Hopefully you’ll humor me long enough for me to explain the title, which I think is an important statement.
I grew up in the 90s on the east coast of America. Specifically, I spent most of my first 18 years in rural piedmont Virginia. For a little more context the demographics of my town are as follows: “In 2000 … The racial makeup of the city was 75.33% White, 22.38% Black or African American, 0.24% Native American, 0.57% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 0.24% from other races, and 1.16% from two or more races. 0.89% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.” – From Wikipedia.
As you can see, it’s a predominately white area with the major minority being Black or African Americans. I also grew up in a household that was overtly anti-racism, and I follow in that ethic. The thing that I think is most important is that until perhaps today, I didn’t realize that despite my willful attempts against racist thought and action, I am truly quite guilty of it.
I think it’s important to understand what racism is to follow me here. And to do that, you need to understand what race is. These are both very complex issues which I can’t claim expert knowledge about. What I can say is that despite 19th and 20th century beliefs to the contrary “race” is a completely man-made concept. There is no true biological basis for race. There are physical indicators which we use to assist us in our racist labeling and actions and thoughts, but they are not constant, or even consistent across any one “race” nor are they the only basis for our ideas of race.
Culture is tied into our understanding of race as well, and to some extent I believe that culture is under-evaluated by many people as an indicator of race. Tie in things like dialect or accent, word choice, talking speed, and tone of voice, and you’ll find a great number of indicators in only the linguistic aspect of culture. Add to that the clothes and accessories we wear, our choice of pastimes, our reading material and other chosen media, and you have an arsenal of “racial” indicators at your disposal.
Anyway, back to the fact that I am racist.
I have assumptions, beliefs, and expectations that are dependent upon how I view and identify the individuals around me. This is the issue. I would like to believe that I can accept identification of others race without assigning those assumptions, beliefs, and expectations, but in truth I still do.
Point in case, This morning I was going to a school to meet teach three classes and meet a new teacher with whom I would be working with from now on. I experienced some amount of stress and fear, not only because of the fact that I did not know anything about this new teacher, but also, and here’s the problem, because I knew she was Japanese and I assumed she might fulfill a horrible and terrifying stereotype I have heard of (but not experienced). The stereotype is a “Japanese teacher who regards an ALT (foreign language assistant teacher and native speaker) as a pronunciation recorder, disregarding their unique personality and array of skills.”
Note, I have never experienced this stereotype incarnate. In fact most of the teachers I work with are the antithesis of this characterization. Yet I still have this fear, based on an assumption that turned out once again to be quite false. I honestly don’t think I would have that fear if I were doing the same work with an American.
This is of course just one example, but I think it’s an important realization and one that I need to cope with in order to improve as an ambassador and as a person. Sometimes we need to accept our faults and recognize the fallacy of our beliefs.
Furthermore, the stereotype I mentioned above, very well may exist out there. But that doesn’t justify the racist assumption that any new teacher I meet in Japan could be such a person. It’s better to go in with no presumption as to what kind of person they might be, and find out when I get there. Now… time to work on that side of things.
P.S. I’m sexist, ablist, classist, and probably several other -ists as well. The same goes for each of these.