When I was in graduate school, Tom Pettigrew used to remind us that many white Americans hold their racial prejudices and stereotypes at a rather superficial level, mainly as a way of conforming to whites and the white supremacist culture/society around them. (He suggested that a smaller proportion held these views very deeply, as a Freudian-type “crutch” that held their very troubled personalities together.) The clear lesson he was offering is that for many whites some significant change in racial views should not be difficult. The learning context matters.
Recently, one of my former graduate students, now a professor, sent me this comment about a new white student in her class:
I am beginning a new semester of my Race class. I decided to formally introduce your “white racial frame” concept the first week of the semester this time…My students journal free-form every other week or so, and here is the very first journal entry I read. I particularly love the last line of the first paragraph:
White Racial Frame: When first entering this course I never imagined that within the first class session my mindset would be changing about race and the role it has in the world today. The idea of the “white racial frame” is what immediately caught my attention. The idea that there is a term for a frame of mind I never knew existed struck me. I am the typical definition of a “white girl” and I know it. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sheltered lifestyle and never struggled a day in my life, I know I am a white girl. I just never considered that my frame of mind about the world is compromised because of it.
I always thought of my life as fair. I had the ideal mindset that the United States represents all that is fair; everyone has their own chance and makes their own choices from a totally level playing field. It is only now that I can see that things may be set up differently. My view was that my parents work hard for what we have and that anyone can do the same for their families. Maybe it is a naive frame of mind to believe the world to be fair, but it was nice that way. It is only in more recent years I can see the trends that lead me to believe that all is not fair and the world is a tough place. I believe that is partially due to my sheltered life that I grew up with and partially because of the “white racial frame” that I did not know I possessed.
Society prioritizes the white race and does not even realize it. I have done it and only now realize it. Everyday simple situations I find myself choosing someone who is white for a job, or maybe being more comfortable with a white person than anyone else. Even in my relationship preference I have only dated white men. Have had several opportunities to do otherwise, but simply never acted upon it. Before this class I never questioned that the president has always been a white male (until Obama obviously). I am realizing that the “white racial frame” expands into so many things in our lives. It can be as simple as daily life within my own home, and can expand all the way into politics in the world. I am excited to be in this course to help open my mind to more of these situations and to educate myself more on the role of race in society.
Things can change. Excellent teaching and teachers matter.