[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Crises

Greg, I have not read Playing in the Dark but am going to. I relate with
heavy heart a teacher educator's account of his White students' reactions to
Aboriginal content in social studies curriculum in Canada: there is
something disturbing in the young people's reactions innocent as they are.

On Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 12:36 AM, Gregory Allan Thompson <
gathomps@uchicago.edu> wrote:

> Sorry Mike, but this post won't provide any help re: texts to
> use to teach about race in higher ed (although How the
> University Works is a favorite about higher ed).
> I caught some of the footage of the racial controversy at UCSD
> on Youtube and some other media outlets and had some thoughts
> (too many for sure).
> This sounds terrible and serious. The University of Chicago
> had a similar incident (with only slightly more subtlety) in
> which students staged a series of parties with different
> musical themes – the Hair Band party and the white trash party
> went off without a hitch, but they got into trouble when they
> had the “Straight Thuggin’” party. It was a real mess and I
> thought the U of C administrators did a horrible job of
> managing it. The administrators were quick to condemn, but
> without taking any action. And nobody was willing to engage
> with the difficult questions raised by the party, most
> particularly the questions of meaning that were being raised
> by both sides (what did this party mean? Was it about race?).
> The white kids insisted that they weren’t parodying
> African-American culture but were parodying a musical genre
> (“gangsta rap”). They might have had some basis for an
> argument if it weren’t for the fact that one of the students
> at the party ran into an African-American student in the
> hallway and said that he should come to the party because he
> would be “the thuggin-ist one at the party”. In this moment,
> the semiotic tie between gangsta rap and blackness was made
> (it is one of those things that I suspect was on everyone’s
> minds before that moment but without this moment, it would
> have been difficult to definitively make the link. The UCSD
> incident seemed to lack this sense of ambiguity, although the
> Black organizer of the party is doing everything he can to try
> to make this more nuanced).
> The issue here is nothing new. If you read the accounts of the
> blackface minstrels of old, you see striking parallels. In his
> book on blackface minstrelsy, Love and Theft: Blackface
> Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott notes
> that famous blackface minstrels (e.g., Thomas D. Rice) would
> describe a feeling of elation and liberation when playing the
> black caricatures. These were certainly caricatures not
> characters, as evidenced by Jessica Taylor’s note in her
> article in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology (vol. 19,
> issue 1, p. 10): “Herb Howe gossips in Photoplay that ‘the
> Christies hired a troupe of colored players from a Los Angeles
> theater and a white man had to be engaged to tutor them in
> Negro dialect. I guess they’d never heard of Mammy. She’s in
> the cold, cold ground so far as they’re concerned. And so goes
> another illusion with Santa Claus’ (1929i)”. Except here we
> are eighty years later and the illusion remains.
> If you take a look at any middle-class plus suburban high
> school you’ll find numerous examples of white kids “playing in
> the dark” (see Toni Morrison’s book Playing in the Dark for a
> description of the role of blackness in the construction of
> white selves in literature). But these are very marked spaces
> in which these white youth inhabit blackness – the basketball
> court, when angry with someone, when “pretending” to be
> ignorant or in trouble with the law. If you begin to work this
> out, and I’ve done this with students before, you begin to see
> that this language usage is the linguistic embodiment of the
> black stereotype – but without a word being said ABOUT black
> stereotypes. The black stereotypes are IN the words and their
> pragmatic employment. These stereotypes are all the more
> pernicious because they are *felt* in the boundary between
> White English and Black English as it is projected onto social
> spaces like suburb:city, and onto political identities like:
> civility:non-civility, and onto emotional landscapes like:
> passivity:aggressiveness, blandness:color/flavor?fulness, and
> so on. What is important is that these differences are FELT by
> whites at a very base level so that racial distinctions feel
> real. It is the reproduction of race and racism at a pragmatic
> level. Ask these kids how they feel about racism and you’ll
> find that they are likely to be anti-racist. Many of them may
> even actively participate in anti-racist causes and campaigns.
> But they are caught up in this semiotic quagmire of race in
> America. The worst thing about it is that they can't see it
> (except when it is shown really explicitly).
> So certainly this is about emotion, but I also think that it
> is important to recognize that emotion is “out there” in
> culture and society as much as it is “in here” in our
> psychobiological individuality. This is where mainstream
> psychology will always miss the point about racism. Howitt and
> Owusu-Bempah describe the problem nicely in their book The
> Racism of Psychology (1994 but out of print for a number of
> years now – appears that there is not much money to be made in
> calling out the goliath of the social sciences!). The problem
> revolves around the methodological individualism of psychology
> that will always seek to locate racism in the individual and
> will never be able to get a handle on how racism is “in the
> water” so to speak – or “in the air” as Claude Steele
> describes it in his concept of stereotype threat but without
> ever really describing it in any satisfactory way. And the
> good psychologically minded individualist undergraduate will
> respond to Claude Steele’s claim of the “threat in the air” by
> asking “but where in the air is it located? I don’t see it
> anywhere? How can it be located anywhere other than
> individuals? Isn’t this all just in the heads of the
> individuals experiencing stereotype threat?” The undergraduate
> is, of course, partially wrong and partially right. Wrong
> because he has no notion of culture or “the social” and
> instead assumes that he has been made as an individual sui
> generis (Mead’s ontologically prior individual). But right
> because it is indeed individuals (and their institutions) that
> constantly make and remake culture (and this is where many
> anthropologists have gone wrong – as noted by a vast
> literature in the past 20 years or so that have criticized
> “essentialist” and “reified” notions of “culture”). But let’s
> not be so confused to think that this making and re-making of
> culture is somehow a conscious process.
> These emotions are energized as the sacred and the profane
> (which, as Durkheim tells us, gain their power from the social
> group). These derogatory signs of blackness (most notably the
> n-word) are given their power because they are profane,
> sanctioned unsayables – in other words, they get their power
> from “the social” – from the prohibition of others and thus
> from the feeling of collective effervescence with a group when
> one uses them. Just like the adolescent who discovers
> profanity, these white kids are titillated by the chance to
> use them. There is an incredible interview with Dave Chappelle
> on the Actor’s Studio and Chappelle says that he regrets doing
> his skit about the Niggars – a white family by this name – and
> in each skit, the black milkman (Chappelle) comes to visit
> them and keeps using their name (I only saw one example of the
> skit, so I’m not sure I’ve captured the entirety, but you get
> the idea). It is a fantastic skit that creatively plays with
> the profaneness of the n-word. But what Chappelle realized was
> that when white kids would see him out on the street or
> wherever, they were all too eager to use this word in a way
> that made him feel awkward (e.g., “Hey Dave, I love that skit
> with the N-word’s, how are those N-word’s doing? Gotta love
> the N-word’s”). There was something about the way that they
> would relish using that word that made him very uncomfortable.
> (it seems like Jiggaboo Jones is trying to frame what he is
> doing in the same way as Chappelle did, only he doesn't seem
> to be anywhere near as thoughtful about it). It is this same
> playing with the profane that these college kids are doing,
> only it is slightly more nuanced and hidden than the early
> adolescent's use of swear words, or the early/middle childhood
> kid's use of the word "booty" or "poop".
> I think, in the end, it seems like a situation that calls for
> thoughtful, sympathetic dialogue. I wonder if one way to
> encourage this to a class of non-Black Communications students
> might be to challenge them to “understand” the position of the
> Black students, to discover the power of silence. and
> listening. This seems like an ideal time put tried and true
> theories of communication to the test (although certainly not
> a time to experiment).
> Or consider the interview with Jiggaboo Jones on the Roger
> Hedgecock show and the different rhetorical and interactional
> moves that Hedgecock makes in presenting his position. I
> listened to this in absolute horror. I only hope that no one
> actually listens to this guy. He may even be worse than Rush
> Limbaugh. I think I found the radio show more disconcerting
> than the Compton Cookout itself. At least they could hide
> behind the ignorance of youth. Leaves me deeply concerned
> about where our country is at right now.
> And is this all tied to the state of the economy? Is this a
> sign of the times, racial retrenchment in times of financial
> crisis? On Hedgecock, he took one caller who asked about why
> there are so many black people at UCSD. This flies in the face
> of reality since less than 2% of the population is black. And
> Hedgecock asked Professor Widener whether students should be
> admitted on the basis of their skin color or because of their
> academic abilities, Widener refused to answer (it is a stupid
> and incredibly biased question after all) and Hedgecock hung
> up on him and basically said "I told you so". It seems like
> the source of the fear is that their (white) kids are not
> going to be able to attend the elite UC schools. Scary, scary
> stuff.
> Roger and Mr. Jones have left me feeling terribly sick, and so
> I have no happy or hopeful words to end this post.
> -greg
> ---------------------------------------
> Greg Thompson
> Ph.D. Candidate
> The Department of Comparative Human Development
> The University of Chicago
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
xmca mailing list