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booooo, computers

i knew this was going to happen! my internet cut out before posting my blog entry. i was trying to be fancy and use the extended entry, so i copied that part, but i've lost my little intro. frustrating. here goes again, i think:

i feel like i've spent a lot of time thinking about the way that race is taught, discussed, and written about in a university setting-- one of my majors is designed around race and questions of social change, and i've t.a.'ed for a couple of classes that focused on race. but i am still a bit stymied by villanueva's main question: how do you respond to someone who says racism doesn't exist? i think villanueva's more suggestive than prescriptive in this essay, so here goes one attempt to draw it out a bit:

in classes i've taken, it seems like conversations about race tend to follow a pretty set pattern. some students engage in the kind of color-blind rhetoric that villanueva eschews; others point out to them, often in frustrated tones, how they are missing the systemic picture, how racism still exists. an uncomfortable silence follows, and people tend to jump on whatever next topic will take everyone back into more comfortable territory.

in classes i've t.a.'ed, i've noticed that the dynamic between instructors/t.a.'s and students who talk (or write) from color-blind assumptions tend to take on this same tone: a student says something in the "let's all be individuals" vein, and the instructor or the t.a. (oops, that's me) corrects them. and the student seems to be uncomfortable. i think from an instructor perspective, the student's color-blind rhetoric is evidence of their resistance: they simply don't want to think about racism.

i know that villanueva writes that we shouldn't be scared of conflict or controversy, but in these situations, the disagreeing seems to be done in a way that is counter-productive, in a way which makes the student shut down and check out, and in general, be less receptive to thinking about race in another way.

so what might be a way to disagree more productively? in the kinds of situations i talk about above, it seems to me that there could be a more concerted effort to assume the best intentions of everyone, even when they're saying really problematic things. following from this assumption of good intentions, disagreeing shouldn't take the form of correcting, which can make a person feel condescended to.

soooooo. now i've gone off on a tangent and haven't even begun to talk about what this means for us as consultants. i guess i think that there's disagreeing, and suggesting points for someone to think about, and there's telling someone what to think. even when that's what you want to do, it's maybe not the best way to get someone to reconsider what they're thinking.

and i'm thinking back to my own consultations...it's easier said than done to put these ideas into practice. i don't know that i've disagreed in a substantial way with papers on race, even when i kind of disagreed. and there's a whole set of practical considerations that go along with that: the length of a session, the degree to which i thought the student would be willing to enter into a conversation, etc.

i guess i think (i've used that phrase a lot in this post; clearly, i'm still figuring out what i think) that we should be willing to start dialogues and to question students, but also not to let a sense of urgency about these larger goals make us insensitive to the person and moment in front of us.

Comments

Miranda, your question "so what might be a way to disagree more productively?" resonated so deeply with me, especially in my experiences as a student in classes in the 1990s. I think you are correct that people avoid these issues in part because we have very few models of open, non-condescending, non-judging dialogue (indeed, there was some eye-rolling and sighs at Victor's presentation of "Blind"). He says we are good place to start because we are so good at the "art of conversation," but what does that mean, really? I dropped the Sherwood piece on "Censoring" in our books from the class this year, but it would be interesting to read alongside Villanueva.