I've been thinking a lot about the bubble quiz responses I saw here and on the NPR site. I've been thinking about responding, and hesitating, and thinking, and hesitating. I'm learning. I've learned a lot in the past say 5 years from some initiatives on campus and from my colleagues. I've had two colleagues who've been especially instrumental in my learning, and I'm most grateful to them. But I have a lot to learn, and I expect in five years to look back and see real change from now, as I look back now and see real change from then. And I look forward to that. But it does make responding uncomfortable because I for sure don't have all the answers, and some of the answers I do have just aren't good enough.
On the other hand, I think it's important to respond here on my blog where I put up the link. One of the main reasons I think it's important to respond is that I imagine most of you are a lot like me in some ways: you're probably liberal (some more, some less), probably college educated or with a graduate degree, most are female (I think). And I'm pretty sure most of you are white, US born, with a job (though for those adjuncting or in grad school, it's not the job you're aiming for). And most of you want to promote social justice, to end racism, to make the world a better place.
Even though I'm sure what I have to say won't be good enough in some ways, and even though I expect to get schooled, I'm going to respond. Schooling is good for me, after all. Being challenged is good for me, as I think it's good for my students, even though it's uncomfortable.
When I look at the responses both here and at the NPR site, I see some common threads. 1) There's a thread of "yes, but I" followed by some specific point about why one or another question doesn't apply to the responder. 2) There's a thread of "this is a bogus test." 3) There's a thread of "so doing stuff that 'those people' do is good?" ("Those people" are "white trash" in some comments over at NPR)
I'm sure the test isn't perfect, but in some ways my concerns aren't with the test, but with the responses because they tend to come from a space of defensiveness, a space of "competitive victimization" sometimes, and from an attitude of "white guilt" and/or class guilt.
First, there's nothing wrong or right about any of the behaviors or status stuff on the test. There's nothing about living in a small town, working on a factory floor, watching popular movies, etc that is right or wrong. The test is trying to look at stuff most people in the US experience, and asking takers to identify their own relationship to those experiences.
But it sure feels like those are right and wrong answers, doesn't it? I sure wanted to get points for having had a job that sometimes involved walking on a factory floor, though it didn't involve doing the factory labor there (and even though my family members owned the factory and I was employed there as a part-time receptionist largely because I am a family member).
The test is saying, most working class US people have these experiences; if you don't share many of these experiences, then you're probably not much aware of the experiences of most working class US people. The next point is what the test didn't say outright: If you're not much aware of the experiences of most working class US people, then you may think you're aware, and think you share these experiences, and will behave in such a way that adversely affects those who do share these experiences. That is, you may think you understand working class experiences, but you may vote or act in ways that harm working class people.
That next step is where I think those of us who scored low (did you notice how many people reported their scores or not? And a pattern? I did.) felt defensive, and often expressed our white or class guilt. That's also where some of us played competitive victimization, that "yes, you had it bad, but I also had it bad" move we see so often.
That defensiveness, that guilt, and especially that competitive victimization, none of that does anything to work for social justice.
So we white liberal folks can look at our scores and make excuses, or we can look at our scores and think about what our bubble tells us. And if we do that, we can step up and work for social justice. I think we mostly want social justice, but we don't want to feel guilty about our privileges. We want the world to see that we, too, are Trayvon Martin (to use only the latest tag), by which we mean, we're also victims.
I have to say, I'm not Trayvon Martin. I'm sorry he was killed, and I hope the grand jury will look at all the evidence and act for justice, but I'm not Trayvon Martin because no middle-aged, upper-middle class white woman is going to be subject to the sort of structural violence that a young Black man is subject to. I will not be wearing a hoodie and pretending that my wearing a hoodie does anything to work towards social justice.
Here's what I will do, and here's what I hope you are doing:
1) Get educated. Notice I didn't say "educate yourself"? I don't think white folks can really educate themselves about racism, nor do I think middle and upper-middle class folks can educate ourselves about classism. I need to listen to what other people say, and keep my mouth more closed than open in these discussions. (Insert ironic look at self for typing this long screed.)
I need to listen when someone talks about how difficult it is to "make it" on an adjunct salary. I need to listen when people of color tell me about experiencing racism. I need to listen. And if I open my mouth, I should not deny the reality of their experiences or make excuses for how things are.
After listening, I can read and further my education. I found Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria helpful.
2) Recognize Privilege. When I look around, and I see that I'm on third base metaphorically, I need to recognize that I didn't hit a triple. I started out on third base. It's uncomfortable, though, because I did work hard to "get where I am" and I want people to recognize and respect my hard work. But I have to recognize that all the hard work I did would have counted for very little if I hadn't had opportunities afforded by my parents, the racism in society, social structures, and so on. And those opportunities aren't available to most people. Yes, a few people have more privilege than I do. BFD. My privilege gave me opportunties not available to the vast majority of people, and in comparison, my hard work means not so much.
In recognizing my privilege, I can try not to assume that everyone has the same privilege. And I can try to not be a jerk about that. I can try to work justly with students who weren't raised to expect to go to college or to know how to behave in college, for example.
3) Think Structurally. Injustice is structural in our society, and we can best change it by working to change structures. And that's damned hard. Yes, it's great to feed people by donating or volunteering at a local food bank. But it's more lasting to work on changing social structures.
In big things, I don't know where to begin. I don't. I don't know how we're going to make sure that every child in the world has food every day, and shelter. I don't know how we're going to make sure that every human being's rights are respected, and that they're treated with dignity and respect.
But I do know that at my school, I can do some stuff.
I can work on making my syllabi and classes anti-racist and anti-classist. I can talk about social justice in my classes, analyze racism, show how our social structures come through in the literature I love and teach. I can love Shakespeare while recognizing the cultural power that very name has, and not be defensive about loving Shakespeare. And I have to know that deconstructing that power doesn't actually diminish it, not really.
I can use my voice as a faculty member to ask questions about how our structures can help all students succeed, and not only middle class white students. I can ask how our structures make it easier for middle class white students to get in and come to my school, and how we can change those structures to welcome more diverse students and promote their success.
I can listen to my colleagues, learn from them, and support them, especially the ones who work more directly for social justice. I can follow the leadership of people who have more experience and different experiences than I do.
But no, I don't need to suddenly watch TV more, go to more movies, eat at the local franchise of chain restaurant. I do need to recognize that I'm making choices to do and not do some things, and that my choices may put me in a bubble.
I do know that I have a lot to learn, and hope that you're going to teach me in the discussion I hope ensues.