Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Race: The Hardest Pill to Swallow

I teach many many courses that turn to the question of race and how it cripples some people, empowers others, and generally rents the fabric of our cultural quilt. I usually need a lot of downtime when I embark on readings and class discussions that have to do with race. It is the concept that causes me the most stress in discussions. I also find myself having to keep in check my disgust at some of the comments students and other faculty make. But, I am equally able to tap into the frustrations on white students. I am white. I benefit from this aspect of my identity everyday.

Anyway, I just can't help being surprised at how unwilling students are to recognize that racism still exists today. They just don't believe the first-hand testimonies of people of color. They don't believe statistics--and look for some other explanation. For them, the only sure sign of racism would be violence on the order of the KKK. Otherwise, it is not there.

Students will, however, grant that sexism exists, that discrimination based on age, class, nationality, and religion all exist. But that is it. Race is passé.

This is only going to get worse with Obama's election. I have noted that many a blog discusses this. But, my specific contribution to this discussion is how Obama's election is allowing white students to once again avoid the uncomfortable realization that non-white people don't experience the world in the same way.

One of my most thoughtful students this semester--a young, white man--pointed out that being White is a psychologically crippling identity. There is nothing one can take pride in--at least in a way that isn't disturbing--about being White. I guess this is it. But, why doesn't it hit students as hard in their identities as Americans? Or women? What is it about being White that is so profoundly psychologically crippling?

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