Are you Racist- Discussion

Using the article entitled “Are you Racist” by Chris Mooney, please
summarize the points being made by the author regarding how many
consciously nonracist people are unconsciously racist and how the
deepest prejudice is a preference for one’s own group. Describe the
differences between conservatives and liberals and between races on
their level of bias and prejudice. Including at least two external
sources, please explain whether you agree with the points that the
author is making. If these unconscious biases exist, what do you
believe can we done about them? 3-4 paragraphs only.
References – sources
l\|looney, Chris. (2016). Are You Racist? In K. Finsterbusch
(^d.). Annual editions: Social problems (41st ed., pp.92-97). New
York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education
Summer, M. (2014). “You Are a Racist”: An Early Childhood Educator’s
Racialized Awakening. Social Studies, 105(4), 193-200. https://doiorg.
Ortiz, S. 0. (1999). You’d Never Know How Racist IWas, IfYou Met Me
cm the Street. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77(1), 9.
92 Annual Editions; Social Problems, 41/e SiSlAfdiL
Article Prepared by: Kurt Finsterbusch, University of Maryland, College Park
Are You Racist?
Science is beginning to unmask the bigot inside your brain.
After rei
• Explaip
ing Outcomes
dding this article,you willbe able to:
how many consciously nonracist people are uncony
n how the deepest prejudice is a preference for one’s
3e the differences between conservatives and liberals
ween races on their level of bias and prejudice.
and be
ou’re not like, a total racist-bastardDavid Amo-
^ dio tells me. He pauses. “Today.”
Jl. Fm sitting in the”soft-spoken cognitive neuroscientist’s
spotless office nestled withiii NewYorkUniversity’s
psycholc gy department, but it feels like I’m at the doctor’s, get
ting a dreaded diagnosis. On his giant monitor, Amodio shows
me a big blob of data, a cluster of points depicting where peo
ple score on the Implicit Association Test. The test measures
racial prejudices that we cannot consciously control. I’ve taken
it three times now. This time around my uncontrolled prejudice,
while clc^arly present, has come in significantly below the aver
age for v^hite people like me.
That certainly beats the first time I took the lAT online,
on the kvebsite That time, my
results s lowed a “strong automatic preference” for European
Americans over African Americans. That was not a good thing
to hear, Dut it’s extremely common—51 percent of online test
takers show moderate to strong bias.
Taking the lAT. one of the most popular tools among
researchers trying to understand racism and prejudice, is both
extremely simple and pretty traumatic. The test asks you to rap
idly categorize images of faces as either “African American”
or “EuropeanAmerican” while you also categorize words (like
“evil,” “happy,” “awful,” and “peace”) as either “good” or
“bad.” Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key,
as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate.
Sometimes you’re asked to sort African American faces
and “good” words to one side of the screen. Other times, black
faces are to be sorted with “bad” words. As words and faces
keep flashing by, you struggle not to make too many sorting
And then suddenly, you have a horrible realization. When
black faces and “bad” words are paired together, you feel your
self becoming faster in your categorizing—an indication that
the two are more easily linked in your mind. “It’s like you’re
on a bike going downhill,” Amodio says, “and you feel yourself
going faster. So you can say, T know this is not how I want to
come off,’ but there’s no other response option.”
You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprej
udiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions. As
the milliseconds are being tallied up, you know the tale they’ll
tell: When negative words and black faces are paired together,
you’re a better, faster categorizer. Which suggests that racially
biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the
very wiring of your brain.
I went to NYU to learn what psychologists could tell me
about racial prejudice in the wake of the shooting of a black
teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Dairen
Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. We may never really know
the exact sequence of events and assumptions that led to the
moment when Brown, unarmed and, according to witnesses,
with his hands in the air, was shot multiple times. But the inci
dent is the latest embodiment of America’s racial paradox: On
the one hand, overt expressions of prejudice have grown markedl>
le^s common than they were in the ArchieBunkerera.We
elected, and reelccted, a black president. In many parts of the
country, hardly anyone bats an eye at inten-acial relationships.
Most people do not consider racial hostility acceptable. That’s
why it was so shocking when Los Angeles Clippers owner
Donald Sterling was caught telling his girlfriend not to bring
black people to games—and why those comments led the NBA
to ban Sterling for life. And yet, the killings of Michael Brown,
Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many
others remind us that we are far from a prejudice-free society.
Science offers an explanation for this paradox—albeit a
very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological
research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin
need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did
(though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds
that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies
becomi public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy
theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who
voice rnind-boggling opinions while swearing they’re not racist
at all—rthey make sense to science, because the paradigm for
understanding prejudice has evolved. There “doesn’t need to
be inte It, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire
in the opposite direction,” explains University of Virginia psycholog
StBrian Nosek, a prominent lAT researcher. “But biased
results can still occur.”
The lAT is the most famous demonstration of this reality, but
it’s just one of many similar tools. Through them, psychologists
have cfiased prejudice back to its lair—the human brain.
We’ -e not born with racial prejudices. We may never even
have bsen “taught” them. Rather, explains Nosek, prejudice
draws on “many of the same tools that help our minds figure
out what’s good and what’s bad.” In evolutionary terms, it’s
efficiert to quickly classify a grizzly bear as “dangerous.” The
trouble comes when the brain uses similar processes to form
negative views about groups of people.
But here’s the good news: Research suggests that once we
understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice,
we jus; might be able to train our brains to go in the opposite
Do^, cat. Hot, cold. Black, white. Male, female. We con
stantly categorize. We have to. Sorting anything from furniture
to anirials to concepts into different filing folders inside our
brains is something that happens automatically, and it helps us
function. In fact, categorization has an evolutionary purpose:
Assuming that all mushrooms are poisonous, that all lions want
to eat) ou, is a very effective way of coping with your sun’oundings.
Forget being nuanced about nonpoisonous mushrooms
and occasionally nonhungry lions—certitude keeps you safe.
But a paiticular way of categorizing can be inaccurate, and
those false categories can lead to prejudice and stereotyping.
Much psychological research into bias has focused on how
people “essentialize” certain categories, which boils down to
assuming that these categories have an underlying nature that
AreYou Racist? by Chris Mooney $3
is tied to inherent and immutable qualities. Like the broader
sorting mechanism of categorization, an essentialist cognitive
“style” emerges very eai*ly in our development and may to
some extent be hardwired. Psychologist Susan Gelman of the
University of Michigan explains it this way: The categoiy of
“things that are white” is not essentialized. It simply contains
anything that happens to share the attribute of “white”: cars,
paint, paper, and so on. There’s nothing deep that unites the
members of this category.
But now consider white and black people. Like other human
attributes (gender, age, and sexual orientation, for example),
race tends to be strongly–and inaccurately—essentialized.
This means that when you think ofpeople in that category, you
rapidly or even automatically come up with assumptions about
their characteristics-—-characteristics that your brain perceives
as unchanging and often rooted in biology. Common stereo
types with the category “African Americans,” for example,
include “loud,” “good dancers,” and “good at sports.” (One
recent study found that white people also tend to essentialize
African Americans as magical—test subjects associated black
faces with words like “paranormal” and “spirit.”) Of course,
these assumptions are false. Indeed, essentialism about any
group of people is dubious—women ai’enot innately gende, old
people are not inherently feebleminded—and when it comes to
race, the idea of deep and fundamental differences has been
roundly debunked by sciendsts.
Even people who know that essentializing race is wrong can’t
help absorbing the stereotypes that are pervasive in our culture.
But essentialist thinking varies greatly between individuals. It’s
kind of like neurosis: We all have a little bit, but in some people,
it’s much more pronounced. In national polls, for example, fewer
and fewer Americans admit openly to holding racist views. But
when told to rate various groups with questions like, “Do people
in these groups tend to be unintelligent or tend to be intelligent?”
more than half of those asked exhibited strong bias against
African Americans. Even the labels we use seem to affect our
level of prejudice: Another study found that test subjects asso
ciated the term “black” with more negative attributes—such as
low socioeconomic status—^than “African American.”
One of the earliest and most insightful researchers on these
varying rates of bias was Else Frenkel-Brunswik, part of a pio
neering generation of post-World War II psychologists who
sought to understand why some people seem to find prejudiced
and fascist ideas so appealing. Born in 1908 to a Jewish family
in what is now Ukraine, Frenkel-Brunswik might never have
managed to do her reseai’ch at all had she not twice escaped
the forces of prejudice herself. When she was young, a 1914
pogrom forced her family to flee to Vienna. When Germany
annexed Austria in 1938, she sought refuge in the United States.
Frenkel-Brunswik’s work came long before the days of
high-tech tools like eye trackers and computer games that
94 Annual Editions: Social Problems, 41/e
measure bias based on millisecond differences between reac
tions. Instead she used something far simpler: cards.
She studied young children, some of whom she had previ
ously documented to be highly prejudiced and ethnocentric. In
one of manjy experiments, Frenkel-Brunswik showed the chil
dren a seqijence of cards … On the first card, the animal is
clearly and distinctly a cat. On the last card, it is just as clearly
and distinctly a dog. But in between, the cat slowly transforms
into the dog.
Ateachlof the stages, the children were asked to identify
the animal on the card. Among the more prejudiced children,
Frenkel-Brunswik noted something striking: As the image
became increasingly ambiguous, “there was a greater reluc
tance to give up the original object about which one had felt
relatively certain … a tendency not to see what did not har
monize with the first set as well as a shying away from tran
sitional solutions.” In other words, for these children, it was
much harder to let go of the idea that a cat was a cat.
What Frenkel-Brunswik realized back in 1949, modern
reseai’ch reaffirms. The Implicit Association Test, after all, boils
down to how your mind automatically links certain categories.
“It’s really how strongly you associate your category of ‘black
people’ with the general category of ‘good things’ or ‘bad
things,”‘ David Amodio told me. “The capacity to discern ‘us’
from ‘thern’ is fundamental in the human brain,” he wrote in
a 2014 paper. “Although this computation takes just a fraction
of a seconld, it sets the stage for social categorization, stereo
types, prejudices, intergroup conflict and inequality, and, at the
extremes, war and genocide.” Call it the banality of prejudice.
The process of categorizing the world obviously includes
identifying thegroup or groups fo which youbelong. Andthat’s
where the next psychological factor underpinning prejudice
emerges. Much research has found that humans are tiibal crea
tures, showing strong bias against those we perceive as differ
ent from us and favoritism toward those we perceive as similar.
In fact,! we humans will divide ourselves into in-groups and
out-groups even when the perceived differences between the
specific groups are completely arbitrary. In one classic study,
subjects are asked to rate how much they like a large series
of paintings, some of which are described as belonging to the
stic school and others to the “Green” school. Then
ts are sorted into two groups, red or green—not based
“Red” art]
on their favoring one school of painting, as they are made to
think, but actually at random. In subsequent tasks, people con
sistently jhow favoritism toward the arbitrary color group to
which they are assigned. When asked to allocate money to
other part cipants, the majority of “reds” more generously fund
other reds—despite the fact that they have never actually met
them. The same goes for “greens.”
The upshot of such “minimal group” experiments is that if
you give people the slightest push toward behaving tribally,
they happily comply. So if race is the basis on which tribes are
identified, expect serious problems.
As these experiments suggest, it is not that we are either
prejudiced or unprejudiced, period. Rather, we are more and
less prejudiced, based on our upbringings and experiences but
also on a variety oi’ temporaiy or situational prompts (like being
told we’re on the green team).
One simple, evolutionary explanation for our innate ten
dency toward tribalism is safety in numbers. You’re more likely
to survive an attack from a marauding tribe if you join forces
with your buddies.And primal fear of those not in the in-group
also seems closely tied to racial bias. Amodio’s research sug
gests that one key area associated with prejudice is the amyg
dala, a small and evolutionarily ancient region in the middle of
the brain that is responsible for triggering the notorious “fight
or flight” response. In inteiracial situations, Amodio explains,
amygdala firing can translate into anything from “less direct
eye gaze and more social distance” to literal fear and vigilance
toward those of other races.
We’ve seen how a variety of cognitive behaviors feed into
prejudice. But you know what will really blow your mind?
The way that prejudice (or rather, the cognitive styles that
underlie it) can interfere with how our brains function—often
for the worse.
Consider, for instance, research by Carmit Tadmor, a psy
chologist at the Recanati School of Business at Tel Aviv Uni
versity. In one 2013 paper, Tadmor and her colleagues showed
that racial prejudice can play a direct and causal role in making
people less creative. We’re not talking about artistic creativity
here, but more like seeing beyond the constraints of traditional
categories—”thinking outside the box.”
Tadmor’s team first uncovered a simple positive correlation
between one’s inclination to endorse an essentialist view of race
(like associating racial differences with abilities and personality
traits) and one’s creativity. To measure the latter, the researchers
used a simple open-ended test in which individuals are asked to
list as many possible uses of a brick as they can think of. People
who can think outside of traditional categories—^I’ealizing that a
brick can be used for many things other than buildings (it can
make a good paperweight, for starters)—score better.This study
showed that people who essentialized racial categories tended to
have fewer innovative ideas about a brick.
But that was just the beginning. Next, a new set of research
subjects read essays that described race either as a fundamen
tal difference between people (an essentialist position) or as a
construct, not reflecting anything more than skin-deep differ
ences (‘d nonessentialist position). After reading the essays, the
subjects moved on to a difficult creativity test that requires you
to identiiy the one key word that unites three seemingly unassociaied
words. Thus, for instance, if you are given the words
•’call.” “pay.”and “line,” the correct answer is “phone.”
SCiAva^^ AreYouRacist? by ChrisMooney 95
Remarkably, subjects who*d read the nonessentialist essay
about race fared considerably better on the creativity test. Their
mean score was a full point—or 32 percent—higher than it was
for these who read the essentialist essay.
It’s not like the people in this study were selected because
of their preexisting racial prejudices. They weren’t. Instead,
merely a temporary exposure to essentialist thinking seemed
to hamper their cognitive flexibility. “Essentialism appears to
exert its negative effects on creativity not through what people
think but how they think,” conclude Tadmor and her colleagues.
That’s because, they add, “stereotyping and creative stagnation
are rooted in a similar tendency to overrely on existing category
attribi^es.” Those quick-judgment skills thatallowed us to sur-
^ the savanna? Not always helpful in modern life,
yes: Prejudice and essentialism are bad for your brain—
vive 0
if you value creative thinking, anyway. But they can also be
downright dangerous.
At NYU. David Amodio sat me down to take another test
called the Weapons Identification Task. I had no idea what I
was in for.
In tihis test, like on the lAT. you have two buttons that you
can push. Images flash rapidly on the screen, and your task is
to pus
drill, s
1 the left shift key if you see a tool (a wrench, or a power
ay) and the right shift key if you see a gun. You have to
go super fast—if you don’t respond within half a second, the
screen blares at you, in giant red letters, “TOO SLOW.”
“It does that to keep you from thinking foo much,” Amodio
would later explain.
Bui it’s not just guns and tools flashing on the screen: Before
each object you see a face, either white or black. The faces
appear for a split second, the objects for a split second, and then
you have to press a key. If you are faster and more accurate at
identifying guns after you see a black face than after you see
a white face, that would suggest your brain associates guns (and
threat^ more with the former. You might also bemore inclined to
wrongly thinkyouseeagun,when it’s actuallyjustatool, rightafter
seeing a black face. Cfhe weapons task was created by psycholo
gist K^ith Payne ofthe University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
in resj)onseto the tragic 1999death of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean
iiimigrant shot by New York City police after the officers
mistook the wallet in his hand for a weapon.)
I’ni sorry to ruin the suspense: I don’t know what my score
was on the Weapons Identification Task. The test ruffled me so
much jthat I messed up badly. It is stressful to have to answer
quickly to avoid being rebuked by the game. And it’s even more
upsetting to realize that you’ve just “seen” a gun that wasn’t
actually there, right after a black fece Hashed.
This happened to me several times, and then I suddenly
found myself getting “TOO SLOW” messages whenever the
object to be identified was a gun. This went on for many min
utes and numerous trials. For a while. I thought the test was
broken. But it wasn’t: I finally realized that rather than pressing
the right shift key, I had somehow started pressing the enter key
whenever I thought I saw a gun. It’s almost like I’d subcon
sciously decided to stop making “gun” choices at all. (Psycho
analyze that.)
But don’t take that as a cop-out: Before I (arguably) tried
to dodge responsibility by pressing the wrong key, I clearly
showed implicit bias. And it was horrifying.
The upshot of all of this research is that in order to rid the
world of prejudice, we can’t simply snuff out overt, conscious,
full-throated racism. Nor can we fundamentally remake the
human brain, with its rapid-fire associations and its categoriz
ing, essentializing, and groupish tendencies. Instead, the key
lies in shifting people’s behavior, even as we also make them
aware of how culti^al assumptions merge with natural cogni
tive processes to create biases they may not know they have.
And that just might be possible. Take the Implicit Associa
tion Test: In a massive study, Brian Nosek of the University of
Virginia and his colleagues tested 17 different proposed ways
of reducing people’s unconscious bias on the lAT Many of
these experimental interventions failed. But some succeeded,
and there was an interesting pattern to those that did.
The single best intervention involved putting people into
scenarios and mindsets in which a black person became their
ally (or even saved their life) while white people were depicted
as the bad guys. In this intervention, participants “read an evoc
ative story told in second-person narrative in which a White
man assaults the participant and a Black man rescues the par
ticipant.” In other words, study subjects are induced to feel as
if they have been personally helped or even saved by someone
from a different race. Then they took the lAT—and showed 48
percent less bias than a control group. (Note: The groups in
these various studies were roughly three-fourths white; no par
ticipants were black.)
Other variations on this idea were successful too: making
nonblack people think about black role models, or imagine
themselves playing on a dodgeball team with black teammates
against a team of white people (who proceed to cheat). In other
Armed and Dangerous?
Denver police officers and community members were
shown photos of black and white men—some holding
guns, others holding harmless objects like wallets—
and asked to press the “shoot” or “don’t shoot” button
for each image. The result: Cops were better than com
munity members at determining whether a target was
armed (and they fired faster), but they Still showed bias
against black targets.
96 Annual Editions: Social Problems, 41/e
words, it appears that our tribal instincts can actually be co-opted
to decrease prejudice, if we are made to see those of other races
as part of our team.
When it comes to weakening racial essentialism, Carmit Tadmor
and her colleagues undertook a vai*iety of experiments to
try to produce what they called “epistemic unfreezing.” Subjects
were exposed to one of three 20-minute multimedia presenta
tions: one exclusively about American culture, one exclusively
about Chinese culture, and one comparing American and
Chinese cultures (with different aspects of eachculture, suchas
architecture or food, presented back to back). Only in the last
scenario were subjects pushed to compare and conti-ast the two
cultures, pi;esumablyleading to a more nuanced perspective on
their similarities and differences.
This experimental manipulation has been found to increase
creativity. 3ut suiprisingly, it also had a big effect on reduc
ing anti-bkck prejudice. In one study, Tadmor et al. found that
white research subjects who had heard the multicultural pre
sentation (but not the American-only or Chinese-only presenta
tion) were less likely than members of the other study groups
to endorse stereotypes about African Americans. That was true
even thoug i the subjects had learned about Chinese and Ameri
can cultures, not African American culture.
In a vaiiation, the same 20-minute lecture also produced
fewer disciminatory hiring decisions. After heai’ing one of
the three kinds of lectures, white study subjects were shown
a series of resum& for the position of “Sales Manager” at a
company. TTie resumes were varied so that some applicants had
white-sounding names, and some had bl^ck-sounding names.
It’s a research paradigm that has often been shown to produce
discriminatory effects, which presumably occur through the
manifestation of uncontrolled onjmplicit prejudices—but this
time around, there was a glimmer of hope in the findings.
White s ubjects who had heard the lecture exclusively about
American culture (with topics like Disney, Coca-Cola, and the
White House) picked a white candidate over an equally quali
fied black candidate 81 percent of the time. Subjects who had
heard a lecture exclusively about Chinese culture picked a
white cand date a full 86 percent of the time. But subjects who
had heard t le culture-comparing lecture selected the white can
didate only 56 percent of the time.
These studies cleaily suggest that, at least for the relatively
short time s
ways to me
nor can it 1
pan of a psychology experiment, there are cognitive
ke people less prejudiced. That’s not the same as—
le a substitute for—broader cultural or institutional
change. After all, there is ample evidence that culture feeds
directly intp the mind’s process of generating prejudices and
adopting stereotypical beliefs.
Nonetheless, if prejudice has both a psychological side
and a cultural side, we must address both of these aspects.
A good start may simply be making people aware of just how
unconsciously biased they can be. That’s particularly critical
in law enforcement, where implicit biases can lead to tragic
In fact, this phenomenon has been directly studied in the lab,
particularly through first-person shooter tests, where subjects
mustrapidly decide whetherto shoot individuals holdingeither
guns or harmless objects like wallets and soda cans. Research
suggests that police officers (those studied were mostly white)
ai’e much more accurate at the general task (not shooting
unarmed people) than civilians, thanks to their training. But
like civilians, police are considerably slower to press the “don’t
shoot” button for an unarmed black man than they are for an
unarmed white man—and faster to shoot an armed black man
than an armed white man. (Women weren’t included—^the extra
variable of gender would have complicated the results.)
Such research has led to initiatives like the Fair and Impar
tial Policing program, which has trained officers across the
United States on how implicit biases work and how to control
them. Few officers look forward to these trainings, says pro
gram founder Lorie Fridell, a criminologist; they don’t consider
themselves to be racist. “Police are very defensive about this
issue,” she says. “That’s because we have been dealing with
this issue using outdated science. We treat them as if they have
an explicit bias. They are offended by that.”
So instead, Fridell’s team focuses first on showing the offi
cers the subtle ways in which implicit bias might influence their
actions. For example: The trainers present a role-play where
there are three people: a female victim of domestic violence,
and a male and female comforting her. When the officers are
asked to address the situation, says Fridell, most assume that the
man is the perp. Then, the trainers reveal that it was actually the
woman—and the oificers learn that they do, in fact, act on bias.
It’s not because they ai-e bad people; in fact, in their work, they
may have experiences that reinforce stereotypes. Which is why
it’s important that police officers—whosee the worst in people in
their everyday duties—teach themselves not to assume the worst.
The program, which receives support from the US Depart
ment of Justice, has trained officers in more than 250 precincts
and agencies, but it’s hard to measure its success—there is no
baseline compainson,since prejudiced policing isn’t always rig
orously documented. But the feedback is encouraging. “I have a
new awareness of bias-based policing within my own agency,”
one participant wrote in an evaluation. “The presentation of sci
entific data provided me with a more convincing argument that
supported the existence of unintentional, but widespread racial
bias, which I was typically quick to dismiss.”
Staff members at the University of California-Los Angelesbased
Center for Policing Equity use implicit-bias research in a
different way: They take unconscious prejudiceas a given—and
tiy to make changes within communities to ensure that it does
as little damage as possible. A few years ago, Las Vegas was
f CIL ^ AreYou Racist?by ChrisMooney
seeking to address police oificers’ use of force, especially against
peopje of color. Most of the incidents occurred after pursuits of
suspects on foot, the majority of which happened in nonwhite
neighborhoods.Center president Phillip Atiba Goff explains that
he knewhowdifficultit wouldbe to changethe pursuingofficers’
thinkjing. “You’re an officer, you’re pumping adrenaline, you
don’t have time to evaluate whether your implicit bias is driving
your behavior,” he says. So instead, the center worked with the
depatment to make a small but meaningful tweak to the rules:
In foot chases, the pursuing officer would no longer be allowed
to to jch the person being chased; if use of force was necessai7,
a partner who wasn’t involved in the pursuit would step in. “We
recognized implicit bias, and we took it out of the equation,”
Goff says. “We decoupled the prejudice from the behavior.” Sure
enough, use of force in foot chases—and, as a result, overall use
of fcrce against people of color—declined significandy shortly
after the policy went into effect.
U^isetding though it is, the latest research on our brains could
actually have some very positive outcomes—if we use it in the
righlj way. The link between essentialism and creativity doesn’t
just 1ell us how we might reduce prejudice. It could also help us
to become a more innovative country—by prioritizing diversity,
and the cognitive complexity and boost in creativity it entails.
The research on rapid-fire, implicit biases, meanwhile, should
reste rt a debate over the role of media—the news segment that
:ts immigrants as hostile job snatchers, the misogynistic
s in a song—in subtly impardng stereotypes that literally
affect brain wiring. Indeed, you could argue that not only does
the ({culture in which we live make us subtly prejudiced, but it
so against our will. That’s a disturbing thought.
Especially when you consider how biases affect government
policy. Consider this: In October 2012, researchers from the
^ersity of Southern California sent emails asking legislators
istricts with large Latino populations what documentation
needed in order to vote. Half the emails came from people
Anglo-sounding names; the other half, Latino-sounding
names. Republican politicians who had sponsored voter ID
laws responded to 27 percent of emails from “Latino” constitu ent^’ and 67 percent of emails from “white” constituents. For
Republicans who’d voted against voter ID laws, the gap was far
less dramatic—the response figures were 38 percent for Latino
narnes and 54 percent for white names.
You can imagine how this kind of thing might create a
vicious cycle: When biased legislators make it harder for cer
tain communities to vote, they are also less likely to serve
alongside lawmakers from those communities—thus making it
less likely for a coalitional experience to change their biases.
in d
So how do we break the cycle? Wecould requii’e lawmakers
to engage in exercises to recognize theirown unconscious preju
dice, like the Fair and Impaitial Policing program does. Or e
could even go a step further and anonymize emails they recei\e
fromconstituents—thus taking implicitbias out of the equation.
Short of that, you can do something wery simple to fighi
prejudice: Trick your brain. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Payne suggests
that by deliberately thinking a thought that is directiy counter to
widespread stereotypes,you can break normal patterns of associ
ation. What counts as counterstereotypical? Well, Payne’s stud)
found that when research subjects were instructed to think the
word “safe” whenever they saw a black face—undermining the
stereotypical association betweenilack people and danger—they
were 10percent lesslikely than those in a control group to misidentify
a gun in liie Weapons Identification Task.
To be sure, it will take more than thought exercises to erase
the deep tracks of prejudice America has carved through the
generations. But consciousness and awareness are a start—and
the psychological research is nothing if not a consciousnessraiser.
Taking the lAT made me realize that we can’t just draw
some arbitrary line between prejudiced people and unpreju
diced people, and declare ourselves to be on the side of the
angels. Biases have slipped into all of our brains. And that
means we all have a responsibility to recognize those biases—
and work to change them.
Critical Thinking
1. Are you a racist? Explain.
2. How does evolutionary theory explain our unconscious
racial biases?
3. What can we do about our unconscious biases?
internet References
New American Studies Web
Social Science Information Gateway
Sociology—Study Sociology Online
Sociology Web Resources
Mooney, Chris. “The Science of Why Cops Slic^; Vrjng Black .Men: And How to Reform Our Bigoted Brains.”M rhtr Jones. January 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Mother Jose*
Used by permission.
The Social Studies (2014) 105, 193-200
Copyright ©Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0037-7996print / 2152-405X online
DPI: 10.1080/00^77996.2014.89490.1
You Are a Racist”: An Early Childhood Educator’s
Racialized Awakening
and Literacy, UniversityofSouth Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA
This article details my racialized awakenings as a White kindergarten teacher after being called a racist by a parent of one of my
students. I chronicle critical reflections of myselfand my schoolin terms of latent institutional racismand actions. I share the actions
that I have begun in my efforts to counter racism and move toward teaching for social justice. Changes in my teaching included
interruptitig deficit perspectives, talking explicidy aboutrace, critiquing literature that I use inmyclassroom, andexploring ways to
provide ongoing counternarratives that honorculturally and linguistically diverse students. I conclude with implications for other
Early Childhood teachers who are teaching across racial boundaries. While I do not position my findings as the solution to
counterinj; institutional racism in the classroom, I hope that myjourneycan beenlightening to educatorsfacing similarconflicts.
Keywords: racism, oppression, socialjustice, early childhoodeducation, counternarratives
The Exposition: My Story
As teach«:rs, we revel in the power of stories. Stories enter
tain, educate, and reveal. Stories can be charged with emo
tion. Stoiies take us places: to great lands of imagination,
to carefree summer days of childhood, to fascinating lives
of others. Sometimes, however, stories take us to unex
pected pliices that shape our identities in unexpected ways.
This is m / story.
Luwisch (2001) explains that telling our personal stories
is a “powerful means of becoming aware of the taken-forgranted
arrangements and constraints of one’s own cul
ture” (134). I am a White, middle-class kindergarten
teacher ir an urban, Title I school in the Southeast. During
my third year teaching, I experienced a painful racialized
awakenir g. It was a story I did not want to tell. Now, two
years later, I know it is a story I must tell. Stories like mine
wither under the pressures to conceal failure, to accept the
status quo, and to minimize the seriousness of a society
grounded in oppression. Because my racial demographic
reflects n ost of the teachers in a field where most of the
children are culturally and linguistically diverse, it is
important to hear firsthand accounts that make visible the
dynamics involved in teaching cross-racially. Such stories
are not i:itended to further marginalize the narratives of
teachers of color, but rather to complement them because
Addresscorrespondence to MelissaSummer, University of South
Carolina, Wardlaw 230, Columbia, SC 29208, USA. E-mail:
both sets of stories can coexist and shed insights on the
complex and multifaceted processes involved in teaching
culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Luwisch further emphasizes that “telling our stories is
indeed a matter of survival: only by telling and listening,
storying and restorying, can we beginning the process of
constructing a common world” (145). I tell my story to
share my journey as I start to create a “common” world of
anti-racism in my kindergarten classroom. I am not sug
gesting that my story offers all the answers or serves as a
panacea to the complex and varied issues faced in racially
integrated school contexts. However, I suspect that I am
not the only teacher with this story to tell. It is a painful
story of my awakening to the reality of a racist framework
that I did not create but that I inadvertently supported
every day of my life. As a result of my firsthand experi
ence, I began searching for opportunities for actions that
will begin constructing my classroom as a common world
in which racism is no longer a blatantly invisible dynamic.
If well-intentioned teachers like myself are going to inter
rupt racism rather than reify it, we first have to be able to
recognize and name it—^particularly when racism is covert
or hidden.
I will tell my story in four parts: (1) the incident—being
called a racist; (2) the climax—naming and reflecting on
racism; (3) the falling action—taking action by unzipping
cultures, interrupting deficit perspectives, talking explicitly
about race, analyzing children’s literature, and exploring
counternarratives; and (4) the resolution—^resolving to
change systems of oppression in school cultures through
teachers’ critical self-reflections and racialized awakenings.
The Incident: “You Are a Racist”
By October, my kindergarten class—composed of twenty
students ofcolor (eighteen African American; two multira
cial) and five White students—had started settling into the
way of kindergarten life. However, I was worried about
Ariya, an African American child in myclass.’ Learning
to navigate the social realm of friendship constitutes a
large part of the kindergarten experience. I saw Ariya as a
caring, brilliant kindergartener; She would frequently
beam as she handed me “I love you” notes or short stories
she had written by herself, or a yogurt snack from her own
fridge onp day as a gift for me. With her classmates, how
ever, coniflicts prevailed. When Ariya’s requests for toys or
specific roles in the home living center were not honored,
she often responded by yanking objects away from other
children, yelling “I don’t have to do what you say!” in their
faces, anU sulking in a comer while refusing to compro
mise. I felt like I was constantly intervening to protect
classmatcs from Ariya’s emotional outbursts. I wrote notes
to her mother almost daily explaining specific behaviors
that were causing problems in class, usually relating to hit
ting or s loving friends, fighting over toys, and verbally
intimidating her peers. Ariya’s behavior escalated to what
I considered bullying her peers to get what she wanted.
For example, if she wanted a certain classroom object that
another child was using, she would stand so close to the
other ch id that their noses practically touched, often
intimidating the other child until the toy was surrendered.
Our school had recently adopted a no-tolerance policy for
bullying, so I knew that I was expected to make efforts to
stop the sehavior in accordance with this policy. I talked
with Ariya and her peers about peaceful confUct resolu
tion, such as talking through compromises or timed turntaking.
I talked with our principal to decide on the best
plan of action to stop the behavior. The struggles contin
ued. I ne ;ded her mother’s help and support, so I invited
her in for a conference to work together to create a positive
behavior plan for Ariya.
In the conference, however, my hopes for help were
dashed. Ariya’s mother accepted no accountability for
Ariya’s bullying behavior; instead, she insisted that I was
the probhm. She refused to sign the behavior sheet for the
remainder of the year and stated that she did not believe
her child was bad. She also accused me of giving sad faces
on the behavior sheet only to Black children, and I quickly
countered this accusation because there was one White
boy in my class receiving far more notes home than Ariya.
She then curtly announced, “The reason why you don’t
like my child is because you are a racist.” These words ech
oed in m^ head as the room started spinning. Iwas vaguely
aware of the vice-principal, who was dressed in a Superwoman
costume following our school’s anti-bullying rally,
ending the conference abruptly. I turned to Ariya and told
her to halve a good afternoon and that I would see her in
the morning. I only hoped she would not see the tears
weUing in my eyes, flooding their banks as soon she and
her mother left.
Devastation mounted in my heart. Me? Racist? How
could this be? I thought I had lived my whole life trying
to accept others, to respect diversity, to recognize the
unique strengths of individuals, to celebrate differences.
In my mind, racism was an intentional cruelty toward
someone with a different skin color than my own. How
could someone accuse me of such a horrible offense, just
because I was White, and Ariya was Black? My selfquestioning
continued and unsettled me greatly. Why
was I always calling on Ariya? Was she truly the only
offender in my class? Who really started the squabbles
in the home living center? Was Ariya struggling to coop
erate with all of her peers, or was it just those of races
different than her own? Were those peers also struggling
to cooperate with her? Had Ariya’s misbehavior become
a self-fulfilling prophecy because I was always looking
to protect the other children from what I perceived as
her emotional outbursts? Did my actions actually
worsen the situation for Ariya, when I thought I had
been trying to help? Was Ariya’s direct way of defending
herself culturally influenced, making this situation a
matter of cultural misinterpretation after all? How did
my lack of preparation to think about behavior in cul
tural ways and lack of strategies for addressing disciplin
ary problems in thoughtful ways contribute to the
situation? Why did I perceive this Black child to be the
problem? Did I look past the misbeha:viors of White
children, attributing them to having a bad day? What
would I find if I more carefully documented and studied
the patterns of whom I was disciplining and why? How
and why could one child seem to be the source of the
majority of our classroom’s behavior challenges? What
should I—and my school—have done differently to
make sure Ariya was being treated fairly and not being
profiled as the discipline problem? What caused this pro
filing and what did I overlook through profiling?
As I reflected deeply on these seemingly unending
questions, they catalyzed my learning process. For the
first few days following the incident, I found myself in
a form of crisis. Consistent with the findings of Kumashiro
(2008), I felt guilty for the times in my life that I
had stereotyped others—Black boys are behavior prob
lems, Black families aren’t as involved in their children’s
educations—but had been unaware of this offense
because of the normalization of such stereotypes. I then
moved from guilt into fear and anger: fear of offending
this mother again—a fear that persists for me, even
though Ariya is no longer my student—and anger that
this mother would consider me a racist. Ironically, Jen
sen (2005) identifies guilt, fear, and anger as emotions
of White supremacy. Jensen explains that guilt allows
Whites to avoid accountability and avoid taking action.
Fear enters because Whites do not want to lose the
benefits we have in our currently racially stratified
Sgia^cjl 9s
Racializled Awakening
society. Anger propels Whites into action or inaction,
either by attempting to change or maintain the status
Coworkers tried to assuage my guilt. They assured me
that I was not racist, even going so far as to call this Black
mother racist toward me. I knew deep inside, however,
that the mother’s words released the sting they did because
they contjained shadows ofthe truth. While I may not have
committesd intentional individual racism, I was uncon
sciously jnvolved in a system of institutional racism. As
Boutte, ^.opez-Robertson, and Powers-Costello (2011)
noted, “r|acialized outcomes do not require racist actors”
(335). Be^ng called a racist was my “waking up” moment
in HarrojS (2000a) cycle of liberation.^ My anger about
being called a racist turned into anger toward a society
that still harbors racism. I faced two choices: to dismiss
the parer t’s comment as her problem and to continue on
my routi ie teaching path, or to examine myself to see if
Unfortunately, admitting that racism exists seems to be
taboo in public schools. Jacqueline Jordan Irvine refers to
race as another “four-letter word” in schools that teachers
avoid discussing (as cited in Darden 2009, 53).
Just as there are accepted representations for taboo
four-letter words, teachers still talk about race without
using the word itself. I realized that I had also been an
active participant in many racial conversations at my
school, even though I felt uncomfortable at times. Below
are examples of some of the comments. I also reflect on
what I have learned about the racialized undertones of
the statements. My goal is to demonstrate how everyday
conversations and actions of individuals like myself and
other well-intentioned teachers can unknowingly con
tribute to and maintain racism and other types of
oppression in schools.
• “Have you ever seen skin so black?” A fellow teacher
shared this observation of one of my students with me
during my first year teaching. I was taken aback—^why
on earth did the darkness of my student’s skin matter?
The unstated suggestion is that darker skin was less
desirable. While this comment was shared with me, I
also realize that many children of color continuously
receive the messages in society and school that dark is
bad (Tenorio 2008). Even though my preservice teacher
preparation addressed diversity to some extent, it did
not equip me with the tools to process or respond to
such comments.
• “I wishI could take him home with me!” While seemingly
good-natured, the context in which this comment
was made conveyed condescension. The implication was
that the student’s family was inferior and unable to meet
his or her needs. The comment positions the teacher as a
“white knight” who can “save” or “help” a child of
color—a theme that also explains why many White
teachers feel drawn to teach in inner-city schools
(Mclntyre 1997). I have come to realize that such state
ments, though intentionally benevolent, are indeed
patronizing and do not acknowledge the existing famil
ial strengths ofculturally diverse children.
• “They can’t . ” This common symptom of a deficitbased
perspective formed a recurrent theme of conversa
tions in our teachers’ lounge. My reading (Delpit 2012;
Gay 2010; Howard 2010; Kunjufu 2006) has revealed to
me a long history, as well as contemporary examples, of
deficit models that assume something is wrong with chil
dren from “non-mainstream” homes—e.g.. Ruby
Payne’s (1995) work on children of poverty (Kunjufu
• “We don’t see the color oftheir skin. Welove them all the
same.” These conmients are problematic for two rea
sons. The first statement speaks to teachers’ tendency to
seek refuge in colorblindness, or the refusal to acknowl
edge different skin colors in an attempt to treat all chil
dren the same. Affirmation and sameness, two traits
there was any truth in the parent’s comment, and, if there
was, to decide on a course of action.
I came to realize that as microcosms of society, schools
cannot be free of institutional racism (Stevens and Charles
2005). W
serving j,s consent (Boutte et al. 2011; Harro 2000b).
(Freire 1
hile silence about my discovery was the more
ble option, it would contribute to the problem by
fter all, has long been a tool of the oppressor
970/1999). I was White; most of my students
wereBla( k. I had never beenforced to name my Wliiteness
before. ^
and the s
y racializedawakening led me to question myself
ructure of school.
TheCIim ax: Naming and Reflecting on Racism
Being ca led a racist by a Black parent prompted my sub
sequent £ind ongoing racialized awakening. I had to ask
myself how and why the parent felt that I was a racist.
What wc uld I have thought if I had been in her place?
What were my actions that led her to draw this conclu
sion? Most importantly, I had to wonder—what did
Ariya th nk? I knew that my intent was to fairly and
effectively teach all children and to create a welcoming
environnrent for their parents. Now, I had to reflect: Was
I actually doing what I thought I was doing? I reflected
and reac extensively as a doctoral student wishing to
explore l ow issues of race haunt classrooms to this day
(see Tabe 1). As a result, I have discovered that when
teachers discriminate, it is not usually due to malice or
blatant racism, classism, or sexism. Society embodies
biases that we have been socialized to accept—such as
Whites being more capable than Blacks—so members of
that society (including teachers) do not question these
biases (Garcia 1984). Therefore, racism exists because it
has been woven into the status quo of society; however, it
will be “impossible to address and counter racism if we
do not admit that it exists” (Boutte et al. 2011, 335).
196 Summer
Table 1. Key Readings that Assisted My Raciahzed Awakening
Key Readings
Harro (2000a)—^The Cycle of Socialization
Harro (2000b)—The Cycle of Liberation
The Council on Interracial Books for Children
Boutte et al. (2011)—Moving Beyond
Colorbl ndness in Early Childhood Classroom
Boykin (1994)—^Afrocultural Expression and Its
Implications for Schooling
Freire (1970/1999)—Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Boutte (2007)—^Teaching Students Who Speak
African American Language
Tenorio (io08)—Raising Issues ofRace with
Young Children
Jensen (2005)—^The Heart of Whiteness
Polluck (2008)—Everyday Antiracism
Paley (1979/2000,1997)—White Teacher and The
Girl with the Brown Crayon
that colorblindness promotes, contradict antioppressive
educa :ion (Kumashiro 2008). Colorblindness is far from
a refu se: it perpetuates racism, thus causing much more
harm than good (Boutte et al. 2011; Gay 2010; Howard
2010; Miller 2010; Mclntyre 1997; Paley 1979/2000).
The second sentence of this quotation also embodies the
naive and simplistic ideal of loving each other but does
not point to actions that interpret what this means in
terms of teaching behaviors (Boutte 2008). Mclntyre
I became aware of racism and other types of oppression on an institutional
level and how they become unconsciously embedded within our daily
practices and experiences.
I realized that we did not have to remain passive captives of socialization as we
challenged the status quo within ourselves, then with others, and then within
the system.
Even though we think of children’s literature as innocuous, it can be a vessel
for perpetuating stereotypes and biases. I now am equipped to critique
children’s literature with my students.
Colorblindness is not a strength; in fact, it is detrimental to our children of
color. This article provides practical suggestions of how teachers can move
beyond colorblindness to have important discussions about race with young
Our schools have deeply-woven “cultural fabric” that controls our daily
actions as teachers and students without our awareness. Boykin also
summarizes his earlier work on the nine dimensions of Afrocultural
expression, which can be misconstrued as misbehavior for African
American students.
The four characteristics of antidialogical action—conquest, divide and rule,
manipulation, and cultural invasion—maintain oppressive cycles by
stripping power and discouraging questioning. These characteristics can be
observed within the context of schooling. We need to move toward
dialogical action—cooperation, unity for liberation, organization, and
cultural synthesis—if we wish to interrupt oppressive power structures.
Though widely stigmatized, African American Language (AAL) is a
legitimate, rule-based dialect, and we should not punish AAL-speaking
students for their linguistic diversity. Instead, we should explicitly teach
code-switching, contrastive analysis, and code-meshing.
This article shares creative, practical activities for early childhood educators to
use with their students to explore issues of race. Following Tenorio’s
inspiration, 1 brainstormed an additional activity: going on a color hunt. It
challenges students to find an item in the room that is red. Then, compare
the items—are they all the same shade of red? Repeat with other colors until
children realize that colors have variations. This activity would provide a
concrete introduction to races and skin colors.
Jensen unpacks White privilege. White supremacy, and institutional racism.
He also differentiates between non-racism and anti-racism. Ifwe wish to
interrupt oppressive power structures, non-racism is not enough.
Race is a social construct. It has been used throughout history—^mostly from
the 1600s onward—to justify slavery and colonial conquest. Race has no
biological foundations.
A fellow kindergarten teacher, Paley traces her journey through teaching in
newly-integrated schools. She details her shortcomings—^including her
recognition of her own colorblindness—and struggles to enact her beliefs
amidst colleagues with different beliefs. These themes are still prevalent
struggles for teachers today.
(1997) attacks the use of caring as a solution to racism
in schools because “it frees them, as white teachers, to
‘love’ all students, while at the same time, relinquishing
them from taking responsibility for confronting the con
ditions that keep people in poverty and ignorance”
As teachers, we did not consider any of the aforemen
tioned comments to be racist or classist at the time. The
Racializt •dAwakening
climax oifmy story not only reflects the manifestation of
racism living and thriving in my own school but also
points to the realization of the existence of white privilege
within me and in the school.
White Privilege
Whiteness is the “invisible norm” (Derman-Sparks and
Ramsey j2006, 35). In my formative years growing up in
the Soutn, no one explicitly discussed race. No one told
me that I was White and that I enjoyed endless social privi
leges that people of color did not receive. I now realize I
am “insulated in, and by, my own skin color” (Mclntyre
1997, 1). Mclntosh (1990) refers to the invisible knapsack
of privileges that Whites carry, even though we did no
indepenaent work to earn these privileges—we just had to
be White. I have benefited my whole life from being White,
and now I teach at a school where our population is mostly
non-White, yet we still hold whiteness as the norm.
“White is power” (Jensen 2005,2), and this power comes
from the oppression of others (Gay 2010; Milliard 2009;
Howard 2010;). Mclntyre (1997) explains that Whites use
“white t<.lk” to insulate themselves from examining their
individual and collective roles in the continuation of rac
ism. If we revisit some of the quotes from teachers at my
school, we can find proof of this usage of “white talk” to
establish students of color as “The Other” (with dark
skin), iaerior (with incapable families), incapable (with
deficit models), and invisible (with superficial colorblind
ness). These coping mechanisms allow the blame for fail
ure to fall upon the victims without negatively impacting
the Whit;s involved in institutional racism.
After my initial racialized awakening, my eyes were
openedto seevividexamples of racismand Whiteprivilege
in the elementary school where I teach—a place that I had
always a
As I con
sumed to be free of such deleterious influences,
tinued my doctoral studies, I encountered Strobel’s
(1997) framework of decolonization. The three stages
ofher framework are naming, reflection, and action. Nam
ing the oppression and understanding its impact on my
vas an important part in my ongoing racialized
deeply a
awakening that enabled me to reflect critically and look
myselfand society. Along the way, I realized I
had spen,t much of my time—nearly two years ago—naming
and reflecting, which Strobel cautions can be selfconsuming
and nonproductive without moving on to take
action. Therefore, I had to determine what action
take. I should note that the three stages are not
linear; there is much reflection and naming
ng the action stage, as will be evident in the subection.
I would
even duri
sequent s
Falling Action: Taking Action
Taking action is the ultimate piece of antioppressive edu
cation. It is not an easy task. After nearly two years of
naming and reflecting, I began to feel competent enough
to take action. As Kumashiro (2008) explains.
It is only when educators acknowledge the impossibilities,
unknowabilities, and uncontrollabilities of teaching, and
work within stuck places, that change is possible. Thus,
teaching and learning against oppression cannot revolve
around the desires for affirmation and sameness; students
and teachers alike must be open to entering crisis and fol
lowing the discomforting desire for difference (123).
While “stuck places” are uncomfortable, they are birthpla
ces for change. In following my “discomfort,” I have dis
covered the need to unzip individual and school cultures;
to interrupt deficit-based perspectives; and, most impor
tantly, to talk about race with mystudents.
Unzipping Cultures
For me, the biggest challenge of antioppressive teaching
has been what I call “unzipping” cultures. Just as Mcln
tosh (1990) recognizes the invisible knapsack of White
privilege, I believe weall carry “culturalknapsacks,” some
more visible than others. I bring my own cultural experien
ces with me in my knapsack, as do my students and coworkers.
Our home cultures are largely invisible to us
because we have lived them our whole lives. We wear these
“cloaks of invisibility” comfortably—until we bump into
another person wearing a different cultural cloak, thus dis
lodging invisibility for us both. As teachers, we must use
schools as places where students “bump” into each other
to unveil our differences, thus unzipping our cultural back
packs to reveal their contents.
As teachers, we have the power to instill our beliefs in
others, intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, it is
important that we know who we are as individuals and
as educators, including which biases and stereotypes we
hold (Garcia 1984). For White educators, Mclntyre
(1997) asserts the importance of making their Whiteness
public. This task is difficult for Whites because as mem
bers of the dominant group, our whiteness is not a typi
cal topic of discussion (Howard 2010). Without selfreflection,
however, Whites avoid “investigating the
meaning of whiteness [which] prohibits a critical exami
nation of the individual, institutional, and cultural forms
of racism” (14). We must remove the invisible cloak of
Whiteness to “emerge from the world, objectify it, and
in so doing … understand it and transform it with [our]
labor” (Freire 1970/1999, 125).
Removing this cloak of invisibility through critical
self-reflection is a difficult process, though it is a vital
first step to action (Boykin 1994; Freire 1970/1999; Gay
2010; Jensen 2005). Boutte et al. (2011) suggest that
teachers begin this journey by reflecting on childhood
messages that they received from their own parents or
guardians and how they compare to messages that
teachers now send to their present students and children.
Because we are socialized into many of our beliefs
(Harro 2000b), we must analyze the beliefs we hold as
well as their origins to deconstruct stereotypes and
biases. We must use critical self-reflection to expose our
own vulnerabilities; after all, only then can we “allow
our world to turn upside down in order to allow the
realities of others to edge themselves into our conscious ness” (D^lpit 1998, 47).
Teachers are reluctant to discuss race, color, and rac
ism not Ijecause we do not want to but because we do
not know how to (Boutte et al. 2011). Ignoring the
“isms”—including, but not limited to, classism, sexism,
and racism—is easier, but it will not make them go
away (Garcia 1984). Instead, we must take responsibility
to learn about our own and others’ cultures. My stu
dent’s mother may have experienced a school culture
that produced negative memories of discrimination
against herself as student (Rowley, Lumas, and Banerjee
2010). Being aware of this life experience might
have made me more sensitive as I welcomed this mother
and her jchild into my classroom, but I also must recog
nize the jstrong, legitimate emotions tied to such experi
ences. Njext year, I plan to informally interview parents
during our fall conference to ask questions about their
experiences with schooling, their perception of teachers,
and ways I can help make kindergarten a comfortable
experien^ce not only for their child but also for them. I
also plan to position myself as a learner and encourage
parents to pose questions to me beyond the “scripted”
ones that I have planned.
The culture of schools also has to be unzipped. Next
year, I will collect artifacts of home-school communica
tions ank analyze them for the hidden story ofthe inequi
ties inhjerent in school practices and policies, which
comprisfe schools’ “cultural fabric” (Boykin 1994). Schools need anjtioppressive reform on a deeper level, one that
“uth questioning itself (Ladson-Billings 2009). As
we can question the status quo of schools—prothat
seem absolutely “normal” and “routine.” For
, we can ask: “Who is affirmed and who is left out?
starts w
Do the
why or
liring patterns reflect the student demographicswhy
not? Who holds the power?” After my racialized
awakening, these questions—and some shocking answer^—surfaced. Even though 75 percent of our student
population is Black, we have two teachers of color on our
staff, which Paley (1979/2000) calls a “white integrated
school” (10). Black children were frequently stigmatized in
deficit-based conversations. Single-parent households were
dismissed as weak and inferior. I wonder ifparents—such
as Ariya’s mother—can perceive this culture too. As Delpit
(1998) noted, “(t)hose with power are frequently least
aware df—or least willing to acknowledge—its existence.
Those with less power are often most aware of its exis
tence” (26).
^OUroL 9n
Interrupting Deficit Perspectives
One tangible step toward antioppressive education that I
am learning to embrace is interrupting deficit-based per
spectives. Now, whenever I find myself thinking about
what my students cannot do, I stop and reframe the ques
tion; Wliat can they do? In grade-level meetings, I devel
oped a reputation as “Miss Optimistic” for interrupting
deficit-based dialogue. For instance, when a teacher
bemoaned the fact that a five-year-old student could not
write sentences in December, I reminded her that the page
filled with letters and letter-like symbols demonstrated the
child’s understanding of print as having meaning. Optimis
tic interruptions are a strategy that novice teachers like
myself may find easily accessible as they begin antioppression
work in their classrooms, but they cannot be the only
strategy used for permanent, long-lasting structural
Another frequent complaint of teachers in my school
centers on the behavior of the Black students, especially
boys. Without an awareness of the body of knowledge of
the dimensions of African culture (e.g., spirituality, har
mony, movement, verve, affect, expressive individualism,
communalism, orality, and social time perspective; Boykin
1994), the behavior of many Black males was viewed
through the one-dimensional lens of mainstream culture.
Yet, when we reconsider “behavior problems”—including
excessive talking, movement, attitude, or questioning
authority—through this frame of reference, we often
clearly see a cultural mismatch between “Afrocultural
expressions” and the cultural fabric of school (Boykin
1994). While not essentializing Black culture, teachers
may find it useful to consider whether these behaviors are
manifestations of culture instead of behavioral prob
lems—which requires that we first educate ourselves on
cultures different from our own.
Talking with Children about Race
While many teachers find racial conversations to be diffi
cult and uncomfortable, “«£>/ teaching about racism—an
oppressive process and system that hurts people of color
and Whites—threatens the full humanity of all and viola
tes the professional code of ethics” of doing no harm to
children (Boutte et al. 2011, 341). In addition, “what
parents and educators do not say or do is as powerful as
what we do” (Boutte 2008, 167). One action that I decided
to take to interrupt the deafening silence of racism in
schools is to use children’s literature that lend themselves
to conversations about race. (For a list of such literature,
see Boutte et al. 2011.)
I have also come to see the importance of examining
books and other classroom resources for inherent biases
toward cliildren of color (The Council on Interracial
Books for Children 2008). Retrospectively, I can see how
Racialized Awakening
the books that I selected in my kindergarten classroom—
though I attempted to include stories with diverse charac
ters and themes—rendered African American and other
children of color largely invisible. Teachers can analyze
books with their students to teach them to be questioning,
critical consumers of information, important components
of culturally responsive teaching (Ladson-BiUings 2009).
Teachers also can invite parents to preview books with
multicultural themes (Boutte et al. 2011). I now envision
circles to
that I wc
my students’ families to form small literature
read and discuss multiculturally themed books
uld send home with students to facilitate further
Likewise, I will solicit favorite books, songs, and
otherliteracies from parents to sharewith myclass. This is
an impoi tant step because I now recognize that families
exp;rts in their own lives” (Delpit 1998, 47). Like
Ariya’s ipother, they might even be experts in detecting
Listening to students in our classes is a starting point for
interrupting the silence of the voices of culturally and
linguistically diverse students. Counternarratives tell the
stories that the mainstream narratives tend to silence.
This pas
being B1
year, some of my kindergarteners believed that
ack comes from drinking too much chocolate
milk, and they later started debating if the Black Santa
was the real Santa. Because I lacked the knowledge
base, strategies, and available resources at the time
(Boutte Ual. 2011), I simply skirted the issue. Now,
howeverj I recognize that I missed important learning
opportunities. We could have completed an experiment
to see if chocolate milk consumption changed our skin
color over a month, or polled various people of all races
what kin^d of milk they like to drink to realize that milk
consumption does not actually correlate with skin color.
As for Mack Santa, we could have searched for images
of Santal and tallied the number of White and Black
Santas we discovered. Next, we could have researched
“Santa cohorts” around the world to see if different cul
tures have holiday personas of different races—or if
they havp holiday personas at all. Chocolate milk and
Black Santa would have been my doorways into a rele
vant and meaningful discussion of race. Hopefully, these
two topi:s will revisit our kindergarten classroom next
year: This time, I will be ready.
The Resolution: Resolving to Cliange
Kumashiro (2008) observes, “When teaching and learn
ing against oppression occurs, crises cannot be avoided,
should not be avoided, and must be worked through”
(117). I have encountered one crisis already, and I know
I will face more as I work toward developing an antioppressive
pedagogy in my kindergarten classroom. For
some, the incident of being called a racist may appear to
be minor. However, against the backdrop of a society in
which even talking about race or “seeing color” is
taboo, such an encounter was earth-shattering to me.
Some may question whether the parent was warranted
in her action or even if she was overstating the issue.
Another African American parent—ironically related
to Ariya’s mother—came to me to apologize for the way
Ariya’s mother had treated me all year and to say that
she appreciated all the work I had done with her son.
While her words moved me greatly, I still knew that on
some level, the accusation of Ariya’s mother held some
merit. Perhaps one day in the near future, I can engage
in dialogue with Ariya’s mother to exchange ideas and
to learn from one another. I have drafted letters and
planned conversations in my mind with Ariya’s mother,
but I need to find the courage to move from reflection
into action. My racialized awakening journey will con
tinue in collaboration with people of color who often
live with the reality of racism every day.
While most linear stories end with the resolution—the
solving of the problems, of the crises—Iknow this ending
is only the beginning of my struggle as a White teacher
amongst a mostly White teaching faculty at a mostly Black
school. I read much literature about preparing preservice
teachers to talk about race in their future classrooms (i.e.,
Mclntyre, 1997; Stevens and Charles 2005), but there
seems to be another deafening silence when we look into
similar opportunity for in-service teachers. One profes
sional development session will not dismantle the invisible
cloak of racism in our schools. Nor can a small group of
antioppression educators carry out a revolution on behalf
of all the other teachers (Friere 1970/1999). One of my
current struggles is determining how I can engage other
teachers in my school to begin deliberating these issues,
how to “measure my colleagues’ songs without silencing
my own” (Paley 1997,45).
I tell my story because I know not many teachers are
willing to tell a story of such pain and critical self-reflec
tion. Even though I am early in my career, this episode
was a defining moment in my life as an early childhood
educator and as a doctoral student. It haimts my actions
on a daily basis, both in and out of the classroom. I will
always be associated with Whiteness, but I no longer have
to let it insulate me. It is not my intent to essentialize White
teachers or Black children and their families, and I do not
suggest that “White” and “racist” are synonymous. But I
do believe that it is important for White teachers to find
positive White role models who face issues of racism
squarelyand movebeyond guilt and anger to claim a posi
tive White identity. I will use my racialized awakening as a
focal point in my journey toward taking action to trans
form my classroom into a place of hberation, “thepractice
oflove” (Harro 2000a, 469).
dmfcjL 3 Pain and Perseverance
I now understand why I sometimes feel closer to, and
more connectedwith, somepeople of colorthan with many
White people. My understanding came through viewing
oppression as encompassing ail the different groups expe
riencing it. Havingbeen born into a working-class family, I
share many cultural dynamics with people of color also
bom into this economic sphere. It is often difficult for me,
and apparently others, to figure out how to separate race
from classJ Mysensitivity to how I’ve experienced oppres
sion personally, through class, body size,and gender issues,
has allowed me to have some sense of perspective on the pain ofracism. Finally, my willingness to admit to and name
privileges ithat I experience because of my race seems to
afford me some credibility with people of color.
Mywillmgness to be public about addressingoppression
issues(racein particular) on campus has helped me eam the
trust of minority students on campus. Although the coimseling
cenfter continues to haveto workon increasing the
number minority students using our services, the per
centage oi ‘students ofcolor who do choose to seek services
here is ab(»ve average. This isnot an accident.Through con
tact with me and other therapists outside of the center it
self, students havethe opportunity to “checkus out”before
deciding y/hether wecanbe trusted.
I have Surprised many students of color by raising the
issue ofrajce early in the therapeutic process. Some are sur
prised thart I even thought about it or consideredit impor
tant. Oth«s are surprised because they don’t see it as rel
evant,ana a few havebeen offendedthat I brought it up.In
any case, it is a vital issue to raise to make counseling as
safe as possible for them and to give me a better tinderstandingof
where they are comingfrom. Iam a proponent
of racialidentity differences (Parham&Helms, 1981) and
believe I peed to have some sense of where my client is
1.There are some clients of color who prefer to
;therapist because “White” has been the social
ir mostoftheirlives. Other minority clients, those
iin the issueof race,cannot sufficientlytrust me,
how open and accepting I am, no matter how
see a
no ma
self-aware I work to become. Many, if not most, minority
clients seem to be willing to give me the benefit of the
doubt after we discuss what the racial difference means to
them. Most of those who continue in counseling will ad
mit at some point that it feels rather “strange” to discuss
certain issues with me (e.g., intraracial issues of skin tone,
hair texture, speech patterns), which are inevitably raised
by me rather than them.
Myconclusion,sadly, is that most people of color simply
don’t expectmuch fromWhite people.Theydon’t expectus
to be open, to have thought about these issues, to have
thought about ourselves (rather than them) in terms of these
issues, to be working against racism inside and outside of
the therapy room. I believeit ismy responsibility, asamem
ber ofthe majority group, to fight racism.As I benefit and
derive increased societal rewards from racism’s existence,
perhaps my voice may reach otherWhite ears that refuse to
listen to the voices of people of color. I believe this as pas
sionately as I believe that men mxist speak to other men
about sexism, that heterosexuals must speak to members
of their own group about homophobia, and so on.
Those of us committed to being alliesmust be willingto
persevere in this struggle. People of color do not have the
option of ignoringracismand its effects;therefore,we must
not ignore it either.We must choose to persevere in the face
of rejection, criticism, and suspicion from members ofma
jority and minority groups. Not everyone wants Whites to
be involved in this struggle, and I understand this lack of
trust. But racism is the problem of the racists, not those
who are oppressed by it. As a part of the problem group,I
must be involved in eliminating the problem itself.
Some say that no one willingly givesup power, and while
members of majority groups refuse to see any benefit to
themselves for changing the system (personal and institu
tional), progress will be slow and painful. But when major
ity group members can see that their lives will improve,
theiraccomplishments willbe seen asmore completely due
to merit ratiher than privilege, that the quality of life will
improve for all ofus, ^en, perhaps, change will bepossible
ybu NeverKnow How Racist I Was,
IfYou MetMe on the Street
Samuel O.Ortiz
If you sa\/ me on the street, you’d easilyrecognizeme as a
Hispanic man with dark eyes, hair, and skin. If we talked a
while, you’d learn that I came from a very modest back
ground, iindthat I was the first person ever in my family’s
history to attend college. You’d find out how hard I had
work^ ^dhow much Ipersevered, eventually earning the
highest of all academic degrees, a doctorate. You’d notice
that I was articulate and that I spoke without a trace of
accent. Byevery measure, you’d judgeme to be the success
story of any generation, and you’d think I was the epitome
oftheAmerican dream. Youmight even respectme and what
I had to say. So if I said to you, “Race means nothing; it
makes no difference in your success,” you might believe me.
And if I added, “Who needs bilingual education? If I can
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
succeed without it; anyone can,”you might agree with me.
After all,Tma learnedman of color, and surely I havethe
experience to support my views. Besides, I wasn’t saying
anything that you didn’t already know or feel. Just 3 short
years ago, you’d neverknow how racist I was, if you met me
on the street.
Racismis often characterized, albeit facetiously, as an in
herited disease—^you get it from your parents. I guessI was
lucky; I didn’t get it from mine. Like so many oAer unsus
pecting children, f went out and got it from a more
authoritative source, school. Racism isn’t a simple disease,
though, aridthe particular mutation I pickedup didn’t in
volve lean^g to hate other people simply because they
were different from me. No, I was infected with a far more
insidious s^n thattaught meto hatemy cum people be
cause they jvv^ere different from what society said they should
be. Racismin this form often goesby the patriotic label of
“assimilation,” which by definition forces you to devalue
andreject your native language andculturein favor ofthe
aguageand ctdture. There is no immunity from
ion, and, tragically, children are the most suslow,
because I was one of its many victims,
id, you don’t know that culture, language, and
skin colorW products ofbirth, notchoice. But, as a child,
you understand intuitively what and whom society values.
When it’s ^our fondest wish to fit in, you actually begin to
believe that color, culture, language, and race play no real
part in determining success or status in society.Bythe age
of 5,1 knew I was living in a society where I looked and
sounded different from most other people and that this
was not a good thing. My parents, U.S.citizens by birth (as
are all Puerto Ricans), learned Spanish as their first lan
guage and so did LYet, speaking Spanish simply wasn’t
allowed in’ school. Bilingual education was but a distant
dream, and I was expected to learn English immediately
upon enteiing kindergarten, never mind that my parents
cotildbarelyspeakit. Not beingone who enjoyedridicule
or physical punishment doled out when caught trying to
express m^elfinSpanish, Iplunged into learning English,
resolvedto master it aswell asmy 5-year-oldpeers.Bysec
ond grade, my teacher placed me outside the classroomin
a small group where I was teaching other Spanish-speaking
children how to read in English. I distinctly remember feel
ing superior to these children aspiring to be as proficient as
I was in English. Eventually, I was able to overcome my
speech impediment, that is, my accent, and before long !
began refusing to speak to or answer my parents in Span
ish. I vividly recall ihe extreme embarrassment and shame
I felt anytime my parents had the nerve to speak Spanish
in public. My mother once asked me in Spanish to help her
find a can 6fbeans at the grocery store, f remember feeling
so indignant and angry that she wouldn’t use her broken
English instead of her fluent Spanish when addressing me
insuch aplublic place.
It wasn’t that anyone ever said anything to me overtly,
and it wasn’t that my parents didn’t value their own cul
ture or language. There just always seemed to be a clear,
majority li
sudi inf<
ceptible. I
As a
Souirait 5
xmspoken norm that English was better than Spanish and
that being White was better than being brown. It wasn’t
based simply on being different; it was a question of value.
White culture wassuperior to all other cultures,including
mine. Evenmy earliest personal values began to reflect such
thinking as I, too, learned to put a premium on blonde hair
and blue eyes.Assimilation will do that to you. Even at 5,1
learned my lessons well.
In the summer of 1974 I flew to Annapolis, Maryland, to
attend a 2-week engineering and science seminar for high
school students interested in attending the U.S. NavalAcad
emy. I had departed from San Diego late Saturday night
and arrived early Sunday morning only to find that regis
tration wasn’t scheduled to begin until Monday morning.
Eventually, an officer working with the seminar foimd me
wandering the campus with my bags and helped arrange
early registration for me. With tlie length of the flight, the
time changeS; and with all the waiting around, I hadn’t eaten
for almost an entire day. The officer suggested I go into
town and get something to eat because the academy’s caf
eteria wasn’t open. He asked if I liked pizza, and when I
nodded, he told me of a local place and assured me that
they had the best-tasting pizza, bar none. I quickly found
the establishment located just outside the academy gates. I
wasfamished and in dire need of some food,any food, when
I entered the restaurant/bar at about five-o’clock that
evening.At that time of day,there wasn’t much of a dinner
crowd yet and, becatise it was a Sunday, I wasn’t too sur
prised to find only the proprietor behind the counter and
one other gentleman sitting at the bar. I just smiled, think
ing to myselfthat at least I’d get my dinner faster. I scanned
the menu behind the counter and eventually settled on a
large pepperoni pizza and a pitcher of soda, which I paid
for in advance. Back home, I could eat over half a large
pizza easily and given my present state ofhunger, polishing
off the whole thing was something I was looking forward
to. The proprietor took my order, gaveme my pitcher, and
I sat down in an otherwise empty place to await my meal.
My hunger made me painty aware of each passing
minute, and I constantly checked my watch believingthat,
surely, any second now,I’d be taking care of that dull ache
in my midsection. After about 45 minutes, I began to won
der what was taking so long, but I consoled myself with the
thought that goodthings take time and that the pizzawould
no doubt be here shordy.An hour passed and the insistence
of my stomach’s demand to place something, anything, in
it, and fast, grew stronger. Still, I remember thinking that
pizzasreallycantake a whileto cook.Myhvmger soonurged
me to ask the proprietor, politely, if my pizza would take
much longer. He answered flatly that it wason its way, and
I sat back down in my booth reassured that mypizza wotdd
arrive soon. Neither man spoke to me before or after that
but I didn’t think it too strange, even if no one else was
After an hour and a half passed, I finally saw the propri
etor bringing out my pizza. He laid it on the table in front
of me and went back behind his counter. I was so hungry
Copyright® 1999. All rights reserved.
WSNTiR 1999 • VOLUAAE 77
S(urai ^ You’d Never Know How Racist I Was
I’m sure I could have inhaled the whole thing, but instead
I pickedup a singlepiece and with great anticipation, placed
it in my mouth, and took a ravenous bite. I’m no pizza
gourmet, but I could tell that the cheese on top seemed
rather dry,brown and crusty.The pepperoni was anything
but red or numerous, and the ones that did grace the pizza
resembled dried up, maroon-colored quarters. None of this
bothered me in the least, however, because at that point I
would haVe eaten the table itself if it had been cooked.
What I cquldn’t stomach though was the crust.The entire
bottom of the pizza wasburnt to a crisp,black as coal and
twice as bitter. I could eat the desiccated cheese and the
shriveled up pepperoni slices, but no amount ofsoda cotild
wash down die carbon cardboard of which the bottom of
that pizza was made. Still, my hunger drove me to force
downtwo slicesanyway, which made up lessthan one fourth
of the whole pizza. Bythen my pitcher of soda was gone,
and I wasready to leave. In my 15-year-oId mind, livingin
a culture jchat taught me to devalue myself, my native lan
guage, and my own culture, the only thought I had upon
exitingw is, “If they think that’s good pizza, they ought to
come out to California.” By the age of 15, society had in
doctrinated me so completelythat I wasn’t even capableof
noticing <vert forms of racism, even when they did occur.
Ten yean of assimilation will do that to you. Yes, I had
learned n y lessons very well.
Mypari mts weren’tbeing quiteas easily swayed asI was.
Theystillclung to their language and culture,althoughthey
did make large concessions alongthe way. They, like most
people vs lued education and sawit as a wayfor their chil
dren to at hieve a better life for themselves without having
to struggle as much as they, the parents, did. They too be
lievedthat English proficiencywould be myticket for suc
cess in society and were thankf^ that bilingual programs
hadn’t yet been invented. Later they would tell me that
they woul dn’t haveallowed meto be insuchprograms, even
ifthey hadbeen available, even though theirlimited English
skillshad preventedthem from being able to help me with
myhome vorkfromthe time Iwasin the firstgradeWhether
or not I was being taught in school to devalue them, their
language, ortheir culture,wasnot somethingthat seemedto
concernt lem. Either they realizedit but ignoredit, or they
didn’t see it. It seems theywerelearning their lessons well.
too. Nevertheless, the older I got, the less I wanted to be
like them. The older I got, the more I despisedthem for not
fitting in. The older I got, the more I swore I wouldn’t be
anything!ike them, and the more I began to hate all Puerto
Ricans. Itjs so much easier to ascribe decaying familial rela
tionships to a generation gap than to the complexities of
cultural alienation or systematic oppression. Assimilation
wiU do tl at to a family.
For a variety of reasons, bad-tasting pizza notwithstand
ing, I chose to attend a university closer to home rather
than the NavalAcademyafter graduation from high school.
I was alwrays eager to adapt to new cultural expectations,
but getting the hang of collegetook some doing because I
had no gt^dance, no experience, and no role models. Iman
agedto get through, and whereascollege wasan alienland
scape for me, graduate school proved to be an entirely new
plane of existence. I never questioned the fact that I had
never met a Puerto Rican psychologist, or that I never had
any Puerto Rican teachers or professors. I never even no
ticed that virtually every professor I met in higher educa
tion was White or male, often both. So at the age of 25,
when my own graduate adviser, a White woman, told me
after reading my thesis proposal that she had very serious
concerns about my ability to complete the clinicalpsychol
ogy program, I knew she must be right. When she said my
writing was”atrociotis, disorganized, and nowhere near the
level of quality [she] would expect from a master’s level
student, let alone a doctoral one,” I quickly ascribed it to
personal deficiencies.And when she added, “I have to look
out for the quality ofPhDs coming out of our department,
and frankly I don’t see how I can recommend that you be
continued in this program,” I felt hke an utter failure, de
void of the ability and intelligence necessary to fit into or
succeed in society at that level. I knew she wanted me to
know that I was not like her, not like them, and that I never
would be. She knew exceechngly well where she belonged,
and she was making it clear to me where I stood and where
I could expect to stand in the future.Weplayed our cultural
roles to the hilt. It wasn’t racism of the kind we often read
or hear about. It was racism disguised in values bred into us
both from the earliest stages of development. It was a type
of racism that allowed us neither the choice to reject it nor
the capacity to appreciate its existence. Twenty years of
assimilation will do that to you. Yes, we had both learned
our lessons well.
Another decade of assimilation simply reinforced every
thing I learned previously.After 30 years,I had allbut com
pletely rejected my ovyn culture, language,and family. I was
a racist of color, and I didn’t even know it. Like so many
others, I was blind to virtually every issue related to cul
tural or linguistic diversity in my life,including racism. But
then I stumbled on the school psychology program at San
Diego State University.It was here that I was introduced to
ideas based on multiculturalism and pluralism, and these
began to resonate with aspects ofmy psyche that had never
been explored. It was here I learned that I had been incul
cated from the very beginning with the belief that my na
tive language and cultxu-e were impediments to success and
even that they were badges of inferiority. It was here that I
began to lament what might have been ifonly these things,
long since left behind, had been valued and used as tools
rather than as obstacles in my education. It was here that
the feverish infection ofracism began to lift as I met others
who had survived the illness and who knew the cure. To
day, as I teach and work with others, my personal experi
ences are my most valuable tools and best inoculating
devices. They provide me with unique insight into such
diffictilt issues as racism, cultural inequity in education,
multicultural counseling, and race relations. They imbue
me with the power to effect change. No longer do I stand
by and allow the educational success of children who are
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
culturallyor linguistically diverseto rest on the false belief
that they must adopt society’svalues and mores while re
jecting their own. Even a small dose of pluralism will do
that to you. Yes, Fm learning my new lessons well.
Peeling awaysuffocating layers of personal devaluation
and racism built up over decades isn’t easy. 1 have been
forced to deal with my own deeply held racist beliefs, ones
that have kept me ignorant for so long. In so doing, my
worldview has been transformed, becomingless naiveand
far less familiar. I struggle to keepmyfeelings of anger un
der control when I think about what was done to me. I am
no longer blind to overt racism and am obligated to con
front it. I’ve lostsome friends whono longer sharemyval
ues andbeliefs, and IVemade others who do.PeopleI have
long admired are beginning to appear as reflections of my
former self. From the famihal (the views of my Mexican
Americanwfe’s family againstbilingualeducation) to the
familiar (Je^e Jackson’s and MayaAngelou’s comments on
the dangers 6frecognizing Ebonics), the values of the domi
nant culture continue to be well learned. Tve become aware
that assimilation infects even those whom we believe to be
inunune from it. Racismis truly a diseaseborn of ignorance
and perpetuated, rather covertly, by the dominant societvin
the fertile breeding ground of children’s minds. It can
lay there dormant, yet ready to spring to life when trig
geredby eventsthat evokehighlyemotionalresponses that
erupt from deeply felt convictions with little or no basis in
Miraculously, my experiences during the past 3 years of
mylife have led me to affirm, not reject, mynative oxlture
and language. Rather than trying to transcend them, I have
accepted and embraced them aspart and parcel ofwho I am
and what I do, I see now that they are assets, not liabilities;
that they are valuable, not worthless; and that they are in
deed very relevant,not unimportant. Fm recoveringthose
fundamental aspects of my hiunanity that were stripped
from me by a society that didn’t value them. Fm reclaim
ingmy culture,my language, my ethnic heritage, evenmy
fundamental relationships with my family. Much to my
delight, I’ve discovered that I have much in common with
my parents, the very people whom I believed to be so infe
rior because they couldn’t speak English well, the same
people I tried so desperately not to be like. Thank God
they retained many of their personal values and attitudes
rather than adopt ones that society and I believed they
should have. It is rather sad, though, that a son has to wait
35 years to find out how wonderful his parents really are.
Thirty years of assimilation will do that to you. One year of
pluralism will fix it. Yes, today you’d never know just how
racist I was, if you met me on the street.
Personal Narrative: Grou/ing Up Biracial
MaryA. Ftikuyama
My earliest memories of childhood are of my preschool
years, living ii a large brick home in Denver, Colorado. Of
significance t dme at that tim^e were the back alley as a play
area and a cor crete slopingbanister on the front porch steps,
which fimctioned nicely as a slide. This house was a place
where Japant se Americans and Black Americans lived to
gether. I knevrmy parents were special because they were
responsible for this “house” called “Brotherhood House.” I
did not know at that time the story of my parents’ meeting
in an Idaho internment camp during World War II, their
subsequent marriage, and their geographic moves east of
Washington aid Oregon, their birthplaces. I did not know
why Japanese Americans were “relocating,” nor did 1 undei^
tand the significance of my parents’ interracial mar
riage at the ei d ofWorld War II.
When did I 5rst leam about racism? I was sheltered from
racism by my parents, as best they knew how. Only as an
adult did I learn that my father helped to desegregate the
DenverYMC/lpool by swimming in it with his Blackfriends.
Racedid not have personalmeaningfor me until, as a young
child (age 4 or 5), I was mocked by another child for the
shape ofmy eyes.I was confused by this; it happened when
we were on vacation in a strange city. I did not understand,
but felt affronted and a little scared by it.
During my elementary school years our family lived in
Iowa, an intentional sanctuary removed from the virulent
racism against Japanese Americans that was prevalent on
the West coast after World War II. Indeed, I may have led a
life protected from hostilities against Japanese Americans.
Later in life,1askedmy father why we had moved to Iowa.
His response was “to get a job as a minister, which would
not have been possible in the West.”
My memories of racial incidents primarily revolved
around one little girl (whom I did not like) who called me
an Eskimo. Ofcourse I had no idea who Eskimos were, but
I knew I was not one and would argue with her about it.
Nevertheless, my dark brown hair and eyes stood out in a
mostly White, fair-haired population. In another incident,
againwhile traveling by automobile across country, an older
\^ite woman was rude to my father at agas stop. Heex
plained to me that the woman probably thought he was an
American Indian, people who are treated badly because of
race.Ifound this explanation confusingbut wascomforted
in thinking that she was in error to treat my father badly.
What wasthis phenomenon, which I laterknewto be prgudice?
I remember that to say words like “nigger”or”Jap”was
wrong and hurtful, and I was instructed about this by my
mother at an early age. I remember my mother sayingthat
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