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Who is allowed to represent who?

Sarah's picture

As I was reading the piece by Greg Dimitriadis, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not he was a white author.  The name Dimitriadis sounded Greek and when I google image searched him, he appears to be white.  We discussed this in Jody’s class a little, but I’m interested in continuing to explore ideas of representation across race and ethnicity.  I must admit that when I read for class, I generally assume the writer is a white, and also probably a man.  Although part of me knows this is a dangerous assumption, part of me also knows it is a safe or practical one because many of the writers ARE white men.  As I was reading Dimitriadis’ piece, I began to become more and more uncomfortable with the idea that a white man was representing African American children, but don’t quite know how to articulate why this makes me uncomfortable.  As we read in the Ellsworth piece for our Voice class, issues of understand and correct representation are an ever present problem.  But I guess I question if that problem is further exacerbated when a white author is writing about African American youth.  I’m sure Dimitriadis has the “credentials” and education to do such work, but how far does that go? I became especially uncomfortable when he wrote about the students interest in the violent or more action scenes and when he said they associated gangs with the Black Panther.  I don’t doubt that this is true, but was he missing something important or not giving enough explanation? Does his writing reinforce negative stereotypes on black youth? Even if it doesn’t, is there something wrong about him writing about a group he isn’t a part of? If yes, what can we do, given that so many people doing this type of work are white (I don’t have any actual statistics, but given that so many people on elite college campuses who go on to do such sociological/educational work are white…).  What does this mean for me personally, as a white person, contemplating writing a thesis on the benefits of racial diversity in the classroom?



jhunter's picture

Seeing Voice

I find all the conversations we have had about the identities of the authors of the pieces we're reading quite interesting.  On the one hand, I want to agree that certain backgrounds make one able to speak more authoritatively about different issues, but I also want to challenge the inclination to assume authority because of limited information we have from last names or pictures we have of authors.  Most of the time, we're only thinking of racial and cultural identity when we discuss who can speak for whom.  Because of the visibility of skin color or the public nature of one's name, it's tempting to use those markers as classifications for speakers' identities.  However, it's impossible to tell from someone's words or image where he or she came from, the socioeconomic class in which they were raised, or any of a number of other factors.  And any of those factors can dramatically change the background of a person's words.