Revisiting Definitions of Racism in the Classroom

Is racism prejudice plus power as Beverly Tatum and other theorists assert or is the better definition something like this from the Anti-Defamation League– “Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics”?

3616922753_14c7ec393dFrom my experience at diversity conferences and anti-racism workshops, I learned to embrace the first definition and its corollary that only white people can be racist. As a white male, I figured that with privilege came this evil power to be racist. I might even be willing to argue the converse, that no white person is free from racism. No matter how well-meaning she or he harbors unconscious biases and is complicit in the system of oppression.

Then I tried to teach the R = P + P definition and the racism is limited to whites concept to high school freshmen. It didn’t go so well. I tried to float an example explaining that a black teacher who gives all white students C’s and all black student’s A’s is not racist. Well, that concept is hard to explain in a way that a 14-year-old will buy. The theoretical point that the black teacher is not contributing to systemic oppression is a bit lost in the concrete give and take of the classroom. Creatively labeling the black teacher prejudiced, bigoted and everything short of racist did not really help.  This disputation may be good in that it leaves the students’ thinking a bit muddled as the topic is complicated and it would be wrong to suggest easy answers exist. Still I fear the muddle could lead to paralysis. One cannot fight racism if one cannot define it.

Then there is the point that all this semantic muddle is pointless when actual people are dying. The technical definition of racism does not matter to Tamir Rice.

Music Choice Reflecting Cultural Pride: Black Heavy Metal Fan Criticized

what are you doing hereOn NPR today there was an interview with Laina Dawes in which she talked about the experiences behind her book What are You Doing Here about being a black heavy metal fan.

She talked of the fallacy behind the fact, “There’s still a lot of resistance in terms of who should be listening to what genre of music based on their gender and their ethnicity,”

Then she goes on to comment:

“In black communities, music is so integral in terms of a storytelling mechanism. Back in the blues era, African-American women were actually able to talk about their hardships and sorrows through music, and be very personal. [The same is true of] hip-hop because it’s also obviously a black-centric music form. When I was in my 20s and hip-hop was coming out, a lot of black people felt that if you listened to hip-hop, that means that you’re really black, that you’re proud of yourself, that you know who you are. So when black people listen to ‘white-centric’ music — which is rock ‘n’ roll, country, heavy metal, punk, hardcore — it’s seen that they are somehow not proud of who they are.”

What strikes me as a white person is that I do not have this problematic expectation.  I am not expected to listen to music rooted in white culture and then told that I lack pride in my white culture if I listen to music from other traditions.  My listening to the blues does not lead people to say I lack authentic whiteness.  My interest in world music aligns me with a certain group of hip NPR listening aficionados, rather than labeling me a traitor to my roots.

Were I a white person who had a clear connection to the European countries of my heritage,  I might be expected to appreciate the music of that country’s past.  However, if I listened to other music, I do not think I would be thought of lacking pride in that heritage.

A side note, what would the music of white culture be?  Country? Classical? Gregorian chants?


I Don’t Get It. Native American and East Indian Representation in Mummers Parade

mummers india

I do not get this routine from the Philadelphia Mummers parade.  It seems to involve some people dressed as Native Americans and some as East Indians, a call center, a tepee and some commentary about outsourcing.  It could, perhaps, be taken as a comedic statement.  It could be taken as an appropriation cultures and a way to teach the kids involved stereotypes.  Then again, comedy relies a lot on stereotypes.

Kent State Victories, Fundraising, and Title IX

I read an article yesterday on the success of Kent State University sports, in terms of both results and fundraising.  The article described the success as follows:

Golden Flashes baseball advanced to the College World Series, [men’s] golf finished tied for fifth in the nation, wrestling was ranked at No. 13 in the nation, men’s basketball topped 20 wins for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons, and the football team is going to a bowl game for the first time in 40 years.

Those teams not only carried the Kent State brand into the national spotlight, but they helped athletic director Joel Nielsen generate over $3.5-million in fundraising for Kent football and baseball alone, most of it over the past 12 months. Fundraising for the other programs remains high as well.

As I read this piece, I wondered about women’s sports as all the above sports involve male athletes. The article did mention both the men’s and women’s golf teams flying around the country to compete, and it did note the renovation of the men’s and women’s basketball offices.  However, the focus of the piece was on football, wrestling, and baseball, sports with no female counterparts that would naturally share the wealth.  Thus, I wonder how the donations the successful men’s sports garner are being distributed so as to fulfill the demands of Title IX.   Nielsen talks of using fundraising to enhance the football program:

“When we arrived, we talked a lot about what it would take to have football success,” Nielsen said. “One of the things we looked at was that we were poorly resourced in football, primarily with our people. President (Lester) Lefton gave us the green light to go out there and talk to football donors, talk to people who wanted to see football be successful. We had about 20 people step up that first year, some significantly. That allowed us to pay some competitive salaries.

I wonder how the school has gone about maintaining equity with women’s sports.  I jokingly wonder if the solution might be found in today’s piece on April Goss a walk-on kicker for the football team.  If she is going to the bowl game and dresses with the rest of the team, that could make it so the football team is no longer a men’s sport but a co-ed sport. But I do not think that really works for Title IX.

kent state



Twelve Tribes of Hattie–Excellent Look at Despair

twelve tribesI just finished reading Ayana Mathis’s first novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.  It has received a lot of attention, especially as it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club.  While I had my doubts given the Oprah selection and feared encountering too much matrilinial melodrama  I found the novel very powerful and well crafted looking at dichotomies in the black experience from many angles.  Mathis’s ability to evoke powerful emotions from a single image, like a broken music box on the floor, impressed me.  The complicated interwoven style of the storytelling works as a reflection of the complicated lives of blacks in urban America after the great migration, but it did leave me wanting more about two of the characters who were fully described early on but then only seen later in fleeting glimpses.  The novel reminded me a bit of Toni Morrison but more so of James Baldwin in its consideration of religion and urban life and of Ann Petry’s The Street in its bleak portrayal of a mother’s struggle.  The last scene of the novel twists what could be a cliched scene into an ambiguous, thought provoking ending.

Gender and Geico Lion Commercial

I wish I had thought of this analysis.  Lisa Wade on Sociological Images presents a great analysis of the Geico commercial featuring the hunting lion and the antelope with night vision glasses.

She talks of the way humans project gender expectations onto animals.  She looks back at a study of museum dioramas and the goes on to write:

The latest case is a Geico commercial….if you know anything about lions, you know that it’s unlikely that “Karl” is doing the hunting.  Among lions, it is the females who specialize in hunting (and they usually do so in groups, for what it’s worth).

The commercial certainly coincides nicely with what many of us believe to be true about the natural role of human men, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of lion life at all.

Perhaps the people at Geico thought that a female huntress would confuse or distract the reader from their joke.  Or perhaps everyone involved in the project didn’t know this fact about lions; their gender ideology would have masked their ignorance, such that it never occurred to them to look it up.  Either way, contemporary ideas about gender shaped this “diorama” and it potentially reinforces similar beliefs among viewers.

With all the football I watch and all the commercials through which I sit, I should have picked up on this commercial and its projection of gender.  My only excuse is that my background is much more literary and historical than scientific, or perhaps too much football dulls one’s awareness.

Now why is the spokes-gecko male?

Now why is the spokes-gecko male?


Blue Paint, Children, and Diverse Responses

My daughter came home from preschool with dots of blue paint on her forehead from an art project.  As I looked at the dots,  I thought of a diverse range of possible responses (beyond the obvious washing off of the paint):

  1. Environmentalist:  You have blue paint on your forehead just like the blue sky and blue seas which we must work hard to preserve.
  2. Political (Democrat): You have blue paint on your forehead.  That is a wonderful color; there are things called blue states and the more there are the better.
  3. Political (Republican): You have blue paint on your forehead.  That is a horrible color; there are things called blue states and the fewer there are the better.
  4. Patriotic: You have blue paint on your forehead, one of the three colors in the American flag.
  5. Celebrity Aware: You have blue paint on your forehead.  Did you know there is a child named Blue Ivy?
  6. Multicultural: You have blue point on the forehead.  That paint reminds me of Vishnu an important figure in Indian culture who is often blue in pictures.

I went with the last one, probably because we are getting ready to teach The Ramayana.

Vishnu in the human form of Rama

Vishnu in the human form of Rama in the Ramayana