I teach several Sociology courses both online and on several campuses in the Dallas area. In my introductory sociology courses around the middle of the semester, lo and behold, it is race and ethnicity time! On many levels this is good because it opens up dialogue and addresses the disparities that exist in the United States. Inevitably some of the students get very emotional and defensive and I tend to become a mediator/negotiator, rather than a facilitator of learning.
Rather than speak in vague examples, allow me to provide a case in point classroom experience. Last semester I had a class of around 30 students, which is relatively large by Texas standards. The class was actually a nice mixture of racial and ethnic backgrounds, which included several African American, White, and Latino people. Surprisingly the class even had a Korean, Japanese, a Filipino, an Indian (from India) and a native of Kenya. On this particular day after I completed the Power Point presentation, I opened the floor for discussion by asking how many students in the class had ever been followed around a department store by a clerk. Of course all of the African Americans, the Kenyan and several of the Latino students raised their hands. Oh! and one lone White woman.
This woman, who is a very intelligent, sophisticated, and articulate, compared her experiences of being followed around in a store with the discrimination that minority people face on a daily basis. She actually told the class that she has been followed around stores when she was dressed in jeans and sneakers, ala “Pretty Woman”. I then pointed out, quite nicely, that also like Julia Roberts, she could put on nice clothing and change her image back to an upstanding White woman. There is nothing that can be done to change skin color or ethnicity. Why do people who feel defensive sometimes tend to get the shovel out and dig a deeper hole for themselves?
She was not finished, she became defensive and came with the old cliché that ”one of her best friends” is an African American who has done quite well in life and agrees with the sentiment that most African Americans do not make the most of the opportunities afforded them. At this point I am about to explode, I am sweating profusely, and seeing red. I regained my composure in order not to start uttering profanities and expletives that could cost me my teaching position (I have a mortgage). I ask the other students if there was anything wrong with the image she was trying to project. Fortunately, several of the students (some White) admitted that everyone in America does not have access to the “American dream”. White privilege exists and I do not say this to lay blame. I am just pointing out the facts.
The conversation between the students became heated after that. Here is where my mediator skills come in to play because regardless of my position on a subject I cannot allow students to decimate each other. The Asian students and the lone African remained mute during the discussion because they had not really experienced what it is like to live for a lifetime with such blatant discrimination. I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge that others have suffered some grave injustices. I have visited Indian Reservations and I realize that much of Texas and California once belonged to our neighbors south of the border. As my uncle Imohtep would say "the point I am trying to make is this" there is such a condition as White privilege (click the link to read more). What do you good people think?
~Pamella, AKA pjazzy~