40 Days of Writing, Day 5: The Education of White Folks

As a person of color in the United States, the issue of white supremacy – and its infiltration in every kind of  institution and system – remains quite clear to me.  The issues can be complex, certainly, but sometimes, incidents of racism occur and reveal simple and forgotten points about the danger people of color face when in predominantly white environments.

Like this story that happened in my home state of Ohio where an elementary school teacher thought there was nothing wrong with asking one of her two black students to pose as a slave during a mock slave auction and had the white students poke and prod as if buying him, even going as so far as inspecting the inside of his mouth and testing his muscle strength.

This, in my mental filing system, is categorized under Nightmare, The Ultimate.

This treacherous and psychologically twisted act of a youth educator brings back some not so pleasant memories of my own.

While much less damaging or stunning, I can remember handfuls of incidents growing up in predominantly white classrooms and being asked my opinion because I was not white. “So, Lisa, tell us what is it like to be in interracial dating relationships,” my sociology teacher asked, assuming all kinds of notions that if I were in a relationship that it automatically would be someone who was White or someone of a race other than Filipino. And also assuming that my life is open for discussion for the intellectual advancement of others.

It irked me when well-intentioned white friends would complain that the person of color in their class was socially reserved and wouldn’t share his or her experiences from Nicaragua, China, Mexico, or Africa, “I just really want to learn from them.  Why are they so quiet?” Mhm, I don’t know.  Maybe that person is just like any other person in class — bored to tears perhaps, or an introverted soul, or maybe s/he doesn”t like to talk in class, or maybe s/he doesn’t like you.

Even in professional conferences about dismantling racism in institutions of higher education, even during plenary break out sessions after the speaker just finished a talk about how women of color are often tokenized in mainstream feminist circles and asked to speak simply because of their non-white skin color, someone at my table still asked me, “What’s wrong?  Don’t you have anything to say on this matter? You’re not white and haven’t spoken yet.  I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.”

To which I replied, “I mean, other than the fact that you’re forcing me to speak when the whole presentation was about NOT doing that, I feel fine.” That and I remember thinking, I just don’t feel like talking. It’s early.  I need coffee. Nothing fancy.

Consider the possibility that people of color, especially in predominantly white spheres are neither inspired or scared to talk.  I can’t speak to the minds of what other people are doing or thinking.  I can only speak to my experiences in dealing with people wrapped in the binds of white privilege in education centered environments and how often I was targeted to speak on behalf of my race.  Cultural awareness is not putting someone’s culture and race in the spotlight, nor is is about ignoring it in efforts of sameness and equality.  It’s somewhere in between.

If you are uncomfortable with white supremacy, or history of slavery, or want to learn or teach about it further, consider this point:

People of color/I do not exist to be subject material for enlightenment.  They/I exist because they/we are humans with unique feelings, stories, and ideas.  So, if you’re interested to know about the practices, rituals, and beliefs of a specific culture or race, read a book.  If you’re interested in a person, form a relationship.

And remember that people of color and our lives are not responsible for white people’s education.

Insulting the Intellect, Agnes Scott College Opens Its Doors to Road Trip II: Beer Pong

If you view the website of Agnes Scott College, a private all women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, the visitor or prospective student will find idyllic pictures of fresh-faced young women with telescopes, smiling students engaged in music, or tony looking youngsters attending a swanky social gathering. In the rotating slideshow, there sits the most formidable question of life development: Who will you become? If your eyes drift to the right, the mission of the College hugs the top corner, “Educating women to think deeply, live honorably, and engage in the intellectual and social challenges of their times.”

By every measure of that statement senior Louisa Hill, a guest blogger at The Bilerico Project, is doing just that. For all the varied struggles against sexist oppression, I surmise she would not have anticipated finding one of those battles on her own campus when the College stuck a deal with upcoming sequel Road Trip II: Beer Pong and gave open accessibility to not just the physical campus for shooting the flick, but the matriculated students as well.

Hill’s report gives account of deeply disturbing actions that has taken place on campus with the filming of Road Trip II: Beer Pong. She outlines the racist and sexist recruitment efforts:

…Craigslist ad states “primarily seeking White” and “Attractive Female
Model Type” extras, valued at $7.17/hr (be sure to send in your
weight!). These racist and sexist standards are clearly visible on the
movie’s promotional flier, helping to perpetuate the image that only
sexy white people go to college. The flier shows a headless white
woman’s body, focusing on her large breasts, barely covered by a shirt
that says “Nice Rack.” Her pelvis is in front of a triangle of shot
glasses. The tagline? “Get your balls wet.”

The students were also subject to horrendous stereotyping as the film crew shot the “Lesbians Until Graduation” scene which only eroticizes lesbianism as nothing more than an experimental “choice” made in the absence of men and, in the movie industry, sells women and their sexual identity as a heteronormative gift for men.

…the scene involved the male protagonists
stumbling upon the room full of these “making-out lesbians” (to
presumably “convert” them?). When we expressed offense, the recruiter
said she was warned about encountering uncooperative students who were
“really into being women” (versus into being objects?).

Other incidents of objectifying the students at Agnes Scott were documented, including reckless behavior of extras working in the movie. One student reported being told that she was so attractive, she should be careful of being raped. Another student, carrying a cup of coffee, was asked by an extra to get him one as well.

In the glitter of gifted professors and sprawling green spaces, it is easy to forget that higher education is business. It is an intellectual playground for thinkers and activists, the thrilling table in the exchange of ideas and challenge. Underneath that playground, however, the business roots of higher education occasionally sprout foul-smelling weeds that spring from damaging deals. To students, those agreements feel like betrayal, and rightly so. All the elements that lift a women’s college to another realm of engagement and learning is completed neutralized by a $30,000 business contracts that allow hapless Road Trip II: Beer Pong to sick its claws into, what appears to be, a vibrant and promising student body.

While the College recently announced its smallest tuition increase in over 35 years and boasts the College’s willingness to go the extra mile during these hard economic times, I’d wager that the students and their families would not have minded a sharper tuition spike if it meant cancelling deals with films that not only stand in contradiction of the College’s mission, but attack the values and minds of the women whom they claim to be educating.

Cross-posted at Bitch Magazine