Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Look At Me, the "Token Minority"

Since my very first day of class at Syracuse University four years ago, I've been forced to reprise the role of the "angry token minority" in the vast majority of my classes during my college career. The role, for the uninitiated, basically consists of my having to issue some rhetorical "hard medicine" to any peanuthead who dares to make some ridiculously hurtful and ignorant comment with regards to race, gender, class, and ethnicity in the context of a class discussion. It never fails; every semester, there's ALWAYS a dick or three in my classes that raises their hand and makes a comment like, "black mothers don't place the same amount of emphasis on educating their children as white mothers do," or "if urban minorities didn't walk the way they did, then they wouldn't be complaining about how often they're getting arrested," or my personal favorite, "it's a proven fact that single Latino teenage mothers do not have the capability to raise productive and well-educated children." (Aww, man... I still laugh over that one...) Now, because of the fact that I'm usually the only minority present in each of my classes, I'm literally FORCED to be that all-inclusive representative of every non-White/Protestant/Jewish person and argue on everyone else's behalf. And "argue" I do, making everyone think twice about making ignorant comments in my presence. Over the course of the average semester, professors are quickly conditioned to turn to me for comments whenever someone has made yet another shortsighted remark. With a smile and a nod of the head, it's like my professors say, "go get 'em, Tiger," and give me the time to issue a lengthy counterattack. They just can't get enough of it. I think they secretly relish seeing these people squirm in their chairs whenever I take the floor. By the end of the semester, I'm usually known as the "angry Latino" that hates all things white. That label couldn't be further from the truth, but unfortunately, just because of the way hegemony works, anyone who speaks out against what is consider "normal" discourse is viewed as an outsider and a social anarchist. I laugh everytime I see one of the people I slammed in class at a local college party; it's like they're shocked that, gasp, I actually SOCIALIZE?! It's as if they think that I spend my Friday nights sitting in a dark room, burning effigies of them out of sheer hatred for their white privilege or something. Like, no, buddy. I argue because I'm educated, not because I hate you.

After four years of wearing the "Angry Token Minority" badge in my classes, I've grown tired of it. I've practically heard every single ignorant comment one could make in the context of an academic discussion, and I have an automatic response ready to go for each one. With the way Syracuse University is, there's just no end to the blatant ignorant commentary heard on this campus. Every single minority has to be conditioned to defend their respective community's interests from being rhetorically attacked or undermined by dominant cultural code. It really is a never-ending battle here; incoming freshmen come in every year with their own conditioned biases and ideologies. We can all only hope that by the time they graduate, that they will have opened their minds to different points of view. Which is where I come in. Grudgingly, I've accepted my role as a "cultural re-educator;" I argue in an effort to instill knowledge. I'm not sure if my efforts thus far have worked, but, hey, at least I'm giving it a shot. Staying silent is just another form of acceptance of the status quo, and I'm not about to give any kind of illusion that I do.

Today, during my pop culture class, we discussed the book, "White" by Richard Dyer, where he breaks down the social construction of "whiteness" from a white person's perspective. Naturally, being that the study of popular culture involves the study of cultural power structures, topics like these are discussed all the time. We had a good discussion about the book itself, which basically discusses the idea that white people are not "racialized" and are instead seen as the "norm" while everyone else is forced to think of themselves as different, thereby rhetorically placing everyone else at a disadvantage. It's one great big theoretical book that addresses critical issues of white privilege in American culture. Eventually, the discussion was localized when the professor (who happens to be the one that I was eyeballing on the first day of classes a couple of weeks ago) asked, "Is racism apparent at Syracuse University?" Now, I'm sure all the SU folks that read this blog regularly would scream, "YEEESSSS!!!" What did the people in the class say? "No, not at all." Man, my professor quickly turned to me and practically begged me to retort. "Here I go again," I thought. So, off I went on a tirade about the institutionalized segregation, the blackface incidents, the "Crime Bulletins" that always describe the same exact 6'0 African American male with sweatpants, and the reinforcement of cultural stereotypes in publications like the University's "Daily Orange", our school newspaper. What differed this time around though was that I felt like people were actually UNDERSTANDING where I was coming from, and actually agreed with it once they looked at it in detail. It was a miracle, but everyone actually saw what I was talking about There's usually like two or three people that just never "get it." This time, no one tried to fight it.

I felt quite accomplished after that. Who knows? Maybe the days of the "Angry Token Minority" role are numbered after all?

There's always hope.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's my boy!!!


10:21 AM  
Blogger Freebird said...

It's easy for white people to believe racism no longer exists, they've never had to deal with it.

6:10 PM  

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