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Prejudice-Untruthfulness-Injustice: Reflections on "How I Developed an Obduracy of Tone" Ann Berlak

The Unknown's picture

            I am deeply angry and bothered by this article and I am curious about why it was assigned. Ann Berlak is removed from injustices as she is growing up, even though she is raised by an African American womyn. Berlak describes the closeness she felt to one of the womyn who looked after her, even more than her own mother. The contradiction of sharing love with someone who is treated as an outcaste and at the same time believing in many of the negative stereotypes and racist attitudes associated with that person’s skin color was explored intensely. “I loved and felt loved by Amanda, Josephine, and Drucilla (whose last names I never knew). But my exposure to the smiling Aunt Jemima images in Gone With the Wind and on cardboard boxes of pancake mix predisposed me to see them as selfless, sexless, and jovial people who were in my world to give me comfort” (Berlak 35). If blacks existed to serve whites, how could she feel so connected to this womyn? From an early age, she linked African Americans to animals, the cotton fields, and submission. She was promoting and continuing racism unconsciously.

            Though I did personally appreciate her connections between the Jewish culture and religion and justice, I do not think she fights injustice and has a commitment to social justice because she is Jewish. I felt personally attacked and wanted to remove my Jewish association with her. Berlak even explains her lack of Jewish knowledge: “I learned nothing of the language of my forebears spoke, and almost nothing of the Jewish literature history, or traditions of political action for social justice that reached back for centuries, or of the legacies of struggle and resistance” (Berlak 42). Though I firmly believe in freedom to practice religion in a multitude of ways, claiming the Jewish religion as her own when she tried to be more like her white Protestant classmates and worshipping in a Protestant way feels like betrayal to me. I am open to people having nuanced values, but I cannot ignore that Christians killed thousands of Jews. I do not personally feel oppressed by Christians, but I do feel to mold my own cultural and religious beliefs to incorporate a dominant culture are morally and ethically wrong and shameful. I am however and was from a very young age, aware of how much more people know and assume others know about Christianity. It is not only expected, but when I was a child, I was told many times that if I didn’t believe in God the devil would kill me, even after I responded that I did not believe in the devil either. She does not address the historical relationship between these two religions and I think loses diversity in combining them.

            Though I understand that this is an article about exploring one’s prejudice and racist ideas that have been internalized, she did not question these notions nearly enough and patted herself on the back too quickly. It is important to constantly question and change our multicultural perspectives, though I do not know if Berlak has one. Berlak describes many successes and not enough challenges, specifically with students.  Often she spoke about social conditioning and the impact of her family on how she viewed different races, but she never quite took responsibility for her racism. “We were being trained to teach in white middle-class classrooms and, through silence on the subject, to ignore all forms of inequality” (Berlak 38).  Anne Berlak talks about a sociology of education class where she seemingly wanted to design the responses of her students: “On the first of the two days, I had planned to say that we hadn’t yet had a vigorous conversation about race, in part because there are no students in the class who advocate a militant black perspective, and that I had therefore invited two militant Black students to join our conversation” (Berlak 46). What is a “militant black perspective”? I am curious as to when this article was written because this seems like a plainly racist objective, action, and reflection. What makes her think that any time these two “militant black” students open their mouths they are going to create controversy? What makes these two students “militant”? Is she assuming that any time they are brought into a conversation about race they will only speak from this “militant black perspective”? I think it is safe to assume that she will treat these students different from their peers that may have serious consequences for their education and successes or lack there of.

            I think she learned and expanded her own ideas about internalized racism much more than she ever seemed to help these students. She talks about fighting injustice as one of the forces that drives her, but I am unconvinced about how successful her attempts are in the classroom.