Immediately, when reading the chapter “Differences”, I knew what I would write for this week’s blog post. I agree wholly with the idea that our attributes don’t define us, such as on page 174 when the authors write “having brown skin does not inherently mean anything”. But, of course, in history (and today), we see that having certain physical attributes do , in fact, mean quite a lot by social standards. There is no debate that white privilege is a prominent issue. However, I do have a problem with the way this this situation is handled. I come from a high school whose students are, for the most part, white and privileged. Thus saying, there was an immense amount of effort put into diversifying the school (which was awesome). However, they tended to be very scared of being “politically correct”. It seemed that there was vast discussion about throwing out certain texts from the high school cannon, merely because of its usage of racial slurs or sensitive subject matter. I couldn’t believe that such an educated faculty could even think of defiling literature in such a way. The authors in the Theory Toolbox state this entire problem perfectly on page 176: we should “not…dismiss Conrad or smugly celebrate out own enlightened understandings of gender and race but rather…add complexity to our understandings of the past and present”. There is no dispute that the societies of 19th century American and Britain were different from those of today. Racial slurs were thrown around freely and bigoted attitudes towards women and those of darker skin tone were rampant. This can especially be seen in Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, one of my favorite novels. Though he is combating racial standards, the n-word is used freely. Thus, this novel, for a while, was up for debate across the entire nation, my high school included. Though this craziness has calmed down, there are still certain people who dispute the printing of such novels. How can we learn from our mistakes if we block it out of our minds? I do not agree with Twain in his ethnic slurs, but those were the times in which he lived and I must respect history for its triumphs and mistakes. Such censorship makes me very heated, especially as an English major who focuses her attentions in Victorian Britain literature. Many, at that time, were highly conservative and homophobic, but that doesn’t mean that my interest in the era makes me like them. Rather, I have a historical respect for the time and an interest in why such tensions were so high. I am very glad that the Theory Toolbox brought up this sensitive subject. It’s a problem that must be addressed.
Erin, I definitely agree with you on these problems needing to be addressed. In one of my education classes we were recently discussing the unique role of race, class, and gender identity in the context of education. I read an article by Peggy MacIntosh, American feminist and anti-racisim activist, unpacking the term white privilege and how often times schooling doesn’t offer training on the ways in which the white class is the oppressor, participating in a damaged culture. She writes about striving for a white consciousness: “an awareness of our whiteness and its role in race problems.”As a potential high school teacher, it will be extremely important for me to develop a range of insights about my own socialization process and how my beliefs, attitudes, and life experiences might be translating to students in a classroom. The complexities of racial identity should not be ignored and I hope to work towards a sincere multicultural curriculum in my classroom one day. Classroom material should be chosen carefully and should incorporate literature from a broad range of races, cultures, and genders. Schools are a product of society and culture, so they can easily reflect notions of discrimination.
I agree with what you say about censorship wholeheartedly, Erin, because nowadays, with all of the literature and books that we have available to us, it seems that censorship is more prevalent than ever. The books that are cut from school programs for things such as racial slurs are being cut for the wrong reasons, so as to not offend anybody. They should be cut for the reason that students can not learn something from them, which is definitely not the case, and therefore students are missing a valuable opportunity to learn certain ideas about other cultures. A lot of books that involve curse words and slander can show us vital ideas about the nature of the time period trying to be represented. If we cut To Kill a Mockingbird from a high school class syllabus just because of the use of profanity, it would be almost heartbreaking for students to miss out on the message about the severity of slavery and discrimination that Harper Lee was representing with the writing of her book. Censorship should be done for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, because if we do it just because of a curse word, there are so many valuable cultural ideas that people can miss out on.
This is a really interesting conversation that has unfolded in later posts on the Oscars and on what PC language in general enables (respect, inclusion, etc.) and obscures (deeper institutional racism, active if unvoiced prejudice, etc.). I agree that our society’s interests in projecting certain PC norms back in time can obscure our access to the ways in which racist ideas (and those that combated them) circulated at any given time. We can’t champion difference and diversity in the present without looking carefully at how difference and diversity have been represented (or not) in the past.
In future posts, experiment with linking / images to make the post more dynamic!