Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unintentional Racism

(A make-up entry). When the topic of racism comes up at our school, I've noticed that people are often outspoken about not being racist. However, I've seen several incidents that brought to light some people's unawareness (which is a word, surprisingly) of other races; specifically in regard to depictions of them.

In Spanish class we often play games to practice the material that involve drawing on the classroom's white-board. There were several incidents in which groups drew pictures that were seen as offensive by our teacher. The first problem was when a group created a drawing of a man's face with hugely exaggerated lips. Weeks later a group drew a picture of Santa and colored the face in with black marker, which resulted in something that looked a lot like black-face. Both times the teacher erased the pictures, explaining that she was not comfortable with them and that they could be seen as offensive. Many students seemed agitated by this and demanded to know how the drawings could be offensive especially if they didn't intend for them to be. Some wondered why it mattered if it "didn't bother them." One student even said, "Isn't it racist to interpret it that way?" I sat there silently fuming, because whether or not it was racist to interpret it to be offensive (an idea that seemed ridiculous to me; realizing that possibility is simply being aware of and sensitive to others' viewpoints) the fact is that it could have bothered someone. What was more concerning than the pictures themselves was that most of the students seemed more interested in rebutting the teacher's reaction and proving themselves innocent than in realizing that they had just done something wrong. Most seemed confused as to what they had done and didn't appear to be guilty or ashamed, only irritated that they had been accused of something. I realize that sometimes people make mistakes and do things without thinking. But it concerns me that no one seemed willing to take responsibility for the drawings, willing to acknowledge that they had been ignorant and done something they shouldn't have.

1 comment:

Katie B. said...

This is really interesting to think about the concept of "unintentional racism". I think so many of the people who grew up here don't think they can be racist because they haven't been exposed to that kind of thing.