I was perusing a friends blog this morning with a cup of tea, and a TED talk they had posted by Dalia Mogahed poked around in my thought processes, and made me revisit chapter nine from The Skillful Teacher. From chapter one, I remembered one of Brookfield’s “most important truths…established for himself [myself] about teaching” as “I have learned racist impulses and instincts and I will never lose these, though I can become more aware and struggle against them”…struggle against them, this is what stuck with me from that quote. Brookfield describes in various parts of his book how he grew up in Liverpool, England in what I presume was around the 1950’s and 60’s, racism was rife which did not bode well for one to grow into a non discriminating adult. Brookfield makes an excellent and almost amusing point that
Experience can teach us habits of bigotry, stereotyping and disregard for significant but inconvienient information. For example, my “experience” of life as an adolescent and young taught me that Black people are violent, not very smart, rhythmic and athletic. I had to learn to see this experience differently by opening up to other perspectives on my learned racism
I grew up in a rural area of England a long way from the big city’s such as Liverpool, Birmingham or London. Quite literally, the only contact I had with any person of colour during my childhood and adolescence was the television, a London born, of greek descent neighbour and then during secondary school, one Filipino lad that I played cricket with. At 17 I joined the military and then promptly spent most of my career involved in operations in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Thankfully my somewhat culturally sheltered childhood didn’t introduce me to the same stereotypes as Brookfield but certainly my experiences in early adulthood could have easily tainted my my experience, and caused my “struggle” today to be real. I don’t feel that I “struggle”, my career in the military touched hundreds of cultures, thousands of people, good and bad, but when I read Brookfield’s points of “Uncovering Racial Micro-Aggressions” I can’t help that be worried that even in this short blog post there is a chance that I may have already caused offence. A micro aggression is “a small act of exclusion and marginalization committed by a dominant group towards a minority”. They are “never overt or explicit” and the recipients “are usually left wondering, did that really happen?”. My friend in her blog writes “We say we aren’t racist, but are we unintentionally?” this is my concern. I omitted a comment earlier about my Filipino teammate being a ridiculously quick runner, one because it was irrelevant (but I often add tenuous comments in my writing to add personality) but more importantly because I didn’t want to risk stereotyping or micro aggression. I feel like I am an open minded person, I outwardly try to be. I have friends from all manners of cultures, countries and backgrounds, I don’t change the way I am with these people…or do I and just don’t realize? I’m not about to dive much further into this topic but one of, if not the biggest issues we have today is the media. I would hope that most children are brought up in homes where differences in culture are accepted, schools teach it. However, as Dalia Mogahed says “some studies found that 80% of news coverage about Islam and Muslims is negative”. If a person therefore were to believe everything they see on the television, then its impossible to think that they have the conscious capacity to ignore this negativity in everyday life. My wife and I flew to England shortly after the Metrojet flight 9268 crash in October 2015; we’d be lying if we weren’t a little suspicious at Heathrow at the site of a Hijab, it was completely irrational and embarrassingly racist but thats the power of the media. It was like swimming at the beach after watching Jaws.
Brookfield is admirably and brutally honest in his book regarding his own racism; this is where we should all be. We are critical of all areas of our practice as educators, racism is simply another area to analyze. As we breakdown our practice we need to understand if in fact we have ‘racist impulses and instincts’ and therefore become acutely aware of and “struggle against them”. I don’t think I have, but as I said my experiences through early adulthood may well of ingrained something to which I am completely unaware.
Anyway, there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…..oh never mind….