As we left class on Thursday, I decided to ask a question that I have wanted to ask for a while. At 4:15, as class was getting out, I said, “Connie, I have a complicated question that I want a quick answer to. My friends use the ‘n’ word, and I know it’s wrong, but I don’t know what to say to them to prove that it is inappropriate to use. How do I make it clear to them?” After I asked this question, many students chimed in with different times and situations during which they have heard people use this word at any moment, not thinking about the negative effects it can have. One student talked about how, in other parts of the country, the word is not seen as taboo. Here, on the east coast, I take it to be the worst word. If I use curse words or say any other politically incorrect slang words for a group of people, I would never get the same look as I would with the use of the “n” word. Personally, all I need to know is that this word is extremely offensive and I will not use it. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many people. However, because there is such a taboo on the word, it does not take much for someone to understand that, when asked not to use the word, they should not be speaking that way in daily conversation. But then there are the people who do not understand it. They may question why it is offensive and/or why they cannot use it. I never truly had a good understanding and answer until recently.
On Thursday, we talked about the use of colorblind ideology in general, but what I found most interesting was the way in which it was taught to children. In the study by Apfelbaum et al. (2010), children were put into two conditions: one in which colorblind ideology was taught and one in which talking about racial differences was promoted, or the value-diversity condition. The thing that interested me the most was the way in which they explained their reasoning behind either colorblind ideology or talking about racial differences. The color-blind condition focused on similarities. The message that was told to the children was, “…we need to focus on how we are similar to our neighbors rather than how we are different. We want to show everyone that race is not important and that we’re all the same”. The value- diversity version focused on recognizing differences and celebrating them. The statement taught to these students was, “…we need to recognize how we are different from our neighbors and appreciate those differences. We want to show everyone that race is important because our racial differences make each of us special”.
In class on Tuesday, we talked about the consequences of stereotype threats on certain individuals. In our society, we have many stereotypes that we use every second to help us better understand our surroundings. We use these in every setting, including school. We believe that Asians are smart, men are better at math than Women, and Black students will fall behind. Are these true? Maybe in some cases. Definitely not in all cases. But just knowing that this is a stereotype that people are aware of causes great anxiety. A Black student may sit down for a test and think “People expect me to do poorly because I am Black.” As a result of “stereotype threat,” studies have shown that they will do poorly. In class we talked about whether or not it is best for a professor or teacher to talk to this student about stereotype threat.
When I started reading an article for this class last week and realized that it was about Hurricane Katrina, I was confused. To be honest, I did not know that Hurricane Katrina had anything to do with race. The only negative things that I heard about Katrina (besides, of course, the terrible damage that it did) was that the government took a long time to respond. When I learned about the hurricane in school, the main things that were discussed were what happened, the effects on people, what types of things I can do to prepare myself if I am ever in that type of situation, and how to help. Race was never even mentioned. And, at that point in my life, why should it have been? To me, at that stage, racism was gone, and that wasn’t the issue at hand; the issue was helping people who had lost everything. Now, years later, I know that in almost every situation, race will always be an issue at hand. Unfortunately, it is always an issue.
After discussing the Devine (1989) article in class, we had a lot to discuss. Unfortunately, in such a short period of time that we have for class, we were unable to talk about all of the implications of this study. This study had three main findings: all individuals are aware of racist stereotypes; individuals, when primed, automatically act on these stereotypes and change their behavior or perception of an individual; and when in a controlled situation, individuals who are low-prejudice will exert the effort to counteract the stereotypes that they are aware of. All in all, this study showed that everyone automatically thinks about stereotypes that exist but, when possible, people use their controlled response to act in a way that does not show their belief in the stereotype. One of the main questions this led us to was, How do individuals learn about these stereotypes? We realized that as early as childhood, individuals know the difference between races and act upon it. Usually, this is learned from a parent, the media, or school settings. Children pick up on cues very easily, and it does not take much for them to learn how others react to people of a different race.
While reading the essay by Martin Luther King, Jr., a specific part truly stuck out to me. In regard to discussing racism he stated, “These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”
As one of the first things discussed in our class, we realize how important it is to talk about issues, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Problems in our society will not be solved if they are not pointed out and talked about. As we know, many people are unaware that racism still exists. It is, however, very prevalent in our society. It is our responsibility to make people aware of racism today. If we do not, we cannot expect people to change their ways. Consider, for example, sharing a room with an individual who never takes out the garbage. As frustrating as this may be, its unrealistic to expect change without confrontation. The roommate may not have even thought about the fact that the garbage must be taken out. Though a confrontation about cleanliness and one about racism are very different, the fact remains that talking is vital.