Teaching about Race and Racism in Geography: Classroom and Curriculum Perspectives

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Cambridge]On: 08 October 2014, At: 13:29Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Teaching about Race and Racism in Geography:Classroom and Curriculum PerspectivesOwen J. DwyerPublished online: 16 Aug 2007.

    To cite this article: Owen J. Dwyer (1999) Teaching about Race and Racism in Geography: Classroom and CurriculumPerspectives, Journal of Geography, 98:4, 176-179, DOI: 10.1080/00221349908978877

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  • Symposium Teaching about Race and Racism in Geography: Classroom and Curriculum Perspectives Owen J. Dwyer, editor

    Introduction

    Introduction Owen J. D y e r

    "Race" and Racism in the Classroom: Some Thoughts on Unexpected Moments Audrey Kobayashi

    Teaching Race in Geography: The Uses of Historical Analysis Bobby 111. Wilson

    Teaching Rap: The Politics of Race in the Classroom Ralph H. Saunders

    Teaching "Race" and the Cultural Landscape Richard H. Schein

    Social studies and geography teachers have long recognized the power of first-person narratives for illuminating rich, multifaceted geo- graphies (e.g., Hathaway 1993, Young 1995). Didion's (1983) dangerous encounters in El Salvador, Jackson's (1970) tracing of the stranger's path through the vernacular landscape, and Orwell's sojourns to Wigan Pier (1958) and Catalonia (1952), to name a few, artfully weave the varied strands of place, history, and culture into an evocative whole. Importantly, they elicit unforeseen insights and questions from students by providing them with a nuanced vocabulary for discussing what are often emotionally charged topics.

    Baldwin, America's literary raconteur of the color line at home and abroad, have become required reading. Baldwin's essays, offered over the course of a 40-year career that ended with his death in 1987, careful- ly delineate the connections between geography and racism.l There is nothing inadvertent about Baldwin's connecting racism and geography: he recognized the power of place. If mapping the ongoing violence of racism is a necessary first step toward dismantling it, as the commenta- tors in this symposium persuasively attest, then Baldwin charts its far- thest reaches and depths. Further, his vivid description and lucid analy- sis engage critical-thinking skills in ways that textbooks, in their Sisyphusian quest to exhaust their subject, simply do not?

    In the brief remarks that follow, I draw upon several passages from Baldwin to introduce this symposium on teaching about ra~isrn.~ The essays presented here were originally offered during a panel discussion, "Teaching Race and Racism in Geography: Classroom and Curriculum Perspectives," convened at the 1998 Boston meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Varied and wide ranging, they nevertheless cohere around a core of shared themes. First, racism is not inevitable, but is rather a form of oppression to be resisted. Second, racism is at once reflected in and furthered by the geography of everyday life. Third, racist acts are not confined to personal bigotry and violence but include the assumption of whiteness as "normal." Fourth, if our class- room discussions are to progress beyond a mere recounting of personal experiences, if we are, in effect, going to get beyond just getting along, then we must offer our students a rich vocabulary and critical under-

    In my own classroom practice, the essays and short stories of James

    Journal of Geoguphy 98176-190 01999 National Council for Geographic Education

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  • Symposium: Teaching about Race 177

    standing of racism as a societal phenomenon. Finally, the causes and effects of racism are most effectively examined across the human geography curriculum, not simply during a special unit or cal- endar month. The symposium, in sum, offers an extended meditation on how our geographic peda- gogy matters in the struggle against racism.

    KNOWING YOUR PLACE

    In a manner paralleling several commentaries in this symposium, Baldwin demonstrates how transgressing the everyday boundaries of custom and place discloses the presence of racism (Saunders 1999, Schein 1999). This is especially important when, in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, many students wonder if racism mat- ters anymore. Recounting his first experience of crossing over the unstated but no-less-real bound- ary between black Harlem and white Manhattan, Baldwin (1998,680) wrote:

    I still remember my first sight of New York. It was really another city when I was born-where I was born. We looked down over the Park Avenue streetcar tracks. It was Park Avenue, but I didnt know what Park Avenue meant downtown. The Park Avenue I grew up on, which is still stand- ing, is dark and dir ty.... [Wlhen you go downtown you discover that you are liter- ally in the white world. It is rich-or at least it looks rich. It is clean-because they collect garbage downtown. There are door- men. People walk about as though they owned where they were-and indeed they do .... You know-you know instinctively- that none of this is for you. You know this before you are told. And who is it for and who is paying for it? And why isnt it for you?

    The geography of Baldwins life-he lived the dis- tinction between uptown and downtown Park Avenue-brought home to him the painful, mur- derous reality of racism. Significantly, Baldwins observations remain tragically relevant: while de jure prohibitions have been removed, de facto seg- regation endures. That the distinction between uptown and downtown is inseparably social and spatial suggests the manner in which our sense of place is a powerful expression of, and producer of, our racialized identities. Colloquially, the result of becoming aware of these boundaries is referred to

    as knowing ones place-a phrase that links geography and racism. Professions of color-blind- ness, so popular of late among affirmative actions opponents, ring untrue when confronted with Baldwin simple question: why, if there is no differ- ence between us, is there so much distance between us?

    EVERYDAY RACISM

    Contrary to popular belief, racism is not the result of unreasoning hatred or bigoted intolerance, although it may be expressed as such. Nor is racism the logical outgrowth of antipathy between so- called races (Kobayashi 1999, Wilson 1999). Rather, the symposiums contributors seek out racisms roots in everyday judgments regarding people and places. Baldwin (1998,682) shared this understand- ing of racism:

    I decided very early that some mistake had been made somewhere. I was not a nig- ger even though you called me one. But if I was a nigger in your eyes, there was something about you-there was something that you needed. I had to realize that when I was very young that I was none of those things I was told I was .... I had been invent- ed by white people, and I knew enough about life by this time to understand that whatever you invent, whatever you project, is you! So where we are now is that a whole country of people believe that Im a nig- ger, and I dont, and the battles on! Because if I am not what Ive been told I am, then it means that youre not what you thought you were either! And that is a crisis.

    I know what you are saying: I dont use that word. Neither do I-but that is not Baldwins point. His enduring observation is that our sense of identity is often expressed in terms of what we are not. That is to say, explicit claims to be normal and good make implicit claims regarding what is abnormal and dirty. While words like nigger are commonly, and quite rightly, held in disrepute, they have been replaced by more polite, but no less value-laden terms associated with the underclass and culture of poverty. These new terms attribute the same old character flaws of sloth, disorder, and decadence to persons of color while assuming the normality of those considered white. These norms affect a myriad of daily decisions about facilities location, policing techniques, banking and real

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  • 178 Journal of Geography

    estate practices, and classroom interactions. The result is that racism endures. The inertia resulting from its embeddedness in mundane behaviors and beliefs which are both product and cause of our sense of place, have not been dislodged some 30 years after the Civil Rights movement.

    ARE WE READY TO LISTEN? WHAT WILL WE HEAR?

    Often forgotten in discussions of teaching and racism is the emotional upheaval it may bring to the classroom routine (Kobayashi 1999, Saunders 1999; see also Sanders 1999). Unraveling racism demands a willingness to engage student anxiety and anger. That said, teaching about racism is not a brave missionary venture, although it may require courage and stalwart determination. Rather, antiracist education is grounded in the belief that critically examining the relationship between whites and their various others will liberate all parties involved. That is to say, teaching about racism is not a matter of being nice. Rather, as Baldwin (1998,683) tells it, teaching about racism is a matter of preserving our personal and collective sanity:

    It is not really a Negro revolution that is upsetting this country. What is upsetting the country is a sense of its own identity. If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, youd be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history. And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybodys history, you must lie about it all. If you [whites] have to lie about my real role here [in the U.S.], if you have to pretend that I hoed all that cot- ton just because I loved you, then you have done something to yourself. You are mad.

    In the midst of this critical examination, ques- tions arise. Once we reach our students, what will we hear? Will we listen? Several decades of peda- gogic scholarship by geographers have prepared us to be concerned about racism (e.g., Bunge 1976, Donaldson 1971, Jackson et al. 1996, Lee et al. 1997, Nast 1999). But are we ready to engage in the diffi- cult dialogue that will ensue? The hope is that by providing our students with a nuanced understand-

    ing of racism, geography instructors may disclose the hidden assumptions and privileges that perpet- uate it. The commentaries presented here, like Baldwins geography of racism, offer thoughtful reflection on why the challenges are worth accept- ing.

    Owen I. Dwyer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0027 USA.

    Authors Note: This symposium was made possible through the insightful comments and generous efforts of the contributors and Glen Elder, Erin Fouberg, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Rickie Sanders, Gerald Thomas, Clyde Woods, and John Paul Jones III.

    NOTES

    See, in particular, the essays collected in Baldwin (1955, 1961,1985,1998). Valued exceptions include Cresswell (1996), Gersmehl (1996), Jackson (1989), the essays in Meinig (1979), and Monmonier (1996). Also to be recommended are the engaging resources found at the Virtual Geography Department Web site, chttp:/ /www.utexas.edu/ depts/grg/virtdept/resources/contents.htm>. The passages are drawn from an address to an audience of educators in New York City entitled, A Talk to Teachers (Baldwin 1998). Delivered in October 1963, this is perhaps Baldwins most succinct formulation of the relationship between teaching, geography, and racism. Writing in the wake of the marches and bombings in Birmingham, a speaking tour across the deep South, and a voter registra- tion drive in Selma, Alabama, the essay remains relevant over 35 years later.

    REFERENCES Baldwin, J. 1955. Notes ofa Native Son. Boston, Massachusetts:

    Baldwin, J. 1961. Nobody Knows M y Name. New York Dial Press. Baldwin, J. 1985. The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction

    Baldwin, J. 1998. Collected Essays. New York Literary Classics of

    Bunge, W. 1976. Racism in Geography. In Black America:

    Beacon Press.

    19484985. New York St. Martins.

    the United States.

    Geographic Perspectives, eds., R. Ernst and L. Hugg, pp. 443. New York Anchor Books.

    Cresswell, T. 1996. In Placelout of Place: Geogruphy, Ideology, and Transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Didion, J. 1983. Salvador. New York Simon and Schuster. Donaldson, 0. F. 1971. Geography and the black American: The

    white papers and the invisible man. Journal of Geography 7013&149.

    Geography. Indiana, Pennsylvania: National Council for Geographic Education.

    Gersmehl, P. J. 1996. The Language ofMaps. Pathways in

    Hathaway, J. 1993. Using Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart in introductory geography classes. Journal of Geography 9275-80.

    Jackson, J. B. 1970. The strangers path. In Landscapes: Selected Writings ofJ. B. Jackson, ed., E. H. Zube, pp. 92-106. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

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  • Symposium: Teaching about Race 179

    Jackson, P. 1989. Maps of Meaning. London: Routledge. Jackson, P., A. Maddrell, C. Barnett, S. Bowlby, F. Callard, I. G.

    Cook, and M. Domosh. 1996. Arena symposium: Equal opportunity. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 20123-136.

    Kobayashi, A. 1999. Race and racism in the classroom: Some thoughts on unexpected moments. Journal of Geography

    Lee, D., K. E. Corey, J. E. McConnell, J. T. Darden, and K. A. Berry. 1997. Arena symposium: Multicultural education in geography in the USA. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 21:261-289.

    Meinig, D. W., ed. 1979. The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. New York Oxford University Press.

    Monmonier, M. 1996. How to Lie with Maps. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

    Nast, H. J. 1999. Sex, Race and multiculturalism: Critical con- sumption and the politics of course evaluations. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 23:102-115.

    and Company.

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    room: Lessons from Finding a Way. Journal of Geography

    Saunders, R. 1999. Teaching rap: The politics of race in the class-

    Schein, R. H. 1999. Teaching race and the cultural landscape.

    Wilson, B. M. 1999. Teaching race in geography: The uses of his-

    Young, E. 1995. An angry voice from paradise: Jamaica Kincaids

    98:179-182.

    Orwell, G. 1952. Homage to Catalonia. New York Harcourt Brace

    Orwell, G. 1958. The Road to Wigan Pier. New York Harcourt

    Sanders, R. 1999. Introducing white privilege into the class-

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    room. Journal of Geography 98:185-188.

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    A Small Place as a teaching resource. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 19:91-96.

    Race and Racism in the Classroom: Some Thoughts on Unexpected Moments

    For the p a t two years, I have taught an inter- disciplinary course entitled Race and Racisml at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. It is a third-year course, although students from second- year up are permitted to enroll. I attempt to reach as diverse a student body as possible. Last year, enrollment was approximately 100 students from 36 different disciplinary backgrounds representing vir- tually all faculties. Approximately one-third of the class were students of color; this is a much higher representation than that found in the general stu- dent body which, despite considerable diversifica- tion in recent years, remains predominantly white.

    This course has taught me a great deal about teaching and learning, as well as about the nature of racism. I take this as an opportunity to reflect on

    some of the moments that I found most difficult, moments that challenged my previous understand- ing of racism, even my own understanding of myself as an educator, an antiracist, and a human being.

    The foundation of this course, like most univer- sity courses, is to achieve an appropriate blend of theory and fact. Students need to be firmly theoreti- cally grounded, to develop the concepts they need to analyze a complex social process such as racism. The most important theoretical challenge is to uncover deeply rooted essentialist notions of race, and to clarify the ways in which racialization occurs through social construction. In addition, students need facts, both as a basis for knowledge and to empower them in their antiracist actions. They need to understand the history of racism in our society, and they need to be able to fix racism in terms of the concrete circumstances of life for racialized peo- ple (Kobayashi 1998). But my concern here is with a third area of pedagogical challenge: to convey some of the difficult emotional issues invoked by discus- sion of race in the classroom. These are issues that I did not expect or which turned out differently than expected. They are most difficult to resolve in the classroom because they mirror unresolved issues in the society around us.

    issues of comfort in the classroom. I have invested considerable time in reading the literature on com- fort in the classroom and studying techniques that are supposed to encourage comfort (e.g., Derek Bok Center 1992). I have developed a program for fos- tering diversity in the classroom, which I share with my colleagues when called upon. Yet, I am deeply aware that racism is an uncomfortable topic and that students must, in some way, face its uncom- fortable realities if they are to learn and if, as I hope, they are to change. In the charged atmos- phere of the classroom the shift from the intellectual to the emotional is often swift and unexpected. For this reason, many issues surrounding comfort can- not be addressed entirely by the book; they depend so much upon the context of the moment, on the emotional states of people who are often unwilling to share or reveal their emotions, and others who wish to reveal their emotions dramatically. They depend on saying the right word, or the wrong word, at crucial moments. I feel sometimes as though I carry a bomb into class, and if I am unsuc- cessful in establishing the right degree of comfort (or discomfort) it will explode with irreversible results. The most important concern is that what is comfortable for some is uncomfortable for others,

    I begin each term with some trepidation over

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