Oh yeah, and we all look alike …

Last week we started a lesson on stereotypes — what they are, where they come from, why they can be problematic or hurtful … There was a connection to the story I was handing out for weekend homework. (Yes, weekend homework in the summer. I’m an ogre. Whatever.) And there was, of course, some writing attached. One of the prompts was to write about a stereotype you believed, how you came to believe it and how believing it could be harmful or hurtful.

Miao gave me her writing last night:

One of the stereotype I believe is about black people.

Before I came to the US, many of my relatives here told me that black people are always thieves. Because the blacks are lazy, they don’t work. But they have to live, to eat, to drink. Without money, they can do nothing. They steal so they can make money to do what they want to do.

In fact, since I came to the US, every time when I saw a crime in the newspaper, mostly, the offenders were black people. They stole, they robbed, sometimes they even killed others. This is so terrible. Even when we are walking in the street, we are afraid of our safety.

I believe that we can not judge a whole group by a few people. That’s unfair for them. They can be easily hurt. If all of our society believes that stereotype is true, then when there are some job openings, the owner or the manager won’t hire any black people, whatever how smart they are. The owner might think, “If I hire them, they might steal from me or my company. That’s not safe.” Even when we’re working with some black people, we might be afraid of losing our own stuff, even money. But, actually, not all of the black people do things like that. Thieves can be white, can be yellow, can be brown or others. Mostly, the blacks are very nice and hard-working. They make a part of the United States. If we separate them from others, the US society may change a lot. Sometimes even stop.

Whoa.

There’s a lot of work to do in class on this subject. (And the world? Sure, but I’m just one Pre-GED teacher, you know?) When we started the lesson last week, I put a list on the board of all kinds of stereotypes that people believe about blacks: we’re lazy, we’re thieves, we’re drug dealers, we’re all on welfare, we all have 47 out-of-wedlock kids, we’re really wild sexually, we’re not as smart as white people, all black men want white women, all black men are rapists, we can’t speak English properly, we all love fried chicken and watermelon, we hate white people … As I wrote the list, students reacted to what I was writing. There were some who were a little shocked and argued that what I was writing wasn’t true … but there were others who didn’t see anything wrong with a lot of what I put on the board. “Yeah, but, that’s true, Miss,” Desirée said. Tiffany agreed: “It sounds bad when you write it all out, but one by one you can look at them and see they’re true.” Oh, can I? She backed up her assertion with this bit of supporting evidence: “I’m half black, so you know if I say it …”

I asked if that meant that all of those things were true about her, if that meant all those things were true about me. “No, of course not!” was the answer. Ok, so if they aren’t true about Tiffany, and they aren’t true about me, isn’t it possible that they aren’t true about other people … that maybe they aren’t true about a LOT of other people, that just maybe they. aren’t. true? “But they are true a lot of the time,” Tiffany insisted.

Yeah. And if my ‘half-black’ student is insisting that my ugly little list is true, I shouldn’t be at all surprised that anyone else believes this stuff. And I’m not surprised. I’m just continuing to look for ways to address it, to help my students develop their critical thinking muscles a bit. It can’t be an overnight shift.

I like how Miao thought walked her way through this assignment, though, that she came around to the realization that all kinds of people can be thieves, that blacks are (in fact) part of the United States. I like that she went so far as to consider the ramifications of ‘separating’ blacks from the rest of society … as much as it’s more than a little disturbing to see that even on the theoretical table. I’m not sure what she means when she says society might even ‘stop’ without black people. That’s curious.

We’re not done. Tomorrow we’ll be finishing the story that prompted the activity and writing on stereotypes in the first place. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

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3 thoughts on “Oh yeah, and we all look alike …

  1. I like that she trusts you enough to share her fears with you and you trust her enough to read the whole piece, find the good in it, and look for ways to help her and your other students grow.

  2. I am surprisingly able to give space for my students’ troubling ideas and opinions — much more than I can outside the classroom, I admit. I’m troubled by some of the things they think, some of the things they share, but I see all of those things as openings, the famous ‘teachable moments’ that instructors are always happy to find. And I think the fact that I don’t immediately react negatively helps the students see that they are safe to say what they really feel, that their ideas will be given a fair hearing … which, of course, leads to more sharing of even more troubling ideas and opinions, and we start the whole thing all over again!

  3. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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