This week’s reading again focused on issues around race, class and gender but as with Gary Howard’s article, “Whites in Multicultural Education”, the things we can actually do to combat it. I found a couple parts of his article particularly compelling, especially the discussion of ways white people like myself can reconnect with their own heritage and culture instead of adopting others. This, he says, is vitally important to overcoming issues that keep us behind cultural divides. All to often I hear and feel that as a white American of European decent I have no culture- and if I do, I don’t like it. If “American Culture” is football and beer, giant gas guzzling Hummer’s and eating food that’s bad for you, I don’t really want any part of “American Culture”. I know this is too simplistic and not all people who live here enjoy this stuff and take part in it but it goes to the underlying issue that “America” doesn’t necessarily have a specific culture and that to locate mine I should look back to my Greek and Irish heritage. I also am pretty far removed from those cultures but it would be nice to really learn more about them and give myself the opportunity to experience where my family came from.
What I liked the most about Johnson’s chapter was the way he fused the information that Howard was discussing into a conversation that included gender, ability, sexual orientation and class. While multicultural studies and education are of vital importance they can only be understood in connection with other “isms”. It is true that a wealthy black man is black no matter how much money he has and will always have to experience what it means to be black in America, his being more financially well off than other black men means a lot to what he can do and accomplish as well. It is the interconnectedness of these “isms” that make up our social location, which is the makeup of who we are and how we exist in the world at any given time, that provides meaning to all the other “isms”.
Another point Howard made briefly that I wanted to discuss was the fact that “It is not helpful for white Americans to be marching out in front with all the answers for other groups”. This statement is so true and can be so difficult for many white people (especially activists) to deal with. True change needs to come from empowerment which cannot happen if white people dictate what change must be or impose their own cultural values on how change must look. It must be an internal, organic experience truly owned and run by the people it’s changing for- otherwise it won’t work and even more resentment will build up. It’s hard, but sometimes being a good ally and therefore really being a part of change, means sitting back, listening and providing physical bodies (power in numbers) when asked but not controlling the group or direction of the cause.
I’m really looking forward to the discussion I’m sure these readings will inspire.