Dancing Bears

As part of today’s marathon day, after teaching a full day at school I’ll head out to facilitate a three-hour workshop on racial identity in teaching.  The workshop meets about every two weeks, and as we wade through the complicated ideology of race and education each session, we always make time for participants to “check in” on things they’ve noticed over the period of time between sessions.

We stress that as educators and as members of this complicated American society, we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it.  That may sound convoluted, but for many of us that grew up in the latter part of the twentieth century, race and its impact on achievement and success was a taboo topic, something that we learned very early not to talk about.  As we take on different perspectives, we tend to see things in ways we never imagined possible.  This is true in these workshops, as well as in life in general; it’s one of the reasons I love teaching great literature because it provides the opportunity to experience the world as something completely unique to our own experiences.

To illustrate these points in class, my co-teachers and I use this great video:

If we don’t know what to look for, we typically won’t see it.  This is the lesson we teach with racial dynamics in America, and it’s something that constantly surprises me.  I’m constantly seeing dancing bears in my world, and I’ve been doing this work for several years.

In today’s session, I’ll be “checking in” on a few things I heard in the two weeks since I last met with this group.  Here are some highlights:

  • This NPR piece about double-eyelid surgery that many people believe is representative of Asian women pursuing a more Western standard of beauty
  • This article exploring the ways in which Kim Kardashian’s recent nude cover photo extravaganza actually is an explicit reference to the objectification and oppression of women of color

  • The story behind one black man’s six-word identity phrasing as part of the Race Card Project: “With kids, I’m dad.  Alone, thug.”
  • The recent lawsuit against Harvard claiming that the school unfairly limits the number of Asian Americans it admits, a lawsuit that is actually a veiled anti-Affirmative Action test case

These stories are everywhere, particularly within my social circles and the media in my world.  Granted, my specific identity and perspective help me gravitate toward friends that post this sort of stuff on Facebook and dictate what type of news I listen to.  Still, it excited me to be living in a time where these conversations can be had so publicly.  Slowly, we are chipping away at the stigma of even talking about race and how it impacts our daily existence in this country.  There are still lots of examples of the pernicious effects of our racist history, but when something like Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson happens, I’m thankful that we can engage in a dialogue about how race plays a role, even if there are still lots of people who don’t want to believe that it does.

So I’ll continue to look for dancing bears.  I’ll continue to post them on Facebook.  I’ll continue to use these stories to promote my left-wing gay agenda in my teaching.  And I’ll continue to use them to teach my own children to be safe and happy in this world.

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