Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Personal Guilt

Since I last posted, I have shifted to a double major: Psychology and Social Science. My career goals are the same, but I can use the Social Science major to incorporate the classes on conflict transformation and ethnic studies into my academic plan. My summer term courses reflect this: a psychology class on human relations, a black studies class on how black women have been and are depicted in the media, and - coming in the second half of summer - a class about white privilege.

Both my full summer and first-half summer classes have heavy reading and writing loads, which doesn't bother me. However, I got hit with a double-whammy in terms of personal impact. For psych, I read a research study on differences between Japanese, Asian Canadian and European Canadian subjects in their perception of self and relationships. This triggered my usual disgust at applying Western standards to people from other cultures. The first draft of that response paper needs to be edited for a more academic voice.

Moving on to the black studies' readings, I was affected deeply in several ways. First, I erroneously expected a "fun" course - too much of Jaime and her pin-ups, I believe. Secondly, I was again confronted with how I unconsciously have been perpetuating racism. While I value this because it helps me to grow, I doubt I will ever like having my shortcomings brought into such clear light. And while white guilt predictably arose, I found very personal illustrations of my contribution to cultural racism:
  • I worked on the Aunt Jemima account for seven years at an advertising agency in Dallas.
  • My son appeared in an Aunt Jemima print ad which ran nationally. Though clearly of mixed heritage, he was initially used for placement in Ebony and Jet. Later, his image was used in the general campaign, as well.
  • I already knew that my childhood love of "Gone With the Wind" could never be recaptured, but now I need to review the 50s version of "Imitation of Life" with the new knowledge I have gained.
  • "Gimme a Break" perpetuated the mammy myth. That seems so obvious now, but at the time, it was just another comedy.

My current challenge for this class will be to keep my white guilt to myself and not burden the people of color in  my class. That means double the writing load - my first response can be as visceral as I need it to be. I can share this response with my white friend Dick, mentioned in other posts, to help me move beyond my emotions. I've already written him with a heads-up. Once I've vented about myself, I will re-read the material and respond academically - or at least as much as I am able. So an already reading- and writing-intensive course will require twice the amount of time I anticipated.

I am incredibly thankful to be in a time and space in my life which allows for this!

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