Thursday, March 19, 2009

That made him scarier.

In general, I love my job, and I love working with students. High school kids are interesting and fun for the most part.  However, sometimes working at a high school provides excellent and sad anecdotes about small-mindedness.

I remember several years ago in Minnesota, a student wanted to write his research paper about why Native America treaty rights should no longer apply. He was very upset that the Ojibwe of Minnesota were allowed to use spears to fish, and he saw this as a violation of his rights and of common decency.  "I mean, if they want to follow tradition, they should still have to live in tepees."  So he started his paper fairly well, citing some court cases.  By paragraph three, his topic sentence was the following (and I am not making this up): "And have you seen these people's yards?"  He went on to discuss how Indians have trash in their yards.

I was reminded of this old story because of something that happened in class today.  One of my sophomore girls--let's call her Lulu--wanted to tell a story:

Lulu: I was at the gas station and there was this Mexican guy there . . .

Me: Hold on. Before you continue, can I ask if it is important to the story that he was Mexican?

Lulu: What? Anyway, he was licking this ice cream cone and he was being all gross and sexual about it, and then he asked me if I wanted some candy.

Me: I see. Now, just so you know, the reason I asked if was important to the story that he was Mexican is because I wanted to point out that his heritage had nothing to do with it, and if it had been a white guy, you would have just said, "There was a guy . . ."

Lulu: Yeah, I guess, but he had a Mexican accent, and that made him scarier.

Me: OK.  See, I was accidentally trying to prevent your story from sounding racist, not realizing that you were in fact trying to be racist.

Student: Giggle giggle.

Then, a few minutes later, we were reading a Langston Hughes poem, and another student made a comment about the poem having been written "back when there was discrimination." I responded, "Does that mean there is not racism now?"  And another student, a friend of Lulu, said, "Yeah, Lulu," pointing out Lulu's previous comments.

Lulu giggled and said, "I'm not racist! Mexicans don't count."


At 12:46 PM, Blogger P "N" K posited...

This reminds me of another story where a member of student congress my sophomore year (from Brainerd) was doing his/her two minute speech on Kirstin Dunham's bill, the topic being the ability of insurance companies to perform early screening for genetic diseases based on physiology. Example, I guess black people are more prone to heart disease, or korean people are prone to being short (I digress).

Anyway, this person rambled on and on, eventually culminating by citing, unthinkingly, the 'dirty mexicans' as an example of why screening might be necessary.

Pritschet's jaw just about hit the floor. And this person was ko'ed from the room for the rest of the session. It was remarkable. Like watching a very well dressed, slow motion car accident.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger undulatingorb posited...

This reminds me of a student I had at NIU who was writing against the war in Iraq. It started out decently enough, then quickly devolved into "why do we have to do anything for those camel jockeys?"

Also,I shared this post with Chris and I said it was funny at the end because the student thinks that racism is defined by hatred of black people and Chris thought it was funny because the student thinks that Mexicans aren't people.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

I don't know if this is what you were going for when you came up with your pseudonym for the hispanophobic sophomore, but the fact that you called her "Lulu" made me about 15% more disgusted with her.


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