Thursday, May 24, 2012

Practicing Awareness of Microaggressions

I work in a school with about fifty percent Hispanic students and the other half being pretty equally distributed between African-American and White students.  There is a small amount of other populations, such as Asian, Pacific-Islander, and Native American.  Since learning about microagressions this week, I have been paying attention to the conversations between students.  I have realized that MANY microagressions occur on a daily basis.  For example, I am frequently referred to as being 'so white.'  I am not quite sure what the students mean by this, but I am fairly certain that they are probably calling me a dork.  To me, the implication is that white people aren't cool.  They are nerdy and no fun.  I do have a good sense of humor so it really doesn't bother me.  In fact, I am nerdy and dorky.  However, these microaggressions aren't always said in a good natured and joking fashion.  I frequently hear the students use the term 'ghetto' to describe other students.  It is obvious this is a derogatory term meant to marginalize the person they are talking about. 

After reviewing the week's resources Monday night, I went to bed thinking about all the times I have participated in or witnessed microagressions.  I set out Tuesday to seek out instances of microaggressions for this assignment.  I didn't have to wait long as the student who was doing the announcements signed off with "have a taco Tuesday" in a very exaggerated Hispanic accent.  One of my white students immediately proclaimed that is was a racist comment.  Although I did not say anything out loud, I also felt the comment was inappropriate.  Several of the students in the class got into a discussion about the topic.  Some of the students thought it was insensitive while others thought it is was funny.  Many of them felt that it wasn't racist since the boy who said it is Hispanic.  Many of the same students thought it would have been racist for a white person to have said the same thing.  These statements lead into a lengthy class discussion.  One good point that was brought up by the students is the use of the 'N' word.  Many African-American students use the word with their friends, but are offended when a person who is not black uses it.  To me the term is derogatory no matter who uses it.  I am correct in my thinking?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Valuing Culture: Beyond Surface Labels

I chose to speak with my son, Tyler, who is 11 and in the 5th grade.  He defined culture as customs for certain groups of people.  He gave the example of sombreros are part of the Mexican heritage and the Danish cookies grandma makes at Christmas represent our Danish heritage.  He defined diversity as differences between groups of people.  He said that America is much more diverse than other countries, especially Asian countries.  He also said that he felt his school was pretty diverse as there were many different types of children there.  

Next, I spoke to my husband, Terry, who is 49 and grew up in San Antonio.  He also has lived in Germany, California, and Washington State.  He defined culture as a person’s heritage.  He also said that culture is tied to ethnicity.  He defined diversity as many different cultures being represented.  Just like our son (and they did not hear each other’s answers) he said he felt like America was the most diverse country in the world. 

Finally, I spoke to Karen, a colleague, who is 40 and a Caucasian who grew up middle class in a small town around San Antonio.  She defined culture as the ideas, traditions, and beliefs of a certain group of people.  Diversity is when many different beliefs, cultures, and ideas are represented. 

Even though the three people were all different, they all gave similar answers to each of the questions.  All of them failed to see culture as more than just surface culture.  My son gave specific examples of dress and holiday traditions in his definition.  They also did not apply the terms to anything other than groups of people.  There were no references of personal diversity or social identity. 

I learned that I am not alone in my unawareness of culture and diversity.  Just like me, all three of the people I spoke to failed to recognize that culture and diversity can apply to individuals as well as groups of people.  My husband and my son both mentioned that they feel America is more diverse than other countries.  My husband referred to his hometown of San Antonio as a great example of diversity.  Many different cultures are represented here.  Although we are all unaware of the true definition of culture and diversity, I feel we respect and value different cultures and diversity. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Family Culture

I struggled with choosing 3 personal items to take with me if my country was devastated by a catastrophe.  The most important things, my family, will be with me.  I would hope we could also take our animals.  They are considered part of the family.  After much thought I decided I would take my favorite family picture album OR if technology would be available, I would take my portable hard drive that has all the pictures on it.  Next, I would take the gold cross that was my grandmothers.  My mom gave it to me when I turned 18.  Finally, I would take my wedding album.

All of these things are very special to me.  Pictures are what help us to remember our family and good times together.  The wedding album is significant because it contains the last pictures taken of my husband’s grandmother.  She passed away about a month after we were married.  The cross is special to me because it was my grandmother’s and it represents our faith in God.  If I could only keep one item, it would be the cross because it would remind us to have faith in the hard times ahead. 

I actually had a hard time coming up with 3 items to take with us.  I feel if we were together as a family that would be enough. 

This assignment made me recall a conversation I had with one of my students a few weeks ago.  She had come into my classroom to complete some work and we began talking about her experience with hurricane Katrina.  She was 12 years old living in the 9th ward when the hurricane hit.  She and several of her family members had gathered at one house to ride out the storm.  When it became apparent they needed to leave, they walked to a bridge where they were picked up by The National Guard and taken to the Superdome.  She spent five days there and said it was awful.   When they had to board the bus to come to Texas they told her she couldn’t take her dog.  She said the hardest thing she had to do during her ordeal was to tie her beloved dog to the fence with all the other pets that had to be left behind.  She lost everything to Katrina. She didn’t get to take anything with her.  She said that didn’t matter because her family was together.  They had all survived.  Now, almost six years later, she says the hurricane was a blessing.  She knows that if she had stayed in New Orleans that she would not be about to graduate high school with honors.  She says that she would probably be a mom and a high school dropout.   Next year she is going to college to study international business. 

This student has taught me that material things don’t matter.  What matters is family and what you carry in your heart.  That is my culture.  Family and faith are the most important things in life.