in our society. We find that when people understand how racism was created and what keeps it in place, we are able to be more honest about our role in this "race constructed" society. In my experience, as I become more knowledgeable and self-reflective about racism, I am more easily able to identify myself as a white woman with my colleagues and students of color. That becomes a signal, "We can talk."
AW: I feel we should have any non-White members of this listserv write widely on this topic, other wise the topic becomes a monologue, when what we need is a dialogue. Perhaps writers should identify themselves as to "race?"
AN: That's interesting, because I hear Margery's point as being that the
discussion really needs to be among the community of adult educators -
mostly white people (educating ourselves by coming to terms with our
white identity and white privilege). I was going to chime in that the
way I have tried to address race in the classroom or in PD is to weave
observations of it throughout - not have a direct "discussion" of
racism, but bring normalcy to talking about race as a factor that
affects our daily lives.
For example, the illustration I use for talking about how to use
standards to help students speak effectively in real life situations is
often an example about a worker who believes his lack of promotion may
be due to discrimination and needs to figure out how to talk about that
at his performance review. In coaching a math teacher who was doing
activities about the importance of assets (as opposed to just a higher
wage) to increase wealth and get out of poverty, I suggested she have
the class look at some charts comparing the assets of whites and blacks.
This allowed us to work on math problems while also noticing the
profound wealth gap that persists by race. And when I talk about my own
experience, I try to make as many observations based on my race as I do
about being female, a resident of Boston, or any other aspect of my
identity. That might include the observation that my neighborhood is
getting whiter and whiter, or in talking about my family's educational
background mentioning that my brother got into a private school because
my father was an alum (reflecting a different kind of "affirmative
action" that has privileged the white and the well-off). The more aware
I become, the more I notice race and class influences everywhere, and
the more I signal to students that it's okay to name it.
Margery: Your "normalizing" discussions about race and racism ("weave observations of it throughout") is what I believe is crucial to our being able to push ahead to develop real conversation, both among ourselves as practitioners and with our students. The examples you give are very helpful, I think. Would you expand a little, to describe what sort of responses you get? Do you get different sorts of responses from different sorts of students? Do you find much push-back? Have others taken a similar casual and ongoing approach in talking with colleagues and students about race and racism?
AN: I'm often not asking students/teachers to comment on the issues I'm
raising, so I'm not always sure about their reactions. I think that
students of color feel affirmed by my stance that racism is a current
reality, and white students seem interested in that perspective and also
relieved that we're not having an explicit conversation about racism. In my first example, the worker who thinks he's been discriminated
against, I present the situation as though that's a perfectly reasonable
possibility, an assumption that doesn't need discussion, and move on
from there to talk about the task at hand - thinking about how this
worker can effectively communicate to the supervisor and how instructors
can use standards (in this case, EFF standards) to help teach the needed
skills. Discrimination is not the focus and participants do not need to
discuss or take a stand on whether or not that's what happening. But
they do need to put themselves in the shoes of the worker in order to
consider the communication skills he needs and this, usually, generates
a lot of empathy for the guy.
The assets and wealth example got at racism on a more systemic level.
The class discussed the numbers, the meaning of the numbers, and some of
the history of the numbers (including the accumulation of wealth/assets
built on slavery) without a lot of editorializing, and they talked about
other groups (e.g. women) and their similar disparity in wealth
accumulation. The teacher kept it to the facts, ma'am (no discussion of
possible solutions, which could have been challenging), but I believe
it's okay to go one step at a time.
Perhaps out of my own fears, I try to avoid discussions about race (or
any of the isms) that might push people into well-dug corners, get
defensive, etc. My strategy is to keep studying the issues together,
naming what I see through casual observations ("Did you notice that
everyone in that show was white? Where was everybody else?") and
encouraging others to notice what they may have missed. I don't know
whether the lack of "push-back" means I'm not doing enough (or that the
push-back is silent?), but I'm trying to find a way to invite reflection
and not resistance. And I should say that I, of course, am oblivious to
a whole lot that's right in front of me, as well.
Andrea, I don't know how teachers of color should approach this work.
Where I live, teachers of color are a distinct minority, so I look to
white teachers to pull the load.
KMG: "Perhaps out of my own fears, I try to avoid discussions about race (or
any of the isms) that might push people into well-dug corners, get
defensive, etc. My strategy is to keep studying the issues together,
naming what I see through casual observations ("Did you notice that
everyone in that show was white? Where was everybody else?")"
I'm someone who notices demographics all the time. "Why is everyone
here Hispanic?" "Why is everyone here female?" "Why is everyone here
white?" "Why is everyone here black?" "Why is there no one with a
disability here?" etc. etc. This is part of my interest in social
sciences: the behavior of groups.
And yet, as you say, I DO try to avoid discussion about race in general
groups for the same reason you do. I fear I don't have the capacity to
communicate my ideas the way I can in writing. I fear I won't be able to
have my voice heard above the often loud dialogue that comes with the verbal
territory. I fear without proper moderation, discussions like these easily
get out of hand and can turn negative.
At one very poor school, I worked with a group of African Americans all from
the inner city. It was a student group run by students who needed to air
their opinions and feelings. I let them talk. I asked pretty neutral
questions. They wanted to talk. They NEEDED to talk. They did just about
ALL the talking. I let them because we weren't in the classroom and I was
there more as an observer than anything else. I was not qualified to offer
solutions, only a forum.
I started the group BECAUSE I knew we couldn't discuss the underlying
tensions and problems that were BOUND to come out in the classroom (I was
also looking for a different kind of internship at the time, and this was
outside the classroom). In the classroom, we had to redirect to the
syllabus constantly. This is where structure was an absolute necessity. We
HAD to keep the discussion on track. In shorter classes, this was easier.
In four-hour classes, it was stressful and difficult.
But how can classroom outbursts be helped when you have students who have to
step over passed-out druggies just to make it to school in the morning?
These students desperately needed an outlet. A highly trained and qualified
student services person/counselor should have run this group, but the school
didn't have (read: would not hire) anyone at the time....not a good
school....vocational higher ed in that "rip-off" category.
Anyway, like you, Andy, in the group, I did make note of demographics
because how could you ignore it? I did make note of class distinctions
because how could you ignore it? It was obvious. My upbringing had been as
limited as theirs, but in a different way. It helped me understand even
when they didn't THINK I could understand.
I really loved those students and hold them in high regard. I hope they have
made it in spite of their tremendous challenges (and that TERRIBLE school
that had the gall to call itself a college).
RH: I think that it is a good idea, actually, that people identify themselves in this discussion (if they feel comfortable doing so, of course) because I think it can give others a better understanding where they are coming from and why they do or don't do the things they do. In my experience, when people start dealing out advice or talking about what has worked (or not worked) with them regarding issues like race, culture, class, etc., others want to know as much information about that person and the students as possible so they can decide for themselves if those tips can in fact work for them in their setting. Sort of like teasing out variables, I guess. I would like to hear from everyone, though.
Having said that, I am a 30-year-old white female.
Over the past 6 years or so, I have taught adults in various settings--some one-on-one and some in classes; some native and some non-native English speakers, some very wealthy and some very poor, even homeless. Up until this past September, all my classes had a mixture of race, gender, and class. Since September, all but 2 of the 60 students I have taught have been African-American, and they are all living on very limited incomes. Many of them are homeless, either living in a shelter or going from home to home sleeping on friends' or relatives' sofas.
I have never had an issue discussing race, class, culture, or gender issues with any of my students. As a matter of fact, I find it much more difficult to explain to people how and why I talk about these issues in my classes, and, the biggie, why I feel that I am "qualified" to address these types of issues, especially now that I am the white teacher of black students. My age has also come up a few times, too. So, one of the things that I am interested in is whether or not others have had people ask you similar questions about your qualifications for dealing with these types of issues in the class. I am thinking of this in terms of all the ways we can differ from our students- not just race, but also in terms of men bringing up women's issues, heterosexuals discussing homosexuality, wealthy discussing poverty, people who have never experienced trauma or violence discussing these issues, etc. And, even if no one has ever explicitly said anything, is there a subtle metanarrative of some sort that is dictating which of these issues should be (or get to be) addressed, who has the right to discuss them, and with which populations they can discuss them?
Kathy: This is the sort of reflective practice we need to model for our adult educators in every opportunity.
I also believe in a level of self-disclosure with people with whom I am facilitating classes. In fact I have to work at a disadvantage because of being white- female - academic professional (and oh my goodness I guess I am middle age at least!) Students and administrators make frequent false assumptions about who I am and "from whence I came"
Here is a mouthful of a description- but it proves some points others probably could make as well...
I am white female, 49 yrs old, 2 adult sons, partnered/ CU. I have a very mainstream surname through my first marriage.
I am first-generation college. My parents dropped out of high school and I was brought up with very Italian and Irish working class experience in a community in which we were treated as minorities. I was also constantly reminded that my parents had lived close to poverty as children. I am not from a privileged upper class background, but many people assume I am because of my career position. I have degrees in biochemistry, theology and adult and higher education; so I do not fit just the liberal arts of science/math camp. Add to that an armload of different religious identifications over the years and you have the now "undeclared" religious, but my decidedly spiritual perspective :) Some refer to me as a technology goddess, but that is going way to far!
My point being - if we are not authentic educators, if we do not engage in self disclosure as appropriate and pertinent to instruction... How will people of all identifications and affiliations ever "see" themselves? We end up perpetuating the cycle!
When I was enrolled for my first masters class (I was in my 30s) in stats (and I greatly enjoy math/stats). It was taught by a female Italian American professor. I finally felt like it was POSSIBLE for me to go into academia someday... that was about 1992! It took that long until I "saw" myself in that role. my culture had so mocked Italian American women pursuing higher ed- but this is not the typical discourse about white females in 1970-2008. However it was my ethnic and family culture.
Students repeatedly tell me that as they hear me mention different points listed above it has the same affect on them as my grad school experience (see below). Why does it have to take so long? Why are our educational environments perceived as unsafe to self-disclosure?
My approach to opening them is self-disclosure and learner-centeredness. Creating robust learner-centered activities which engage students in dialogue as the means to learning content and application. I honestly say, however, it is a long road of personal, professional and curricular development....
I am also so careful and hesitant sometimes because I am distinctly aware of earning the right to be heard. I dislike platitudes and I cannot claim to understand the hardships and terror many people experience. Yet if I do not speak with my classes and try to create that "bridge" (as many of us have referred to it as) who will? Can we count on others to do it?
What are your stories and perspectives? How do you create the environments which welcome all individuals to participate?
KM: I have been in Adult Education for about 15 years...and now I teach ABLE-GED in a Correctional Facility...I have been reading all the insights and comments (PovertyRaceWomen) for sometime...I find students just want to be recognized, talked to one-on-one, and in on any and all conversations or classroom discussions..some are reluctant, but most generally willing to share their insights or views...as soon as they gain your support or trust..that they are NOT going to singled out for whatever reason someone else in the group has...I tell my students that a REAL indication of being an ADULT is when we can listen to others without getting angry, throwing verbal insults, or cursing at someone who has a different opinion that you do...that everyone is entitled to their opinion or view and I remind them that their view may offend others also, so just listen, give others time to talk and REALLY think about what is being said...to accept all people and to try and understand their view point…probably sounds "CORNY", but it works.
Margery: In the spirit of "accepting people and trying to understand their viewpoints", I'd like to ask, What do you and other Adult Educators find when you discuss other differences?
KM: In a jail setting I find there is more acceptance and more empathy to each persons problems, views, opinions,...I taught for 10 years on the "outside" as we call it and found less tolerance within the classroom then...people in here have all went through so many things including: prejudice, non-acceptance, ...because of the crimes they have committed or because they are sometimes from VERY Poverty stricken backgrounds...environments VERY different from most people...homelessness, prostitutes, drug infested or alcoholic families, no real support from family members...a real lack of CARING...so, my students seem eager to feel they are helping someone less fortunate than themselves...by listening, offering suggestions, sometimes even crying with the person or persons...trying to show they are, as we ALL are HUMAN BEINGS that should accept differences.
EJ: In terms of teaching, one thing that has always helped me to deal with this is to use the ethics of improvisation. In improv, the scene builds by actors saying, "Yes, and....." That is , you recognize what the previous actor has built, then you put your own spin on it. ("The tub is full of vanilla pudding!" "Yes, and I have huge spoons for each of us!"
The worse thing that you can do is to say, "No, ...." - the momentum and energy of the scene collapses. ("The tub is full of vanilla pudding!" "No it's not, it is full of books" Cut to disinterested audience.)
So when it comes to discussing differences, we all have frames that we tend to go to first. I'm a neo-Marxist, so I tend to think about social class when I do my first pass through of a situation. Feminists might look first to gender issues. People mainly involved in anti-racist work might look at race. None of these is wrong, of course, and none of them is off the mark. They are just aiming at different things. And we all might use each of those frames depending upon the situation.
It just seems like conversations in class go better when there is an air of "Yes, and..." So one student can talk about socio-economic oppression. If another student goes, "No, it is all about race..." the class tends to go nowhere. If the student says, "Yes, socio-economic oppression is one angle, and from the perspective of race...." The same is true for all similar conversations.
This is not to say that some people don't face more oppression than others, but we are not monolithic beings - so being open to these multiple frames keeps classroom conversations honest, I think. I know personally I feel impatient in conversations about these kinds of topics when I get the sense that it will focus only on one lens. Especially when class is ignored, so that the racial privilege of a "white" grocery store clerk is contrasted to the racial oppression of an "African-American" lawyer (who might just have negotiated a deal for a corporation putting hundreds out of work). I'm sure somebody whose first frame is race would feel the same way if they sensed that race was being excluded in discussions of social-class. So as a teacher I try to send signals, both implicitly and explicitly, that there will be time for each frame in class.
This is also not to say that as a teacher you say "Yes, and...." to statements that are factually wrong. You acknowledge the validity of the frame (whether it is race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.), but then discuss the facts on the ground.
KMG: Thank you very much for reminding me about academic lenses and schools of thought. I obviously get very frustrated when only one school of thought is applied to anything (I've always been like this). Refusing to use other lenses is stifling. I like your "Yes, and..." approach very much. Have to remind myself to use that : )
RH: I was just wondering if anyone on this list has ever been told that they could NOT address diversity issues in their adult literacy classrooms (or heard of this happening at other places). Or, if certain topics are okay to deal with, while others are not okay to discuss. To me, it seems like people in general are more accepting of discussions of race and culture, but not as accepting of discussions about sexual orientation or religious differences. So, I was wondering about how different adult literacy agencies deal with the different topics and what the rationale is for the way they deal (or not deal) with them. It also just occurred to me that some people, maybe some members of this listserv, may strongly believe that these types of issues do not belong in the adult literacy classroom at all...
KMG: I've worked mostly in postsecondary ed, and I described earlier racial issues coming up in class but being dealt with outside of class in order to stick to the curriculum and stay on track. I don't remember ethnicity (or much else for that matter) being banned from discussion. Academic freedom accounts for some of this---so long as instructors are getting the work done, meeting objectives and maintaining a working learning environment, I am not sure anyone COULD tell an instructor not to discuss something, especially if a student brought it up and it affected the class.
However, in my experiences, race was never really addressed by the administration unless there was some kind of altercation. This is bad, of course, in terms of prevention and understanding in classrooms with diverse students.
I have had the same experiences regarding religion.
I don't recall ever teaching when sexual orientation came up. I have run into it in administrative positions, however (including talk of a gentleman who was removed from a school because he identified with and dressed as a woman...the powers-that-be decided it made everyone too "uncomfortable"...I don't know if he ever sued the school).
What it seemed to come down to is "keep them on track as much as possible."
The degree to which this is challenging depends on the students: who they are, how vocal they are, what concerns them, etc. New teachers especially face challenges keeping the class on track.
In an adult literacy course, I DO wonder if diversity is regularly discussed as part of the curriculum, a natural element of learning communication skills, an expected part of the learning process. Agency environments are different from postsecondary ed.
HD: I've brought up [sexual orientation and gender orientation] in adult education classes in different ways at different times with different results (no surprise). Usually I use a real story as a starting point, usually a story that draws a reader's attention (rivets, one hopes) and usually aligns sympathy and support with a character BEFORE that character is revealed to be LGBT.
BEFORE this happens, I'll have judged/hoped that the community building within our classroom is reasonably 'solid.' The class will know that I'm pretty open to discussion on any topic, that I value their input and WANT their input --whether they agree or disagree.
I use headlines a lot in class -- headlines that both I and students select. So I will know that at least the window of awareness has been opened prior to intentionally using a story for class. Routines will have been established so that the students know in our class surprises happen, amazing info is shared, etc.
I will use the story for English practice in ESOL classrooms; have used such stories for writing practice in GED classes. I strive for learner-centered, individual and team/group work activities in classes I 'teach.'
When it is a colleague & administration-"allowed" practice, any classroom I teach in has at least one poster/sticker/something to indicate that it is a "welcoming" place (with rainbow inverted triangles or such blatant signs when possible, with more generic welcome indicators when not).
I've had the most 'volatile' reactions in GED class groups, the most 'ok I'll think about this or keep my opinions quiet' responses from ESOL groups --
I love poetry -- and quotes -- and always have collections available -- and always my collections will include poems that (in my interpretation) address isms and hidden deep emotions -- these are the "open windows" I try to offer. Leslie Newman is one poet whose work I'd highly recommend. Audre Lorde one of my favorite people to quote. But there are so many, and quotes and poetry are so personal -- that I strive to have copies of individual poems and quotes available and posted -- and Word.doc collections available to share... Poem of the week and Quotes of the Day boards help. -- always with the invitation for others to contribute...
small steps -
JS: I find that I do talk about racism and the other isms in my English class, that I discuss this through the literature that I am able to assign through the book assigned for class, that I can guide the students as I've had an academic and experiential background in same. (My second graduate degree is an MDiv from Wesley Theological Seminary at AU in DC. I have led many seminars and workshops in this area and can do so through the literature given as a source for exploration.) I enjoyed skimming the answers daily and realized that my answers were on the wrong track---the issue of how teachers are treated at the post-secondary level (or, rather all levels of education in the US) are dismal and beyond, and were not the topic.
AS: While the issues of race 'appears' to be readily discussed and addressed, it is evident that it is not. The need for its central focus for significant change still exists, particularly in education.
Margery, I appreciate your shared insight on white privilege. Indeed, the mere fact that privileged people deny their unmerited privilege, try to mainstream the word 'privilege' from this significant social context or suggest that historical and current, oppressive symbols be regarded in a general sense (not specific), is only evidence of the lack of progress.
The truth is, we are our social context with all of its lifelong influences. While I believe in transformational experiences, the former truth remains the same. Indeed, it is this same social context that influences our practice. The question is: How do our ingrained beliefs and values guide our practice - intentionally or unintentionally?
HD: Also -- another area that I've found challenging to raise in class (and have usually done via info on what to do AFTER such incidents happen, rather than on prevention or cultural twists/influences) -- is abuse -- physical and emotional -- Male to Female AND Female to Male (I've had two different male students confide that they're victim of abuse by their female spouses -- and they've yet to find useful resources to help them -- sharing their pain seems their only 'help'). This problem (as we are all likely already aware) invades / crosses all 'group labels' --
The discussions these past weeks have reminded me of how too often adult ed teachers (probably teachers of all levels) are tempted/called upon/tormented by the need to play a role as counselor, psychologist, etc. -- without the complete training. Where, when to cross those lines, and the consequences to adult learners and to ourselves when we do so -- also plays into the overall picture (for me).
AW: First find out from your local police what constitutes "abuse" or "assault." Bring this up in class. There are police consequences for certain acts, and knowledge of consequences can stop abuse--not DOES, but CAN. This is useful knowledge.
LS: When I worked in labor education programs, we talked about them all the time. It's painful and difficult at times, but really rewarding--and empowering. Good conversation often starts when one of us talks about who we are and what privileges we have or don't have.
AW: Margery--given everything that you have heard, are there points of reflection you can give about "difference" and how to live with it? How to discuss "difference" with students? Don't teachers have to deal with their own difference--first? With students? What is your counsel?
Margery: There are lots of excellent resources out there that deal with differences. Andy Nash edited a terrific book, "Through the Lens of Social Justice: Using the Change Agent in Adult Education," published by the New England Literacy resource Center and World Education (http://www.nelrc.org). My favorite site for resources on all the justice issues is Teaching for Change, which has resources for all ages. http://www.teachingforchange.org.
BM: I identify as an Asian Pacific Islander, specifically a second generation Chinese American. I was born and educated primarily in San Francisco, but have spent the last 16 years living in Canada. API is more a social/political designation than a racial/biological one.
As an API, I experience something called the "model minority" syndrome. The following are three characteristics of those who fall within the category of "model minority":
- we don't have any issues/problems fitting into society
- we work hard and study hard and have no social or educational problems
- we take care of our own; if there is a problem, we don't need help from outside organizations.
Some results of such stereotypes are that in classrooms, APIs who experience difficulties don't receive help. There is a lack of funding for API educational opportunity programs. Setting up APIs against other ethnic/racial groups has created challenges for the involvement of APIs into social justice movements. All this gets even more complicated in Canada there is almost a official mandate to be "color-blind."
AW: [How we are defining race and what is "non-white"]…is a problem, and it is a problem that bedeviled our recent discussion about the name of this listserv. Is "race" black and white? Have we agreed on that? When we are talking who are we talking about? I think here we are talking about white and...who? It sounds like white women teaching black people, and I think that is a really difficult place to end up in. I KNOW there are other than "white" people on this list! BM has just spoken up and identified herself as non-White, and the problems she faces as a model-minority.
Maybe we should talk about the different problems encountered by different groups of people, and realistic ways of teaching students to deal with the situations they will find themselves in because of their differences.
DRB: I am of mixed descent. My father is Dominican, with roots in Lebanon and
Spain. My mother's parents are German Jews who escaped Germany once Hitler came to power.
I am male, viewed as white, and thus have experienced white privilege from a perspective many do not have- I have known since I was born that I got that privilege, while feeling aligned with oppressed people around the world. Because I live at this time and place in history, I can enjoy privileges that my father, even when I am with him, cannot enjoy, that my grandparents could not enjoy in Germany 50 years ago. How my views have been shaped come from walking into a store without a look, while my dad walks in and everyone stares.
Race is salient; oppression has been universal. Race is simply the latest tool to use.
My last name, Rizik-Baer, is Lebanese and Jewish, a living and breathing antithesis to prevailing thought about groups that cannot get along.
I am Jewish and I believe the existence of Israel is unjust. I am Arabic and do not believe Jews are evil. I am Latino and do not believe whites are inherently evil and I am "white" and hope to see the white power structure eliminated.
Once people can see past the racial lines that have been erected to divide them, people can start to see the oppressive foundations that connect them.
KMG: Problem is, I don't identify with being white. I just look white. I'm about half Lebanese and half Sicilian. And I've never been part of any mainstream anything. So saying, "As a white woman..." feels unauthentic.
Margery: White is what your are designated by this race-constructed society. When you walk into a bank or a store, do the staff say, "Here comes a nice Lebanese/Sicilian woman?" No, they see you as white.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged and recognized for all that we are - for our ethnicity, culture, sexuality, gender, age, class. And we should! But we who are white also need to understand our historical and collective status. When we do that, then we can effectively join with others who have been collectivized (and made "less than") to transform these structures that dehumanize us all.
AW: An Interesting book--"How the Irish became White." In our culture, you are white! When you self-identify then you can correct people. However, from the '"street" you are still white--so...who are the white people among us? When we say black and white, it seems to me pretty clear that there is a dividing line. Nuance is lost.
EJ: Part of the history of whiteness is the shifting nature of the who is seen as white (noted earlier in this thread). So I'm not sure that somebody who is Lebanese/Sicilian would automatically been seen as "white". As the discussion has been touching on, a person "is" white (or any other race) not in any natural sense - it is about context and perspective. I have friends who identify themselves as Italian-American, do not identify as "white", and do not see people who they think look them as "white." They would not see a Lebanese/Sicilian as white. Since Italians only recently joined the "white" race (prior to the 20th century they were not thought of in those terms), I'm sure there are still plenty of people out there who identify as "white" who don't see Italians as belonging the same race as them.
It is probably even more so the case for people from the Middle East -depending upon who you are talking to, I doubt people with Middle Eastern heritage are viewed as "white."
So membership in the "white" collective is complicated.
AM: You are absolutely right that what white means shifts all the time. I also agree with Margery that we are not identified with what we ourselves identify with. Nowadays, the focus on difference in a large part of the US is directed at Latin American immigrants and people of the middle east. However, most discrimination is based on looks or another superficial trait.
So, if an Arab or Mexican looking person walks into the bank, people will see an Arab or a Mexican. Never mind that the person walking into the bank may be Indian, Argentinean, Chilean or Maori. The looks of otherness are defined by mainstream media and our fears, not by what the various ethnic groups identify with.
So, when we walk into a bank, regardless of how we see ourselves, or if we think of ourselves as Italian American, Jewish Argentinean, Afro-Chinese, etc. People will lump us into the current stereotype pool.
So, it is most likely that Italian Americans, Irish Americans and others who don't look like immigrants will probably be lumped into the white category.
At some point, when the immigrants to be disliked were the Italians and Irish, or the Jews, people were more sensitive to detecting the otherness of these groups. Of course the "otherness" is some feature that may be correctly or incorrectly associated to a group that the mainstream uses to make distinctions. Color is a pretty obvious one.
However, in the absence of color, clothing, food choice, accent, smell, geographical location, etc are all used to signify otherness. I'm sure that everyone has read about the Sikhs that were identified as Arabs and assaulted because they wore turbans.
I have a Christian Syrian friend who owns a Mexican restaurant. Right after 9/11 he put a big US flag inside his restaurant. I used to tease him that he was a terrorist. I used to eat tabuli at his place all the time. He used to also tease me about me being a terrorist since I eat tabuli. The point is that people don't know that the terrorists were an extremist branch of wahabi-sunnis. So, eating tabuli or being of middle-eastern origin is sufficient to get lumped into one group. This is what Bush and Chenney banked on when they accused Iraq of terrorism. Never mind that Saddam Hussein belonged to a moderate Sunni group and was despised by Osama Bin Laden. People didn't know or cared about differences. The media and our fears were used to lump all middle-easterners into the terrorist category.
JI: and then there's the controversy over Barack Obama, the photo of him in a turban, and denials that he's Muslim. A whole lot of assuming, other-ness and otherwise race-based conversation going on. It does shift, identities do shift - including the identities we construct for ourselves and those constructed about us by other people.
Some of us, getting on the bus, walking into the bank, carry a cloak of privilege, unearned, maybe unwanted, but it's there, just by virtue of the perception of our whiteness. This is a culture, an ethnicity, a trait - no one is without race, however it's understood.
DRB: I am/have been considered "white" all my life. This has always been a source, not of confusion, but of interest. I say this because my father is quite dark. He was born in the Dominican Republic to a mother with Spanish ancestry and a father of Lebanese descent. My mother is the daughter of German Jews, and I inherited her traits and features.
My whole life, I have been around Latin culture and the Spanish language. My grandmother could not speak English. In addition, my father has always allied himself with the working class/oppressed people everywhere, and passed that onto me. However, as I grew older, many times I was not allowed to identify myself with "people of color," because I did not "know the struggle."
This has always been difficult because my father is seen as part of one side of the color spectrum, while I, on the other. Fifty years ago in Germany, my family was being persecuted by the "master race," and now is seen as part of it. So I am very mixed, and yet reduced to "white."
- I remember going on an audition (my father is an actor) with my father for a father/son role. I was told I did not look like my father's son (read: I wasn't dark like my father) and therefore could not be cast.
- I have walked into supermarkets with my father and watched as people eyed him while I was able to walk right past without a glance.
- My sister has a slightly darker shade of skin color than me, and inherited more of my father's traits. In Los Angeles, she was always considered "white," but upon moving to college in Ohio, became the exotic Latina.
All of these things have proven to me how salient race really is, but how the idea of race has material consequences.
It is a really horrible feeling to know I benefit from white privilege, privilege I never asked for, when I know my father, the man who produced me, not only does not benefit from it, but experiences things I have never known because of that same privilege.
On the flip side, it is also disheartening that I have to "prove" myself to "people of color," and those in the struggle, before I can be accepted, and even still, may not be completely.
KMG: I have had experiences in having to stifle identity just to squeak by in the mainstream. Having to do so DOES make you resentful of peers whom you assume have had some kind of cake-walk when you were never even invited to the party. Once we learn more about the individual, however, we find more human experiences (which makes sense considering the true percentage of pure cake-walkers is smaller than all the other walkers/trudgers/crawlers). This is why meaningful dialogue and conversation are so very necessary (also why I'm not big on small talk and end up asking too many personal questions by some people's standards). But if we don't get to know everyone as an individual, especially those with whom we must live, work and study closely, how can we presume to truly understand one another, racially or otherwise?
BG: This thread has been fascinating to read. As a culture, we seem to hold a number of double standards when it comes to diversity and identity. For this reason, the term "race" remains problematic as many here described it when deciding on a new title for the discussion list. For those whites who are constructed as "others" by "others" we end up on the dialectic trick of two mirrors. How then do we carve out a place for dialogue?
If we do not allow for KMG's identity and her identity as other than a one-dimensional social construction of "white", how do we really work towards understanding and dialogue? There is intra-racism and inter-racism. There are polemics that afford whoever is in power to construct the identity of the powerful, the powerless, and the middle opportunities for power between them. If we insist that all whites are "white" as they are constructed from the outside, do we not do the same disservice we have done to African Americans, Latinos, Irish, Italians, Arabs, Indians, etc. and all other minorities at each turn?
Second, it seems that whites who live in poverty often do not identify with the values of the culture that is socially-constructed as theirs. For this reason we have poor whites, who, like African Americans, end up buying OUT of education and the social constructions of identity and success that are shoved down their throats in the form of academic assumptions. Do we really want to say that there is no room for different-identity than the one constructed upon us from the outside? Isn't this defeating the very purpose of this listserv?
KMG: Thanks for understanding the important of seeing EVERYONE as individual, not just the sum of physical and superficial attributes.
I would argue, though, that poor people of every ethnicity and group sometimes opt out, but more often they are SHUT out. When we don't genuinely invest in the truly underserved populations, we discriminate in choosing whom we believe deserves opportunity. Who wants to stand in the hallway when the doors have been slammed in your face?
Margery: Certainly poor white people are disadvantaged because of their class. But as my colleague and mentor Diana Dunn has pointed out, they are not poor because they are white.
What makes the U.S. social structures "peculiar" is that we've wrapped them with racism. Our history shows how privileged white men deliberately enacted laws to separate poor people by race - giving legitimate status to white people just for being white - so they couldn't/wouldn't organize together with people of color for more equitable conditions for all. When we look at many social justice movements (labor, agrarian, women, etc.) in this country, we realize they all foundered on race.
As a white woman, I have many identities. I find that in conversations about power, race and privilege, I can be effective only when I name and claim my white identity. As Deborah says, "I know when others are real with me, say about sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. [it] helps me to trust them, work with them, change things." So it is with race.
NQC: People disagree about "whiteness" but I do agree that the peculiarity of this society is that it does emphasize ethnicity as a particular source of power, more so than other societies. In this sense the experience of Jewish people is also unique because they can have light skin and yet anti-Semitism is alive.
So, again those categories matter and the intersections might make the term race diffuse but they do not do away with the fact itself that color matters.
For some reason I think that it is easier to identify white as a privilege precisely when you don't have the features, the right accent, that might be helpful in this society. I have not encountered more significant spaces, at least for me, than academic ones where not being white makes things a bit complicated. Granted that I have also found in those spaces the opportunity to breathe, and the grace of encountering the gift of intelligence and a strong sense of ethics in some people.
I am still reluctant to bring up the issue of race without considering other categories. However, I have no doubt, none, that at times being Mexican and brown can bring about unexpected and unwanted reactions. At times it brings up the painful feeling that you might have earned an undeserved disadvantage.
KL: The reliance on group identity as the primary means of identifying oneself is necessarily a very limiting dynamic. Because membership in a race/sex/culture etc. group demands an inordinate attention to ones physical makeup, those who choose such a means of self-awareness can't help but see others in the same limited way.
In a free society such as ours, the individual is valued more highly than the group, because it is in the individual context that rights, freedom, and responsibility are best realized and applied.
Nothing is more diverse than the individual.
DRB: Which is why identity politics is so limiting and divisive. It is also why I think seeing oppression on a grander scale can make people see the similarities and differences of oppression, while understanding the elimination of all forms of oppression are at the center of the struggle.
However, I don't see how our society is so free, and how this supposed freedom is based upon individuality when:
- 1. we are having this discussion based on the fact that our "free" society can be so oppressive to people because they belong to a specific group (as well as others, simultaneously) and
- we really gain power as individuals when we align with others and use the power of the group- this is the essence of unions and the only way in which we, as human beings, can move forward.
We most definitely have our individual traits and characteristics, but human nature dictates a necessity to be social beings.
MM: And I think (from my experience) that one thing many people forget is that we all have race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality....etc...In these conversations, I find that those in the privileged place (white or male or heterosexual or upper class or educated or whatever) can easily go to other-ing (quite unintentionally) because we forget that we possess these diversities/identities as well as "those" people.
One of my favorite examples is this.... In a world where hetero-normativity prevails and is generally presumed to be what most people are, gays and lesbians are asked "How did you know you were homosexual?" Gays and lesbians have to "discover" and admit their "difference." So, if I know the person asking the question is straight, I might turn that question and say, "when did you first know you were a heterosexual?" In that way, we all become aware that we are sexual beings and we all make choices about how we use, decide, own, recognize, accept or deny, and everything else that goes along with sexual expression, action, and cultural norms.
Perhaps stating who we are and having a self-reflective stance on our many personal identities and identifiers can help to remind us to be aware of our stereotypes and inclinations towards other-ing. In this way, we don't necessarily need to use other people's shorthand either (e.g. I might use "white" in some situations, but in others it might seem more effective to include cultural/ethnic identifiers. I am white European mutt - part Swiss, French-Alcasean, Irish).
KMG: "How did you know you were homosexual?"
Do you think straight people ask this because there is confusion between discovering your own sexuality and coming out with your own sexuality? It seems that some people who have not been "out" live in denial for so long that when they finally DO come out, the perception by others is they must have suddenly "discovered" they were gay (or the worse assumption, that they "turned" gay).
KMG: I'm so glad people are asking for diverse input, because I think there's such a lack of understanding, especially in cross-cultural communications.
Here's an example: a white woman tells a black lady (a BEAUTIFUL lady, dressed to kill all the time) that she's beautiful, referencing the widespread understanding that people with dark skin don't show their age as much. The comment was meant as a compliment, but the woman took it as a racial slur.
I have often said that I wish I were black, that I think I would be prettier if I were black, not just based on aging. Black women to me symbolize strength, beauty, and character no matter what they look like. Their beauty is inherited (though not necessarily exclusive to other cultures.)
I have also said, "God is a big black lady wearing yellow."
Why are statements like these taken as racial slurs? I know living in the D.C. Metro area that race is still a touchy subject, more so than I have ever encountered. We are still very much in the South, even in Northern VA.
As a child, I remember asking a black friend if I could touch his hair. I just wanted to know what it FELT like, it was so cool. And braids...I would love to have braids. (Way too expensive, however.)
What makes some people think these are insults as opposed to compliments (and in many cases, even racial low self esteem or poor body image)? Can someone explain it to me?
AM: Problem is that black images have been historically distorted and used by the hegemonic society, media and/or government to represent something for economic gain. At one time the stereotypes were of intellectual inferiority and brute/wild strength. That is what was used to promote blacks as good slaves. They were presented as not intellectually capable of doing what white people did, but they had the strength to do the brute work.
The brute strength and wildness stereotype has been associated with animal beauty, exotic, animal sexuality, etc. While the media and government do not publicly promote the stereotypes of intellectual inferiority, those of wilderness, strength, wild sexuality continue to be used in the media. We may not notice these, but blacks, after 400 years of enslavement, government supported discrimination, stereotyping in the media, etc. are really sensitive to this, and rightly so.
So, when you praise a black person for their beauty, youth, hair, etc. the association lurks over their heads, and the question always remains if the reason you see them that way is because of the media teaching us to view blacks as these exotic, strong black creatures.
Ultimately, as with every ethnic group there are tall and short black people, healthy and sick, strong and weak, highly intellectual and not. And everything in between. Blacks brought to America as slaves were selected to be stronger by the enslavers who wanted physical laborers. They were intentionally bred for physical strength like people do with dogs. They were sold in markets as healthy, strong, beautiful, muscular, able to breed and reproduce healthy offspring, etc.
Just for clarification purposes, I don't agree with the use of stereotypes for depicting blacks, as I don't agree with stereotypes used to describe other cultures and ethnic groups. However, they are a historical fact and when we encounter resistance and dislike to our best intentioned comment, we must try to understand where the resistance comes from.
KMG: Wow! I never would have even thought of the sexuality thing, to be honest. I know it's kind of out there in the hip-hop, diva world, but I'm FAR away from that scene. Most African Americans I have interacted with have been incredibly bright, witty, and talented. Many of them have been students. Some LOOK generic hip-hop, but inside, they have been beautiful individuals looking for a way to express that individuality.
My personal perceptions come from appreciation of human beings, their unique cultural backgrounds, and the beauty that has come down through the ages.
When I look at someone from a specific ethnic background, I see a kind of history--personal and cultural. This has a lot to do with my spiritual beliefs as well, so I know my perceptions are not necessarily those of the majority. I'm pretty "un-hegemonic" (ha ha.....if there is such a word).
At the risk of totally offending people and sounding ignorant, hasn't anyone here ever looked at a sun-worn worker from Central America, smile lines and wrinkles shining through every hardship that has been overcome and thought, "What a beautiful person"? Or a South African girl wearing a bright, beaded kerchief and colorful necklaces? Or an elderly Korean couple walking side by side? I don't see these as stereotypes of sexuality or ethnicity....I see these things as PART of culture. And I see them as beauty in people.
Does that make me weird?
AM: There is nothing wrong with appreciating other people's beauties and with your descriptions in themselves. Unfortunately they also happen to be part of a historical context of exploitation, and commercialization. This country has a history of discrimination against other cultures and difference. This is particularly the case with African, Asian and Latin American countries. it also happens that some of the descriptions that you talk about are descriptions that are used to represent and commercialize a few stereotypes of cultures at different times in history.
The exotic and the different represent both fear and bravery. So, many like to symbolize their escapes into the exotic with depictions of their adventures into the wilderness. Displaying comodified representations of different cultures is a form of showing our adventurous and fearless spirit. These images are used to sell other cultures without necessarily sharing all aspects of the culture and wealth with them. It is like saying "In America we are not racists, we display photos and outfits from various cultures at festivals and shows and in our living rooms". Yet, America doesn't go beyond cultural tourism to display their openness. When it is time to promote multilingualism, openness to immigrants and true respect for other cultures, then the true acceptance emerges. We see movements like English only, the new efforts to pass anti immigrant laws and the use of Osama's outfit to exhort different emotions during election years.
So, while again, there is nothing wrong with appreciating other people's cultures in the way that you do, we still live within a context of racism and exploitation of other cultures. It would be sort of as if people in a country that had a history of exploiting and systematically discriminating against Americans would display photos of cowboys to show their appreciation of Americans. So, we should understand when people feel a little sensitive about some of these images.
KMG: Marketing images of any kind of diversity has always seemed shallow to me....unless of course we are talking about authentic ethic stores or stores catering to ethnic groups (I'm talking about international food markets, clothing stores etc. not big advertising). As a woman, I feel marketed to all the time, especially sexually. I'm expected to look a certain way, act a certain way, and maintain a demeanor of acceptability. We can get into that discussion easily enough, but I am trying to stay on track.
I completely understand that racism is alive and well. So is sexism. I don't think I understood HOW alive and well it still is until I moved to this area (still considered southern, somehow). I personally try to be sensitive and considerate, but it's not easy not because I don't care for diversity, but because too often, I can't communicate properly. Obviously, this is the common problem we are discussing in this forum.
The point I am trying to make is this: we might not "look" diverse, but we aren't all "the enemy." In the classroom and in other places, many of us try to break down the racial, cultural or gender barriers, but we are not welcomed to do so. There is justification for this: whites have a history of not being trustworthy, especially to the ethnic groups you describe. This is something common globally, with all groups, ethnic or otherwise.
In addition to the groups you mention, let's not forget the Middle Easterners. Post 9/11 they especially have not been trusted, have been subjected to discrimination and hatred which has extended to the mistrust of all "foreigners." How do we get past all that in the educational sector (and other sectors, for that matter) except through education? It's rather a circular discussion because if no one wants to step forth to have the dialogue, we CANNOT get past it.
Here is an interesting article I just read on the topic of discrimination against Middle Easterners in general:
Margery: Thank you so much for your excellent responses to [these] questions. And KMG, thank you for asking questions that many white people wonder but rarely ask. Having an historical understanding of stereotyping - which as Andres rightly notes still continues - gives us insights into the chasm that racism has created among us.
I find that when I enter a conversation across racial lines, I am more effective when I first name my own place: "As a white woman, I think..." Perhaps another way to engage in cross-racial conversations is to begin with an "I statement" such as "I wonder why, as a white person, I have been taught to think of black skin as "more beautiful?" This sort of self-reflection can often be a first step toward real conversations, I think.
AW: I find this dialogue very strange, I have to say. To get back in balance--my balance, maybe--I will quote from the back flap of "Always an Olivia," by Carolivia Herron.
"Carolivia Herron has a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and spent most of her professorial career at Harvard University. She writes fiction and scholarship and directs EpicCenter Stories, Inc., a nonprofit organization that develops
multimedia classroom programs based on community epics."
"Ms Herron is the author of children's books "Nappy Hair" and "Little Georgia and the Apples" as well as two adult books. She is a Jew of African descent and a member of Tifereth Israel congregation in Washington, D.C."
- so here is KMG's image: Carolivia was also brutalized in various ways when a child--that is AM's image
- her life cuts across several boundaries--that is my image of my friend.
Read "Nappy Hair" and make a move outside the stereotypes. The black community is really pretty varied.
KMG: Racial tensions are built from people's perceptions and experiences, so why not share perceptions as a means of opening dialogue? (Important note: my perceptions and experiences certainly were never bred in places like Harvard or in a Ph.D. program.) I don't see my views as stereotypes at all: I hold a spiritual outlook that extends to all human beings. If you find that strange, then it is probably because we don't share the same kind of spirituality.
People of every ethnic background come in all types. WE (all of us human beings) have to be reminded of this consistently! With the media especially, it's hard to remember because we are bombarded with stereotypes and a general lack of critical thinking that admittedly, takes time and patience. If we don't all remind each other that every single individual is a unique human being, we fall prey to ridiculous and dangerous assumptions about individuals AND groups. I am sure you have had this happen to you, as I most certainly have had it happen to me.
AW: I found it strange because of the exchange of common stereotypes. I think it is important to be in the community you are describing, if you can. Books can do that. Carolivia crosses several boundaries, as is true of other Black Americans I know. Read "Nappy Hair," a view from the inside of a particular Black American community and family in D.C. Buy it for your class! I did not mean to insult you or Andres, but to demonstrate the "strangeness" from my point of view. I doubt I have any kind of spirituality, actually.
DB: With the unequal distribution of power, privilege, and wealth that we currently have in the U.S. favoring whites, what will happen when whites are the minority? Will it be another South African story with the whites trying to maintain power and privilege and wealth and keep people of color as second-class citizens, or will it be that, because we are a democracy, we will be able to avoid that situation through people of color claiming their rights through democratic action? The power and privilege of white people is ultimately unsustainable, but the question is what processes will we go through before we come out on the other side of this shift? I see this as more of an educational issue for whites to realize that the shift is inevitable and that it will be less painful for whites if they become advocates of a just and peaceful sharing of power and wealth. The question that AS asked in her post, "What are the attitudes and behaviors, particularly those from the dominant culture (instructors and administrators) that perpetuate the current status quo (knowingly or unknowingly)?" is a great question to ask.
KMG: "....for whites to realize that the shift is inevitable and that it will be less painful for whites if they become advocates of a just and peaceful sharing of power and wealth..."
EVERYONE needs to become an advocate of peace and justice, not just whites. I think when some people read phrases like this, they get put off, and justifiably so. It's scary to have someone say, "Hey....your days of glory are over...be prepared to be treated poorly," because in a sense, that's what is being communicated. I'm sure that's not what was intended, but anyone who really does fear becoming a white minority would read it that way.
Margery: DB wrote, in part: "...With the unequal distribution of power, privilege, and wealth that we currently have in the U.S. favoring whites, what will happen when whites are the minority? Will it be another South African story with the whites trying to maintain power and privilege and wealth and keep people of color as second-class citizens, or will it be that, because we are a democracy, we will be able to avoid that situation through people of color claiming their rights through democratic action? The power and privilege of white people is ultimately unsustainable, but the question is what processes will we go through before we come out on the other side of this shift? I see this as more of an educational issue for whites to realize that the shift is inevitable and that it will be less painful for whites if they become advocates of a just and peaceful sharing of power and wealth... "
I think that you've done a great job of expressing this unspoken fear shared by many white people: "Are 'they' going to do to us what we did to them?" dominates much of conservative mainstream culture. While it's no longer politically correct to express such fears directly, they continue to be said in newer ways - particularly in the immigration debates.
Our mainstream culture is very dichotomous: We see things as either/or: black/white, good/bad, smart/dumb, etc. This sort of thinking blocks us from seeing other possibilities, I think. As DB points out, if white people could only realize that a more equitable (both/and) democracy would benefit us all, we could begin to "undo" the terrible inequities imbedded in our social structures that make it so difficult for People of Color to achieve parity with white people. (A wonderful book, published by United for a Fair Economy called The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide, offers a great history of how these inequities came about and what keeps them in place.)
KMG: "In this race-constructed society, white people have a privileged status - even though it is unearned and unsought-after." By most people's standards, I'm considered pretty "white." And if I'm privileged, then I must have missed the announcement somehow : ) Don't you think it's a generalization that "whites are privileged and minorities are not"? Don't you think generalizations really hurt us in discussions of race and diversity?
MT: Privilege is subtle, but profound nonetheless. You can be privileged because of your race, gender, age, class, position, friendships, accent, dress, etc. I've always thought it was a very helpful exercise to figure out what privileges are gained, and what privileges are lost through each of our affiliations. Here are some examples of privilege in action.
- My wife and I were talking about where she might take our dog for a walk. I suggested a somewhat secluded trail around a lake. She said she wouldn't go there alone, that it would be dangerous. Generally, men have the privilege of going just about anywhere they want to go by themselves.
- I submitted a legislative page application for my daughter to my state senator from my home computer. About three weeks into the legislative session, I hadn't heard anything. I started getting concerned that she might not get a chance to page. I sent a follow-up email from my work computer. At the bottom of the email was my job title and the state agency I work for. Almost immediately I got a response from the senator's staffer, saying she'd expedite my daughter's application and apologizing for overlooking her application.
- It doesn't take long for Whites in Asia or Africa to figure out that they don't have to stay at a resort hotel to be able to use the pool. If you're White, you look like you belong in the pool.
KMG: Interesting examples, none of which apply to me or to some of the people I have been closest to in my lifetime, including my parents/siblings/grandparents.
I understand the importance of things like title, work, etc. And I am not saying I don't have my education because I do, but I have had to struggle for it just like a lot of "minorities" (in quotes because again, what do we mean when we are saying "minority"?). I have neither government affiliation nor gender nor direct ethnicity to put me in that category of privilege. Of course, I am not the only one. I think that's the point I am trying to make. Race and color do not equate privilege or socioeconomic status. (And just because someone is government, by the way, doesn't mean he or she has status either. There are many POOR government workers.)
More than a few times, I've been mistaken for someone of privilege by whites because I've worked in education and I have practiced my writing skills. It's made me a target for agenda-driven people from all socioeconomic statuses. Some of these agendas have been violent, some political, some discriminatory....you get the picture. I'm not crying "victima de sociodad" LOL. I'm just stating the facts.
As to this comment: "It doesn't take long for Whites in Asia or Africa to figure out that they don't have to stay at a resort hotel to be able to use the pool. If you're White, you look like you belong in the pool."
I would argue that in more resorts, it's the glaring white skinned people who don't look like they belong at the pool--never mind those of us white people who are overweight and have more visible cellulite which Africans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc. who seem to control the bodies and images much more gracefully. In some other cultures, issues of weight as a necessary element of fitting in don't seem to apply because the female body is viewed as beautiful in many forms. We white people are still at the mercy of the "thin is in" mentality, no matter what we want to say. White, big thighs are just not "the thing." Darker heritages have broader (no pun intended) perspectives on characteristics like size, shape, etc. This is something to be envious of. It's a privilege.
Our image of the resort person is more and more the exotic, tanned/brown/black person who has that "native" look. Fashion mags, television, and the movies in some ways have made being white passé. We're GEEKS! LOL. And I'm okay with that but I've been known to say, "I wish I was black. I think I'd be a lot prettier if I were black."
Immigrants and African Americans hold a status and privilege all their own, but not enough in the socioeconomic sense. I think that kind of privilege stems from strong cultural ties that Caucasians in this country have left behind because they've lived here so long, generation after generation. It's privilege to say, "This is my family. This is my heritage. These are my people." It's privilege to have extended family. It's privilege to have groups out there supporting you because you hold a particular racial or ethnic status. These privileges are not the same as affluence or socioeconomic position, but they are some that many Caucasians are envious of. If you look at the white American cultural re-birth of what many call "family values," you hear it loud and clear: "we want what THEY have because somehow, we've LOST it."
Many Caucasians feel lost. The envious ones who resent the privileges of "minorities" sometimes resort to using anger and hatred to regain that sense of lost connection and community. They form groups of "White Nationalists" or "White Supremacists" to protect themselves from what they see as a threat. They form strong lobbying and citizen groups aimed at shutting down open communications about race, culture, and society.
Hate groups and bigots want to break up immigrant families. Why? Because when they do, they know they destroy the spirit, the incentive, and the strength that close ties create. They know people without ties have less power: "Divide and conquer." We have only to look at the dividing of families in the slavery era and the Holocaust to understand what kind of destructive power division holds. And we need not look any further than our own culture to understand what the loss of family has done to us as a society.
The KKK, white nationalists, etc. are nothing but jealous, scared and hateful. People like me can't tolerate their ridiculousness, their attitudes, or their agendas. We think they bring "us" down. But that doesn't mean we don't feel the loss of family, connections, and the kind of security those things brings. And it doesn't mean we should all be lumped together as "those privileged, racist, whites."
As soon as we start to generalize, we fail to have meaningful dialogue. We can see this happening in the immigration discussions right now. It's hard not to do, but we MUST remind one another NOT to do it. Heck, when I talk, I forget all the time. When I do, it's because some kind of emotionalism or distraction is keeping me from communicating the way I want to. I believe there are MANY from ALL ethnic backgrounds who have the same problem, and it's even more noticeable when there is an actual language barrier.
So privilege? Nah. I don't identify with that. I identify more with the poverty and struggles of African Americans and immigrant communities, but because I don't have family connections anywhere near me and I seem white, I don't fit there, either.
I'm not saying African Americans and immigrants don't have struggles many white people don't have. It's true! And it's based on a history of white oppression. They are cultures and races trying to raise themselves up and overcome a history of oppression. But remember, many of "us" are as well. In every ethnic and racial group, there are those who abuse people in the very same ethnic or racial group which only serves in weakening the group. It happens to whites more than people know or acknowledge.
Anyone else here in the same boat? Come on. We're teachers! LOL. How much socioeconomic status do we think WE have?
MT: Privilege is an artifice that depends upon racism and the other isms. People don't earn or deserve the privileges that they get from an affiliation or that are denied or withheld because of an affiliation. Privilege is the baggage of domination.
However, as someone who appears to be white, I can't escape white privilege by saying that I don't believe in a 17th century construct. White privilege begins to disappear when we collectively recognize as you say 'the institutional nature of privileges". I'm probably a bit more pessimistic than you in believing that privilege goes underground rather than completely dying out. For example, I hear white privilege every time someone says that the confederate flag is just a historical artifact.
KMG: "For example, I hear white privilege every time someone says that the confederate flag is just a historical artifact." But for some people, it really is. We can't deny that part of our history. If the owner does indeed believe in the Confederate Flag as more than just history and instead believes in negative ideals of what that flag represents (such as white-only-privilege), it will come out in his/her behavior. This is true of any flag.
EJ: I think this point about the history and meaning of flags is very important. On recent "Real Time with Bill Mahr" there was a discussion of the Confederate Flag being the symbol of racism, slavery and oppression. Trace Adkins, a country singer, author and white Southerner said that is not what it meant to him. The other panelists scoffed and said basically, "well, that's what it looks like to African Americans". He in turn asked what those panelists thought Native Americans felt when they see the flag of the US. They did not pick up this thread at all, and in fact did not want to engage him on it.
And actually, I can't think of a time in the mainstream or independent news coverage of the confederate flag issue that anybody actually raises this issue. The focus is solely on the confederate flag, and the assumption is that the correct thing to do is just to have the US flag flying. This certainly is a form of privilege - not having to defend or explain your relationship to a symbol (the US flag, a Christian cross, etc.) because the meaning of that symbol is assumed to be uncomplicated. So then those who support the Confederate flag become "racists" who have to defend themselves and the racist history of US (as represented by the stars and stripes) is willfully ignored. I'm not saying that people should not be engaged to discuss the meaning they place in certain symbols, but I think it should be general rather than selective.
AW: It can also be selective. I am often quite upset when I think about what my ancestors did to the American Indians. Does anyone read Tony Hillerman's mystery stories? That is another way of appreciating American Indian cultures that the Europeans almost destroyed.
AW: For me the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery, as are the glorified and touristed plantations of the south. Both evoke horror in me.
HD: I'm glad you shared/expressed this horror. I've been living in the Charlottesville VA area for nearly 10 years now, and horror is what I feel SO often --
and shame/guilt/confusion/appalled/astounded-that-I-seem-to-be-the-only-one-who-sees/feels-the-WRONGness of it all --
I remember when Saddam Hussein statues being ripped down made headline news -- I was wishing that would happen here to so many examples of (in my opinion) wrong, horribly wrong, messages...but, we live in a democracy? It is not easy -- free speech, free expression -- (isn't it odd how the word free is included so easily in those statements...) I actually (still) avoid driving past a few statues that perturb me. (avoidance is not an admirable response).
I am still amazed when I see the multitude of confederate flags so blatantly flying when I travel the backroads... and, I'll confess, I'm also terrified.
[I am Holly, human (my preferred primary identification) female, 'white,' 52, raised in NJ for the first 17 years of my life -- on a 32acre nursery/agricultural/dairy farm -- on that farm were 5 residences -- it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that 2 of those residences were essentially "sharecropper" residences -- and that my best friend through 5th grade (a wonderful young boy named Marvin, African-American) lived as the son of a "share-cropping" family. The farm had been in my father's family for three generations prior... I struggle with isms... I struggle with privilege -- my awareness of it and my dependence upon it and the limits I seem willing to act upon and not... I do confront myself more often -- I do BELIEVE in the power of intentional dialogue (for evil and for wondrous positive transformations)...]
An incident occurred recently in my life that I'm still reflecting the implications of:
A longtime single friend (who happens to be Senegalese) called to ask (shyly) if he might bring a friend with him to dinner (he'd been invited to our home for dinner, a frequent happening). We were happy for him and of course extended the invitation and chided him for asking -- but acknowledged appreciation for the advance notice to set an additional place --
Well, the new friend happened to be a US-born African American woman -- we enjoyed a friendly evening, shared a lot of laughs. I hadn't noticed anything awkward (beyond the typical first time meeting kind of thing).
However, on the third subsequent outing together, this young woman expressed her continuing surprise that we really welcomed her presence -- and shared that her visit to our home was a FIRST in her FAMILY -- not a one of the five members of her family had ever been invited to a white person's home before.
The year was 2007...
Does this surprise any of you? or not? What implications might it have for teaching? for PD?
KMG: I think there's a big difference between HAVING a Confederate flag and
FLYING it next to the American flag or in PLACE of the American flag. This isn't a problem with Native Americans because they really are nations unto themselves. The Confederacy is not part of the United States. It's a part of history, yes, but not a nation no matter how much some people would like it to be.
KM: I agree...HAVING a Confederate Flag is different than displaying one any where...whether flying it, hanging off something, in the back window of your car or truck...of course displaying in your own residence or barn or garage would be your business...as long as people do not have to see it daily....why have one on the first place is my question...for historical purposes is one thing...any thing else should be BANNED
EJ: I think banning public displays of the confederate flag would violate the first amendment. As a follow-up to my earlier posting, this week is the 66th anniversary of the law being signed that sent Japanese-Americans to interment camps. The flag flying above the politicians' heads and above the barbed wire of the camps was the US flag. The systematic oppression of people based on their race is not something that is unique to the confederacy.
BM: EJ's warnings about taking on 'more distant' targets (e.g., non-Southerners' criticism of the confederate flag) and avoiding those symbols closer to home (e.g., the U.S. flag) are helpful and even biblical (ignoring the beam in our own eye...) reminders. In Richmond VA iconic Confederate statuary continue to define the city (Monument Ave). Lee, Jackson, and Stuart--wittingly or not--don't so much suppress my freedom of speech as speak (uninvitedly) for me. This may be because they are our 'shared' geography of the city (and this sharing is not merely offered but insisted upon). And I imagine this speaking as unequivocal, final, and hostile to today's social justice movement because, as symbols of an earlier act of revolutionary (or reactionary) defiance, they remain for me stirring avatars of resistance, permanence, non-negotiation and, of course, a culture inextricably bound to the institution of slavery.
Thus, taking EJ's admonition very seriously (to protect free speech), I wonder what options are open to people offended by these inescapable symbols? Frère warned that revolutionary action without reflection merely leads to the replacement of one mob with another. So how should those interested in transforming themselves and their city--in Freire's loving way that is nevertheless as fierce in its own vision of humanity as these monuments are in theirs--proceed?
Kathy: BM said: Thus, taking Erik's admonition very seriously (to protect free speech), I wonder what options are open to people offended by these inescapable symbols? Freire warned that revolutionary action without reflection merely leads to the replacement of one mob with another. So how should those interested in transforming themselves and their city--in Freire's loving way that is nevertheless as fierce in its own vision of humanity as these monuments are in theirs--proceed?
Is through the insightful methods Freire used? Consciousness raising.. group by group... embedding these discussions of oppression and opportunity for something more equitable and life-giving while building empowerment in literacy skills. I also think it is taking a stand...
What do you think?
KMG: "I wonder what options are open to people offended by these inescapable symbols?"
I would think you could rent a billboard and voice your opinion. Or create a piece of art for permanent installation, one that questions blind acceptance of symbols that, for many, represent pain. Or found a museum on the history of local oppression. There are hundreds of ways to express free speech that open the mind rather than attempt to censor and limit.
AW: I think a distinction should be made between race and the individual. The "dominant culture being colorblind" suggests a mammoth dominant culture enacting discriminatory policies--and I would say this is accurate. Redlining, poor and minority kids in poor schools--two examples. So....what is the individual teacher supposed to do? An obvious answer is to teach with as much skill a possible, so the adult students learn best. Poverty is created. Low literacy is one of the methods.
Kathy: Building on some of our conversation about experiences of oppression in learning- and safe environments I also share this experience I actually had 2 salesmen at a computer store last weekend insulted me blatantly. He not only assumed I was a technology novice because I am female and (ahem middle age). But he SAID that I "looked like" someone who would not know technical hardware and software.
KPK's translation: "Here little lady, but the pink version.... this other one is for your husband!"
(Those people who know me we will crow thinking of somebody dong this to me... but read on)
My sons have helped me realize they learned a pattern in these situations. They count on the fact that KPK is going to react. It's funny in the last few years as my sons have come into adulthood, if they are with me (I they usually tail me to the computer store whenever they are in town to get a tech tour from mom)-- they either
- duck out before the corrections are unleashed in staccato phrases or
- they take on the salesperson with their position of white maleness pointing out the errors and abuse in the logic and behavior
It is usually a bit of a scene, but I am past caring about that-- because this treatment of women happens too often.
Another result on the flip side is the sensitivity and awareness this creates in the lives of our children, partners and colleagues as we live the example of not being disparaged, insulted and dismissed! I NEVER want anyone to be treated like this- whether they have novice understanding on any topic...least of all these gender biases
(Epilogue- sales manager gave me discounts on purchases. I filed 3 complaints that day and had white glove treatment. Hard choice as to whether I would give them any of my business at all- but I use the store a lot and figure I will fight for change among the staff rather than abdicate.)
What do we tell our students all of diversity about power in education, commerce and community?
D: There's an amazingly clear and powerful short article written by Peggy McIntosh of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women entitled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" Google it and you'll get a link right to it. I just did.
Rereading it, I remembered the first time I really let the words sink in. Here's one quote: "My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual who moral state depended on her individual moral will," and then later, quoting a colleague...."whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow 'them' to be more like 'us.'"
What most strikes about the way that McIntosh speaks of her white privilege is that is so illusive to those of us who are white (I include myself here) until you stare at in the face and look at the economic and social power that comes along with our position of whiteness in this culture. She starts by looking at how men so often can't and refuse to look at sexism, and then goes-aha! Could this be the same for me?
I still cringe when I read the text. Most recently because as Kathleen has suggested I don't always feel powerful or privileged or listened to or given voice, etc. Still, when McIntosh lists 50 ways that white people benefit from being white, I see what she is talking about--that is on those days when I can not defend the other ways I am and feel oppressed, and just know that to be white in this culture means that I benefit in many, many unjust ways. As the last writer write, our work is leveling that privilege, but first I must recognize it and really, that process will be with me until the end of my days.
Finally, I have used this with other teachers and with adult literacy students and always it has been an amazingly rich conversation.
KMG: I just went through that "white privilege" list, and frankly, I'm completely turned off. Not only do I not identify with what she has determined are privileges, I can't even fathom what kind of world she lives in. When she says things like she can go into stores and find her staple foods, for example, and then uses that as an example of privilege, I wonder where the heck she lives! Most grocery stores in my area have large international sections. Most cities have ethnic-specific stores.
I started to do a little "me-me" with the list (responding to each of her 50 criteria) but I didn't want to start posting things like that without permission. However, it would be interesting to take that list and see how each member of this discussion responds. I know I have "Ha ha! You're kidding, right?" next to several items already (such as affording a house, being able to speak out without fearing retaliation, etc.)
Furthermore, her list once again generalizes white people--she seems to assume that just because people are white, they can afford homes, are not discriminated against because of their color, have no other challenges (such as disability, for examples), and can carry on in some la-la land that to my knowledge does not exist.
Finally, my education NEVER denied me "training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture." In fact, between my upbringing, my religious education, my academic education, and my experiences, I've learned to feel guilty for just about everything. I'm a little bit tired of it. Just because I look white doesn't mean I am the world's oppressor!
So once again, I have NO idea where this woman is coming from. She and I must be living in different parts of the universe.
DN: When I first read the McIntosh article, my reaction wasn't that different then Katherine's on-line (although I can't say I had the chutzpah at the time, 20 years ago to air it like that). My people were working-class poor immigrant. I'm a jew, raised orthodox, a lesbian, a woman, for god's sake-yea, let's talk about safety. My parents, once they moved into the middle class tried to buy a house in western mass in 1960's and couldn't because they were "ethnic" looking, sounding, etc.--so all this is true.
Still, when I look at that list, if I am honest, I can check off the ways that I benefit from my white-skinned privilege, and I think I really can't do any meaningful work to change the playing field if I don't at the same time, identify and record the ways, as a white person, I benefit unfairly, unjustly just for that. For me, it's just one way (certainly not the only, or maybe even the best, but one way) to be real.
And I know when others' are real with me, say about sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. it helps me to trust them, work them, change things.
KMG: Ha ha ha ha! Chutzpah, huh? Well, I will mull that over for a bit but in the meantime ask, since you have had so many challenges yourself how you manage to still feel privileged. Are you flogging yourself for looking white? I mean, maybe I just have a bad attitude.
I do know I have these privileges in this area (wonderful Prince William County VA, notorious most recently for the local government's sickening attempt to "crack down on illegal immigration"):
- Probably I will not be pulled over because I look like an immigrant.
- Probably I will not be asked to prove my citizenship because I have an accent.
- Probably I can get and keep at least a part-time job based on my education, experience level, and citizen status.
So yes, these are privileges because our county has chosen to exclude many from them. But here is the question: because the county removes those privileges from the few, am I "unjustly" benefiting even if I vocally disagree? Am I "unjustly" benefiting based solely on the reasoning that some people are being denied? If we ALL deserve human rights and human respect and we work to make sure ALL of us have that, and in doing so perhaps compromise our own comforts and give up privileges, then are we really BENEFITING from privilege?
Turning privilege on its head, to me, if certain groups are not being treated right, I am not benefiting at all, and neither is society. Having privilege that makes me feel bad because I know from whence it comes is NOT a privilege. It's a BURDEN.
JI: Nancy Cooper and Deanne Bradley, colleagues in Toronto, and I (along with Daphne, I believe - a long ago workshop), adapted those items in the knapsack in order to ask ourselves to think about other lens - ability, sexuality, class, race, education - all those varying places where we have more or less power, more or less privilege.
D: The lens idea is an important one I think. But I also think it's equally as powerful, useful, and meaningful to just look at one filter at a time, to isolate our privilege, to witness without judgment to admit it exists and then to do something about it at Janet has mentioned. For me, one of the most compelling issues of privilege and the field of adult ed is the idea that so many teachers work in such poor working conditions. For that reason, I'm really involved in my union and working with a group of very dedicated adult literacy folks in Massachusetts who are analyzing and trying to change the working conditions for adult literacy teachers. It's one thing to work for out students, it's another thing, I think to recognize the ways that our conditions are directly tied to our students conditions and to use that modicum of privilege (for me that means time and money) to do something about it.
BG: This is a very helpful tool. I agree. If we think in terms of points of opportunity, it is true that looking white always affords one more chances for participation, and often participation is privilege. I worry when racial categories delimit our discussions-- and in this post, I will try to take notes from you, Katherine, and Andres to make the point.
AS A WHITE WOMAN, who is privileged to attend a fancy-shmancy university for doctoral studies, I recognize I am constructed as white, privileged, etc. As a white woman who lost a parent, was raised in an abusive home, whose family nose-dived out of the middle class due to dysfunction and alcohol abuse, I raised myself more or less on my own, and I have worked my way on and off again through college, racking up a ton of debt in the process, while working as a social worker, teacher, and waitress, generally more than one job at a time. I have had opportunities on the borders of my life stages and identities that have given me a window into various types of living, from going on middle-class vacation travel to watching pool-room coke trades to stealing food to eat. I recognize that my color alone has made it more possible for me to leave and rejoin the educational path than it might have been if I were a different color. This, however, has not made it an easy process, nor one (still) with an assumed outcome.
I find it very difficult to identify with (or often to trust) the people in the group with whom I am constructed. If I visit my family, I visit a house with a leaking roof and broken pipes and windows. I have one sibling who is off-and-on homeless, one on welfare, and one working as a waiter attending school on-again-and-off-again as I did. This is not part of the construction for the 'family visit" the peers at my university construct. AND, when in academic discussions we deconstruct privilege, race, and class, the discourse of the class contains embedded in it certain assumptions about family life, home, vacations, and financial status of the students in the classroom that are based on appearance, which turns out to be fairly unreliable. When I take the perspective of lower SES status American Whites and the education dis-identification that comes from that, I notice that the class comments seem to register as less valid than those that take a middle-class white perspective of guilt-ridden privilege. Do I perceive this from a point of defensiveness and desire for inclusion or is this an actual occurrence? How much DOES projection and identity play into the forming of diversity and cultural discussions of YES, AND? YES, AND, how much do we then participate in the re-ification of this process? I know that I often am surprised to learn of a disadvantaged background of a peer or a professor. I recognize my own hypocrisy in this, AND I ask how much of our monolithic constructions of race and identity have to do with the assumptions we make about those who seem to hold privilege and how they got there? I don't deny systemic power imbalances nor the reproduction of these. My goal in this system is to interrupt the reproductions of these, AND I ask how we come to assume them and project them?
AND, does it matter that oppression is felt or constructed? (felt AND constructed? Is oppression a democratic ideal to which a ruling majority must vote?? I have been engaging an experiment of sorts, you might say, to see how the identity I claim in a classroom reflects in the social rewards afforded there. I perceive a difference, but not one I can test under a perfect set of controls. However, I find it very interesting that at a top-tier university where DIVERSITY is the focus of most conversations, I perceive less flexibility in identity than I did at a lower-tier university where, by and large, the student body contained lower to lower-middle class students from multiple racial backgrounds. I find it similarly interesting here where the social constructions placed on an individual from the outside seems to trump the experience of the person, for both privileged and unprivileged races (see discussions on "whiteness" and "exoticism and racial marketing" on this list this week). I wonder, in our discussions of diversity, if we do not apply a diversity for-one-but-not rather than diversity of one-and approach. If we predetermine WHO people can be to participate in diversity, are we not already segregating, again?
Margery: I believe that the wealth of experience and ideas among adult learners and educators hold the seeds of our transformation as a field. In fact, I entered adult literacy work because, as an antiracist organizer, I thought that it was the natural place to work for social justice. Despite our field's distance from our revolutionary roots (e.g. Moonlight schools of Appalachia; Freedom Schools of Mississippi), many adult literacy organizers today use popular education strategies to strengthen our connection with our students and their families. I believe that understanding racism is an essential strategy in that work.
KMG: Okay, now this might have been done already, but someone define or re-define "privilege." When I hear that word, I think of affluent or upper class people who have the ability to work in the field of their choice, raise their families as they wish without major, destructive, external forces intruding, live more than just from paycheck to paycheck, have the choice of living in mainstream society or being left alone, according to preference, pursue their education in a healthy learning environment....
It's more about socioeconomics than ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity, this privilege thing. I'm not claiming "victim of society" here, but many of these things (above) have been beyond my grasp. Therefore, I don't feel "privileged" in our country.
Obviously, I'm a veritable Queen compared to people being bombed out of their homes or terrorized in their own countries or racially profiled in their own county. But if we are applying the word "privilege" to just the United States, I would argue most of us do not fall into that category, no matter what our ethnicity because most of us are in the middle to lower socioeconomic classes--the largest groups of people in the country.
Also, there's a difference between privilege and arrogance. You can have some people who aren't necessarily privileged but who act like they ARE, who carry on like are better than the rest of us who are in the same socioeconomic straights as they are. That's where all the "isms" flourish.
No matter what class we are in or what privilege we have, I think sharing is what it's all about. You don't have to be privileged to do that.....in fact, often it's the least privileged that are the most generous.
DRB: I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of defining what form privilege takes- that of socio economic status. Race is simply an easy way to define someone as inferior in order to create a class at the bottom of the socio economic spectrum. This is what Marxists mean when they speak of the world in terms of class- see race as the tool to divide and create classes based on, as we already agreed, an unscientific, unreal distinction-skin color.
LS: I think that "privilege" is always a relative term. It's a matter of "more than" or "less than," but also, and probably more importantly, there is a whole structure of privileges in this country (and to some extent probably everywhere) that is built right into the fabric of the society and the culture, not to mention the economy, based on long histories of oppression, discrimination, and downright prejudice. It's not just a matter of individuals being "privileged" or "not privileged," at least not in regard to these structures. And it really doesn't matter that much whether you "feel" privileged or not. To me, it's a matter of your status in society, the "place" that you are assigned by history and unspoken social rules. And, it's not really an individual matter at all. Individuals may "rise above their station" and become more privileged than their peers. We all know women, African-Americans, immigrants of color, etc. who have done really well, and there are more every day. But that doesn't mean that the groups don't have more or less privileges. "Privilege" to me is about the status of groups, rather than individuals, as to where they are "assigned" and the barriers, institutional and structural, that they face. And how they are treated by others, and by society in general.
I know this must sound really abstract. Here are some examples:
- I am a white woman of Irish-Italian descent. Because I have light skin, blonde hair and green eyes, people often treat me as if I am not only "white" but some kind of WASP (for which special white privileges therefore accrue!) But my sister looks almost exactly like me except she has darker skin, brown eyes and dark hair, so sometimes people treat here as if she is a person of color. That has been a truly a weird and enlightening experience, for both of us. She used to get followed around in stores sometimes, left out of certain social activities, clubs, cliques, etc. Now that we are both grey and she gets less of a tan these days, this happens less often. But it has been a constant feature of our lives.
- Recently, we read together a book called "Are Italians White?" by a group of Italian-American siblings from New York City that argues that not only were Italians regarded as non-white in the old days, but that such groups that managed to "cross" the racial line in time, tended to develop distinct prejudices and discriminatory attitudes to ensure that they WOULD be regarded as white. If you look at the history of Italians in New York and the Irish in Boston, I'm ashamed to say that you can see a whole history of some groups fighting to RETAIN the white skin privileges they managed to acquire in time--sometimes by holding back people of color. If you don't think there are still racial privileges--you should read these.
- Many of us in the ABE field, including myself until recently, are pretty poorly paid. However, we generally have had pretty good and long educational paths, with degrees and credentials. We have had access to them because we were able to go to good schools as youngsters, and also in many cases because our parents had the resources to send us to good colleges, and/or the information and other resources to access higher education. These are real privileges. Not only white people have them, but most of our field is white. And most of it is part-time-- in most cases you have to have some other source of income, or other supports to fall back on (such as a well-employed partner) to do this. These are all hidden privileges. No, I don't think that ABE teachers are all that privileged as far as pay or benefits, or having to patch together part-time jobs. But, we also have the privilege of being able to "afford" living like this and still remaining in the middle class. It's complicated.
My third example is more general. Recent studies have focused more on "assets" then "income" in analyzing why many people are poor and stay poor. If your parents and ancestors had money, they were probably able to translate that into owning housing, purchasing a good education, even investing in the stock market, owning a car, or having access to a good social network of people with good "connections" and employment prospects. In a way, that is your and your family's "capital." It can readily translate in turn into good jobs and decent income, and on it goes. As the old saying goes, you have to have money to make money. Whether or not we earn a high income, most of us have benefited from those assets now and in the past, and those assets are a key component of "privilege." When folks study assets, as opposed to income, they discover huge racial disparities. Black families, even those with adequate incomes, often don't have any of those assets figuring in their past or family history. No one has, typically, really ever owned anything. So, lack of assets can truly hold people back even when they are earning money, and especially if they hit a major crisis like a health emergency, or family disaster. Without that "cushion," (read: "privilege") it's all too easy to fall back into poverty and real, permanent crisis. So, to me "privilege" is not just what you earn or what you have--it's what you have to fall back on. Even an extended family where there is some wealth, or a place to take you in, or tide you over.
So, in these and many other ways, our society has been structured so that some groups of people have privileges that others don't have, or have less of. Racial minorities are one example. Women are another. Even though there are people of color of all income levels, and women of all income levels, if you look at the broad scheme of things, both groups have and own less than white men, and have less power. That is a system of privilege. It has been broken down to some extent, but it's still there. Where you or I "feel" privileged or not, has little to do with whether we in fact are. Or not.
LG: I, a white US-born woman of upper middle class origins feel completely privileged because in almost every aspect of my life, I am. While my class of origin also plays a role in multiple levels of my privileges, it is also yet another result of my whiteness.
Economic privilege is a bi-product (or at least closely related, however you see it) of racial privilege. One set of grandparents came over Post WWII and were able to 'work their way up' because they could leave their economic identity behind because they were white. Non-white immigrants almost always have hyphenated identities - more often by external forces, than choice. African-American, Chinese-American, Vietnamese-American, Arab-American, Latino. How often does one year the term, English-American, or Irish-American beyond the first generation of immigrants?
Because we were able to 'melt' - to become culturally white in every aspect - my family has been automatically granted the systemic economic privileges that come along with it that many people of color do not and or historically have not had access to: mortgages (esp. in the neighborhoods where other people of a similar nationality/ethnicity are from), loans, resources and connections with other white people that are in positions of status/power or have access to resources, and the 'benefit of the doubt' which has allowed everything from jobs to being able to walk in public and private places without being mistrusted or abused/attacked. The Peggy Macintosh article mentioned earlier is great for starting to see and understand some of the manifestations of white privilege that are often times 'invisible,' especially to those of us who benefit from it.
Obviously, there are serious losses to this process of becoming white as well, but the gains are far greater in a society where the rules have been made by the whites. (For example, immigration of white people has never been effectively restricted - hence the reason that the "my grandparents came here legally and worked there way up - why can't the illegals" argument doesn't hold). I wouldn't have the class privileges I do now because the intermarriage between my mother, from a poor French family, and my upper class US born Jewish father simply wouldn't have happened were it a poor Black French family.
I didn't ask for or create the privileges that come with being white. Nor is it legit to say that my family or I don't work hard. But it is by NO means a level playing field, and I can see this in literally every corner and element of my life when I give a long hard look. It's not about being spoiled, or deserving/not deserving, but being real with the reality of the US systems of race and class so that I can be an active change agent.
Learning how to see the field and how it was constructed has been instrumental in learning how to deconstruct it - which, for me, is one of the most effective, necessary, and honest roles for me to have in justice work.
I honor each of you who is engaged in this conversation and in doing anti-racist work.
We have a lot to do, and it's not easy. But having the willingness to try to sort some of this complicated, ugly, and uncomfortable stuff out is an important step - and it can not and does not happen in a vacuum.
AW: For heavens sake, we are PRIVILEGED in being able to be at a computer and have this discussion! You know, there is a lot we can do besides bemoan our white privilege.--which I am not doing, because I think there are other issues.
There is Greg Mortenson doing what our state Department should be doing--building schools. The guy is chubby and wrung out, he spoke 3 times at three different places, yesterday. He could barely speak he was so tired. BUT what he has done is leave behind him groups of village people who can run the schools he has helped them build.
"Whose side are you on?"
It's the old union song. I really challenge anyone on this discussion to say what they have done, personally, to answer this question.
JI: I don't believe that people in this discussion are bemoaning their privilege. Perhaps recognizing it in its complexities. And yes, typing about it here, now, on this screen, is a huge privilege.
A lot of adult educators are in classes as we 'speak' - without fulltime jobs or benefits, without this time-on-line privilege that many of us do have.
What do we each choose to do about the inequities we recognize?
AM: Regarding privilege, I feel that I have great privileges as an heterosexual male. One of the most obvious one is the feeling of security I have in being alone in many places with little fear of being harassed. I can walk to my car at night w/o calling security. I can stay in my office until late alone. I can go shopping late at night or take a stroll at the park. Women have been deprived of these privileges in many contexts.
Another privilege that I have is the right to express affection to my spouse in public pretty much anywhere. I can also go in public and freely talk about my wife and kids, grandkids, etc and what I did last weekend or last night or what I will do tonight. I have friends that can only share affection with their loved ones in limited spaces or risk harassment and retaliation. They can also not talk publicly about their partners, or what they did last night, etc. In fact, while many know that some of my friends are gay, the unspoken rule is to act as if they don't know and not talk or hear about anything that relates to their lifestyles.
There are other privileges that I can think of that I've noticed I have over the years. However these two are the most obvious ones as a heterosexual male. The two that I describe are rights that have been taken away from a sector of the population because, in truth, we are a primitive, close minded, barbaric society.
AW: Yes, these are privileges. Two nights ago I walked AROUND the Cambridge Common instead of ACROSS. And I tell the students who live with me that they should wear sneakers at night walking home so they can run into the street--people will think twice about running after a person going into the street. However...suppose as a girl you had to learn your letters in the dirt instead of going inside a school, like the boys?
Mortenson stressed over and over about girls--and he ALWAYS said, "Educate the girls and you educate the whole community." Literate women = fewer children and those that are born have better chances of living to grow up.
AW: Gosh--so everyone's a mongrel! And no one wants to stand out because of "privilege"! I don't know what to think of this...a race to the bottom?
KMG: I wouldn't say it's a race to the bottom. I'd say these are statements of individuality. No one wants to be lumped into some category, especially one that isn't fitting. It's just human nature.
I would like to take a vote on how many people in this group actually feel privileged. I suspect there are not as many as we would think, and it's not because we are all a bunch of spoiled brats. Teachers, as I have said before, aren't usually high up on the socioeconomic ladder.
AN: Isn't that part of the problem? Very few of us "feel" privileged, although we are. Just who do we consider privileged - a small owning class of heterosexual young white men? We need to own our varied privileges as readily as we own our disadvantages, even though it makes us uncomfortable.
DRB: For many people, they do not see or feel the privilege everyone else can see so easily.
I know I have privilege because of my skin color. Although I may not notice it all the time, part of the process is knowing and owning that privilege, at the same time refuting its legitimacy consciously and actively.
AW: And it does make us uncomfortable, which is why I think this discussion has a comical side. There have been times when I have been very happy to be in a privileged position-- life can get easier there.
I think Barack Obama may do good things for the self-image of young black men, and I think it may change the way non young black men "see" young black men--those would be two excellent outcomes. I have learned to use it to "gain access to the belly of the beast," so to say.
NQC: I am a Mexican woman, and a happy mother of two young children. I have lived with my partner, a Brazilian American lawyer for 17 years.
While there have been postings regarding "the right to be listened" as opposed to the non optional "being spoken to" I hope I will be able to explain the constant tension or synergy that I have experienced throughout my life. It seems to me that we all share the same dividing categories in our selves from what I have read.
I would like to start with my skin color and features because I think they matter and they are read just as any other ethnicity's' defining features and complexion. I could be categorized as a product of the mixing of ethnic groups and Spaniards in Mexico. I belong to the majority of the so-called "Mestas" Mexicans. I was raised in Mexico City. I come from a family that fought (may I use the word) desperately to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and lack of education. I know for a fact that it takes generations to break the pattern. I just need to think of my own mother, grandmother, and the women before them to have this sense of pain that comes with memories that are of my own, and others that I inherited from them.
My own personal experience, mere anecdotal information, is that the most damaging racism is the one promoted by institutions. Precisely the type of racism that wants to disguise itself as a color-blind society. Or, the type of racism that stubbornly supports the ideology of meritocracy, when indeed the education systems here in America just as much as in Mexico are not based on an equal opportunity for all. People who are not equal can not be treated equally.
In this sense I can only agree wholeheartedly with the most significant tenets of education reform, access, and better resources for those who have been under served and oppressed.
As I read experiences of "whiteness" I think of myself and realize how different it is being Mexican in South Dakota, New York City, Emporia (Virginia), Houston and
Mexico City, all places where I have spent a significant amount of time in my life. While my ethnicity may be read in one way in Houston (I have not been long enough here to be sure of how being a "Mestizo" Mexican woman really feels like, but I am beginning to have a sense of things), in Chiapas, Mexico, it will be read in a completely different way.
And I think that here is where intersections of class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and ability or disability seem to make the category race a bit diffuse. Even though I know I have been discriminated against quite a few times, the one category that really encompasses and carries with it the most defining consequences for people is, in my opinion, class.
There is a book in particular that allowed me to travel throughout the United States and see the lives of the most under served people in this country, many of whom are also white. To an extent the book supports the idea that "identity politics" does not necessarily allow us to create those waves of countercultures and agency where power can be reformulated, power for whom and for what. In "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) getting by in America", Barbara Ehrenreich makes a case against the myth that the majority are doing well in this country. She uses mostly official data regarding access to health care, education, housing, and income. The case for not privileged white, and non-white minorities is really strong.
Then when I think of Mexico the numbers become even more disheartening. A study published by a well respected university, Tecnologico de Monterrey, provides the following numbers: 10% of the population in the country owns 60% of the resources while 60% of the population own 10% of them. This information appeared in a book that could translate as "what shall we do with the poor" "Que hacemos con los pobres?" by Julieta Campos. It is true that the poorest states in Mexico are highly populated with ethnic groups and so not surprisingly some of these regions have "guerrilla movements" actively working at the grass roots level.
One colleague wrote about the privilege that the mere fact of participating in this list entails. She really acknowledges the fact that there is a tendency in the world for significant income gaps among countries, within countries and within cities. And this includes access to technology.
Some of the colleagues that have participated in the discussion have brought up other categories that define their identities. As a Mexican woman, as someone that has dealt with issues that pertain to the medical sciences, as a mother and a long life partner of a white male I tend to think that race matters but perhaps class matters even more. The vicious circle, though remains unsolved, because being of one color may either open or close doors.
Marx has been mentioned in some of the postings. I agree with one of its most fruitful and less orthodox minds, Gramsci, that a moral and intellectual reform can only take place along with an economic reform. But because I don't think this will take place soon nor am I sure if I will live to see it, I try to navigate and surf in the dichotomy that power entails for all of us. For me as an immigrant and as an adult educator there is always that synergy and tension, (feelings that I share with my students), between being unique and belonging, between feeling powerless and moving forward, between speaking to them and remembering as I listen to them where I really come from in all venues of my life.
I have really enjoyed the discussion and I have kept in mind the words of Dr. King in terms of self-disclosure as a potential way to bridge differences. Up to now, I honestly don't know if I will be able to change some hearts. Or, said differently, I don't know if I have the tools to really tap into prejudices and stereotypes. Perhaps the Freirian approach would help. Maybe in the next discussion colleagues could tell us concrete ways in which they deal with this particular issue. I already described one exercise that might be in Wiki. It is based on material that I found in ERIC clearinghouse.
Two examples, talking about race I heard again from students, we are all people. We are all the same. I said to Latino students, maybe if you had a very dark baby you would feel different, right? Question mark in their eyes. I mentioned the Oscars and I said BTW, a short documentary about same sex families won an Oscar...wide eyes. One of my students seem to have really liked the comment. Short steps into nowhere? The work of an ant? Maybe. Sometimes I do want to be listened to.
KMG: Thank you for your beautifully articulated post which contained much more than anecdote--classroom experiences and research make for more than anecdote, yes?
Since I live in Prince William County, VA, have worked with immigrant students, and have a very close friend whom (I believe) is also Mestizo, I am appalled by the horrid treatment of immigrants by a sector of our population encouraged by at least two of our local politicians who are on a witch hunt for "illegals."
- In 2008 America, an individual's low achievement is rarely evidence of oppression by
others. It is far more often evidence of a failure of something much closer to home.
- Re: the claim that the only way to gain individual power is to align with group power.
Please provide evidence that this is the only way.
DRB: I cannot see how, after all years of oppression in this country, the fact that Latino and African-American students are underrepresented in higher education, over-represented in the lower spectrum of the socio-economic ladder, the fact that many people in this country are still without access to a quality education or health care, that LGBT issues are still largely taboo, that women are still paid 75% of what men are, and the overall reality that racism, sexism, and classicism are still alive and well points to anything other than oppression by others.
It is naïve to think that 2008 "America" is separated from 1990 America, 1950 America, or 1500 America. This country's history, nor the world's, does not exist in a vacuum. The actions and systems set up over the past 400 years have very real consequences for today. The "failure closer to home" you speak of, is the result of the perpetuation of conditions that have existed for centuries-denial of a right to an equal education, being ignored by the general population, an absence of mental health facilities, an absence of support networks, the perpetuation of drug and alcohol conditions that exist within the upper echelons of the socio economic pyramid but without the avenues to address them etc. Just because it is not o.k. to be overtly racist in mainstream culture anymore does not mean racism and oppression based on skin color (or sexual orientation (which is still ok in mainstream culture, for the most part), gender, etc. have somehow been absolved from our country.
Of course individuals make choices, and sometimes they have nothing to do with their surroundings, but if you continue down that path, that it is a failure closer to home- you will end up blaming the victim- something you are coming quite close to right now.
- There is now a greater income disparity between African-Americans and their "white" counterparts in 2008 than there was in 1970.
- Racial stereotyping is still prevalent across all forms of media.
- Poverty is disproportionately existent in minority groups.
- Schools tend to be less funded and with less experienced teachers in poor neighborhoods.
I never said the only way to gain power is to align with a group, I said that by being a part of a group, an individual is afforded the chance to gain power- "power in numbers." I merely said that it is much easier and more powerful when you align yourself with a group to make social change. Power can be attributed to a lot of different things, some of them individual- but tell me a person who has gained power without the help of others, without appealing to people with the same interests, without receiving money and support from an organization.
Let me guess, everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Everyone has equal access to a comfortable life in America in 2008. And if some immigrants can do it, well then golly gee, all can.
AW: I think people have a kind of shorthand for how they group people--a visual shorthand, actually. I move between a number of groups, and they all "call out" a different response from me. It is possible to transcend the visual shorthand if there is another set of rules, principles, norms which transcend. I've done it. There are probably other things to say about this...but not now.
AW: It depends on how you define "oppression." I am not a fan of the word, too much militancy identified with it. If you are saying that it is a failure of parents, I think that can be partly true. It can also be the result of poverty and ignorance--low birth weight babies, poor and ignorant mothers, high fetal stress. Poor teaching. I think poverty is created.
KL: Bibliographical references would include the plethora of stats concerning out-of-wedlock births, drop-out rates, fatherless families, drug and alcohol abuse, and sleeping until noon. In other words, there are numerous bad individual choices that can negatively affect one's ability (and the ability of one's children) to create a non-impoverished life. In an opportunity-enriched society, individuals get to make choices. Even bad ones.
CH: I teach several Math classes in a non-profit adult literacy school. I also teach G.E.D. classes in a state prison. I reject the notion that privilege and poverty are functions of skin color in America, although, I don't discount the obvious correlations between the two. These issues are very complex and they deserve more attention than some of the trendy conspiracy theories that we so often hear in the media and pop-culture as a whole. Slavery was a function of capitalism and profit, not skin color or even racism. The plantation owners used slaves because it was an available means of cheap labor at the time. Interestingly, only about 5% of Americans owned slaves in an industry that was satisfying about 80% of the world's cotton requirements at its peak. In fact, the records tell us that slavery was exclusive to corporate plantations. The common misconception that every white family owned a few slaves deserves some of the credit for the misguided assumptions that white people, in general, are responsible for the oppression of black people. A much tighter grasp on logic will help us realize that the oppression that blacks suffered during the years of slavery were from the hands of the capitalist class of that era in the form of the corporate plantations. The social injustices of today in this country are no different. I cringe when I read some of the general comments made in this post that seem to imply that anyone other than the capitalist class in this country has ever had the power to oppress anyone. And, if privilege is power perceived, I think its time we re-think that concept as well. It is also from this awareness that I am willing to make the assertion that privilege is a function of social class, not skin color. To reverse the logic, in my opinion, would force me to accept the notion that racism is a natural human condition of white people and/or our species as a whole as opposed to merely being a product of social construction. In fact, the legal records of the time seem to indicate that racism was used by the same capitalist class as a means of preventing the masses of poverty-stricken, cotton picking whites from identifying with the slaves. The construct was effectively delivered to the masses through the penal system and the catalyst for racism and resentment was in place for subsequent internal control. For example, white men became legally obligated to join search posies for runaway slaves. Other laws forced whites to prevent blacks from assembling without the presence of a white person etc...So, skin color cannot be the criteria for what makes a person privileged or oppressed IF one agrees with the notion that the capitalist class exclusively controls the institutions that control this country. Take a moment and think about our how much access you have to your elected officials in comparison to that of the corporate special interest lobbies before you answer. The significance of all of this to me as a teacher is great. I never allow myself to fall victim to "white guilt" as a teacher because I know that my "working class" ancestors had nothing to do with the oppression of anyone at any point in time. This basic understanding is what allows me to feel supremely comfortable when I find myself in front of any of my students, regardless of race or cultural differences. I feel that this is a much healthier perspective for myself and my students. One of the issues that this post has discussed is how we, as privileged, white teachers can better understand and relate to our "oppressed" students. I suggest we start off by realizing that, for those of you who were not born into the capitalist class, you have a lot more in common with your students than you realize. I think we've been picking cotton together all along. Privilege and poverty are functions of social class, not race. Taken the other way around leaves no hope for any of us.
KMG: Yes...slavery was more about economics than anything else. This country could have enslaved ANY ethnic group. Slave owners really didn't care about skin color. What they cared about was free labor. And as you point out, whites were also enslaved.
We can get into the discussion of indentured servitude, enslaved South American native populations, and other displaced classes, but again, I think it's more about social class than anything else. The early U.S. settlers came here, among other reasons, to escape an aristocracy that didn't allow social mobility, financial independence, or freedoms, such as religion and speech.
The middle class is something we borrowed and developed here. We still struggle to protect it, and as individuals, resist the poverty that destroys us. Historically, there has always been the struggle between the have and the have-nots. Racism can be viewed as a bi-product of general oppression in any setting.
When we take out race, color and ethnicity, when we look at the world outside of the U.S. we can see that the real struggle is about survival. THAT is what we have in common.
Margery: Becoming anti-racist is a life-time journey for me. I still benefit from being white in this society. I still make plenty of mistakes in my assumptions and assessments about people and situations. But I believe, after 25 years on this journey, that as I become clearer about racism, I am able to form more real, trustworthy relationships not only with people of color but with my own white colleagues, friends and family.
People interested in learning more about the Undoing Racism workshops should go to the website of The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, http://www.pisab.org, where I am a trainer/organizer.
AW: Many have tossed the word RACE around. Everyone abhors RACISM. Now--can we please define RACE? Please? Otherwise, I do feel that this conversation will dissolve like fog under the sun, snow under road salt, or whatever metaphor is appropriate.
Margery: In the work I do with The People's Institute, we define race historically. We say that race is a specious (looking true but actually false) classification of human beings, created by Europeans and white Americans in the 16th-18th centuries, that uses the notion of "white" as the model of humanity, in order to establish and maintain power. Racism is the ideology, or belief system, based on race.
This isn't the way race is used in every day speech, but it does help us understand how we've all been played.
DRB: Race- based solely on the color of skin, it has more recently come to signify a host of other characteristics. A more apt description is Ethnicity- taking into account culture, and geography, place of origin etc.
I think defining is truly missing in so much discussion.
I cannot help, because of my sociological background, to notice when Latinos refer to La Raza, when "latin" is an ethnicity- defined by a mixture of European and indigenous origins. Brown has now become part of our racial discourse, but the definition of brown also changes over time. How many Arabs are referred to as brown? Most Arabs, historically, were actually considered "white."
And on that subject, what is "white?" Is it Aryan, Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon?
Most anti- racists that I speak to say it is when your skin is light colored. However, Jews have only recently become lumped into the "white" category.
Black is a race, African-American is a name based on nationality but is usually used to denote ethnicity.
Margery: One thought about your racism/oppression analysis: Yes indeed, people have always oppressed one another throughout history. I wish more of us had your historical analysis! I think it's important for us to understand how race (which you rightly call "simply the latest tool to use" in oppression) was constructed and institutionalized here in the U.S. and has been exported around the world. It is often called the "peculiar institution," unlike other forms of oppression. Knowing this can help us not only begin to dismantle it, but also help those coming from other countries better understand why and how they are boxed in. A Turkish person becomes white when she lands at JFK; a Thai person becomes "Asian"; a Chilean person becomes "Hispanic"; a Ghanaian person becomes "Black". Race dehumanizes us all. Yet we can't simply become colorblind, because the structures of our society remain unchanged. Better to analyze how and where we fit into this racially constructed society, so we can come together and transform it.
DRB: Thank you for your recognition Margery. Obviously this subject is important and thought provoking.
Many times people think that because I do not focus on race as a sole means of oppression, but as part of a system of oppression, that I do not believe we should focus on it. I think the most important way to utilize race in the discussion is to focus on its roots and its effects in the past and present in many geographical regions, while understanding its role in the bigger picture. Slavery here was different because of its use to perpetuate a then new form of capitalism- creating the racial divisions we now see as the only form of racism.
I do believe that racism, so entrenched in our society, is able to stand alone as a means of oppression now. However, when we frame it in the context of why it is so entrenched in our system, we can begin to break down its walls- together. This is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was realizing at the end of his life.
A study that I recently came across, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/634/black-public-opinionu is very interesting to me indeed. I think it shows how race is nothing but a perpetuated mind-state based on material circumstances- that black culture in America has never been homogeneous.
AW: OK, so when we say "race" we are talking about those with black or dark skin whose ancestors, or themselves, came from Africa. We are also talking about the history of many of these people with dark skin in this country, that is, their history of being enslaved. Racism then would be????
Margery: Just a clarification about "race": Race emerged as European/Anglo-Americans established their legal and economic power in this country. It was more about being white than anything else. For example, the first federal law passed by the new United States (in 1790) limited naturalized citizens to "free white persons". Over the next 150 years, many groups of people tried to become naturalized citizens. A law passed in 1870, after the Civil War, permitted both blacks and whites to naturalize, but not Asians or Native Americans. Racial bars to naturalization didn't end until 1952.
I have benefited greatly in my understanding of race by reading, among other things, White By Law, by Ian F. Haney Lopez (NYU Press, 1999). Haney Lopez talks about how these legal struggles still shape our concepts of race, law, and whiteness. Another history is Thomas Gossett's classic study, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Pendulum Press, 1987).
I wonder whether any teachers have used the 2003 3-part PBS film, called Race: The Power of an Illusion, in your classes? If so, what sort of responses did it elicit from students?
The film is available from: http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0149 and comes with a study guide: http://www.pbs.org/race/0000_General/0000_00-Home.htm.
DRB: When we say race we are talking about classification based on skin color. Racism is the act of limiting options and choices, and creating a lower class of people based on their "race."
I italicize class because at its core, racism is about keeping all people of a predetermined biological characteristic in a particular socio-political class- one that does not have access to equal rights. That is why "separate but equal" is a fallacy, no one uses racism to create a separate but equal upper class made up of the "other."
AW: OK, so racism is an ideology based on the spurious concept of race that attaches negative attributes to those defined by "race." Under these negative attributes is greed--those on the other side gain financially through the ideology of racism. --I have to put money in here, it is my practice to ask, when a contentious issue rises its head, "Where is the money in this problem?" OK, then why do we not enclose this spurious concept in quotation marks to designate it as spurious?
DRB: Yes, racism is the ideology you described, but prejudice is the action. Race is a spurious concept to those that can deconstruct it, however race has come to be very real and not spurious because of the actions taken to solidify it as an actual signifier. I think putting it in quotes is appropriate for some discussions and not for others.
And I do not think it is simply greed, or money, but everything that goes along with it- a comfortable life, supposed progression, health care, the ability to care for one's own family, etc. - things that are not bad on their own, but when acquired on the backs of others, are indeed steeped in the blood and anguish of others.
People have been accustomed to thinking that rich and poor is natural, or that the only way to accomplish the aforementioned goals is to subjugate others. Therefore, race becomes a (weak) way to legitimize that. Are you going to feel bad for oppressing someone if you think they deserve it, or that they are not human, or at the least less human than you?
It is a form of dissonance and disconnection, a way to stay Christian and believe in oppression, a way to absolve morality or values or ethics consciousness.
AW: I now enclose the word "race" in quotations because it is a word that describes something that does not exist, it is a powerful word that has created havoc on the planet, and I will not legitimize it by putting it out there without quotation marks. And I really do want to know from anyone who disagrees exactly what legitimate reality they think they are describing.
Margery: Your lively responses remind me again that discussing race and racism without having a common language means that we often talk right past one another. I've often thought that it's remarkable that in a society that prides itself on its can-do spirit, very few of us have studied what racism is and what we can do about it. Each of us is left to decide what racism is based on our individual experiences and opinions. (I'd hate to think what a fix sick people would be in if physicians dealt with disease the way our society deals with racism!)
What I have learned from history is that racial categories were invented - made up - to keep a particular socio-political arrangement in place. The idea of "white" as a positive legal status emerged out of the 17th century colonial experience. It gradually expanded to include all people of Europe and the Middle East. Until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, this arrangement was completely legal.
My point is that "race" is a socio-political status rooted in an ideology that says white people are "better than," and everyone else is less-than". (Thus the persistence of the word "minority".) So today, while legal white supremacy is outlawed, it continues because it is woven into the very fabric of our history and society. If we don't know this history, then the idea of being privileged feels very uncomfortable. But just ask yourselves, if we took every single KKK/white supremacist and put them in a rocket ship to the moon, would we still be dealing with racism? When we think about "white" as a collective designation, the institutional nature of the privileges become clearer to see.
DRB: It should be noted that racism is prevalent in many parts of the word, not just the U.S. Oppression is not exclusive to the United States, or any one country for that matter. Racism has existed for a relatively short amount of time compared to many other forms of oppression.
In most discussions about race, it is very rarely stated as to why racism exists, who it benefits, that people of oppressed races can also benefit from racism and use it to their advantage, and that what is considered a "race" in one decade may be considered something entirely different in another.
Slavery did not start with the U.S. slave trade. Oppression based on culture, gender, and overall economic dominance has been in existence much longer, as has the use of slavery.
Too many times do I hear people state they want to eliminate racism, which means they want "their" people to be at the top too, without realizing that with a top, there must be a bottom. They don't want an end to oppression, they just want their group to be able to oppress too, even if it is not stated explicitly in this way, this is where this kind of thinking leads.
When we forget that slavery and oppression have been perpetrated by almost every ethnicity/race around the world, then we form groups to fight racism that view one group as the oppressor and one as the victim, as opposed to both groups existing as they are exclusive to a particular time period and geographical location.
However, this is not only ignorant of history, but also serves to split people up. Jews now enjoy a relatively high status in American culture, but because many fought exclusively for Jewish rights, and not the rights of all past, present, and future generations of oppressed people, they have become part of the oppressor.
Many Latinos state anti-racist sentiments while evoking images of Aztec warriors. What must be remembered is that the Aztecs also were imperialist, had slaves, and slaughtered and subjugated other tribes.
Tribes in Africa held slaves, as did, obviously the Egyptians.
Margery: Race is about status, not numbers. That's why, in some communities with majority Black or Latino populations, you'll hear the term "majority minority." In this race-constructed society, white people have a privileged status - even though it is unearned and unsought-after. As we begin to better understand what that means, we realize that race was constructed to divide us! Knowing that, we can begin to work together toward a society in which everyone is treated as fully human.
MM: While this discussion was primarily initiated with a focus on race and has touched on numerous diversities, I would like to swing back to a discussion of gender (intersecting with race and class). As the director of WE LEARN and one of the organizers for the annual conference, the work we do is organized through the lens of gender. How do we understand these tensions through gender? What are the differences and similarities for women (as women) across the diversities of race, language, ethnicity, and class? How do women learners experience these tensions or competitions in the classroom? How do teachers/educators understand or observe these tensions?
In the work that I'm doing, I often hear these reflections:
- Women's issues are "passé." An International Reading Association (2006) report that suggests literacy leaders want gender issues in literacy eliminated from the "what's hot" list due to lack of attention to these issues. To me, injustices based on gender still very much exist, but it sometimes feels like being able to hold this awareness is difficult. Keeping gender visible remains increasingly harder to articulate or keep in the conversation.
- Teachers can't/won't address women's issues or use women-centered curriculum because they teach both men and women. Some teachers won't make room for women-only learning opportunities (such as Women Leading through Reading) because they can't figure out what to do with men during those sessions.
But then, I have these experiences:
- I have spoken with many women learners who say that part of what they want are tools to talk to men and their sons about ways to treat women with respect and dignity. Having time and space to talk with other women about women's issues supports their ability because they become stronger and more confident as advocates for themselves -- and they want more as well.
- If we talk about women/gender, does that mean we leave men behind? When we look at our curriculums, what's pieces of literature do we use? what pieces of history have focus (outside the "months" of black and women)? What biographies/memoirs get used? In 1993, Quigly & Holsinger reported a study of sexist, racist, and socioeconomic stereotypes in literacy materials and found that materials reproduce the cultural/political status quo -- not much differently than numbers they researched in 1977! I wonder if that's improved today? (I'd love to get some $$ to research that!) In my work with WE LEARN, specifically our projects of building a women-centered literacy resource list, sponsor Women Leading through Reading and create Women's Perspectives, I find that both students and teachers are hungry for materials that reflect women's experiences but that also invite or offer strategies and solutions.
- The work and mission of WE LEARN attracts many women -- and some men. Some people have assumed the conference is for women-only. We have never stated this (it's not).
I'm very interested in the discussion about how we create women-centered spaces for learning (that embraces all the myriad of gender, sexuality, race, class, disability, language, cultural diversities), because, for the most part, I'm hearing that teachers can't -- not because they don't want to but rather because they are pushed by curriculums, NRS, assessments, narrowly defined student goals, and other standards to move away from these discussions because they have other formal instructional tasks or goals at hand. One of the things we can learn from community-based popular education experiences is that this does not need to be so.
I would say that the WE LEARN conference offers both students and teachers an alternative environment in which to explore many issues related to women and teaching, learning, social justice intersections, whole person learning and other activities. The challenge for WE LEARN becomes to find ways extend these opportunities through and into local communities year round, especially by making connections to communities who are already doing this fabulous work in local programs and regions. WE LEARN not only wants to address what we do in conversations and teaching/learning, but look also look at the broader array of supports that can be learned from our many cultures, experiences, and diversities.
How do I do it? Listening, reflecting, sharing personal struggles, trying new things, making mistakes, learning from mistakes, holding a big picture/vision while understanding the detail, exploring and understanding intersections, refusing to only see things as either/or and trying to understand the both/and, evaluating, understanding and accepting my own complicated diversities and contexts, more listening, more trying, more mistakes, more reflection.....keeping hopeful, struggling to remain humbled, owning and using well my own power and privilege while seeking to draw out what's powerful and good in each person -- and accepting and challenging the yin to really get more balanced with the yang...more listening, more trying, more mistakes, more reflection.....
KMG: What is a women-centered curriculum (outside of gender-specific classes schools)? If we are using a variety of teaching techniques, doesn't that address women's needs?
AW: To answer your question to Meg, from a participant in her conferences: all of us live in a male-centered world. To go to the conference is to experience another world and a sisterhood--Mev can fill in the details of what she does to make this happen. BUT--there are flowers, so I know I am welcome..
MM: I tend to make a distinction between women's literacy materials -- these would be items that address specific women's issues -- such as health, historical or personal stories of women, historical events specifically affecting women, writings by women authors that bring in different voice and perspective, gender-based violence such as rape or battering...etc.
Women-centered curriculum, however (in my view), addresses more holistic concerns -- in a conscious way. [and this goes to theoretical an understanding of curriculum and hidden curriculum]. using a variety of teaching techniques MIGHT (though not always will) address this. and, indeed, some might argue that using what I call women-centered might look more like "universal design" or "humanistic" practices -- but I would argue that we have come to value them specifically because we have raised awareness around women's needs, experiences, learning theory, and an awareness of women-centered practices...
so, what do I mean specifically... for example, making sure that women's needs are addressed so that they can come into the learning environment -- providing childcare, making sure that women's issues and topics are consistently addressed (by using such materials I mentioned earlier), environments that value collaboration/cooperation instead of competition, understanding the impacts of violence and trauma on learning (especially for women who live in battering situations or experience sexual violence), acknowledges broader understanding of valued work (e.g. child-rearing, homemaking), understanding the gender-based reasons why women lack educational access and how to address those barriers -- both in the classroom and programmatically, environments that value storytelling and learner experience as well as voices of "authority" or "being told," opening spaces to hear women's stories (often culturally/diversity based) that allow for voices to emerge and be heard...I'm sure other have much to add here...
This list can and does go on and on... some might recognize this as a list of qualities valued by race-based styles of teaching/learning (e.g. First nations), or as what can be identified through popular education. I do not want to imply a hierarchy of competing needs or strategies, merely to suggest that what persists in many of our literacy classrooms may not (does not?) support best possible achievements for women -- as women.
And thanks to AW's remark about the conference...my only "difference" would be to say that the conference is organized by many people who spend hours doing various pieces of work -- I facilitate the process but it's the work, viewpoints, and visions of many energetic and creative women who make it happen!
KMG: so would a women-centered curriculum be offered in a single-gendered class (for women)?
MM: not necessarily
Margery: Your writing about gender issues being "passé" reminded me of BM's post a couple of days ago about how Asian-Pacific Islanders are frequently "invisibilized" by the dominant culture.
Your experience advocating for women's literacy also seems to reflect the dichotomous way our culture operates: We have to fight for Women's literacy or API studies because our institutions respond that if we support these then somehow others will be diminished.
I believe our social justice movement will be stronger when we can organize for women's literacy as part of what we all need, and demand API studies because they enrich us all.
Kathy: I really enjoy this focus on women's needs... so many people do not think through the depth of how women's needs and challenges impact the educational environment and climate.
Communicating through modeling, action, and word that the opportunities are different here...that we have a welcoming space is essential.
I take great pleasure in creating these spaces in male-dominated and mainstream settings so that women can enjoy for perhaps the first time being respected and heard. What makes more of us hesitate in creating these spaces and environments? Why do we shrink back from talking about legitimatizing domestic skills and "women's work" (yuck what a phrase)?
Here are a few specific examples:
- Why do men appreciate my technology and statistical skills only when I prove myself?
- And why do they discount or tune out to the mathematical and analytical skills I used in women's quilting and knitting coop in rural America?
If we as educators do not support this, who will?
KMG: Why, when I used to tell people I taught, did they automatically say things like, "Oh, first grade?" When I told them "college," they didn't believe me.
Why, when I told some higher education professionals that my children need special educational services did they look at me like I was some kind of bad parent?
Why is it when I say I am half Sicilian, people assume I cook well?
Why, indeed, is quilting not recognized as complex geometry with emphasis on spatial and mathematical skills? That's what it is, after all. (That's why I can't do it!)
And what about knitting and crocheting? I mean, come on. There is a LOT of counting going on there! (Too much, if you ask me!)
Assumptions are just ridiculous symptoms of unthinking human beings. Unfortunately, we've all done it.
Kathy: I would like to change gears a bit and focus on different types of diversity than have not been addressed so far, such as gender orientation or sexual orientation, and/or religion.
We have done a lot to bring multiculturalism into k-12 education, but are constrained because of school board restrictions and polarized politics. DO we have more freedom in adult literacy and ABE? And how do we use it for the benefit of our students and the individuals within those classes who don't usually get recognized in mainstream society?
I work to try to bring more international and diverse voices in our literature though our journal here at Fordham and NYACCE (Perspectives: The New York Journal of Adult Learning (http://retc.fordham.edu/perspectives) and through some of my book publications (http://www.kpking.com). However...how, why, or why not these groups are provided more voice in our classrooms? And how can we do more?
For instance, I am thinking of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) issues and how they have so inflamed the nation and k-12 education in recent years. Also, immigrant and religious groups who are variously looked down upon, persecuted or falsely characterized by our society...
I am presenting a paper oat AERC conference this June 2008 on Underrepresented individuals and groups developing voice through technology: Democratization of the media (podcasting and GLBT). We also have several pre-conference at the Adult Education Research Conference including the GLBT Pre-conference.
Responses, perspectives and how, why or why not these groups are provided more voice in our classrooms? And how can we do more?
DG: Two issues regarding diversity that have been slightly touched upon, but not really discussed are sexual orientation and gender orientation. I think that these are very important issues that get very little attention, especially in the adult literacy classroom.
One area where there is lack of attention is in the area of books. When adult literacy providers purchase high interest/low vocabulary books for their library, they often take great care to make sure that the books reflect diversity-they try to make sure that the characters of the various books include diverse groups such as African Americans, Christian, Chinese, elderly, Muslim, White, etc. However, even if they wanted to make sure that they had a few books written at low enough levels that highlighted characters with nonstraight, and/or nongender conforming characters, they would have difficulty finding such books. This is a shame because the more people read, the better they become at reading. In order to increase people's motivation to read, the characters of books have to at least sometimes reflect people they can relate to.
One day, I would love to conduct research to figure out what is the percentage of nonstraight and nongender conforming learners in adult literacy classrooms. On the one hand, the percentage may be lower than expected because they may not feel welcome in the classroom setting (for example, a teacher asks people to write about their weekend and a lesbian student does not feel comfortable writing the truth about her experience house hunting with her partner). On the other hand, perhaps the percentage may be higher than expected because of the large numbers of gay students who drop out of high school due to bullying in school. For example, here are some statistics related to children:
- 78% of youth report that gay and lesbian youth are teased or bullied in their schools and communities. 93% of youth hear other youth at school or in their neighborhood use words like "fag," "homo," "dyke," "queer," or "gay" at least once in a while, with 51% hearing them every day (National Mental Health Association).
It's bullying in schools, along with other forms of discrimination and lack of acceptance, that lead to:
- LGBT youth being twice as likely as heterosexual youth to abuse alcohol, and eight times more likely to use cocaine/crack (The American Association of Pediatrics).
- 48% of LGBT youth having seriously considered suicide, 29% of LGBT youth having seriously attempted suicide, and 30% of all completed adolescent suicides in the U.S. having been committed by LGBT youth (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
I think that this is an issue, which deserves attention in the adult literacy field.
Kathy: I agree it is just like k-12 schools as a place of oppression and danger for LGBTQ youngsters, adult education programs, because of their association with formal education carry the same emotional baggage for LGBTQ adults.
We need to address these needs, understand them, and provide access and strategies to serve our LGBTQ community. It is well documented that they are underserved in health care (not only men but also women), most likely the same with education because it is associated with disclosure, hierarchies and bad prior experiences.
We have plenty of fertile ground as adult educators…
AW: How big a problem is this? The lack of books about gay / lesbian or LGBT youth for same? I agree with your sentence about "percentage of nonstraight....etc." Does anyone have an idea about the numbers?
DG: It is unclear how big a problem it is because we don't know how many LGBT adult learners attend adult literacy programs, and how many tried to attend only to drop out because they did not feel supported.
In terms of lack of books for youth, I don't have much experience with youth, but I do know that there are books written with LGBT characters. I don't think that they are widely available in schools or covered in the curriculum, but I could be wrong. My guess is that they are not. It would be great if they were, for a whole lot of reasons. Hopefully, there would be a different culture with LGBT individuals being more accepted, LBGT kids would feel better about themselves and feel more included, they would feel more motivated to read, etc., etc. Of course, adding books to the curriculum would not immediately get these results, but it would be a step in the right direction.
MM: There is a good amount of young adult (and children's) fiction & non-fiction that includes lgbtq characters-sometimes carried in school libraries or used by HS guidance counselors, educators. For an understanding of how some of this may be integrated into K-12 curriculums, I refer you to Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN):
I think schools in some areas might be getting safer, but there's still an enormous amount of work to do (as evidenced by the statistics you mentioned).
For adult literacy purposes, there are problems with this literature -much like using children's and young adult books in general. The characters may not be addressing more adult issues, concerns, experiences. The YA stuff tends to focus on HS experience-ok for what it is, but maybe not always of interest to adults.
In my broad search I have created a booklist of titles-both fiction and for PD purposes-that will be of use to educators. I will have it posted to the conference ALE Wiki site for all to see. Let's just put it this way--there's more than you would think....but there ain't much! At the WE LEARN Conference on Saturday afternoon, I will facilitate a caucus discussion on this topic along with discussing some plans WE LEARN has on this topic...
AW: I asked one of my dearest friends, who is gay, about the numbers of (isn't there an inclusive term?) xxx people in the population, and he said he thought about 10%. I found that very helpful because as I walk here and there, see people, I can think about the numbers I am seeing and how many of them are xxx. C'mon, people! Please give me an inclusive word! :)
MM: I find the 10% statistic misleading-and hard to arrive at....
There are so many places along the spectrum of human sexuality-for expression and identity-I'm not sure what this 10% refers to...
ALSO, even if it is the case, there's more to it than just the actual people who are lgbtq....I've heard so many students say that they want access to this literature, not because they identify this way, but because of concerns for or experience with a family member, friend, work colleague, etc. ...
"What do I do if my son tells me he's gay?"
"I still love my sister, even though she's a lesbian, but I don't know how to support her."
"My friend is a teacher and just came out as gay."
"My mom is gay and I kept getting beat up?"
…and on and on with the myriad of experiences. So, it's not only about how we best serve our lesbian or gay students, but how do we support all students to acknowledge and address these issues in the ways we address other socioeconomic cultural issues?
DS: One aspect of sexual and gender identity that has received some attention in the field is how there is a trend with some of our refugee and immigrant populations. My colleague Rick Kappra in San Francisco has been anecdotally documenting this for years, and has in the past, set up ESOL classes to specifically deal with this phenomenon-to have lower rates of heterosexual students and higher rates of glbt students in our class. Specially, we have found that adults leave particular countries because of those countries defacto and formal policies toward gay, lesbian, bi, transgender people. Again, this means that we may have larger groups of glbt folks in some of our classes. If at minimal, as already talked about on this list, "queer" people make up at least 10 percent of the population, we can expect that 1/10 of our students, co-workers, everyone really is gay/lesbian/bi/trans. In some classes, the percentages may be higher because of the trends mentioned above.
VR: I thought this group would enjoy reading my new working paper on negative emotion, gender, and money management. "The paper is entitled "The Financial Psychology of Worry and Women." The abstract of the paper is available at:
Also, if you scroll down the webpage you can download a PDF file of the paper.
Kathy: There is a volume of New Directions of Adult and Continuing Education which was published in the past 2 years on the topic as well. It includes several excellent chapters.
Hill, R.J. (2006). New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Issues in Organizational Settings, 2006 (112).
Dear Participants in this two-week discussion,
We have had a lively time, haven't we? It was an honor to be part of this conversation.
When we began two weeks ago, I said that the reason I joined the adult education community 14 years ago was because I believe it is the place in our society where educational transformation begins. What better place to talk and organize around social inequities than with people who have been failed by our schools? people who struggle each day to keep their families fed, clothed, housed? people who come to this country because of a dream but face discrimination because of their look or language?
As a life-long educator and an anti-racist organizer, I know that building this movement for social justice is a long process. We and our students need to get a sense of our own power if we are going to create a collective voice to challenge the inequitable structures of our society.
In my 25 years of work with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond (http://www.pisab.org) I have learned that I am only as effective as I am clear about the dynamics of power and privilege that impact my own life. Just to be well-meaning is not enough. I need to be a student of history, a policy analyst, a social critic. I need to be self-reflective, know my own story, so that I can tell it to others. I need to understand myself both as an individual and as part of a larger white collective, so that when I sit down at the multicultural table I know who I am and why I am there.
One thing that the 2-week discussion demonstrates to me is that we need a common language to talk about these "isms" that dehumanize and divide us. As we continue our work, I hope we'll not only have other opportunities to learn from one another, but that we'll come together and organize the adult education community as a powerful voice for social justice.
Wow-what an amazing two weeks this has been. I want to thank everyone for their participation-this includes: lurkers who took the time to read and think about the posts, posters who asked tough questions, posters who shared deep feelings, attitudes, and beliefs, and last but not least our 2 facilitators Margery and Kathy for inviting us to take the plunge and explore difficult territories.
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