Americans are frequently inflicted with cultural discrimination, within our past, present, and future. In a global society that constantly struggles with violence and conflicts with diversity, it is easy to identify that our world is becoming increasingly culturally and racially integrated. As worded by Howard (1996), “Denial, hostility, and fear are literally emotions that kill. Our country–indeed, the world–has suffered endless violence and bloodshed over issues of racial, cultural, and religious differences” (p. 328). It is relevant to note that those who possess an acquisition of multicultural understanding should also possess an internal yearning to deliver that understanding to others, for the more we know about each other, the more likely we are to extinguish misunderstandings that could lead to conflict.
Racism is an issue that is deeply rooted in our culture and a multicultural education is imperative for everyone. For example, children’s cartoons have historically been a source of racial and cultural inaccuracies. They have been known to create cultural controversy, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. An episode of Popeye provides an easy illustration of this, being named, You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap; this is a World War II propaganda piece that was released in 1942. Although this cartoon and many others have been deemed inappropriate for today’s young audiences, The Walt Disney Company has received substantial criticism for their animated films in recent years. These films struggle with representing diverse cultures, races, religions, and gender with authenticity in order to meet this company’s perceived expectations of a Western audience. This as well as many other examples of deeply rooted racism has me in agreement with Howard, that “the issue of racism and cultural diversity in the United States is a human problem, a struggle we are all in together” (p. 330).
If we can begin to understand and be more aware of the misrepresentations still present within our society, we will be better capable of teaching younger generations how to affectively live in a diverse world. Jane Elliot provided an interesting and effective lesson to teach children and adults to empathize with those in superior and minority races, as documented in: A Class Divided. While some may find this lesson controversial, many may also find it challenging to understand what it “feels like” to be in a minority position, without walking in those shoes (Peters, 1985). In an ever-changing society, it is imperative that we learn about each other but we must also learn the importance of speaking up for those that are inferior. “In denying access to the full range of human variety and possibility, racism drains the essential vitality from everyone, victimizing our entire society” (Howard, 1996, p. 328). Jane Elliot’s lesson not only describes the concept of racism but also acts out this scenario in a very real and vivid encounter with this problem. As educators, we should provide students with the tools to deal with difficult issues, the empathy to recognize the struggles of others, and the wisdom to reflect on the present in order to facilitate a better future.
Howard, G. (1996). Whites in multicultural education: Rethinking our role. Banks, J. A. (Ed.), Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge & action. New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University.
McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies. Wellesley, MA: Peggy McIntosh.
Peters, W. (Producer & Director). (1985, March 26). Frontline [A class divided]. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/