First of all, I shouldn’t have to write “even though I’m white,” but I feel that it is necessary because I’m hoping that this will reach at least one white person who …
First of all, I shouldn’t have to write “even though I’m white,” but I feel that it is necessary because I’m hoping that this will reach at least one white person who doesn’t think it’s okay to support the Black Lives Matter movement as if it will harm their white privilege in some way. Secondly, I will attempt to refrain my anger and sarcasm as much as possible, but I can’t make any promises. These are my disclaimers.
As a teacher, I have witnessed many forms of oppression in our society, especially against black people. I see that the public school system reinforces many of this oppression. What do I mean? Let’s look at desegregation. When black children were finally allowed to attend “white” schools, how much did the schools change to include their culture? Did the history books change to include positive attributes made by black people? No. Did literature books change to include a fair amount of black writers? No. The only thing that changed was that they were allowed to attend. When I look back on my education, I think about how much I did not know about black people as a child. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, etc. All that I was exposed to was the “norm.” So, looking at this from the perspective of a black child (if I may venture to do so), what would this tell me about my race? As a white child of a racist mother, I learned that white was normal, good, accepted. I was taught that black boys were rapists and violent. I was taught that black women were bitches. And, I was taught that all black people were stupid and did not belong in our society. My mother would say that she wished that black people would be sent back to Africa. I want to add here that I have long since departed from these teachings, but I’m afraid that many people still have this mentality. So, in 2016, has the public school system changed? No. They simply added a month to celebrate Black History–the shortest month of the year. Yes, they have included more black people in history and literature, but the narrative is ultimately the same. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE BEGINS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
As a college English teacher, I emphasize the fact that we are all basically bilingual. When I’m at home, I sometimes say things like, “He done started something,” or “She gone get in trouble.” This is our dialect. I know that it is technically incorrect, but I do not dismiss dialect because it brings richness, culture and identity to people’s voices. My black students are not used to this. They are not used to their speech being accepted as a language. They look at me like I’m an alien. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE CONTINUES THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE.
Don’t get me wrong, black people are strong. I admire them for their perseverance. They have made tremendous strides considering the lack of acceptance in our society. They don’t need my support. It’s the white people who need to know that it’s okay to support them.
In fact, white people could benefit majorly from true inclusion. Look at the school system again. Now tests are the ultimate basis of knowledge. If a student doesn’t pass the test, the student is judged, the teacher is judged, the school is judged. The problem with this is that not all student knowledge can be measured by a test. And, ultimately the tests do not reflect the differences in race. This is a difficult subject because it may sound bad, but hear me out. When black people were allowed to attend white schools, they had basically no education besides the little bit that other black people could teach them. They were not up to white people’s “standards.” So, instead of changing the system and letting the black students catch up, they just kept going in hopes that they would give up. Then, legislature is passed that says that all schools must be performing. These black students who couldn’t catch up were hurting the numbers. What happens? They lower the standards. Now middle and lower class white students are also suffering. And, this is pretty much where the education system is today.
Also, some black people did give up. They recognized that they couldn’t survive this system. This system NEVER really let them in. So, what do they do? Turn to ways to survive that don’t include getting an education.
Another form of oppression is the welfare system. The welfare system was set up initially to help people get back on their feet after the Great Depression. Now, it reinforces a cycle of slavery to poverty. I once overheard a conversation among a couple of black seventh graders (ages 13-14). They were talking about naming their babies. I heard one of them say that she hoped that she would have twins so that her grandmother would get two more checks. When a person only knows one way of life, it is difficult to break out of it. It is the norm. It is a cycle. I’m going out on a limb to say that I’d bet most of our politicians know this, which is why welfare continues. I’m not saying welfare should disappear because I understand its important in helping people in need, but it should be a means to an end, not the end. So many white people disagree with me on this point because they are jealous that the government gives black people money. This is so stupid because 1. white people get welfare too, and 2. a life depending on the government is not a good one. White people say “I wish I could drive a Cadillac and get on welfare,” but that Cadillac does not make up for other hardships, and this is just nasty ass stupid prejudice assumption. Think of it this way: Do I want my daughter at 13 to be thinking about naming her child, the child that she is having so that her grandmother can get another check? Nope.
I could go on and on about the systems of oppression (a.k.a. slavery) that are thriving in our society, but this is supposed to be about Black Lives Matter. I’m writing this in response to white people trying to diminish this movement by using the term Blue Lives Matter as a rebuttal. NO NO NO! This movement was not established as a blow against police officers. It was established as a cry for help. Mothers of victims. Mother of victims. They lost their children. They lost their children to the violence of our society. Our society excluded their children, and they ended up dead at young ages. This is the problem. Stop trying to stifle their voices. Stop ignoring the exclusion. Stop saying that they can’t speak up for themselves without taking away from white people. Do white people need black lives to not matter?
No one said that blue lives don’t matter. No one said that white lives don’t matter. When a police officer shoots a black man sitting in his car unarmed, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a white man shoots a black teenager for wearing a hoody and playing loud music, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a child is gunned down for having a toy gun, it shows that someone believed his life didn’t matter. There are methods for preventing this violence, but they are not exercised. Are all instances of police violence about race? No. Am I saying that police officers should not protect themselves? No. I am saying that racism and oppression exist and cannot be ignored. I am saying that black lives do matter, but that does not have to take away from others’ lives. I am saying that if there are instances where a black person is targeted, then there need to consequences and recognition.
I don’t worry that my son will get shot because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be excluded in school because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be profiled because of the color of his skin. I enjoy white privilege in this way. I do not want to have to worry, but I want to share those same privileges with my black neighbors. I want my students to feel accepted in my classroom. I want my students to succeed and become productive members of society. I want to live in a society where we stop lying and start fixing the problem. If you want to say ALL LIVES MATTER, fine. THEN ACT LIKE IT! Until then recognize that BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Last night my wife and I took my kids and her niece to see Shrek: The Musical at the Pensacola Little Theater, and it was a treat! The costumes were fantastic, the setting was amazing, but what I loved the most were the hidden meanings that made me like this modern fairy story in the first place.
My favorite song was “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” In the play, most of the characters are “outsiders”–the “Big Bad Wolf” is dressed in drag, witches are “not so wicked,” and many of the others are part of the B list fairy stories. What do they tell us? That we should celebrate our differences, and that being divided makes us weak and vulnerable to tyrants and society.
Of course, these characters are the side story, and Shrek and Fiona are the main protagonists. Shrek is definitely not the prince charming, although he rescues Fiona. He does so without violence. He is actually very logical. His whole analogy that ogres are like onions is hilarious yet meaningful. Fiona, as we soon find out, is also an ogre on the inside. She tries to be the typical princess. She shows us that little girls are given expectations based on fairy tales that do not come true. Shrek and Fiona are real life: reality.
One of the most evocative parts that I wish I could have recorded even though I know that’s not cool was when Shrek was mad and hurt and retreated to his swamp to build a wall. A giant green ogre dancing around on stage singing about how a wall was a solution to his problems was just too reminiscent of Donald Trump to go unnoticed.
However, the best example of irony was Lord Farquaad–the tyrant who wants to kick out all of the “freaks” so that he can have his perfect kingdom. His size is a realistic portrayal of his brain more than his body.
I appreciated this play, performed mostly for children, so much that I felt compelled to share. Please share your thoughts as well.
Let’s start a dialogue. I don’t want to be racist. I understand white privilege. I am a feminist. I recently read “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay, and I very much see her points. I agree. I will not be “free-bleeding” or whatever the fuck it’s called to not wear a tampon. I will shave my armpits, and my legs, and my vagina. I love some men–my father, my son, my girlfriend’s son, my friends, etc. So, I guess I too am a bad feminist. However, I’m not ashamed to call myself feminist in any situation. I’ve gotten over a lot of shame by coming out as a lesbian, so feminist is something that is low on the totem pole of shame. However, I do understand that there are negative connotations and associations with the term or label because of certain issues. We can’t just tuck our tails and run from these issues, though. Many feminists who fought for women’s rights and suffrage were working with black people to gain the same rights. Even those who weren’t should not carry the name of feminist into the mud. This is a new time, and it’s time that our views on feminism change. It is about empowering all people. Everyone can gain from feminism.
I am ashamed that some people are ashamed to call themselves feminists. While I’m writing this, I was thinking of comparing the idea of being ashamed of feminism to being ashamed of the white race because of the many fools in the white race that take things to the extreme and make me ashamed of my color. Then I thought, I would not be ashamed of anything that feminists do, even if I chose not to do those things, except for excluding people of color, and that’s something that apparently feminists share with white people, so I’m ashamed of racist feminists and white people.
But, not all white feminists are racist. Can I say that I’m not? I do see color. I think color should be embraced. It’s a part of what makes people who they are. It’s their heritage. Saying “I don’t see color” is an insult because it stifles the uniqueness of the people of color. It’s like saying “I don’t see gender.” I want you to see my gender. I love my gender. I get angry when people stick me in a box with all people of my gender (those who love making love to men) because that is not part of my gender identity, but I don’t want you to not see my gender. Asking, “Why do you have to make it about race?” is also ignorant. Because it is about race. It is personal.
I’m not going to claim to have black friends. I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t, it just means that I haven’t made friends with a black person that I hang out with (you’d have to understand the small-town lack of social gatherings, but that’s another blog). However, I have many black colleagues that I respect. I have many black students that I want to see succeed. I want to see equality for all. I want to see fairness for all. I want to see the liberty match the freedom that was granted. Isn’t that what feminism is supposed to be?
As we emerged from the Jaar exhibit, tears streamed down my face. Alisa, realizing I was crying, stopped me, astounded and asked if I was okay. All I could do was smile at her. These were not sad tears, though I was feeling pain for the thoughts of war and destruction brought to life by my realization, but they were tears of verisimilitude–my thoughts and feelings were realized by another–they were truth for me. This art was my truth.
As I stood with my lover, my partner, my girlfriend, my fiance, and she wiped my tears, the sounds of Sharon Hayes’ voice emerged from a set of speakers. I listened to the words. They spoke to my heart. Tears are in my eyes now as I write.
Here’s an explanation:
Everything Else has Failed! Don’t you Think It’s Time for Love (2007), a sound installation with framed posters, documents the period from September 17 to 21, 2007, when Hayes emerged each day at lunchtime from the corporate headquarters of UBS in midtown Manhattan to speak to an anonymous lover. Beginning “My dear lover” or “My sweet lover,” the texts Hayes spoke were addressed to an unnamed “you” from whom the speaker was separated for some unexplained reason. Woven in between comments on and about personal longing and desire were observations about politics and the trauma and dislocation of living in a time of war. By inserting “private correspondence” into a scene of public speech, Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think It’s Time for Love? provokes questions about the territory of the space of the “political“ and the “unspeakable” as it relates to love and the notion of “free speech.”
This was taken from: http://whitney.org/file_columns/0003/1662/sharon_hayes_press_release.pdf.
I cannot remember the words. I cannot find them online. I wish I could. All I know is that I need this connection in my life. I need to stop being silenced from the lack of understanding.
I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
On a recent trip to New York, I finally got to visit the Museum of Modern Art. For a small town Alabama girl who still has big dreams, this is a pretty big deal. I have been teaching a lot of Modernism, so I was looking forward to being in the same fucking room as Picasso’s, Matisse’s and Van Gogh’s work. However, it was the contemporary that got me.
Many times in this small town, I keep my mouth shut about politics because no one listens and not many people care. But, for some reason, I feel very strongly about the conflicts that we are facing at this moment in time, and I strongly believe that we never get the full story. Everything is watered down, and I often try to discover why. People think I’m crazy, or maybe I just assume that people think I’m crazy because I go on rants about Donald Trump or the Syrian refugees and my opinions are most often different from theirs. The contemporary pieces at MoMa spoke to me because they showed me a connection that I don’t get otherwise. Alisa, my partner, –I’ve wanted to write that for a long time–partner because she’s with me, but also partner because we are kindred souls and I know that she will go to the end of the world with me–often allows my points of view, and sometimes she even agrees with me, but I expect that of her because we have these things in common. But, to see some of my passions and feelings visualized, well it was quite moving to say the least.
One display that really spoke to me was the Lament of the Images by Alfredo Jaar.
Jaar explained in an interview,
The work is a metaphor for the blindness in our society. I think we live in a great paradox today. On the one hand we are bombarded by thousands of images, but on the other hand it has never before been so controlled, be it by the government or by a certain part of the private sector. Therefore, I believe that we have lost the ability to see and be moved by images. Nothing moves us anymore, nothing has any meaning. My work is a kind of poetic meditation about the power of images.
In the first room there are 3 stories to read, then you go through a labyrinth and reach another hall with a glistening light that blinds you. In another sense it is like the request “let there be light”, like an appeal to clarify this situation.
This was taken from http://universes-in-universe.de/car/documenta/11/frid/e-jaar-2.htm.
In the wake of terrorism, political debates, threats of war, and mass shootings, I say to you, think of what you don’t see.
My brother has detached himself from my life. He was preceded by my mother, my aunts on my mother’s side, recently my grandmother and many cousins. I’m writing this to forgive them. I understand that my coming out as a lesbian at 33 is something that is difficult to understand. I also understand that my relationship with Alisa is hard to comprehend because it is not typical. I wish that they could hear me when I say that I love her. I wish that that was all that mattered to them, but it’s simply not. They cannot get past their own perspectives and see mine.
Many people say it’s the little things that count, and I agree, but Alisa gives me both little things and big things. I was lonely for a long time. I was miserable for a long time. I had discredited all the fairy tales and stories of true love. I had settled into the life I thought I deserved. I covered up my unhappiness, but people do not see what happens behind closed doors. They do not want to see. My closed door with my husband hid many things. It hid me sleeping alone, crying myself to sleep, and emotional abuse. Every time my husband disrespected me, I blamed myself. I paid for my previous relationship with Alisa for many years in my marriage to David. I am now so far removed from that dark time that I have forgotten a lot of it, but it no longer matters. It made me stronger to suffer. And, it made the little things matter so much more now. I have felt the guilt that my family would put on me about leaving David, but I say to that guilt: I cannot live my life in suffering to make someone else happy; I cannot show my children that abuse is okay; I cannot suppress my natural instincts in order to please my family. I tried. I gave it 13 years. 13 years is a long time to devote to something. That should be the testament that people need to show that I tried being straight. IT DIDN’T WORK. However, people still say that I’m not all the way gay because I was with a man. To that I say: I was with a man because it is what society wanted. I never wanted it. IT DIDN’T WORK. Some people say that we are going to hell. To that I say: See you there you judgmental fool.
What my brother said was that I was a coward who doesn’t stand up for my beliefs and a bitch, and he called Alisa a bitch too. This stemmed from a party where I had too much to drink and Alisa took me inside and helped me to bed. Apparently (I don’t remember) I didn’t say goodbye to him. And, Alisa made a comment about having to go to work the next morning. I write this to show that my brother does not know me at all. I am far from a coward. I stand up for what I believe in on a regular basis. I teach English and try to show people how to use Rhetoric and make connections in the world. I help my friends when they are in need. I support Hillary Clinton as presidential elect because SHE IS A WOMAN, and in 95 years of having the right to vote I think we should VOTE FOR A WOMAN. Of course, I also agree with Hillary on many of her standpoints, including education reform, which definitely affects me and gay marriage. I am stubborn and willful, so I can take the bitch comment, BUT COWARD? I am far from a coward. No one tells me what to do. My mother tried to force me to be straight. I’m gay. My ex-husband tried to force me, with physical force, to stay married to him. We’re divorced. Alisa tries on a regular basis to get me to go to bed earlier. We always go to bed late. I’ve taken my kids to New York by myself, which isn’t a big deal except to people in this small town who will never board a plane. There isn’t much that scares me except for heights, which just make me sick and dizzy.
It’s surprising to me what you learn from people when they walk out of your life. I learned that my brother was a coward because he didn’t have the nerve to tell me that he wasn’t okay with my relationship, which is what I think was really the problem. He also didn’t amount to much in my life when I considered it. Brothers are supposed to support you and have your back. When David put his hands on me, I expected my brother to defend me. He didn’t. I got what I deserved. Also, brothers are supposed to be good uncles to their nieces and nephews. Mine just criticized my daughter for liking “the black boys” (I put this in quotation marks with a sarcastic tone). He recently told my sister that she has never helped him do anything. He’s 27, still working on a bachelor’s degree in history and unemployed, so I guess he wants her to help my mother (or egg donor) to pay his bills. He doesn’t work because he can’t stop smoking pot long enough to pass a drug test, and he “doesn’t want to work for anyone dumber than he is.” He’s too good to work at a restaurant. So, when I examine the loss, I wonder why I valued him in the first place. Is it because “blood is thicker than water”? No longer a valid argument for me.
I’ve also seen the toxicity of my mother seeping through his veins. I’ve seen her evil nature causing my sister pain because my sister refuses to disown me. But, I fully expect her to go soon too. She doesn’t want to raise her daughters with a lesbian aunt. She doesn’t know how to explain our relationship to them. And, I don’t believe my sister can take the pressure of the rest of the family hating her because she doesn’t join them in their walkout.
However, despite the negativity, I’m on top of the world. My relationship with Alisa is a fairy tale, a real-life fairy tale. No, we can’t be seen riding a carriage to a ball through shimmering light or frolicking in a meadow surrounded by lavender and talking birds, but I feel loved. I think that is what we all want. Unconditional love. Every morning she wakes me up with a kiss. When something happens at work, it’s her I want to tell. We have deep conversations, but I just enjoy talking to her even if it’s just about her job or the kids. We rarely argue, and when we do, it is usually small and repairable. When we argue, I think the difference lies in the fact that I do not want to fight with her. It hurts me to be angry with her, so we get it out, fix it and get over it quickly. She goes out of her way to make me happy. She recently looked for pumpkin spice creamer for me, but it’s not out yet. Once, when I was sick, she drove me to work, and while I was teaching, she went and bought me a heating pad because mine had broken. She takes care of things around the house when I can’t. SHE DOES LAUNDRY. She plans awesome date nights. She just researched our trip to Vegas and found out that they have a plethora of IPA, which is my favorite. I could go on and on about all the little things that she does for me, but now for the fairy dust….On August 26, 2015, Alisa had planned a date night. I got dressed, and she told me she had a surprise for me. She had gotten me flowers, which was unusual because I don’t like store-bought flowers since they’re expensive and they die. She had packed a picnic. Driving to the beach in Pensacola, one of our favorite spots, she asked me about work, and we talked about the literature that I’m teaching. When we got to the beach, we listened to Kristy Lee while we ate our picnic of cheese, grapes, pepperoni and wine. Then, Alisa took out our story that she had written and read it to me. As I lay there listening to her talk about our relationship and her love for me, tears trickled down my cheeks. Then, she told me to close my eyes. When I opened them, she was holding a ring. I jumped up and grabbed her. It was perfection. I could not have asked for a better experience of romance. The sun was setting, the waves were in the background, and I thought to myself that I was so lucky. She did all this for me. Not many people get to experience being in love with their best friend and having such a connection.
There are now only a few people who have not turned their backs on me, and I’m thankful for them. My kids are happy. My daughter has come around. I could not be happier. I just don’t understand the hatred that makes people so blind that they cannot see that I’m happy and in love and that’s all that should matter.
So, as another one bites the dust, I’m swimming in my fairy dust and I don’t care who doesn’t like it.
William Station’s Day takes place on Pensacola Avenue in Atmore, Alabama, in early October. Half of the street closes, and vendors bring their best goods to display. You might think that this is another one of those festivals where if you’ve been once, you’ve seen it all. I used to think that, but when I began taking a folk-lorish lens, I discovered the unique history and array of art that this small town has to offer.
Here is a bit of the history behind the founding and the naming of the town from http://www.cityofatmore.com:
Long before settlers came to the area that is now Atmore, The Creek Indians inhabited the virgin forests of longleaf pines settling along the creeks and rivers. The development of this area began in the 1860’s following the Civil War as the Mobile and Great Northern railroad extended its line south to the Tensaw River near Mobile.
Workers who moved through the area laying track for the railroad were drawn by the rich farmland and abundance of timber. Agriculture and timber are still major factors in Atmore’s economy.
The first structure in what is Atmore was a small shed built along the railroad at which supplies were left for William Larkin Williams who had a logging operation ten miles down in Florida. In 1866 the site was first called Williams Station, just a supply stop along the railroad.
By the 1870’s there were several buildings; a railroad station, a store containing the post office, and one dwelling. Late in 1870 the first sawmill was put into operation. However, it was the sawmill built by William Marshall Carney in 1876 that sparked the growth of the community. Recognizing the potential of this area which abounded in cypress ponds and virgin forests, legend says Carney hitched a mule to a boat and set claim to most of the area. Because of his many contributions to the growth of the community Mr. Carney is often called “the father of Atmore”.
Many people often overlook the importance of Atmore’s agricultural economy as part of its foundation, but those “virgin forests” are possibly the only reason the town succeeded. Descendants of the sap-collectors have held on to some of the equipment, and they proudly display it at William Station’s Day. Below are some pictures of their display.
In addition to the agricultural history, storyteller and historian Robert Thrower tells great tales of Indian folklore. He also brings artifacts that he has collected to demonstrate the history of the natives of Atmore and the surrounding area.
Soaking in all of the history is fun, but discovering the art of various vendors can be intriguing as well. I was fortunate in meeting Ikna Smith, creator of these unique pieces of jewelry. I asked her what inspires her, and she answered, “Life inspires me. I like to work with metal and discover all the different ways to shape it. And, I like to play with fire!”
The Gulf Coast Authors also take the stage with their display of their published works ranging from historical fiction to collections of stories originating in the Gulf Coast.
Atmore resident Lloyd Albritton displays his publication, Baby Blue.
Many vendors have a theme that appeals to Southerners and Rednecks, which are in abundance here!
A friend of mine and his wife make these awesome jewelry hangers and pieces that have an artsy flare:
Some vendors even send their proceeds to benefit different causes!
Sometimes we take the small stuff for granted. I often hear people complain that there is nothing to do in this small town, but these vendors prove that wrong. This town is full of creativity and a rich history: it just takes a different perspective to find it.
Walking in the Shoes of the Other
There is an old saying about walking a mile in another person’s shoes before you judge them, which means that before a person can truly understand what another person is going through, he or she has to share the same experience. In 1968, a time of racial controversy in the United States, school teacher Jane Elliott made her students walk in others’ shoes. Through an experiment that she conducted, she had them experience what it was like to be discriminated against because of a biological feature. The experiment that Ms. Elliott conducted on her class demonstrated George Herbert Mead’s theory of the social self as it demonstrated how the students developed social reactions or behavior through their experiences.
First of all, Ms. Elliott explained to the students that the class would be divided into two categories: the blue eyed students and the brown eyed students. Simply because she has blue eyes, she said that the blue eyed students would be the better students on the first day. She gave the students scarves to wear to indicate that they were the brown eyed students. These symbols demonstrate Mead’s theory that “social experience is the exchange of symbols” (Macionis 69). People use symbols like words, hand gestures, or a smile to create meaning (Macionis 69). Ms. Elliott assigned the label of brown eyed students as the lower part of the class, and when she did she created meaning. When the students put on the scarves, they began to identify themselves as the lower class, and they felt what it was like to be the targets of discrimination. One girl kept looking around as if she was going to cry. This identification demonstrates another part of Mead’s theory that the self is the product of social experience (Macionis 69). The children were told that the brown eyed children were slower, less intelligent, and more greedy than the blue eyed children, and both sets of children began to experience themselves in this way. The blue eyed children exhibited feelings that they were superior to the brown eyed children, and the brown eyed children showed that they felt inferior.
After the children understood the exercise, they really began to assert their roles. Ms. Elliott made comments throughout the class that provoked the students. At one time, she said that her yard stick was missing, and one of the blue eyed students said that she should keep that handy in case one of the brown eyed students misbehaved. She asked him if he felt that that was the thing to use if they misbehaved, and he said yes. She commented that the brown eyed students were slower and that the class had to wait on them. She said that the brown eyed students could not drink from the water fountain, and she said that they could not get second helpings at lunch like the blue eyed students could. To this one student replied that the brown eyed students would take too much, implicating that they were greedy and selfish. Ms. Elliott really did a good job of building the scenario so that the students could really experience what discrimination was like.
The impact of the scenario was greatest when the students went out to recess. Ms. Elliott told the students that they could not play together because of their differences. The brown eyed students demonstrated how their self image had been built by their previous social experiences because they expressed that they felt like they could not do anything. All of the students sat down by themselves away from the others. One student held his book over his face in shame. Mead’s third concept leads into the idea of the “looking glass.” In this concept, others are a mirror in which people see themselves; therefore, what people think of themselves depends on how they think others see them (Macionis 69). Because the blue eyed children saw the brown eyed children as lower–slower, dumber, etc.–the brown eyed children began to see themselves in those same lenses.
When the students returned to the classroom, Ms. Elliott addressed a fight that had occurred on the playground. One of the blue eyed students had been calling one of the brown eyed students names and picking on him, so the brown eyed boy had hit him. The significance of this incident was revealed in the responses of the children. Ms. Elliott asked the brown eyed boy why he hit the blue eyed boy, and he responded by saying that he was calling him names. Ms. Elliott asked him what names he was calling him, and he said that he was calling him brown eyed. Ms. Elliott then asked why this was a bad thing, and the brown eyed boy responded “because it means I’m stupider.” This shows that even though the students previously knew this to be untrue, their social experience caused them to create this image. One boy said that this was like when people call black people “niggers.” Just because the students had been told that the brown eyed students were not as good as the blue eyed students, both felt that this was true, which once again demonstrates Mead’s theory that the self is developed through social experience.
The next day, Ms. Elliott reversed the roles. She told the class that the brown eyed people were now better than the blue eyed people. The blue eyed people had to wear the scarves. Immediately after putting on the scarves, the blue eyed students’ body language exhibited their feelings. One student laid his head on the desk. Ms. Elliott used this as an opportunity to point out a negative quality of the blue eyed students just like she had done the day before with the brown eyed students. She would use actions that all of the students would normally do to point out that because one of the lower class students was doing it, it meant that they were all bad.
The oppression caused by the scarves or labeling was felt in more ways than just the students’ feelings. Ms. Elliott’s class used phonic cards, and this was a timed exercise. On Tuesday, when the brown eyed students were the lower class, their timing was awful. On Wednesday, when the brown eyed students were labeled the better students, their timing improved by twice the time. When Ms. Elliott asked them why, they said because all they could think about on Tuesday was the scarves. The labeling actually oppressed their ability to learn and think as well as their social abilities.
Mead’s fourth point in his theory states, “by taking the role of the other, we become self-aware” (Macionis 69). When Ms. Elliott reversed the roles of the students, they had to walk in each others’ shoes. The subjective side of the self (the “I”) was exhibited when the students were a part of the better group, and the objective side was exhibited when the students were a part of the lower group. When Ms. Elliott asked the students to evaluate their experience as part of the lower group, they described it as feeling like being locked up in jail, or “like a dog on a leash.” Because both sets of students had experienced the same oppression, both could appreciate their experiences. When asked if it was okay or right to treat people differently because of their differences, all of the students agreed that it was not right. In this stage, the children developed their knowledge of the generalized other, or cultural norms and values that we use as references in evaluating ourselves (Macionis 70). They saw that the way that society sees them is a part of how they see themselves. So, they all agreed that viewing others as lesser because of biological differences is wrong.
Ms. Elliott’s experiment may have only reached a few students, but it is a model that effectively taught young people about the harms and effects of racism and discrimination. Mead wrote, “No hard-and-fast line can be drawn between our own selves and the selves of others” (Macionis 69), and this is what Ms. Elliott’s experiment demonstrates. The self is built by social interaction. The students exhibited that the ways they felt about themselves were affected by social interaction. They showed that their ability to learn and think was affected by social interaction. And, they also showed that the way that they interact with others is affected by social interaction. Overall, Ms. Elliott’s lesson in racism forced the students to walk in each other’s shoes in order to demonstrate what racism and discrimination actually feels like so that they would not continue the cycle of hate. By taking on the role of the other, the students were able to build a self that would understand the feelings of oppression caused by racism and not become racist themselves. When the students returned years later, they indicated how much Ms. Elliott’s project had affected their lives, proving that social experience builds people’s personalities. Ms. Elliott’s experiment should be a part of third grade curriculum today.
Macionis, John J. Society: The Basics. 12th Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.