I recently saw this embarrassment of a video on Facebook:
There are so many things wrong with the video, it’s hard to know where to start. I cringed when I saw the guy dressing up in black face, but I admit that I laughed at some of the students’ stupid responses–for example, the person who named “Martin Luther” as an example of a famous African American historical figure. It reminded me of Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” bit. Of course, it’s truly sad that the only people the respondents could come up with were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. My son Stuart (who’s in 3rd grade) was shocked that the one guy couldn’t remember Rosa Parks’s name. Wow. What does that say about our society? our history curriculum?
During the spring semester, I like to engage my students in a debate/discussion about whether we should continue having Black History Month (which, for the record, is in February). They are usually quite surprised to learn that there is a “Women’s History Month” (March), a Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), and an Asian-Pacific Heritage Month (May). I guess that leaves the rest of the months for, well, the “regular curriculum” where “regular” = “white” + Western + Christian + middle-class.
I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. Designating one month as “Black History Month” might be letting us off the hook too easily. We can put up our bulletin boards and talk about MLK and Harriet Tubman and then get back to the “regular curriculum” for the rest of the year. But I also see that we might need to continue doing it because we have seriously dropped the ball. And I’ve read intelligent arguments on both sides. And boy, my students listen and participate in that class discussion more than any other class discussion (save perhaps the conversations about separation about church and state, those take the cake).
And then there’s the question of whether BYU students (almost all of whom are Mormons) are more racist and more ignorant than other white students at other undergraduate institutions. As a Mormon, I hope that this video could have been made at many universities with similar levels of ignorance and cringe-inducing comments AND that the video editor picked out the absolute worst student comments to make a point. I really hope that.
So after I posted the video clip, a hearty discussion ensued on my Facebook wall and on the wall of another person who snagged it from me. The gist of the conversation was this assertion (and I’m summarizing a lengthy discussion):
The video confirms that all whites are racist.
I objected to that sweeping generalization and was accused of providing further proof of the original assertion.
Are all whites racist?
I hope not. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that all white people are, by definition, racist.
But even more important than settling that issue, in my opinion, is the question of whether making statements like this helps us move towards greater understanding or whether it helps us identify ways to move forward in terms of creating a more just and equal society. We fall back on these sweeping generalizations all the time:
Muslims are terrorists.
Mormons/Scientologists are religious nut jobs.
FoxNews watchers are morons (this may or may not have been said in my house a teeny weeny time or two).
What say ye, oh wise Doves and Serpents readers? Are all whites racist?