busted :-(

One of my students caught me out yesterday. He’d just announced he would miss class on Thursday because it was Passover, and I’d hesitated. I could fudge, and say I hesitated moreso because of the two additional students who immediately chimed in that they would also miss class, sensing a run on an easy excused absence. (Indeed, another student then announced, “If they’re not coming, I’m not either!”)
I caught and corrected myself, but there it was, the truth of a stereotype hanging out there for all to see. This young man, to all visible clues an African-American, is also Jewish. Duh! It’s not like I don’t know the fact that the largest percentage of the world’s Jewish population is of a skin tone other than pale pinkish-white! Yet my personal demographic exposure, combined with common US mass media representations, set me up for a textbook case of momentary essentialization.
How embarrassing. This NPR broadcast on Blacks, the Jewish Faith and Hanukkah addresses the “misperception that black people are not Jewish.”

3 thoughts on “busted :-(”

  1. I like commenting on blogs that I come across on the Internet when I see something interesting. Well, it’s fantastic that you caught yourself stereotyping Jews. And it’s even more fantastic that you decided to blog about it. But, why do you say the man was African-American. Of course, he may have been, but did he say that? He may not be an African-American. Also, don’t non-Jews take the day off for Christmas? I mean just because one holiday is national and forced on everyone does not mean that holidays that are not cannot be “used” for a day off by everyone who wants a day off. Bottom line: Why can’t non-Jews take the day off for Passover? Why does it matter if students who excuse themselves for Passover are not Jewish? Why do you care?
    Although most people living in the U.S. are mostly well-intentioned, you (and of course I do not know “you” and do not mean you personally) do not realize how much of your everyday thinking is influenced by a white, Christian, Western, European mindset that pervades all of your thinking–even when you are trying not to be ethnocentric, racist, and so infuriatingly American. I’m sure the people who wrote, directed, and produced Crash really believed they were doing something positive and non-racist. But the film misses the boat and decentralizes white hegemony and its role in preserving the status quo at all levels.

  2. hi Jodi. I hope you come back. ­čÖé I did hesitate with the label, “African American” but did take the risk of essentialization, even though the alternative of “black” would have been safer. Not that That label resolves much more, in and of itself. It was important for me to come clean that the hesitation I felt was due to skin tone – not only that, know it has gotten worse as for some reason I kept confusing two of the “black” students in the class, despite having distinguished between them clearly all semester. I also thought about cancelling class completely, which is absolutely the best and most equitable solution. I didn’t because I hadn’t planned it ahead of time – which also reveals that I was caught flat-footed in regard to the holiday to begin with, an egregious error in its own right. ­čÖü
    It’s messy, that’s for sure.
    As to Crash, I’m still exploring the ways that it may/may not reinforce white hegemony. The fact that most whites have experienced downward mobility over the last generation, or at least a flattening of it, inculcates a different consciousness in the minds of the current generation of college students. I’m NOT claiming that there isn’t still a horrifyingly-naive dismissal of historical privilege, but I’m also not completely convinced that many of these young people are actually perceiving and dealing with each other in “the same ways” as previous generations. Yep, racism still happens. Yep, prejudice is still endemic. Is the system as bad as ever? In some ways, I believe it is worse. Terrifyingly and depressingly so. Yet I also witness interactions among my students that are heartening, and illustrate a basis of respect across differences of ethnicity and race that I hesitate to dismiss as simply surface accommodations.

  3. I could certainly identify with your encounter with your students in this post (Busted) in that there is definitely an underlying component (which has become increasingly apparent) in the essentialization of race within our society. It is quite similar to an observation you had previously made regarding a fellow student’s paper, in which she stated clearly the ethnic origin of every character within the movie Crash except for the pawn shop owner who happened to be white. I found it very interesting that A) she felt no need to identify this character by race when she had previously done so with virtually every other character in the movie, B) that this student, who neglected to identify the race of this particular character, does not consider herself to be white. One would think that this classification is generally a result of ethnocentrism, yet in this case, an individual from a different race didn’t find it necessary to identify a white man as such. Is this a result of the essentialization of ethnic superiority within our society? Consciously or subconsciously, do we as a society, understand that when we speak of whites it is just assumed that when we say he or she, with no racial classification, that we mean “a white man” or “a white woman”.
    I too encountered a similar situation at work. I was meeting a client for an interview; a man I had spoken with previously several times over the phone but had not met personally. We had arranged to meet at a pre-disclosed location in order to exchange some work-related information. I waited for quite some time for him to arrive about 10 minutes after our scheduled appointment. A man soon approached and said “Hi, Alan…I’m David.” He was a young black man who had been sitting over at a corner table long before I had arrived. Upon entering I had noticed him there, yet completely dismissed the possibility that he could be my client. I had no prior indication that he could/would be black, and I suppose that’s understandable. But the fact that I didn’t acknowledge him as a potential client when I first noticed him disturbs me. I wasn’t sure if I should apologize for my ignorant oversight or if I should simply let it go. I chose the latter, enduring a certain amount of uncomfortability on my part for the duration.
    I hope that through these candid discussions about racial interaction I am able to overcome my occasional narrow-mindedness for the future.

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