Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Good Read on Racial Identity

For some reason, I was very intrigued by the discussions of racial identity at the Klingenstein Summer Institute. The discussions helped me reflect on my own lack of a coherent understanding of my racial identity and how it helps me fit or not fit into the larger society. As a teacher, I feel that I could become a more effective facilitator if I can reach a higher level of self-awareness, so I picked up a book that's supposed to be a classic on the topic of racial-identity development, called Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Surprisingly, it was a thrilling read. Here are some choice quotes I picked out of the book (I wasn't doing a good job highlighting as I went through, so I just went back and randomly picked some quotes out). I hope the way they're strung together helps you see why this book was so powerful... I highly recommend it; even though we had some great conversations around the topic of diversity at KSI, I really felt like this book helped me solidify my basic understanding of various issues involved in racial identity.

"Stereotypes, omissions [in curricula], and distortions all contribute to the development of prejudice."

"Even a member of the stereotyped group may internalize the stereotypical categories about his or her own group to some degree. In fact, this process happens so frequently that it has a name, internalized oppression."

"[David Wellman] defines racism as a 'system of advantage based on race' -- a system involving cultural messages and institutional practices and policies as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals."

"I sometimes envision the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. [...] Unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt -- unless they are actively antiracist -- they will find themselves carried along with the others."

"When I ask White men and women how racism hurts them, they frequently talk about their fears of people of color, the social incompetence they feel in racially mixed situations, the alienation they have experienced between parents and children when a child marries into a family of color, and the interracial friendships they had as children that were lost in adolescence or young adulthood without their ever understanding why. [...] The dismantling of racism is in the best interests of everyone."

"The terms racial identity and ethnic identity are often used synonymously, though a distinction can be made between the two. [...] Both are socially constructed."

"Who am I? The answer depends in large part on who the world around me says I am. [...] Yet, how one's racial identity is experienced will be mediated by other dimensions of oneself: male or female; young or old; wealthy, middle-class, or poor; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual; able-bodied or with disabilities; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhism, Hindu, or atheist."

"Erik Erikson, the psychoanalytic theorist who coined the term identity crisis, introduced the notion that the social, cultural, and historical context is the ground in which individual identity is embedded."

"The adolescent capacity for self-reflection (and resulting self-consciousness) allows one to ask, 'Who am I now?' 'Who was I before?' 'Who will I become?' The answers to these questions will influence choices about who one's romantic partners will be, what type of work one will do, where one will live, and what belief system one will embrace. Choices made in adolescence ripple throughout the lifespan."

"Many of us are both dominant and subordinate [parts of the culture, depending on what social indicator you are looking at]."

"Many adults do not know how to respond when children make race-related observations. [...] Perhaps afraid of saying the wrong thing, many parents don't offer an explanation. They stop at 'Ssh,' silencing the child but not responding to the question or the reasoning underlying it. Children who have been silenced often enough learn not to talk about race publicly. Their questions don't go away, they just go unasked."

"What pleased and surprised me as we continued to read was that Jonathan began to spot the gender bias himself. 'Hey Mom,' he interrupted me as I read on, 'there is that stuff again!' Learning to spot 'that stuff' -- whether it is racist, or sexist, or classist -- is an important skill for children to develop. [...] We are better able to resist the negative impact of oppressive messages when we see them coming than when they are invisible to us."

"For children to feel good and confident about themselves, they need to be able to say, 'That's not fair,' or 'I don't like that,' if they are the target of prejudice or discrimination. For children to develop empathy and respect for diversity, they need to be able to say, 'I don't like what you are doing' to a child who is abusing another child."

"The process of racial identity development, often beginning in adolescence and continuing into adulthood, is not so much linear as circular. It's like moving up a spiral staircase: As you proceed up each level, you have a sense that you have passed this way before, but you are not in exactly the same spot."

"I call our task the ABCs: 'A,' affirming identity, refers to the idea that students need to see themselves reflected in the environment around them--in the curriculum, in the faculty and staff, and in the faces of their classmates[...] 'B,' building community, highlights the importance of creating a sense of belonging to a larger, shared campus community. 'C,' cultivating leadership, refers to the fact that leadership in the twenty-first century requires not only the ability to think critically and speak and write effectively but also the ability to interact effectively with others in a pluralistic context."

Thoughts? Personally, I think there are many implications for us as educators. The book does a really great job of going into anecdotal details of what we can do personally and institutionally to address diversity issues with our kids. It also coins a lot of the fuzzy things previously floating around in my head and links a lot of the concepts in a very logical discourse. I highly recommend it!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I read the book, but you've pulled out some great bits I'd forgotten.