Sunday, December 16, 2012

Eracism



ERACISM

That was the lettering that went along with a cool design on t-shirts my school sold in the 1990s, and a creative way of getting across the message of ending racism.  In a place where students and staff alike are as likely to be black, brown, Asian or “all of the above” as they are to be white, Eracism was a pretty important concept.  I bought one of those shirts and wore it for many years before it finally gave out and got recycled. 

Discrimination encouraged here!  That, written large on my whiteboard, was what greeted students one morning, and it sure got their attention.  "Why would you want us to discriminate, Mr. Strebler; I thought you didn’t like racism?  But discrimination, just like racism, is a word that is very often misunderstood and misused, and that was the point of the slogan on the board.

When you look up discriminate in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (this is what we used in the dark days before Wikipedia), you see that, just like most words, it is defined in a number of ways.  It is only the fourth definition that refers to “make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit; against a certain nationality.”  The earlier, more generally correct definitions have to do with telling the difference between one thing and another.  For instance, a wise voter can discriminate between a qualified candidate and one not so qualified, while a discriminating diner can tell the difference between a good meal and a so-so meal.  Similarly, only the last definition given for discrimination has to do with prejudice against someone or some group. 

And that was the point of what was on my board.  Students should make judgments – they should discriminate – about the various things they hear on the news, from friends, family, and teachers, and about what they read in school books.  They should differentiate between credible and not believable, make good decisions more so than bad ones, etc.  The other point, of course, was to get the kids thinking about what the word itself means, and how they so commonly misuse it.  Discrimination – as properly defined – is mostly a good thing. 

It’s kind of the same idea with racism and racist.  Students have been programmed to believe that virtually any mention of a person’s ethnicity, nationality, or color is “racist”.  But that’s just not true.  Webster’s defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capabilities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”  The excessive insistence on political correctness in our society has had the unfortunate side-effect of making people, especially youngsters, see “racism” in lots of places where in reality it does not exist. 

Saying something about “that black dude” or “a Mexican girl” or “this Jewish guy” is no more racist than referring to “that skinny white kid” or that “tall blonde chick”.  Those terms (Mexican, skinny, etc.) are simply adjectives that help identify someone.  Unless there’s some additional comment or intimation that the black guy or Jewish gal or white dude is inferior or superior to anyone else, there’s no racism going on.  Nor does saying that Mexicans tend to eat a lot of tortillas, Jews eat matzo on Passover, Chinese-Americans generally put a lot of pressure on their kids to do well in school, blacks experience higher rates of MS, or white folks generally have finer (thinner) hair.  These are verifiable facts, not judgments, and by themselves imply nothing about inferiority or superiority.  As such, these kinds of comments don't constitute racism.

Anyone who knows me knows how close I am to the Mexican people and their culture, that my best friend at school is a black guy, that I love my Jewish heritage, etc.  So when I refer to those groups of people, racism is hardly what's on my mind.  Yet I freely use those kinds of descriptors, or claims, knowing that they might shock and even offend some people.  Why?

Well, part of it is my mischievous nature; a willingness to push people's buttons and stir things up a bit.  But much more importantly, as a teacher, I’d like students to be more realistic in their attitudes about racism and discrimination.  I want to present another model, a more correct understanding if you will, of political correctness to counter the message they’re getting in our liberally-skewed educational system. 

It’s just plain wrong that Mexican, Jew, black, Asian, and similar terms are viewed as being negative. 

I’m proud of being (ethnically) Jewish, and I think Mexicans and blacks and whatnot are proud of who they are.  There’s nothing wrong with being “a Jew”, and I don’t like people implying that it’s an insult.  The same goes for the rest of them; Mexican isn’t a bad word, nor is black or Asian or whatever.  I consciously use those terms to try to help students get past the idea that they are negative, that they are insults. 

Those who think they are bad words, insults, examples of racism – the problem is on their end and how they perceive those terms.  

Then there’s the story of YiQiu, a student of mine several years ago who had just moved here from China.  Now part of my goofy nature is that I’ll sometimes use a British or French or other accent when talking about people from those countries.  And mostly the kids love it - YiQiu especially.  One day as we were reading from the history book he said “Mr. Strebler, do the accents!”  And so I started reading with a German accent, then Russian, then Irish, and YiQiu was cracking up; “that’s so funny, Mr. Strebler!”  Then I did a bit of a Chinese accent and all of a sudden “That’s not funny, Mr. Strebler; that’s racist”, YiQiu said in all seriousness.  He was very offended.  So what’s going on there?

Why is it OK to have some fun with an Australian or Italian or Southern accent, but it’s not OK to do an Asian accent?  Well, part of it goes back to the idea of perception.  If he, or someone else, perceives that they’re being put down, then they’re going to see an accent or a comment as being racist – even when it’s not.  And of course there is the fact that Asians (and Latinos, and blacks, etc.) have been discriminated against in the past, and it’s still sort of a sore subject with many of those folks. So the issue can be a bit tricky and one may unintentionally cross a line of sorts....  That's probably why most people shy away from dealing with the issue, I suppose. 

But it’s OK - even healthy - I would suggest, to talk about one another’s ethnicity and whatnot, and even to have a bit of fun with it all.  This doesn't promote racism, it helps us get past it, in my opinion.  So I’ll keep up with my silly accents, and keep making fun of myself and the stereotypes of old white guys as much as I sometimes make fun of the stereotypes of other groups.  That may be irreverent; it may be seen as insensitive at times (and I am sorry when that happens); some may see it as inappropriate for a classroom teacher – we can have a spirited debate over those claims.  But what it is not is racism, at least not racism as that word is properly defined.

35 comments:

John B. said...

This commentary on racism in the classroom is very interesting. The world could probably use a better understanding of race and racism, however the understanding you have expressed in this blog post seems to be counter productive, and contains racist comments and elements that I would like to point out in order to perhaps share my own opinion on the facts of what racism is, through correcting you. I agree with your general statement, racism is viewed differently from how it should be, but how you say it should be viewed only strays further from the truth.

Kelli_California said...

After reading the blog post, I am able to reflect on my own thoughts and actions. The presence of a different view allowed me to form my own opinion and belief. The fact that people throw around the word "racist" represents how powerful and important words and language is.
- Kelli J.

adam wright said...

I feel as though i can honestly say that people are stupid when it comes to them talking about racism. Most people have no idea that racism is far more than saying, "that girl is black." It goes far deeper than that. It can be described as in the 1900's when, cruelly and undeservadly, blacks were discriminated solely by their ethnicity and prohibited from going into many places and sometimes tortured for what they "did." But these days people perseption of racism is twisted with culture. The nonsense culture that thinks practically everything and everyone is racist, and that saying something to one person is fine, but when you say it to that certain someone you are defined as "racist."

Ismaeel said...

I found the true definition of "discriminate", and how we end up using it in order to describe racial differences which are often determined "racist", quite interesting. I feel as though we use this term because when we poke fun at racial differences we are doing just that, exploiting differences in culture. I believe racist terms are used in an attempt to gain superiority of another race or ethnic group, which could either be a result of being self-conscious or being racially opposed due to geographical or social conflict of cultures.

Jackie Beltran said...

Reading this blog post got me thinking about times when I have heard the word racist being misused. I definitely agree that the actual meaning for this word has been lost. As you stated, to say "that black guy" is not being racist, it is simply an adjective. Racism to this day could be due to past discrimination but in my opinion that should be put behind us. We should be learning and improving society based off what has happened as opposed to repeating the same mistakes.

Gabriela Peralta said...

This essay was something on the thoughtful side. It really gives one something to think about when one uses these types of words. not only because they can mean different types of things as Mr. Strebler stated, but they can be a problem of perception; yet another concept brought about in the commentary. by the end of the essay I was able to realize how much of the words that are used today are used in the wrong context,and that I should be more careful and educated as to how I use them.

Anonymous said...

This essay presented more information and another side that isn't often discussed which made me modify my opinion on racism. It's surprising to see the true definition of discrimination and racism and how incorrectly they're used. I've always thought that it was wrong for people to call it racist when someone refers to you as black, white, Mexican, or any other ethnicity because it is just a description. However, considering that in today's society the majority of us do have a negative connotation of such descriptions and know that when speaking, the simple statement "she's white" can be racist. Also, the context and tone in which it is stated can be the difference between a racist statement and a non-racist statement.
-Chelsea Arias

Zachary Zisser said...

With all your talk of the real definitions of the words such as racism and descrimination is very true but doesnt really matter. just as the word bitch has changed to something negative so has the words racism and descrimination. the vocabulary of the world is always changing and whether for better or for worse you have to play along or make a difference or risk offeneding many different people at once and no one wants that.

Anonymous said...

This blog had my mind set flow in a different direction due to the significant points made out. But I realized that I had been misusing the words "discrimination" and "racism" until I thoroughly read the blog. Yet I am still surprised that stereotypes is not mentioned in this blog because I feel that they all correlate with each other. Overall, the blog allowed me to broaden my mind and not take group descriptions as discrimination or racist just because a remark is dircted directly towards a group.
- Karla Zuniga

Anonymous said...

Racism is all about perception. When you said, "Those who think they are bad words, insults, examples of racism – the problem is on their end and how they perceive those terms," it made me realize how many peopole percieve racism as being a bad thing. Reading this article has actually changed my views and perspective on racism. It has also made me realize how often I refer somebody of my race and I do not realize it is the same thing as refering to somebody of a different race. It is definatley sad how many people believe this sort of thing is bad and yet they do not even know the true definition of racism and where it truly is and how it really is not in the place people think it is, or should be. It can also do with just straight up physical facts or traits that people cannot control, like the color of somebodys hair, or better yet, their skin color. Adjectives are meant to be used in a way to "discriminate" one thing from another and not be used in a negative way to where it would insult somebody. Nobody should take adjectives insulting and nobody should be trying to use them in a hurtful way when, in reality, is not really there, except for curse words which are not necessarliy even real words or adjectives.
-Trystan Colburn

Christina Schweighardt said...

Based on your opinions and insights I have realized that I my self am guilty of misunderstanding the word "discrimination" and "racist". I have realized that this is because of how other authoritative figures have viewed racism and have always imposed their own opinions on me. Now that I have been able to reflect on this, I can see from personal experience that racism and discrimination depends on how you perceive it.

Anonymous said...

As you stated in the blog, calling someone “Mexican” or “Black” is not a racist comment, it is simply a trait that describes a certain person. Many of the sayings we associate certain ethnicities with are statements that do hold truth to a majority of that population. That doesn’t mean that all people of that ethnicity act that way, however, a majority of them do. One main issue is that the phrase “that’s racist” has become a common statement in today’s culture, and it completely devalues the true meaning of the word. As referenced in the blog, the “youngsters see “racism” in lots of places where in reality it does not exist”.

-Haley Davis

Jared Creamer P1B said...

I think that this is a well written essay. I especially like the point you made when you said , "Why is it OK to have some fun with an Australian or Italian or Southern accent, but it’s not OK to do an Asian accent? Well, part of it goes back to the idea of perception. If he, or someone else, perceives that they’re being put down, then they’re going to see an accent or a comment as being racist – even when it’s not" I think that this essay makes many great points that I agree with, however the only thing it lacks is a counter argument. You never really state how bad racism can actually be. Other than that I really enjoyed the essay.

Anonymous said...

i'd never really put much though into the whole diffrence between "racism" and "discrimination" and now that you've pointed out and defined each one i've come to the understanding that they are totally diffrent things. while discrimination may be involved in racism the opposite does not apply to it. I also liked how you pointed out that perception plays a big part in how a comment may be viewed as racist when in fact it is only a generalization based off of what a vast majority of people accustom to do.
- Mariella Monroy

Ella monroy said...

I'dnever really put much thought into the whole what is the diffrence between "racism" and "discrimination" although now that I have read you essay I have had both terms defined i've realized that I myself have used both incorrectly and that although discrimination may be involved in racism,racism is not involved in discrimination. I also like how you mentioned the way people perceive things, and if they believe or feel that a comment is racist it is only because a generalization about a vast majority of people was made and maybevnot because they were being put down.
-Mariella Monroy

Anonymous said...

After reading this essay, I realized how many times I have seen those words being misused. By including the definition in the essay it backed up the ideas well. -Jazmin Juarez

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the discussion and the thought behind the co felt of racism and discrimination. It forces me to think about different factors that should be considered in developing attitudes toward this very troublesome issue. Generational differences play a role in the views of different people, obvious in your experience as a teacher and using adjectives to describe people and your students' appraisal of that as being racist. Context of the terms and how they are used in a statement should also be considered, which leads to perception on the end of the person receiving (orally or visually) the statement. As you say in your blog, having realistic attitudes and including verifiable facts when speaking of race could help to minimize perceived thoughts of racism, but I don't believe it will ever be erased.
-Hope Ashcraft

Alex said...

I found this article to be very interesting because it addresses a topic which I personally agree with. There are some aspects that are not mentioned in the article, such as intent. If a person intends to be racist as a way to put down another person, saying things such as “black girl” can be seen as offensive if they are used to marginalize a person. Overall, I felt like the article was right in saying that acknowledging race is the best way to counteract racism. Calling on a student as “the white guy” or “Asian kid” or “La Mexican” isn’t racist, but it might be better to just learn the names :)

Alex said...

I found this article to be very interesting because it addresses a topic which I personally agree with. There are some aspects that are not mentioned in the article, such as intent. If a person intends to be racist as a way to put down another person, saying things such as “black girl” can be seen as offensive if they are used to marginalize a person. Overall, I felt like the article was right in saying that acknowledging race is the best way to counteract racism. Calling on a student as “the white guy” or “Asian kid” or “La Mexican” isn’t racist, but it might be better to just learn the names :)

Keith Lara said...

The blog post about racism set me on a mission because I feel it is an issue that needs to be addressed more often. Too many people are ignoring this problem in our society and as a result, it creates a misconception in growing children's minds. My mission is to let people more aware of the difference between racism and the truth. In turn, I hope to accomplish a more perfect society or a at least a community in which people will be able to differentiate between racism and truth. I want more people to be critiques and discriminate the world around us so they can distinguish the good from the bad.

Taylor Bird said...

The essay first off automatically makes a connection to me through the title because I have seen the shirt for Eracism in one of my previous classes. The essay second off connects with me because I understand exactly where you make your point about the proper definition of the words; it makes the connection of how much our world has changed and thinks of issues as compared to earlier times. We live in a generation of excuses and personal opinions.

Haley Sweet said...

The truth is many things that would be considered adjectives and descriptors of race have become in a way almost taboo. This is because there is this deep rooted idea that to acknowledge someones race is wrong. The essay makes some good points regarding the idea that people are quick to think that all references to race are meant in in derogatory way. This to a large extent is true and I have to agree, although there is the small matter of making generalizations, while maybe not inherently wrong they still make people feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Olivia Sanchez said...

I think that this issue is extremely prevalent in today’s society, and continues to be a problem because people judge and immediately flag everything as being racist, before they really know what they’re accusing someone of. You made some extremely valid points in your blog, and you highlighted the fact that people call others racist when it’s convenient for them. With reference to the YiQui story, people are always so quick to call others racist, but yet enjoy the playful banter that occurs when discussing other races and nationalities. I think that people are willing to dish this so called “discrimination”, but then aren’t willing to take it.

As you mentioned, it is very important to educate today’s youth on what exactly discrimination and racism are, and how they are now a days are used too frivolously. I also agree that it’s ridiculous and upsetting that one can’t even mention another’s ethnicity without coming off as a racist or insensitive. But what is more upsetting, is the idea that people are so quick to jump on the bandwagon when it’s someone else’s nationality on the line, but are so defensive the moment that they come up in conversation. How is that fair? That’s selective racism, meaning that people are picking and choosing when something is “racist”, so long as it is convenient for them.

Jasmine Alicdan said...

I generally agreed with the essay, I had always thought racism was always a “taboo” topic. This is because nowadays words like "racism" and "discriminate" are misconstrued and our perception or tone of voice is altered. I think people especially get offended when it's the way something is said.

Brigid Moran said...

In general, I try not to refer to people as “that black kid” or “that Asian girl.” This is probably just a result of the issue you addressed in this blog post—an overly sensitive culture which pounces on anything they may perceive as being “racist.” Even with this knowledge, I often feel uncomfortable relying on these terms in the fear of coming across as trying to put them down. In all reality, race is frequently one of the easiest, albeit arbitrary, ways to distinguish people from one another (this is probably why humans use it to “discriminate” so often). Virtually outlawing the use of racial terms (Asian, white, etc.) is unreasonable because the act of simply describing someone by their race is not inherently “bad” or “racist.” In fact, not allowing the use of these words in friendly or reasonable conversation leads to them being almost exclusively used in a negative context, actually causing them to have a negative connotation.

Franny Suarez said...

My take on people’s sensitivity on the issue of racism? I think its well placed. Americans fear one thing above all else, and that is that our country should fall apart. Racism threatens to do so. Racism is that thing that we sweep under the carpet and hope that if we don’t address it, it will go away. I believe that we cant just cover up our domestic issues and cross our fingers that they will solve themselves. By addressing the issue of racism, maybe with little comments to make people uncomfortable, we can attempt to dust of the controversial issue and shed some light on why people still practice discrimination, in the worst definition of the word.

Anonymous said...

I agree that people should know the real definition of racism and discrimination, because we don't want to use it wrong. I agree that students should make judgments, but I also believe that some judgments may come off as too strong. I also believe that we should learn between good and bad things. I think that you are right that most kids don't understand the word racist and it is overused often.

-Raley Slaymaker

a r d e e said...

Mr. Strebler! My HS IB Econ teacher! Believe it or not, I still HAVE my ERACISM t shirt after all these, ahem, 19 years! I love that shirt and the concept! / a r d e e c/o 1994

Joshua Hallmark said...

What a great issue to be shed light upon. I have always felt racist when I say stuff like that and I try to avoid it. An example was today when I was trying to point out somebody I first said "that black guy with the beanie" but then I quickly changed it to the "African-American guy with the beanie".Though both are the same thing and I don't get why I have to worry about that constantly.It is ridiculous these days almost anything used to describe a person is somehow racist. This issue has really brought me to my senses on racism and discrimination.
-Joshua Hallmark

Joshua Lopez said...

After I read this essay, I reflected on what I said before and what I've done before. Now, I know that the word racist and racism have more powerful meanings. Now that I know the real meaning of racism, I think back to all the time that I've misused that word

Chantel Heard said...

I agree that people misuse the words racism and discrimination... Today somebody can say any little thing and somebody will yell out "That's Racist!" Racism to me is when you absolutely hate somebody because of their race and physically or verbally abuse them. Discrimination in my opinion is more of a judgement, almost like prejudice. In class when you make jokes that refer to race, sometimes students get offended, I think most students know you mean no harm, but those who get offended may not understand that you aren't racist. I also agree that we should continue talking about about race so that we don't forget what makes us different. Unification is important but we should not avoid talking about the traits that make us who we are.

Natalie Ashley-Hardy said...

I personally enjoy your different accents and what can be seen as racist remarks during a lesson. They break the ice and make the students focus on what you are teaching. I am guilty of misunderstanding what the true definition of "racist" and discrimination" are and I believe it is because of the culture I was brought up in. Being a minority at the school, I have to think twice about what I say in front of certain people as they may take it as an insult. I use words like "Mexican, black, white, tall, etc" to describe someone, yet some may find it offensive. This essay gets me thinking on how society today defines "racist" and "discrimination" in their own way and how a tone can differentiate a words meaning.

Anonymous said...

Racism not only is to put down and think less of a race but also have hate and negative feelings towards that race. Specifically when associated with authority figures in our culture.
-Jacqueline

Sherwin Gervacio said...

Through this post,I realize the new meaning of both racism and discrimination. It is very interesting that everyone uses these words in a negative way but really, they are misunderstood. In addition, I am aware of how these word are misunderstood due to past history. I also understand that some comments that are racist are based on true facts, and people just get offended since they think they are being discriminated against. In the end, people need to realize the true meaning of these word in order for them to fully understand what they are saying.

Lizzie Hall said...

I think that the main problem you talk about has to do with confusion between racism and offensiveness. When students are upset because of a term that has to do with their race, you are right. It’s not racist to comment on someone’s race. However, I think you have to realize that in our society, blatantly talking about people’s races can be awkward and offensive. I agree with you that it shouldn’t be awkward, but that doesn’t change the fact that these comments can offend people. These upset kids say “that’s racist,” but in reality I think they mean “that was offensive.”