In my last class we discussed racial stereotypes and how stereotyping, racism, and discrimination affects various immigrant populations as well as the protagonist of our novel Girl in Translation. I have done this lesson in various forms many, many times and each time I learn something new about how my students see the world.
I begin the class by clearly defining race, ethnicity, stereotyping, racism, and discrimination on the board so that we are all working from the same definitions. I have the students create the definitions via their cell phones (Use them for good instead of evil!) and their own words. Next, I move onto another board, divide it into 4 quadrants, and the students pick 4 racial categories. These categories usually end up being Black, White, Hispanic, & Asian. We discuss how there are many groups within these large racial categories (these are the categories defined by No Child Left Behind, by the way), and then we list ALL the stereotypes we can think of–good and bad–of each group.
Oh, do they have fun with that exercise.
After that particularly rowdy activity, we discuss which groups have more positive and more negative stereotypes. No shockers there. Asians–the model minority–followed by White people have the most positive associations (being good at Math, being rich) while Blacks and Latinos have the most negative (being criminals, drug dealers, welfare moms, etc.). We discuss exceptions to the stereotype (there’s always a student who yells out that they loathe rice and beans), how some stereotypes are plain wrong (there are more White women on welfare than Black women), and how they make us feel.
Then we took these ideas to our novel and discussed Kim, our protagonist, and parts of the book where she was admired or hated for being Chinese and how that did or didn’t affect her immigration experience.
Lastly, I had the students write their own 6 word story on race. This idea came from this brilliant website, The Race Card Project. Michelle Norris, a NPR correspondent, invites us all to express our ideas about race in 6 words, like Hemingway’s famous 6 word story: Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.
The students were intrigued by this. I gave them each an index card, the room fell quiet, and they wrote. Here are some of my favorites:
You had to be Dominican–loud.
I”m black, but I’m not black.
Don’t remember where I came from.
I don’t know, but I know.
Sweetened by the colors of tar.
I”m Hispanic not a drop out.
Choose one? Check all that apply.
Racism is like war with thorns.
No! I am the real American!
Two sides but not very sure.
Broken bottle? You mean nigga knife.
No, I don’t have ten kids.
Not all Mexicans like tacos. Yuck!
I am not a suicide bomber!
I wish I wasn’t white sometimes…
Yes, I fix cars. I’m Spanish.
Great, quick writing exercise to get them thinking of the power of word choice and, of course, race and racial identity.