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Multiculturalism isn't enough

Franny's picture

After class today, I've been thinking a lot about the disconnect between multiculturalism as an educational movement and an actual acknowledgment/discussion of structural racism (like we were describing for our theoretical fifth graders). Multiculturalism assumes that restructering our curriculums to include multiple narratives is enough to enlighten students - expanding your syllabus from Shakespeare to Shakespeare AND Alice Walker; teaching not just Europe in "world history" but Africa, Asia, and (pre-contact) America as well. And while multiculturism makes some strides, allowing students of color to see themselves in these narratives, it doesn't name the structures at work that excluded them in the first place. Racism is treated as an unfortunate yet essential aspect of our society - multiculturalism can help us understand this but does nothing to inherently challenge it. In the first chapter on CRT, Leonardo writes of race & its role in education:

This is not an unfortunate consequence of uneven group development and the natural disparity it produces...Racial inequality and its vestiges in education are products of historical events, not the least of which are the examples of slavery, cultural and physical genocide, and labor exploitation...A racialized society cannot have the racially oppressed without the racial oppressor... (15-16)

And my multicultural education was unprepared for this complexity. Adding stories to a syllabus is simply pasting a band-aid over the real issue that racist structures have been purposefully and violently created and then reproduced in the classroom. Multiculturism acknowledges the issues of oppression without addressing the role of the oppressor in creating those issues.

In other words: multiculturalism helps us understand that a wide variety of people exist (women! people of color! gosh!!) and that oppression exists in these peoples' lives, but it doesn't help us see how or why those structures were formed. I read The Color Purple for AP Lit but never discussed how Celie's narrative (taking place just 50 years or so after Beloved) was shaped by violent and purposeful structures of sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia, or those structures have mutated into what impacts us all today. In AP World History we talked about the Berlin Conference and the dangers of Imperialism, but now how Imperialism was still impacting those countries today, how a European power leaving isn't the end of racial oppression but a point of mutation. 

I'm not really quite articulating the point I want to make here, and I'm not really sure how to. If anyone gets where I'm going, I'd appreciate a comment!! I'll probably revisit this before class and try to get my point across more clearly, because right now I'm really only making about half of the argument I'm trying to.


Edit: I want to add to this that part of my frustration also comes from the lack of acknowledging the racism (and classism) involved in tracking, detentions/suspensions, etc. Also, attenting a DC public school, the policing of students (every school has metal detectors and security guards) and its relationship to the school to prison pipeline was painfully clear every day and never mentioned in a classroom. Again, a multicultural curriculum doesn't actually address these issues but just covers them up with Neoliberalism.