Elizabeth Ernst

WMST 101

October 15, 2001

Dialogue Journal #6

Racism is something I have always thought I was pretty well educated on until I read the text readings for this week.  When I read the introductory section, “Take a Closer Look: Racism in Women’s Lives”, I did not think too much of what was said.  It all sounded a lot like what I have always thought about racism.  However, in all of the readings that followed, I once again became more and more aware of how little I know about major issues in our society today.

            I could not believe some of the examples used in Beverly Daniel Tatum’s article, “Defining Racism: Can We Talk?”  For instance, with the research project one of Tatum’s students did with a group of three- and four-year-olds.  She asked the children to draw a Native American and they did not know what she was talking about until she asked them to draw an “Indian”.  She then went on to say how “[a]lmost every picture included…feathers…and depicted the person in violent or aggressive terms.”  Another part of Tatum’s article was how she pointed out that even if we are not a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or constantly using racist terms, if we are not truly actively antiracist and strongly working against racism, then we are just as bad as someone who is actively or even passively racist.

            I found I could really relate to Adrienne Su’s “Codes of Conduct”.  She talked about how when she grew up in the South, no one ever acknowledged the fact that she was Chinese.  “Reality is what everyone says it is.”  She used the example of how when she came home from college and was discussing the Asian classes she was taking to learn more about her culture, with her best friends’ parents, there was an awkward silence because “I had carelessly dragged the conversation into never-never land, the land of what made me different.”  The reason this story hit so close to home for me is because I have often times been on the other side of Su’s story.  I have never asked any of my African American or Asian friends about their culture.  Certainly not because I am not interested in it, but because I thought if I pointed out they were “different” from me it would offend them. 

            I also really enjoyed the two poems we read.  Chystos’s, “I am not Your Princess” made me angry.  Not towards Native Americans, but towards my ancestors who came here years ago and “claimed” this land as their own.  “If you ever/ again tell me/ how strong I am/ I’ll lay down on the ground & moan so you’ll see/ at last  my human weakness”.  Castro’s, “Take a Closer Look” also upset me.  It made me sad to see how she had such low self-esteem simply because of the cruelty of other towards her because of the color of her skin.  “Take a closer look/ because inside/ my insecurities/ you will find/ that the reasons/ arise from the/ cobwebbed minds/ of those who cannot see/ any beauty in faces darker than their own.”

            “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh and “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” by Audre Lorde both made me see, yet again, how privileged I am.  McIntosh listed 20 things that she does not have to worry about simply because she is white.  The list included things like: “When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.” And: “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.”  These are two examples of things I have completely taken advantage of.  Another thing that McIntosh pointed out that I had never really thought about is that fact that the reason most white students do not think racism concerns them is because they themselves are not people of color.

            Lorde made a lot of good points in her article as well.  One that I found particularly interesting was, “it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.”  So, the “oppressors” supposedly do not know how they are supposed to treat the “oppressed” because they are not educated about the differences between them. 

            I really did learn a lot from this weeks readings.  Up until I was about 12 years old I went to my grandparents house every day after school until my father got off of work.  While watching the news with my grandfather, or even just listening to him tell stories, I would hear him use “the n-word” at least once.  If he was not bad-mouthing an African American he was talking about a nurse he had in the hospital or someone he encountered at the store who “even though she was black she was really nice!”  Those comments always made me really angry.  And since I got upset at my grandfather’s ignorance and racist comments, I thought that surely meant that I was not racist.  But after reading the assigned articles and poems from the text I realized that I still do have prejudices, because according to Tatum, “we all have prejudices…simply because we are so continually exposed to misinformation about others.”