It’s been two weeks since my post about why white people’s opinions matter, but clearly not everything has been said yet. A few days ago, the Huffington Post wrote an opinion-piece about a black teacher who had been sued for racism by her students, and despite the fact that it received a lot of praise, it does have some issues, as well as a whole lot of counter-productive activism (not to even mention the way popular media picked up the story…) In short: a topic I just cannot possibly resist!
As we all know, popular media can be very one-sided, and the general public seems very adapt at not noticing this while reading a biased article. Story upon story upon story, websites are reporting things without even thinking and people are using these articles to vent their frustration at “society” without too much hesitation. The same happened last week, when an article about three white students suing their black teacher for talking too much about racism spread through Tumblr like a wildfire.
The interesting thing about this particular case, however, is that all these articles are using actual quotations that seem to put the story into a very different context, therefore having the evidence of their own mistakes written down for everyone to see. Particularly, it is the quote “Why do we have to talk about this in every class?” that shows the true nature of the complaint. These three white students aren’t complaining because they are uncomfortable with the debate, but because they are sick of hearing the same story over and over again from the same person. Now, in a class about the history of segregation, that would be unjustified… but what most articles seem to disregard is that this is a class titled Mass Communication.
It reminds me of one of my teachers. She is an extreme feminist who has by now alienated the majority of her students by her constant mentioning of the topic of sexism, which would have been fine if she had been teaching a gender studies subject rather than psychology. She literally cannot go through a single lecture without mentioning the topic of rape, often completely besides the point and for no other reason but to repeat what she had already made clear to us: women have it bad. It is tiring, and although I am very much interested in learning about gender issues, she is definitely not a properly academic, non-biased source to go to for information.
Although of course I don’t know the situation any better than is possible from what little information is available, this teacher seems to have the exact same problem. If she has a lot of knowledge about racism, of course it’s fine to talk about it once in a while, but the moment when people start making remarks about it, she has simply crossed a line. These students wanted to learn about Mass Communication, and if you don’t want to talk about that, then you should be teaching a different class.
Interestingly enough, I seem to be making the same mistake as all these news reporters did. I am judging harshly on the basis of very limited information, which is precisely the kind of thing I have so often spoken up against. The difference, however, is that I am aware of it. I know I could be wrong about the precise events in these classrooms because I wasn’t there myself, and I don’t hesitate to make that particular issue abundantly clear to you by explaining just that fallacy in my train of thought.
What I do know for sure, however, is that there is absolutely no reason for us to judge these students any more than we have reason to judge this teacher. After all, the reason these students are being judged by the public is because of past experiences. People have experienced racism, and therefore they immediately jump to the conclusion that these students are in the wrong, regardless of the lack of information. The same goes for me: I am judging the teacher because of my past experiences with activist university professors teaching the wrong class. And we are both equally wrong.
All this just shows how biased us human beings are, and it really is about time we start realising that. Clearly even a successful writer for the Huffington Post isn’t above that issue, which in this case is quite harmful. After all, what do you think these students will think now? Lies about them are spread in national media, and it is happening for the cause of equality for black people. Not exactly great advertisement, I’d say. And that’s just it. I have said it before and I will say it again: if we don’t think about our actions, if we don’t consider our biases and if we don’t realise the mistakes in our own activism, then we’ll end up working against ourselves. It’s not going to convince anyone but those who have the same biases as ourselves, which are precisely the people who we no longer had to convince.
Aah, bias… such a fun topic! We all have it and no matter how open-minded we are, we’ll never get rid of it!
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