Monday, May 19, 2008

Common Racist Stereotypes in American High Schools

“A High School on Race and Racism” by Lawrence Blum

Let me illustrate with just one fairly typical class discussion. We had read an article about three girls of different races who were friends in junior high but started drifting apart in high school. (8) This led to a discussion of social separation by race and also about kids acting in ways associated with racial groups other than their own, especially white kids "acting Black" and Black kids "acting white." (Later, we questioned this way of talking.) Here is some of the conversation (9):

Lauren (white): It isn't that white kids really like different kinds of parties than Black kids; but they are expected to like that kind of party, so they are told who they should hang out with.

Grace (Black): If someone [Black] comes down on you for "acting white," you can just ignore that if you are comfortable with yourself.

Angela (Black): I went to Boston public schools until the 5th grade. When I came to Cambridge was the first time I was told I was "acting white." I knew what I was [i.e., Black]; I had been that way for 11 years. [class laughs]

DeAnna (Black): It is easier for a white kid to hang out with Blacks if he doesn't act Black; same for Blacks with whites ... Black kids who act white aren't as accepted by other Black kids; like if they speak proper English. (10)

Waheed (Middle Eastern): Sometimes people just unconsciously talk the way the people around them are talking, not because they are consciously trying to get in with that group. My father is Iraqi and when he is with other Iraqis he goes into this heavy Arabic accent; I can't even understand him. It isn't a conscious thing.

Angela (Black): The first time I saw Lauren in 10th grade, she looked white but she acted Black. [Lauren blushes.]

Jeanie (Black) (affably says that Angela shouldn't run Lauren down [although Angela was actually praising Lauren].)

Efriem (Black): A lot of time, a person who is acting a certain way is only trying to make sure the other group understands him; he isn't trying to be a certain way [i.e., not trying to get in with that group].

Grace (Black): I think Blacks sometimes feel that whites are taking their culture away, when they act Black.
(I suggest that white kids "acting Black" is a sign of the power and influence of Black culture.)

Lashawna (Black): I see whites acting Black not as influencing but mocking. Like when we read about Native American team names ("Braves," "Chiefs") at the beginning of the course. Native Americans were insulted, but the people who made up the names thought they were fine or even flattering.

Jeanie (Black): Like Justin Timberlake of N'Sync putting Black females in his videos. That isn't Black culture influencing anything; it's whites ripping off Black culture to make money.

Carl (white): mutters [but I make him say it out loud] that White people have to steal other people's culture, because they don't have any of their own.)
It is fascinating to see the Black students struggling with these issues and coming up with such divergent views. They are trying to analyze their own practices of inclusion and exclusion, with value judgments about those practices hovering close by. The white students are as well. All are speaking from a distinct, race-related experience, though their resultant opinions are quite diverse. This sort of discussion is very unlikely to take place in the kind of classes the white educated parents envision, and both the white and the Black and Latino students, indeed all students, thereby miss an intellectually enriching experience. (11)

Works Cited
Blum, Lawrence. "A High School Class on Race and Racism." Bnet Business
. Summer 2004. Thomson Gale. 5 May 2008

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