Our students recently visited the Race: are we so different exhibit at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Our Spanish III class took the opportunity to reflect a bit about how our culture treats race, comparing and contrasting it with how people in Latin America conceptualize race. After watching some excerpts from Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series Black in Latin America, we talked about each culture’s definition of blackness and the historical reasons for this.
As a way to open discussion about race in the United States, students explored the “Guess My Race” iPad app which was created as part of the Race Awareness Project. The app shows a photograph of a person and asks you to choose which category the person self-identifies as. We took the quiz as a class and only got two out of ten right. Our guesses and mistakes provided a lot of opportunities to explore the implications of our preconceived notions.
To continue our exploration, students listened to this description of the Race Card Project, a collection of six word reflections on race. Students then selected one card from the Race Card Wall that resonated with them in some way and also were given the opportunity to submit their own six-word card. What resulted was a respectful, personal conversation about how race and culture affect how these students see themselves and relate to the larger world.
Here are some of the cards that the students selected from the Race Card Wall, and the resulting discussion.
Race card selection: “You’re Jewish? You don’t look Jewish.”
- People come up and say this to me all the time. I don’t know what it means to look Jewish. People say I look Catholic, but I don’t know what that means either.
Race card selection: “I’m gay but at least I’m white.”
- Wow. Anyone can be racist. Even if you are part of a marginalized group, you can still be racist.
Race card selection: “I can’t speak my own language.”
- I was born in Guatemala, but I was adopted by American parents. When I came to the United States, I could still understand Spanish. But now I can’t understand it or speak it. People sometimes assume because of the way I look that I can speak Spanish. They will come up to me in public places and start talking and I don’t know what to say back.
- My mother speaks to me in Dutch and I answer back in English. It’s easy for me to understand her but it takes longer for me to answer back in Dutch so I choose English.
- I wish my father had spoken Spanish to me more growing up, because now I can’t speak it. My Greek is better. When my grandparents talk to me in Greek I answer back in English.
- My father is Indian and he speaks his native language with his brother but his brother answers back in English. I think he is trying to be polite to me because I can’t understand.
Students were thoughtful and sensitive in their discussion. I was inspired by the trust and care they showed to each other.