September 28, 2009

Thoughts from Intercultural Resource Center folks:

It's week 2 of our work-study student posts. Read up on the Tyra show, student list serve exchanges, and race:

Blayne says:

The other day I was watching an old episode of Tyra. The topic of the show was on the GLBTQ community and the conflicts that exist within this group. On the show there was the stereotype a: “masculine” gay male, a “feminine” gay male, “lipstick” lesbian, “butch” lesbian, drag queen, transgender, and bisexual male. Tyra held a social experiment where they had to create the “Gay Kingdom”. They were given the assignment of picking the following roles: King, Queen, Villain, Concubine, Jester, Pauper, and Cook. It was interesting to observe how the participants actually assigned the roles. Part of me believed social and gender “norms” would not be taken into consideration. However, in my experience we live in a society where it seems one cannot escape social norms. The participants assigned:

"Masculine” gay male = King
“Lipstick” lesbian = Queen
“Butch” lesbian = Villain
Transgendered Female = Concubine
Drag Queen = Jester
Bisexual male = Pauper
“Feminine” gay male = Cook

In order to come to many of these decisions, people were placed by stereotypes. I found this to be extremely disappointing. I was witnessing firsthand how negatively people of the same community perceived each other. One of the participants referred to herself as, “straight lesbian” because she loved to wear dresses, heels, make up, and fool males into thinking she was heterosexual. The transgendered female detached herself form the GLBTQ community saying she is a “straight women” and not a part of ‘that’ community. The “masculine” gay male referred to the gay community as heavy into drugs. These are all the stereotypes I hear from friends and society. I was surprised to see people who belong to the GLBTQ community also experienced internalized oppression.

Internalized oppression is when an individual in an oppressed group internalizes all the external messages about their group and acts on it. For example, the standard of beauty for women in America is white, blonde haired and blue eyed. We see this in the media, in movies, in advertising. An Asian woman who is bombarded with these messages may experience internalized oppression and act out by dying her jet black hair blonde or by covering her dark brown eyes with light colored contacts. A more extreme example is when the “norm” is big round eyes Asian women get surgery on their eyes to make them appear more round.

Internalized oppression was happening with the people on Tyra because they assigned each other to stereotypical roles. Roles in which society (and themselves) prescribed each other. This has also been a personal experience for me in the Black community.

Antonio says:

Last week, an email exchange through the student listserv was started by a student about a certain professor on campus. First, this was highly inappropriate, and should not have been conducted in the manner that it was. It was addressed in a matter that is not constructive, and it should not have been done in such a public fashion. Now getting to the actual content of the email, no one should ever be criticized for the accent in which they speak. There are all different types of accents and depending on who is around you and where you are, doesn’t everyone have an accent? Who is to say that, for example, someone who lives in Boston and comes from a Spanish speaking country is the one with the accent? Don’t Bostonians equally have an accent?

Even if a professor has an “accent,” it isn’t something that would necessarily impair learning. Good professors have outlined notes (which are given before class to review) and also offer her time to meet with students individually if they do not understand the material in class. What is most disturbing is that having an accent is equated with not speaking English and not speaking English is equated as a reason to have to “get out of America.” Such a statement is one that only displays the ignorance that is still existent within our society. If that were the case, the United States would lose so many of its inhabitants. Both of my grandmothers for example, can barely speak English. To say that they have to leave the country based on this is not only ignorant, but just plain stupid. Everyone here currently is either an immigrant themselves, or descended from an immigrant. Of all those immigrants, a good amount of them came over without knowing how to speak English. Our country would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the opportunity to come and learn here. We will never make any progress in society if we continue to use language as a weapon for who belongs and who does not.

Elyssa says:

What if color was just another characteristic of humans, just like different colored hair, or eyes? Do you think there would still be prejudices? And if there were, would they be enough to cause hate? I mean have you ever heard someone say, “I hate that person because they have green eyes,” or “I hate that person because they have blonde hair?” But we do hear things like, “I don’t like to mix with that kind,” referring to people of color. But what if race wasn’t in the picture? Would people still develop hatred for people who are different? Would we hear those comments about a person’s eye color or hair color?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. People would still find a means of discrimination, whether it’s hair color, eye color, skin color, hair texture, or nose size. I say this because race itself was a concept developed by the white men in the 18th century just before slavery. It was a way to “prove” the inferiority of the people they were enslaving. So the concept of judging someone based on their skin color became institutionalized by people! There is no biological rhyme or reason to it. Those same white men could have said all people with blue eyes are to become slaves and we would not have conflicts because of the color of our skin, but the color of our eyes. So if race hadn’t been developed when it was, it would only be a matter of time before someone conceptualized discriminating people based on something else, like eye color for example.

Speaking of eye color, there is a video on Youtube that proves that people can start disliking someone based on what people in power say.

This video is of a third grade teacher (who is the “person in power”) that told her students that people with blue eyes are better than people with brown eyes, and then the next day changes that and says that people with brown eyes are better. The reactions of the students are somewhat disturbing and it shows that you can pick something arbitrary like eye color and are told to treat people with different eye colors a certain way, people will do what they are told. This shows that prejudices can develop from even the most insignificant differences among the human race. Racism is a very serious thing and is not arbitrary, but if you think about it, it is ridiculous that racism exists.

September 18, 2009

Weekly Wrap Up

We're trying something new here! Each Friday, we are going to highlight some of the writing entries from the work study students in the Intercultural Resource Center.

Each week, they are asked to write a short entry on current events or on a particular assigned topic. Here are short samples of what we received from our students:

Blayne says:
It wasn’t so long ago that they were running and jumping in the jungle to survive." -Race: The Power of An Illusion

The above is a quote - an explanation - that was used to describe the athletic superiority of Black Olympic athletes in the time of Jesse Owens. We were watching "Race: The Power of an Illusion" in my Race and Ethnicity Class. My friend Joniece and I chuckled instantly as we heard this comment and
believed it to be absolutely absurd. There were other students of color in my class, but Joniece and I were the only Black students, and the only ones to laugh with the professor. I found this statement to be absolutely ridiculous.

After the film I wondered how such absurd ideals were widely accepted. This statement was made during the 1940’s and at that time it was an ideal believed by white society. Honestly, I found myself stunned that anyone with common sense chose or could accept such a notion. I wondered if racism and prejudice can override an individual’s common sense? In my experience, race has come to account for some of my successes. People were often attributing my successes or achievements to affirmative action. I also noticed people paid a lot more attention to what I was doing, how I was acting, or what I was saying. There were times that I felt everyone knew more of my
business than I did. As I reflected on my own experience I could not stop thinking about our President Barack Obama.

Celebrity or Racism?

In the short nine months Obama has been President he has faced much scrutiny. The other day in my Race and Ethnic Diversity class we had begin a discussion on Barack and the recent events involving Barack, Serena Williams and Kanye West. The professor made a statement that President
Obama has face more public scrutiny than any president. She continued question the class, “Why do you think he has faced so questioning about his personal integrity?” Some credited to the fact that Obama is the first president to be turned into a celebrity. However, Ronald Reagan was an actor before he was
president and presidents before Obama were ‘celebritized’ due to media. I am only 21 years old but when I was younger I saw President Clinton as a celebrity and sometimes I still do. I could not help but to think his race was a factor in propelling Obama into celebrity status and the amount of public scrutiny he faces.

Michelle says:

As I watched the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s) on Sunday and Best Female Video was announced I sat there with my mouth opened that Taylor Swift had won. Of course I felt that there were many more talented artists in the category such as
Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Beyonce. However, the biggest shock came when Kanye West interrupted her to merely say “Sorry Taylor, Beyonce had one of the best videos.” I sat there awestruck as I saw tears swim into Taylor’s eyes.
I sat there half laughing/half not believing what I had heard. Had Kanye West really gone up there to say that? Could he not have waited until the end of the show where he could openly discuss the situation with anyone that would listen?

Everyone was commenting on Kanye West’s actions. The next day, it was still a fascinating topic, but new news flooded that President Barack Obama had called Kanye West a “jackass”. Now, trust me, the words I used to describe Kanye West
were worse than “jackass” , but that is one of the many ways that people could describe the incident. Of course, because he is the President, everything he says has to be taken to another level of seriousness. Instead of all the people commenting on the Health Care policies and the other changes he is trying to
make in the country, they are spending time judging him for his comment that "Kanye West acted as a jackass."

I feel that lately President Obama has been under a microscope and every little movement or every word he says has to be clearly planned out in case someone takes offense or takes it out of context. I knew the minute President Obama was elected President, he was going to get bashed whether he did things correctly or incorrectly. He is just a person like you and me, and he has every right to express that Kanye West's move was that of a “jackass” – is it not what every other person in the world was thinking?

The worse part of it was that it was prior to an interview and someone in the vicinity decided to put it on Twitter by saying "Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a 'jackass' for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT'S presidential."Just because he is the President does not mean he does not react to events that happen in the popular culture. In fact I would have found it weird if he did not have an opinion on the topic! How far are we going to push the President until we realize he, too, can have these thoughts just like the rest of us? Just because he is the President does not mean he has to keep his opinions and ideas to himself.

We should be worried about the health care debate that can affect us personally instead of his comment that Kanye West acted as a “jackass”.

Antonio takes a break from pop culture and opens up about langauge and culture:

In today’s society I find myself wondering where culture's place really is. Is there even a place for it? No doubt America has a culture of its own, and it is because of this culture that other cultures fall to the wayside. I myself have experienced this.

I’m half Dominican and half Puerto-Rican. My first language was Spanish, and I didn’t speak a word of English until kindergarten. I was 5 years old, and forced to speak English in a bilingual class. I didn’t know it then, but that marked the point of where I would begin to lose my Spanish. As a child, I spent
a lot of time with my grandmother, who only spoke Spanish. So naturally, I spoke Spanish as well. However as I got older, I slowly spent less time with my grandmother. I spent more time with friends who only spoke English. I began to lose Spanish.

It’s a really strange process. You begin to notice it at first when you’re at a loss for words, not knowing how to say something in Spanish, so you say it in English. But why now? Why do I bring this up now, years after this has already happened? It is because here at Stonehill is where I am reminded of what is happening to me. I am actually right in the middle of my generation, but I am the last of it to be able to speak Spanish. One could go their whole life without speaking a second language and be ok. I only wonder how much harder it must be for those people to whom total assimilation is the only means of survival.

September 2, 2009

On Studying Abroad

ALANA-A Leader, Janna, reflects as she gets ready to leave for her study abroad experience

"So it's Tuesday, I leave for London on Saturday. My attempts at packing consist of putting clothing, shoes, and other items in the corner of my room. I was hoping maybe it would pack by itself, but I know it won't. For some reason this trip is becoming a huge thing for me. I have traveled outside the U.S, however mostly with family and friends. This is the first time I will be going on my own. I think it is finally starting to hit home.

I am leaving for this fall semester to do an international internship in London, England. Why am I so nervous about it? I guess the first reason is it is something new. I am excited for seeing and experiencing all that London has to offer. London has tons of different cultural areas. I am also excited to see all of England - and not just its tourist areas. I hopefully will have time to go and see things that are not always on the tourist map.

At the same time I am nervous -- nervous to see what types of perceptions people will have of me. I went to England once before. In 2004, I was fourteen at the time and, have been told, that Americans were not seen in the best light. I remember one time we were at a castle running in an open field to a doorway. One of my fellow Americans accidently knocked into a European, and the words, "Bloody Americans", was uttered.

At the time, all I thought was, "Wow, that was a rude comment". However, a few years and a lot of education/awareness later, I realize that Americans do not have the best reputation globally. From a social and global perspective, I can understand where people get the stereotype that all Americans are entitled. As I've grown into more awareness, I know that this is something I do not want to be catogorized as. I hope that this perception and stereotype has somewhat dissipated and that I can serve as a someone who does not fit that stereotype.

I think what I am looking forward to the most is meeting new people and hearing different perspectives on everything. I believe that I cannot fully understand nor judge a topic, issue or position until I have heard all sides of the story.

But, I am also excited to live outside of my comfort zone, to be challenged in new and difficult ways, and to bring my experiences back to my college campus and help raise the level of education/awareness in my peers."

We wish Janna the best of luck in London! She'll be blogging from across the Pond, so stay tuned!