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Reimagining Race in Education - Part 2 Connections to Teaching and Learning


by Robert T. Carter - November 19, 2000

Implications of diverse approaches to multiculturalism for education

Robert Carter:

All right, let me try to connect this, then, a little more directly to teaching and learning, and try to talk a little bit about how each of these might influence someone's teaching and learning processes.

If you take the perspective of the universal, or you assume that individual differences are the primary source of difference, then it's likely that, well, if you teach, you'll teach about specific populations or cultures, and you'll emphasize human similarities and individual difference. You'll promote learning about common principles of human experience and development with regard to cultural world views or their influence. You will talk about what's important to understand about each individual, that we are individuals more than we are anything else. And that that should be the connection to the things people learn. You will further assume that the things you teach about learning, development, etc. are universal. That they don't vary across thresholds or cultural contexts. They're not influenced by those things, but rather, that they apply to all human beings. And that everything that I learned, or most of what I learned about learning and human development was taught to me as if those principles are universal.

If we approached things from a ubiquitous perspective, then one is likely to teach about the need to celebrate and accept a range of group differences. Now, this seems very similar to what I understand most multicultural curricula do. And so, the idea here is to promote learning about the experience of the cultural other, usually without regard to history or power relationships. And so, we ask students to bring in pictures of groups that they belong to, and we talk about honoring them. Or we don't connect this to any experience across time. And we generally have a notion of let's celebrate and accept, without grounding that acceptance in anything, in any fundamental aspect of our experience, if you understand what I mean. So, I've been in schools where I've seen them have a cultural diversity day, where you'll have pictures of lots of different groups.

Student:

And different foods, from all different countries.

Robert Carter:

Yes, that's a big one, too, right, yeah. Yes, and so we're celebrating, accepting, and valuing different cultures. I have no feelings about this at all, do I? [laughter]

Traditional - what we'll do is, we'll talk about exotic or global cultures, these are the social studies classes, and their different ways of living. And this will promote the idea of cultural immersion as an important experience to prepare people for cultural understanding. So that if you immerse yourself in another culture, if you understand their distinct and exotic ways, then that'll deepen your appreciation for difference in culture, but that's the primary vehicle. So, for instance, I think of people - how many Peace Corps volunteers do we have in the room? [silence] I think the people who go to the Peace Corps -[laughter] - want to have a cultural experience, so they join the Peace Corps. And they leave the country to deal with people who are different, as if there are not people in the country who are different. So, that person would probably use this perspective to promote understanding of cultural difference. And if you think about your undergraduate years, if you took anthropology, then you learned about different cultures, right? But they tended to be more exotic expressions of cultures, rather than - and so they were interesting, you know, National Geographic-type.

The race-based perspective would teach about the history of racism and its social-political use of race, culture, and racial identity development, and they would try to promote self-exploration and introspection for cultural learning. So, here, the emphasis would really be much more grounded in the experiences of people in the United States and throughout the world who have been subjected to and experienced racism, or cultural oppression, and it would tend to talk much more about that experience, how the history evolved, and so on.

The pan-national person would probably talk about cultural experiences of groups who have been oppressed, and those who oppress. And this would be designed to promote learning about group-based experiences, from the past to the present. So you could see that the pan-national perspective might have a longer historical period with respect to contrasting the experiences of different groups who have been oppressed and groups who have been oppressors, okay, in different periods of the world history. Okay.

Does that give it a little more substance, for you? So, I believe that this topology that I've offered to you helps us think about the kinds of basic assumptions people make about cultural difference, as they present and approach what we call multicultural education today. I think that if we can identify the underlying assumption, that drives what people are arguing about in their presentation of multicultural education, it gives us a way to understand what it is likely to be, and the content of what they're going to teach, and what basic ideas and learning strategies they want people to leave with.

Now, I think the value of this sort of conceptual model is that it offers us an opportunity to examine the value of each type of perspective, and to assess which would be most appropriate for different people, situations, and circumstances. So, I can imagine a day when each of these perspectives are taught in a comprehensive, multicultural education curriculum. Where it's important for us to recognize that we are individuals, that we do belong to groups, that those groups also matter, that we belong to multiple groups, that there are people who experience oppression, that there are people who are oppressed, and they belong to certain groups and that influences who they are, and we also do race, big time, in western society, and racism is part of the structure of our society. Those are not necessarily exclusive, but I do think the way multicultural education operates today is that these are competing perspectives. So, because they are competing, I have chosen a perspective that I wish to promote and write about. While arguing for different ones has helped me - when people call them, say, diversity or multiculturalism, I start thinking about the different types, and I listen to them to figure out which one they're promoting. And usually, after a while, I can figure out what position they're taking. And don't get - don't get sidetracked by various strategies or words that they use in passing, or some content. You have to ask, what is their fundamental notion about difference that drives their perspective? They may mention oppression, but that doesn't mean that that's their point of view. But it helps me a great deal. And also, frees me up to not argue with people to take up my perspective. If I can say, oh, okay, you're approaching this from a ubiquitous point of view, okay, I can see where you're coming from - well, that's not how I approach it, let me talk to you about how I approach it - so, it allows for a dialogue rather than a debate.

I chose the race-based perspective for a number of reasons. I think, because it continues to be and has been central to educational thought and practice in the United States, because if you listen carefully to the discussion and dialogue about multiculturalism, what you'll find it's a strong emphasize on what I call visible racial ethnic group people. It's really not minorities, when people of color make up three quarters of the people on the globe, I don't - that doesn't make them a minority, to me. What it makes them is visible, based on visible characteristics, and that's how they're targeted, so I call them visible racial-ethnic group people, which then allows us all to be racial-ethnic group people. Much of the debate and dialogue has ignored racially based social-scientific paradigms that undergird education. These paradigms are called inferiority, social deprivation, and cultural difference. In my review of research article published in 1994 with Lynn Goodwin, we argue that it's on race and racial identity, we talk about how these three paradigms have influenced educational thought and practice over time, and how they can be seen in present-day thought and practice. You are probably familiar with these, the one you probably are less familiar with is the cultural difference paradigm, and the reason why this is presented here is that in the cultural difference paradigm, more often than not, the emphasis is on understanding the experience of the victim of difference. That is, we tend to focus on those groups of people who are considered to be different, who tend to be visible racial-ethnic group people, and immigrants. And we struggle to understand their experience, rather than the experience of other people who make up the society. I think that's a mistake, and that allows us, then, to subsume race under ethnicity and culture, which, again, I think, distracts us from what I think is the real issue.

Student:

Can I ask a quick question?

Robert Carter:

As soon as the mic gets to you.

Student:

I haven't heard subsumed before. Does that mean, supposed and assumed as one word?

Robert Carter:

It means talked about within the context of. So, when people use ethnicity and culture, they are suggesting that they're referring to race. But I don't believe that ethnicity and race are the same thing.

Student:

I don't _______.

Robert Carter:

______. But a lot of people use the terms interchangeably, which is problematic.

Student:

I can see why it's problematic, but at the same time, I think that, you know, you've heard the argument that race is no longer, like, sort of, a valid word.

Robert Carter:

Well, I have heard the argument, and -

Student:

It doesn't fit. I mean, we're not like, you know, I'm not like a Chihuahua and you're a Golden Retriever, you know, we're not like, subspecies. So, I mean, that's part of like, the biological argument that race should not be used, as a term, anymore.

Robert Carter:

I would treat that as if people were saying to me, we shouldn't use gender to distinguish men and women. There's power in our language. And while it is true that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that we can be categorized biologically or genetically along racial group lines, what is clear is that our social and political system is very much structured around a belief about what it means to belong to a racial group. And that is more powerful than any biology. And so, while I agree that it has no scientific validity, I will argue, and argue strongly, it still has very powerful social and political meaning, and that's what keeps the notion of race alive in our society, so until it loses that importance, then I still think we need to use it.

There's been no real easy way to talk about race until the 1970's. And in part, because we have been stuck with what we call social and demographic definitions, which were used to infer emotional, behavioral, and attitudinal characteristics, and there is little room in those demographic categories, to understand any kind of within-group variation. We think of people being Asian, being black, being white, being Native American, and that's supposed to tell us something about them. And we - social scientists write, and those of us in society, as lay people, behave as if that tells us something about people. It tells us something about their morals, about their intelligence, about their emotional states. And that has kept us from being able to engage in the discussion in order to understand race in any complex way.

Racial identity, which is one's psychological orientation to one's racial group membership, allows us a more complex way to grapple with racial issues. It does that because it includes all groups on equal terms, and accounts for both group and individual complexity. Racial identity is the manner or quality of an individual's psychological identification with a racial group. That is, how one views or understands members of their own racial group, and understands members of other racial groups. It includes consideration of domains of difference, such as gender, social class, ethnicity, etc., because those characteristics are subsumed under one's racial group membership. Racial identity development is a lifelong process that begins during childhood, and requires resolutions throughout one's life, so it's not something that stops, or you get to one point, and you're done. And lastly, this new idea is that one's racial identity and resolution is a part of your personality.

Yes? Wait for the mic.

Student:

As more and more people - become more of a multicultural society, it's - I mean, I'm totally in agreement with the word - language is power, but I come from - my father's Mexican and my mother is white American, and I don't feel like I can subscribe to any race, you know, I have a set of ethnic groupings, but I don't say I'm from the white race or the Mexican race or - so I guess, I don't know what to call myself when I check off things on forms. I always put other, or I check both, I don't put white or Latina, because I don't know what to put. So, I don't know if you have that in discussions about race and education, because I think that's really important, to talk about, too, about biracial, you know, identity and things like that. Or bi-ethnic - I don't know what to call myself, so.

Robert Carter:

I do not confuse culture, ethnicity, and race. They are very distinct things. Race has to do with your skin color. We have very clear rules that we use to identify people along racial lines. So when people look at you, they pretty much have an idea of what you - how you would be categorized, okay? You may not agree with that categorization, but we do this pretty well in our society. You would not be thought of as a black person. Okay? Probably not as a Native American either. Okay. So, we would group you, even if you don't want to be grouped, okay, and that would give you access to other kinds of things. Ethnicity, which I believe is one's country of origin, and generally we attach country of origin to ethnic group origin, and ethnicity, unlike race, is much more fluid. It can shift. It can shift in a matter of a generation, it can shift in two or three generations, you can change it, you know, if we could change race, then this wouldn't be much of an issue, would it? You know, if I could say, well, you know what, I think I want to be red today. And if we could all do that, then this whole issue would just drop away, wouldn't it? But I can't do that, it's more permanent. More importantly, our beliefs about what's associated with race tends to be more permanent. We believe, when we use the notion of race, that the attributes and characteristics attributed to racial group membership are unalterable and permanent. I submit to you - yes? You all saw that commercial about the movie theater, where all the different sounds start to turn into an orchestra? I submit to you the fact that if you go back and you read descriptions of whites and Africans in the 1500's, and you pick up a book today and read descriptions of them today, you'll find the same descriptors. Okay? We believe, whether it's true or not, that the characteristics and attributes associated with the racial group you belong to are unalterable and permanent. In part, this has to do with how the notion of race evolved over time, but those are the ideas associated with race that do not attach to ethnicity and do not attach to culture.

Culture and ethnicity are more fluid and more general and more flexible. You said, we're more multicultural - we are, and we're not. There is some argument that we are more multiracial, but if you move around in our society, you will find much of our lives to be distinctly segregated along racial lines. Not along ethnic lines, but along racial lines. Okay? People who are lighter tend to congregate with people - away from people who are darker. Okay? And that is a documented fact that exists in all segments of American society. So, if you ride the trains or the buses long enough, the color of the people shifts. But you'd have to ride up further, you'd have to actually stay on the train or the bus - [laughter] - to see this phenomenon take place. But if you get off at 120th, you're not going to see it, you know what I'm saying? [laughter] Same thing on the train. Or the same thing in your neighborhood. They're very segregated. And the groups who are the most segregated are not people of color. Because they constantly come into contact with people who are different. There are whites in our society who are the most segregated. But we don't seem to be as concerned about their segregation as we are about other groups. Yes?

Student:

I guess, my question is, I see in different forms, categories, or whatever it would be considered, ethnic categories, what are the actual race categories?

Robert Carter:

There are only a couple. We only do Asia, and white, black, some Native American. Latino is not a racial category. It is a made-up, functional category because people of Latin descent caused the American power structure a problem, so they knew they weren't white - okay, this was clear. Because they were designated as non-white, right? Hispanic, non-white, this is clear. But they had to find a way to group them, because they weren't pure enough, I guess. But Latino people range, racially. And so it's not proper to group them into a - group them racially. So they're white, they're brown, they're black, so there's a range of people who are Latino. So I know, politically and in other ways, we use this as a category, but it's really not appropriate to categorize people along racial lines, okay? I know I saw another hand. Was there another hand?

Student:

I - before, when you said about - this lady, here, talked about, like, her mother being a white American - I mean, I totally get what you're saying about the race and I agree with you, but within, for example, me being a white American, like, I grew up, my cultural world was this little Catholic school where there were two types, Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics, and the power structure was Irish. And I forever felt inferior being an Italian Catholic, and I was made to know that. And my entire psychological existence for the first nine years of my life was based on that, and that's not fluid at all! Like, within the white race, there are so many structures, that I don't have the fluidity that you're referring to. So - I mean, what does it mean to be white? There's - I mean - I'm very confused. Do you hear what I'm saying?

Robert Carter:

Hmm?

Student:

So I'm not sure it's so fluid. I mean, I'm forever an Italian Catholic.

Robert Carter:

If you look at -

Student:

That means something, compared to an Irish Catholic, or a WASP or a whatever.

Robert Carter:

With respect to your personal identification, it may not feel that way, but with respect to participation in our society, when it comes to access to participation in institutions, access to power structures -

Student:

Right, I'm white, I get that. Yeah. [laughter] But when I walk in -

Robert Carter:

Don't dismiss me -

Student:

No, I'm not dismissing you -

Robert Carter:

Because that's important. Because that's the crux of the matter.

Student:

Okay.

Robert Carter:

The crux of the matter is participation into the mainstream of American society. And on all indicators, most ethnic whites have attained over the course of three or four generations, primary access to the power structures of this society. We've had a Catholic president, we've had an Italian governor, etc. etc., and son. So while there's a pecking order, an ethnic pecking order among whites, there is still major separation with respect to participation, with respect to the groups who have been in this society far longer than most white ethnics. That is a fact. And that's what I'm talking about, about the racial access. So, black people of African descent have been here for far more many generations than Irish or Italians who came over in the 1800's. But the level of access and participation is far greater on the part of Italians and Irish than it is on the part of people of African descent, or people who were here before them, people of native - Native people. They have less participation in mainstream American society than any group. Those are the indicators that help us understand the structural relationship between racial groups. And it doesn't matter what the ethnic variation is within those groups. The lines are drawn along color lines. Okay?

Student:

Thank you.

Robert Carter:

Looks like we're going to be on this for a few minutes, huh?

Student:

My question is, when we talked about Latinas not being - as being made up of many different cultures and races, I'm just wondering why Asian doesn't fall into that category as well?

Robert Carter:

Because we believe that Asians are all just one group. Regardless of their ethnic variation, which is tremendous. But as Americans, we group them under one category, they're just Asians to us, and we tend to be ignorant of the fact that they're Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, etc. We don't pay much attention to those distinctions.

Student:

You don't think we do the same thing with Latina?

Robert Carter:

Ah, no, I don't think we do the same thing with Latinos, no.

Student:

[another speaker, unintelligible]

Robert Carter:

Yes, and we - we're very aware of that. But you can also be white and Latina and that gets you access, so it's not quite the same thing. Okay. Okay, can I move onto a quick discussion of racial identity theory?

Student:

I don't know if this will serve to clarify - it will definitely serve to clarify, for me. I think, and people may disagree with me, I think some people are taking umbrage with the fact that we're talking about race as being the determinant of culture. But you had already - and I'm kind of defending, I guess, your point of view - because I think, in the beginning, you said that the race-based philosophy accounts for race as the primary determinant of culture, but that it doesn't discount individual differences, and so those would be secondary determinants of culture, is my question?

Robert Carter:

What I would say is ethnicity, social class, and other group - reference group differences, operate within the context of one's racial group membership.

Student:

So they're by no means discounted as a part of your cultural experience, but they're not the primary determinant of cultural experience.

Robert Carter:

What I'm suggesting is that this approach says, when I look at the society, and the world, that what I think operates more than anything else, to characterize people's cultures, it's race -

Student:

Okay, thank you -

Robert Carter:

- and race defined as skin color, physical features, and I'm using language, because it's been used as a racial category to designate people who are not necessarily racially distinct. But for me, it's the argument that race is so important, that it was not okay for our society to say that there are people of Latin descent who are white and we'll classify them that way. They just can't let - they couldn't bring themselves to do that. I like all the discussion, but we're not going to get through all of this.

Student:

Do you have any thoughts, back to the biracial question, about, for example, a father who's Japanese, the mother's white American, and they have a biracial child, and in Japan, the child is considered white, you know, American, and in America, if you look at the person you think, well, they're Japanese, with the shifting of races in different countries?

Robert Carter:

Yes. In our country, there is a legal classification called the one-drop rule. How many of you know about the one-drop rule? What does it say?

Student:

It says - oh, were you asking?

Robert Carter:

Yeah, I was asking, but - guys, this is his workout tonight [referring to Gary Natriello running with the mic]. What does the one-drop rule say?

Student:

It basically says that if you have, like, one drop of minority blood in you, you are that minority, so if you have any type of like, black blood in you, you're black.

Robert Carter:

Or some other kind of group. If you're not pure, 100%, you know, it's like Ivory? Well, it actually doesn't even meet that standard. If there's one drop, then you're the other. You're not white. Biracial development, in my view, and I do talk about this in my book on the influence of race and racial identity and psychotherapy, involves sort of a psychological process. First of all, if you're biracial, it depends what you look like. How are you going to get classified. That's number one. Whatever you look like, however, being biracial creates dilemmas. Now, you cannot be, psychologically, in two places at the same time. I think that just creates confusion. So this idea that you are both white and Asian, or white and black, is psychologically troublesome.

I believe that what a person needs to do to develop a healthy biracial identity is to identify with the denigrated group, build an identity based on membership in that group, and once that's affirmed and internalized, then internalize the dominant group, and that is the development of a healthy biracial identity. I think it's absolutely important that people who are biracial evolve a health biracial identity. But that does not mean that you walk with one foot in this world and one foot in that world, and that's the way you go, because that doesn't create a healthy psychological foundation, because in effect, you have no home, psychologically. And to have no home - well, you're psychologically homeless, and that, I think, creates more destruction than the process of internalizing a positive identity with the denigrated group, of which you are a part, and then internalizing the dominant group. If you don't do that, and you try to pass, then you have all kinds of problems.

Because then your procreation gets questioned, who you - I mean, it's a big mess. And of course, you have to hide your family. [laughter] Oh, okay, so I'm just creating some kind of energy up here tonight. [laughter] Okay. Yeah, I'm just getting folks to knock stuff over, and - should I have a pulpit? [laughter] Okay.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 19, 2000
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10647, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 5:49:56 PM

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