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Reverse Racism, Descriptive representation and Joe v. Margret

Cathy's picture

(I'm sorry if this is long, my real journal entry is longer).

I wrote my post this week on chapter 3 of the book our class is reading Teaching for Social Justice by Connie North. In one of the chapters one of the characters, Joe, acquires his social studies gig as a teacher and it is clear that he would not have gotten it if he wasn’t a minority. The district didn’t want a “blond, blue-eyed woman” despite the fact that she had masters in African American history and Joe did not. The idea of reverse racism is a prevalent one these days as I have heard some of my friends wonder if they actually have to fight harder because they are white, and some councilors joke about how colleges need minority students so that can make it more likely that a student who is a minority will be accepted into a school of their choice. I’m not sure where I stand with this issue. I am a political science major and last semester we talked about descriptive and substantive representation. In the first, constituents want their politician to not only stand up for their beliefs but also look like them, and in substantive constituents also want a representative who will advocate for their best interests, but the person doesn’t have to look like them.

Both approaches have many merits; one state that it does not matter what a person looks like as long as they can fight for them, the other argues that in order to truly fight for the region, the person must look like the people there. This relates to one of the other teacher’s worries about how a white middle class woman can teach about racism in a classroom full of African American and Hispanic students. I wonder if it’s going backwards to state that just because someone doesn’t look like a group of people that person can’t do a great job of advocating for them. Yet, the issue of power, having role models that look like you and the realities of discrimination, racism, and how those two effect one’s way of living in ways others can only sympathize with is a powerful one. The past still has ramifications on today and we are still not equal enough that we can afford to be colorblind. This does not give anyone the right to be racist, but it does mean that if the world is still run by white males, not matter how well meaning, the world will not be able to change because certain voices will be present. I don’t know why that is, I just know that it’s true. Historians always analyze who is present, but more importantly, who is not, and in America, there aren’t that many women or minorities present in places of power and this means something. What it means, I’m not sure of, but I really think it means something.


alesnick's picture

difference, prejudice, and power

I greatly appreciate and admire this honest exchange, and hope i can make a useful contribution to it.  One, I think the term "reverse racism" distorts more than clarifies.  It just doesn't make sense to call the byproducts of a social remedy for racist policies as they affect individuals in the dominant group "reverse racism."  Racism doesn't reverse, like a car.  That Joe got the job over the white woman is an incomplete story about two individuals.  It does not yet establish how each was, differently and similarly, qualified.  It doesn't work to slip from structurally-based to individually-based thinking without changing one's terms and lenses of analysis.  Now, that doesn't mean that individual stories are irrelevant. And it doesn't mean that we just accept knee-jerk utilitarianism -- go for the greatest good for the greatest number - and give up on thinking through individual stories. It means, though, that we take care to be flexible with our units of analysis -- units of time (past, present, future), units of groups and systems as well as individuals, units of relationships.

Serendipitaz's picture


"Now, that doesn't mean that individual stories are irrelevant. And it doesn't mean that we just accept knee-jerk utilitarianism -- go for the greatest good for the greatest number - and give up on thinking through individual stories."

This is something to think about. I believe that this idea of thinking through individual stories may have evolved from the American ideal of independance and freedom. I am not undermining these values, these are very important values of self-worth. But, what I want to focus on is often when we (I include myself in this) think of our own personal stories, we often lose sight of the collective universe. I like how you emphasized that personal are not irrelevant, but I think many of us are so stuck in the way we think that we often confuse camraderie or working in a community as giving up our identity.

Come to think of it, this somewhat reminds of my experience with Chinese medicine and Western medicine (ironic how I decide to talk about my experience with holistic healing through a personal story!). I have noticed that in Chinese medicine, the body is a whole universe. When a part of this universe is not functioning properly, it is not that this one particular part of the universe is the one suffering, but there's in fact cascading effects of suffering. On the other hand, in Western medicine, there's always a supposed magic bullet which triggers that one spot that is ailing instead of taking into consideration how physiology is an interconnected universe...come to think of it, this idea of individual and unit of relationships reminds me of the TED talk we watched in class...the cowboy and the pit crew.

So how can we have a holisitic approach to this self-perpetuating racism? I understand that we could be looking at this from the frame of relationships as opposed to individuals, but what does that even mean? What does that look like? Am I so stuck in this invidualized idealogy that mind feels challenged to break out of this thought?

alesnick's picture

toward a holistic critical literacy?

An additional question: How can our ed system teach us to think through individual and holistic stories?  Rather than to pit one against the other?

Serendipitaz's picture

Quotas...then what? The

Quotas...then what? The argument is always framed in a manner that a less qualified and undeserving person is getting hired. Fine, I understand, we need a set of skills in order to function in a particular discourse. But, by the time the minorities have been caught up to whatever the "dominant discourse" has...that new set of skills may not be enough because of the access that the dominant discourse has. It's just like how so many schools these days have iPads while others are barely getting computers. Technology is cool, but then there's another gap that develops. Perhaps the focus is too much on catching up.

I believe Anne Dalke once wrote about "the tenor of the conversation." It's somewhere on Serendip, but I don't know where...anyways, the story goes that you enter an ongoing conversation. What do you do as a learner? Do you stay put and try to figure out what everyone already discussed or do you try to bring up something else based on the present conversation. Anyways, one of my teachers reminded me instead of waiting around for understanding the tenor of the conversation, "Set the tenor." So, I guess, minority groups must set their own tenor. Perhaps, develop goals that are not deficit centered or focused too much on catching up.

Cathy's picture

Exactly the problem. I think

Exactly the problem. I think it worked well for some time, but then we discorved problems with it. I think there is a need to have more minorities in higher ed, but I don't think establishing a quota is the best way to do that.

Serendipitaz's picture

I have a strange feeling

I have a strange feeling towards affirmative action...I remember when I was applying for college, a lot of my white teachers and friends would make comments like "Oh you don't have to worry, you're brown and Muslim. People HAVE to take you in to not look racist." I went to a relatively diverse school, but to hear that comment made me frstrated. I felt like I only got into the schools or recieved the financial support because of my ethnic background. Then, one of my mentors reminded me that I am more than the way I look or identify myself, I am intellectually capable. So, my question is, where does affirmative action stand in the race relation in the U.S. I don't know how to feel about it. Is it creating a different form of racism? Furthermore, is it about the achievement of getting a degree that makes us capable or acquiring the skills that you must obtain before getting the degree?