How did you our people you know learn to not be racist and xenophobic?
January 5, 2017 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I am going to be teaching a semester-long class on intercultural issues to college students, and I am wondering how you or people that you know learned to not be xenophobic and racist. Are there any books / articles / films / experiences / activities that changed your thinking in deep ways? This is basically a required cultural sensitivity class, which I can largely design however I choose, so I am gathering ideas. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
posted by mortaddams to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
For me, it was a fantastic social justice-oriented mediation training I did in college, run by Leah Wing. I am not sure whether it is in your budget to have her do a training, or even whether she still does that work, but you might contact her to ask about what resources she uses.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:20 PM on January 5, 2017


By having a family member who was of another race or ethnicity or sexual orientation etcetera....
But I would not emphasize in a class how not to be racist... I would emphasize how to recognize what racism is and how societies produce racist results.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Reading science fiction. The potential differences between human and non-human intelligences (even granted that the non-human intelligences are fictional entities imagined by human intelligences) reveal the differences among humans and human cultures to be exactly as trivial as they are.
posted by kindall at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


The biggest factor in my own personal growth vis-a-vis racism was actually learning Zen meditation and practice. Not because of any woo-woo Asian mysticism thing but just because learning to sit down, shut up, feel uncomfortable, have negative or queasy emotions, and not freak out or act out on them immediately is a pretty major ingredient in having productive discussions about racial justice as a white person. It's what got me over the hump of white fragility so I could really make progress in confronting my own racism and implicit biases.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


You seem to be starting from a point of view that everyone starts out xenophobic and racist. And that everyone needs to learn to not be.

Which may not be what you intended, but could influence how you present things, which I think may cause you problems.

As opposed to possibly 'unlearn' false stereotypes, understand stereotypes and the good and bad in them (because the good in stereotypes is that they can help guide your cultural sensitivity)..

Because everyone is not the same, not all cultures are the same, not all cultures see eye to eye on morality or ethics, and a lot of conflict is not 'racism' or 'xenophobia' but conflicts due to those moral and ethical viewpoints.

Sure, people are racist. Or xenophobic. But it's not a universally born-with attribute.
posted by rich at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2017 [12 favorites]


You can't un-racist yourself by doing/learning one correct thing/taking a class. You can try to understand the racist system we all live in and try to act less racist.

Personally, as a white lady, I find it most challenging to listen to voices from marginalized communities. Just listening without demanding explanations, how-tos and absolution from them. Checking my own internal dialogue for my own racism that still pops up in my reactions. Give it a try.
posted by The Toad at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2017 [7 favorites]


The largest influences that have made me less of a dbag, in no particular order:

1) meeting and being around people who don't look like me or have the same background
2) new friends who said "hmm that's not cool because ______" if I said something stupid
3) being broke
4) regular, dedicated, long-term volunteering
5) moving to a neighborhood where I am a minority
6) reading metafilter

None of these are "teachable" things--if you grow up cloistered, real growth and understanding requires a major lifestyle change.
posted by phunniemee at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Starting from a position of friendly, patronizing ignorance (which is a kind of racism): Learning about contemporary artists and writers from other cultures and/or of other ethnicities was really important for me because made my thinking go from [flat stereotypes based in ignorance] to complicated pictures of real people who are both like me (enjoy interesting art and writing!) and more creative and talented than I will ever be.

A couple of things that I have enjoyed and that opened my mind at critical points:

Anything about Diego Rivera
The Yop City graphic novels, about a young woman and her social circle in Cote D'Ivoire in the seventies
Anything by the Hernandez brothers, particularly Poison River and The Death of Speedy. Both contain some NSFW stuff.

I think there's a separate but related issue of being able to hear criticism or just new information without getting defensive. (Not that I am perfect at this now.) I feel like actually reading blog posts about defensiveness and fragility was helpful - ie, I actually needed to think through "this is the process of getting criticized and getting mad and saying dumb shit that people do; how can I be self-aware enough not to do that?"

I think a starting point with a group might be to talk about defensiveness and self-image before really getting into anything else. Prime people to be open to admitting that they are wrong without feeling like that means that they are weak or bad - maybe do some kind of discussion about how it feels to hear criticism.

I might even do some really dumb game that involves shouting "I was wrong!" or something - just a silly game, like making people guess an answer that they probably can't get right. Build in a reward. Like, have a set of...I dunno, pictures of famous people that the students can't see. Ask them to guess which one you're holding. If they're wrong, they have to say "I was wrong" and they get a piece of candy. If they're right, no candy. Do a really fast-paced round or two after the group has done some ice-breaker stuff and discussion. The goal being to get everyone primed with "admitting that you are wrong is normal". Then give out the rest of the candy at the end. It's dumb and people will think it's dumb, but it's also priming.

Also, on another day, maybe a practice in incorporating new knowledge - take a situation that has a twist to it, like a science fiction story with a big reveal or something. Tell the outline of the story to the students and have each of them jot down what they think an explanation is. Then have them incorporate the additional information in their explanation...or just any exercise that's about starting with information that is true but critically incomplete, then adding information. Maybe a medical case study with a twist?

I think that there's (at least) two pieces to this: building up knowledge about other races, ethnicities, cultures, etc and learning how to accept that your own knowledge of others will always be partial and provisional and sometimes you'll be wrong.
posted by Frowner at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've done a lot of traveling around the world, and what I've observed is that xenophobia seems to be a natural human tendency. It's ubiquitous, only the flavors that change. Partly based on that observation, my world view is that the whole point to "life" is overcoming these uglier human tendencies.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:52 PM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Exposure is I think what helps most, and some of that happens naturally in college but you can't really force it as an instructor.

Academically, learning about out-group homogeneity and the fundamental attribution error helped me see some of my own biases.

I'd also consider the framing that *most of us* are operating under some racist biases and racist assumptions. It's not a matter of yes/no, it's a matter of degree.

Yes, racism is learned, but nearly everyone learns it, and tribal thinking is deep. I like this perspective, because it helps head off thought patterns like "I'm not racist, I have friends in [racial group]" or "I am not a bad person, bad people are racists, so I must not be racist".

Having racial/social biases is not some bizarre monstrous thing, most of us regular folk have them, even enlightened and progressive and educated and cosmopolitan folk (at least to some degree). You can take tests that helps reveal your biases. If racism is set up as something that only bad people have, it makes it hard to learn from these tests, as the results are more easily rejected out of hand.

Some people want to get better at recognizing these biases work on them, others refuse to admit it, or even revel in them. I'd try to encourage my students to see that they'd rather be the former type, and that that doesn't make them bad people, it makes them better people.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:00 PM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


Another thing starting point: what do you think the outcome of "being culturally sensitive" is?

I think at least part of that is accepting our own individuality and limitations rather than getting into that whole anthropological master-knowledge thing where you can set yourself up as the authority on others and other cultures. It's a funny kind of tension, because it's about both knowing more and knowing that you can never know enough.

Also, maybe start asking yourself what the outcomes (at your institution) of racism and xenophobia are. Why is this class needed? Is there a history of large scale bad/offensive behavior? Is it just that a vague climate of discomfort is created? Is it interfering with teaching or learning, and if so in what ways?

Who will be in the class? This class will work differently if you're teaching a group of white US-born people from roughly similar backgrounds than if you're teaching a multiracial and/or multinational group - you don't want to address a diverse group as if they all have the same experiences, for instance.

Maybe travel and immigration writing might be good starting points? There'd be a lot of room for narratives from different standpoints that would none the less have commonalities. If these are young students, maybe pull together some accounts from a range of cultures where people have gone to school in a place that was different from where they grew up? Such accounts could be discussed for similarity (across time, region, individual experience) and difference (across ditto). Why do people talk about being alienated? What makes them feel welcome? How do they connect with new people and how do they stay in touch with their home culture?
posted by Frowner at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


The power flower of privilege is about more than racism or xenophobia, but doing a version of that exercise in a workshop really put my privilege in perspective for me.
posted by EarnestDeer at 2:07 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, what is the history of your institution? The university where I work has a fascinating but somewhat hidden history of struggles over culture - student organizing around civil rights and anti-racism through the 20th century, for instance; visiting students and faculty from all over the world, sometimes at very fraught times (there are some pictures of the international guest faculty from the forties floating around and I always wonder how things were in light of the war); faculty who were immigrants in ways that were relatively unquestioned in the early 20th century - white, older male scholars who had emigrated to the US early in their careers.

You might be able to talk about your institution's history as a place of cross-cultural encounters and discuss the variety and complexity of those in a really concrete way, making it real to your students but also giving them a little distance when you talk about the past so that they could talk about things like racism without being as white-fragile, for instance, because it's...oh, something that happened long ago like in the 1990s.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


I went to Hampshire College which was sort of a four year boot camp in unlearning and fighting against institutional and structural privilege (and dealing with various peoples' pushback against that). I didn't have a sophisticated critique of any of this stuff before that and it's taken me a while to work out my relationship to some of it and find my own place. It's complicated and I think it's really one of those "The journey is the destination" things where the goal is just more continuous learning, not "wake up one day and not be racist anymore" sorts of things.

You can try to understand the racist system we all live in and try to act less racist.

Exactly, most of the racist/sexist stuff people have to deal with is usually not done by people who would look at themselves in a mirror and say "I'm going to get my racism/sexism on today!" The more you can build in an understanding of why people act the way they do, why your students might even act in ways that were considered racists/sexist, the more you can help people understand the whole system, not just learn to make effective callouts and/or always say the "right" thing.

A lot of this will depend on the makeup of your student body (as Frowner says). Learning about intersectionality is a big part of this because most people have some ways in which they are privileged and some in which they aren't. So finding voices that may work for them and the place they are in is helpful. With that in mind, I've liked

- Be Less Racist: 12 tips for White Dudes by a White Dude
- Are you a non-racist or an anti-racist? - Marlon James (a black man) talks about the difference between the two)
- bell hooks on the Importance of Feminism, Anti-Racism, and Intersectional Activism
- Institutional Racism Is Our Way of Life. Endless studies and reports show that racism exists, whether we want to believe it or not. US News and World reports article linking to MANY cites studies.
posted by jessamyn at 2:14 PM on January 5, 2017 [15 favorites]


There are some good points above. I'd like to add something different: I attended such a mandatory class late in my studies and I was an angry and probably disruptive student. I am not American, it was at an American university, and everything in the literature and the professors teaching ran right against my experience and knowledge till then. I quit class and passed anyway - I guess the professor was happy to get rid of me. But I kept the reader — still have it, and somehow I began to question the things I experienced from this new perspective, I noticed a black woman I was tutoring was being bullied, I noticed a Caribbean friend would stand back as I hailed a cab, I asked them questions. I met people from Asia who told me of other experiences and issues. Today I use some of the texts in that reader in my own teaching, though in Europe where I am, post-colonial studies are often more relevant and also this was 20 years ago so research has developed.
What I want to say is: even though you may find your class difficult to reach, your teaching may have impact outside class, and after class.
posted by mumimor at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


And to make just one more comment: I don't know how much time you use in building class solidarity/getting-to-know-you stuff typically, but if I were teaching such a class, I would absolutely build in a lot of relationship-building, far more than the "let's go round and share our names and say three things about ourselves" stuff.

When I teach, I sometimes adapt stuff from the Training for Change website. Speaking of things that changed me, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a several day Training for Change workshop and a lot of their methods really work. You will feel like "oh this is dumb I don't want to", and yet the effort that they put into "building the container" - getting the group in the room to feel some provisional community (not like deep-seated solidarity stuff, which takes real work, but some commitment to being decent to each other) struck me as really transformative.
posted by Frowner at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


Eyes on the Prize was my big awakening.

More recently, The New Jim Crow absolutely transformed my view of race in America. Less well written but also very powerful is On the Run. And I have thought almost daily since I read it about Between the World and Me.

I also think it is extremely useful for everyone to take the IAT. I was introduced to it by reading Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. It is especially valuable to read that book electronically, as the links in it take you directly to the IAT.
posted by bearwife at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


Seconding Eyes on the Prize.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2017


That Louis CK bit on white privilege and time traveling is applicable and hilarious.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


I learned that racism was stupid through music, specifically blues. You can't continue to dismiss a certain racial group if your favorite artists are members of that racial group. At least, I couldn't.

This happened for me in college, which was when I finally got to meet and interact with and make friends with a critical mass of real live people of different skin colors and ethnicities, which was a rare occurrence in my sheltered suburban upbringing.

But it was mostly the music.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:48 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yes, for me, like SuperSquirrel, it was music, learning about the roots of rock and roll, and then the lives and experiences of black people in the 1940s and 50s in America. You can't love American music without learning about African American history and culture.
posted by feste at 3:56 PM on January 5, 2017


I did not think of myself as racist growing up in The Deep South. Most people read me as white and pigeonhole me as white and I am actually multicultural and part Native American. This leads to all kinds of weird reactions that have been instructive.

But, I digress. As a person who gets classified by others as white American who grew up in the very racist Deep South, I had a shocking and eye-opening incident in my twenties when I met my (also white) husband's new best friend from work who happened to be black.

In all the months my husband blathered on endlessly about his new best friend until I wanted him to just shut the fuck up -- which is to say he talked about the man a LOT -- he had never once mentioned that his best friend was not white. So, I had assumed he was white.

In seeing the man, I was shocked to realize that I had assumed he was white. Further, I realized this assumption was a product of the racist culture that I grew up in and thought myself immune to. This really disturbed and upset me.

The shock showed on my face, which made for an incredibly awkward meeting. I had no idea how to explain that I didn't care that he was black, I was just shocked to realize how poisoned I was while thinking I had not been drinking the koolaid.

Studies show that a lot of people who think they are not racist will agree with secondary and tertiary forms of racism. It is a form of social Jim Crow law.

So, for example, they will say that black Americans who talk a certain way can be discriminated against because it isn't racism, it is just that they aren't articulate enough for the job. (To which I generally reply "George W. Bush.")

If you can find a test somewhere that tests those hidden racist assumptions and also teach about this aspect of prejudice, that may be one of the most effective things you can do. You are more likely to get cooperation if you try hard to not be accusatory or blamey. Talk about this in the most neutral terms possible as a thing that happens, but if you really want to be a good person, you need to be on the lookout for it and not excuse it.

Best.
posted by Michele in California at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2017


I strongly second what Michele in California suggests about testing for hidden racism/implicit bias. That's what the IAT does, and it is really an eye opener. For everyone, not just white people. Link to that website (also accessible via Blindspot) here.
posted by bearwife at 4:29 PM on January 5, 2017 [7 favorites]


bell hooks is good for introductory texts because she has a fairly down to earth style.
posted by ovvl at 4:40 PM on January 5, 2017


Lately I've been asking myself where some of my strongly held views came from - on topics such as equality, social justice, not judging people on the superficial, etc. - things I can't remember anyone ever explicitly discussing beyond platitudes when I was growing up. And I really think it was from reading novels, especially YA novels, which often tend to have these themes, without jamming the ideas down your throat. I think it's where I learned a lot about what it's like to be in another person's shoes, whether it's a different culture, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. A lot of adults dismiss YA literature, but there is a lot of great stuff, and I think it's only gotten better in recent years, with a lot more focus on diversity.
posted by catatethebird at 4:57 PM on January 5, 2017


Here are some books that I have found extremely helpful in educating myself about my white privilege:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Explains, with great clarity and precision, how the decline of the Jim Crow regime gave rise to a new method of control over America’s black population: mass incarceration.

Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson. Prison sentencing as retribution rather than rehabilitation: Discusses the plantation origins of the Texas penal system and the profit motive driving it, resulting in horrifying conditions that persist to this day, along with its influence on the U.S. prison system in general.

The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America by Robert N. Entman and Andrew Rojecki. Discussion of how the media’s coverage of poverty and crime, starting in the 1960s and continuing today, has been overwhelmingly and unfairly focused on the black community, thereby both producing and perpetuating racial bias among whites.

Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy by Martin Gilens. The author attributes Americans’ well-known antipathy to welfare to the widely held (by white Americans, as documented by polling data) stereotype of blacks being “lazy,” and traces the roots of this back to slavery: “Where the master perceived laziness, the slave saw refusal to be exploited. Thus the same action held different meanings, depending on whether one was master or slave. The social conditions of slavery, then, created an incentive structure that discouraged hard work and initiative and led whites to perceive slaves as lazy.” For me, this book underlined the persistent deep scars left by slavery, acting as a counterpoint to the view held by many that slavery is so long in the past as to be no longer relevant.

The Everyday Language of White Racism by Jane H. Hill. In addition to its helpful (albeit a bit dry) discussion of white privilege, this book provides an enlightening explanation of language appropriation; i.e., using someone else’s linguistic cultural heritage for entertainment while prohibiting its legitimate use by native speakers. Example: The phrase “No problemo” being accepted as a casual, joking pleasantry, while a high school student who says “No problema” can be written up for speaking Spanish in school.

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas J. Sugrue. Focused on Detroit, but applicable to other Northern industrial cities as well, this book shows how the city reacted to the Great Migration, segregating its suburbs (legally), enforcing discriminatory employment practices, and decentralizing industry, thereby effectively trapping blacks in the inner city, with efforts at so-called “urban renewal” generally only making things worse. To add insult to injury, the black community was then blamed (by the white population) for the city’s decline.

Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America by David M.P. Freund. While the concept of zoning originated in well-meant (and understandable) efforts to, for example, keep a slaughterhouse from setting up shop next door, it evolved into a tool that was used to enforce racial segregation in housing. The book also discusses the government-backed home mortgage market: while appearing to be race-neutral, it was, in fact, anything but, resulting in the effective exclusion of black Americans from several generations of wealth-building through home ownership. Super-important, I think, to understanding today’s racial wealth gap.
posted by littlecatfeet at 5:33 PM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


The things that really brought home to me what racism was, as a kid, and why it has to be fought, were experiences that centered the perspectives of minorities. The adults around me repeatedly put me in situations where I was the only or one of very few people of my race in the room, and where the POC around me were in charge and were the experts.

I was in an interfaith youth group, for instance, which was part of an anti-drug initiative, and so our entire group, which was very diverse in every possible way-- race, gender, age, ethnicity, class-- toured and attended services at many, many religious places, from synagogues to ashrams to both very white and very black churches. We would go door-to-door for our anti-drug program, and the groups we went door-to-door in were always very carefully mixed-race, mixed-gender, and mixed-ethnicity, and the oldest kid, the one in charge, would be a POC.

The reason it worked so well was that we weren't expecting the people we encountered to educate us, and none of the group had to be model minorities; we had a thing we were doing, the anti-drug initiative, and race was neither ignored nor was it made the main focus in our process of doing that. The debrief after going door-to-door would be something like:

-- How many doors did you knock on? How many people answered?
-- Who in your group did each door-answerer feel most comfortable talking with? What are your theories on why?
-- Did you feel each of you in the group got to participate equally in this experience, overall? If not, why or why not?
-- How do the answers of each of the above questions differ between group members? Is there consensus on how things went, or are there sharply conflicting points of view?

And in the course of answering these questions, we would not only notice things like 'so-and-so is shy, so everyone else feels they should speak up more, but they do not' or 'my spiel should be shorter', but 'we ran into more than one person who felt more comfortable talking with white kids, despite the white kids being obviously younger and not in charge', or 'the white kids think this went okay and the other kids really don't'. The adults running the program were, I see now, working hard to make a space where racism would organically emerge as a set of problems we had to deal with both inside and outside the group, where it became obvious to the white kids as a set of problems and where the POC kids, who came in knowing it was, got free rein to design and implement small-group solutions and to be listened to first and with respect for their experiences.

I'm not saying, necessarily, that you should get a diverse group of people together and go ring a lot of doorbells as an anti-racism teaching tool, but I'm saying it works really well, and if you think about why, some of the techniques may be transferable.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:38 PM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Possibly worth reading/incorporating passages: There Goes My Everything by Jason Sokol

The book is more history than focused on individual attitudes, i.e. it does not focus on interior dialogue so much as report on what people did, but I think it's instructive nevertheless about:

- degrees of racism
- motives of racist behavior
- what actions lessened racist behavior (for some, it was merely being exposed to people of color, where they never really had before, and for others, interestingly enough, it was finding a common cause: poorer white people realized that richer white people didn't care if the public schools were shut down "in protest" over integration because the richer white people could afford private schools (which were segregated, natch)

and I think what I learned from reading it, most of all, was what a diverse spectrum of racism there is, which hopefully has made me more careful about my own behavior.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:45 PM on January 5, 2017


The Frontline special, A Class Divided, covers Jane Elliot's Blue-Eyed vs Brown-Eyed class experiment. It shows how quickly discrimination can arise, based on nothing at all. It's useful for showing white people in roughly the same class-category how prejudice works.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


The film The Color of Fear is an incredibly powerful teaching tool.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:33 PM on January 5, 2017


The Color of Fear has 3 parts; each is streamable for 24 hours for a cost of $12 - or you can buy the DVDs for $305 each.

$36 to rent; over $900 to own. I supposed that's priced at "educational institution" level, rather than intended for individuals.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:49 PM on January 5, 2017


Knowing people from diverse backgrounds helps me overcome whatever racism I walk around with. You can find someone to fit every idiot stereotype, and almost literally everyone else who doesn't.

I (a minority) don't care for what I perceive to be the common perspective that white privilege means white people should feel bad and therefore not be racist. Society should be built on empathy and respect, not guilt.
posted by cnc at 9:51 PM on January 5, 2017


N'thing Class Divided and Implicit Bias Testing. I used both with Derren Brown's amazing programme The Gameshow (hell, all of The Experiments are amazing) when I taught high school, and I've used some in middle school as well. They'd be appropriate for college students too.

I'd do a deep dive in this course, and given the things I find most interesting and know the most about, here's what I would do:

South Africa. Using My Traitor's Heart, Long Walk to Freedom, No Future Without Forgiveness, Country of My Skull, Smell of Apples, Disgrace, Embrace, and Cry the Beloved Country, and movies like Red Dust, Amandla!, In My Country, Tsotsi, etc. study how apartheid both shaped the country and nearly destroyed it. As a white mostly-privileged college kid, learning about South Africa was a game-changer. Living there, more so.

The American prison system. With the explosion of true-crime podcasts like Serial, Undisclosed, Accused, In the Dark, Truth and Justice, Wrongful Conviction, Someone Knows Something, Criminal, Breakdown, Sword and Scale, Crimetown, Offshore, Real Crime Profile, Up and Vanished, The Vanished, Actual Innocence, etc. there are lots of angles here. Having real-life experience in this area also was a game-changer. Derren Brown's show The Guilt Trip is great for this too. I can give you more recommendations in this area if you're interested.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:11 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Your question reminded me of this short New Yorker piece I read the other day:

A Friendship for a More Tolerant America

The man in the article, Garry Civitello, claims to have been transformed through his reading. Here's how he puts it:

“My fears, my anxieties—those still linger. But I’m starting to see root causes. I was assuming people were being lazy. Or they didn’t care. They were being irresponsible in society. Now I’m finding out, no, they can’t get loans in banks—they have to use pawnshops. And I inherited a house!”

The piece includes a number of references to specific books, recommendations of Heather McGhee of Demos. The viral video referenced in the article, which might be worth screening in your class, is available here:

"What can I do to change? You know? To be a better American?"
posted by The Minotaur at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2017


As with any other irrational phobia, I think that gradual exposure might be a good way to wear down those xenophobic/racist beliefs.

Maybe you could do discussions about movies? E.g. Brokeback Mountain, Precious, Transamerica, foreign movies...

Or could you organize field trips where you do volunteering together e.g. to homeless shelters, orphanages, refugee centres (places where they can speak to and even serve minorities/foreigners)?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 6:25 AM on January 7, 2017


My cultural competence course (I took as a student, not teacher!) started by talking about aspects of culture (random link that looked like it linked to decent overviews), and then having all of us examine our own cultures and talk about both where our cultural norms were and how we, as individuals, might be at a slightly different point on the spectrum than our cultures. For me, it mirrored a lot of what I realized when I lived abroad -- that traits that I considered "normal" and "human nature" and "common-sense" were actually culturally-bound -- which is where I really started learning how to break down stereotypes and judgments. (I certainly considered myself anti-racist before that, but I lacked the deeper understanding of why, e.g., "colorblindness" was a problem.) It was also a good way to create a classroom environment in which White Upper-Middle-Class American culture was not just the default, with students of color/foreign students as lab rats to be studied and interrogated. The process emphasized that we all have culture, and we all have race, and we all have gender, and that problems often arise when we assume our cultural responses, preferences, and values are universal, rather than just one possibility. And that our cultural values are often informed by our collective and individual histories, not just "common-sense."

We then focused on individual cultures each week (the major racial/ethnic groups in the US, LGBTQ communities, older adults; there may have been a week on women, too) and talked about their histories in the US, cultural values, common axes of oppression, and such. The class was to help us be culturally competent in providing therapy, so I'm not sure if that's necessary for a more general course, but I liked differentiating out various groups to avoid getting into a "people of color are a monolith" thing.
posted by lazuli at 1:21 PM on January 8, 2017


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