Monday, May 18, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Recently, an African American professor named Saida Grundy was hired to teach at Boston University. She got in trouble for writing the following things on Twitter about white people: "Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”

 “Every [Martin Luther King Jr.] week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year [I] find it nearly impossible.”

 “...in other words, deal with your white sh*t [sic], white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing.”

On Twitter several people wrote #IStandwithSaida in support of her "message," claiming that she wasn't being racist; she was only "stating the truth."

I for one do NOT stand with Saida. I think what she said was incredibly racist. She's also misinformed, because even Africans owned slaves, though admittedly they did not all treat them in the same way that American slave owners treated their slaves.

Boston University criticized her comments, but they did not fire or discipline her in any way. Saida Grundy later "apologized" for her statements, though it sounded less like an apology and more like an attempt to rationalize her vitriol. This bothered me, especially because I know that if I said those things, they wouldn't even consider hiring me for a full-time lecturer position.

Later, a white male professor at Duke got in trouble for saying the following things: 

He said that Asians “didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard” after experiencing discrimination in this country.

He also said, “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white."

Do I agree with what Professor Jerry Hough said? NO. But what bothers me is that the people who were so quick to defend Saida Grundy are now attacking Jerry Hough and calling for him to be fired.

Both professors made generalizations about race, implying/assuming that their statements applied to ALL the people from those groups. They're both wrong. I also think that the same people who were upholding the importance of freedom of speech in their defense of Saida Grundy are hypocrites for attacking Jerry Hough for exercising his right to freedom of speech.

The primary reason I never revealed my name or my face on this blog is because I don't want to get in trouble for what I write. I don't think I've ever written anything that controversial or offensive on this blog, but we are living in an era where everyone is hyper-alert about what's "politically correct" and what's not, and people get offended by almost everything. Teachers cannot even discipline their students anymore without getting verbally attacked by the students' parents or fired by their employers.

As a teacher, I have been falsely accused of racism. A student sent me several nasty e-mails, accusing me of racism, because I only included one book by an African American author on the syllabus for the literature class he was enrolled in. He tried to get me fired by badmouthing me all over the department, though the other professors took my side. I didn't include more African American authors because I also included books by other minorities; there wasn't time to include more. But that student was convinced I was a racist, and he said he felt "victimized" as a result. I refused to back down to him.

Another student informed me that I was racist for including one of Mark Twain's books on my curriculum, due to his use of the n-word. I don't condone the use of that word, but I think there is a lot more to his work than that. Not to mention that student failed to notice or understand Twain's critiques of racism and discrimination in his books. I refused to back down to that student, too.

I understand that it's important to be careful about what I say, especially because I am a teacher. Teachers are held to a different standard, and we can't say or do whatever we want without worrying about how it will affect our reputations or even our jobs.

It bothers me that some people have become so hyper-sensitive about what's politically correct and what's not that they will bully me, scream at me, threaten me, or try to get me fired if I say or do one thing that they don't like. I am NOT and have never been a racist. I do not have a problem with people from other races. I have a problem with people using race as an excuse to attack others.

What about you? What do you think about political correctness? Have you ever been falsely accused of being politically incorrect?

16 comments:

  1. I'm from South Africa and still to this day everything is about race. Technically we should all be getting along, but still in South Africa there is so much tension because of different races. You would think after thousands of years of existence together, that the various cultures and races could get along better. The present day civilization learned nothing from the past.

    I agree, people do use race as an excuse. It shouldn't matter what race you come from, you should be able to function in society. People shouldn't use their race as an excuse not to do certain things. Granted, there are active racists out there, but you can't blame all people from a given race for that one persons actions.

    I think you should just ignore all those terrible people that accuse you of being a racist. You just do the best that you can. That student could have gotten upset if there were no African-American authors mentioned in the syllabus at all. If things keep escalating, contact your human resources department so that you can find out what to do if such situations happen again, so that you can cover your back. Find out what the college rules and regulations say about students behaving in such a manner and what you can do to protect yourself legally.

    This is why I don't blog about South Africa because people always want to talk about the Apartheid and racial situations and I'm honestly sick of people crying wolf about racism. I was at a college where certain people, even certain lecturers were mean to me because of my ethnicity, but I didn't allow that to stop me from getting my degree. It is one of the most awful feelings when you're being discriminated against, but one has to move on. Best of luck to you.

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    1. Hi Murees,
      Thank you for your advice and your thoughtful response. I'm sorry about the people who were mean to you; the lecturers in particular should have been more mature, but they obviously weren't.
      It's difficult for me not to react angrily when I've been falsely accused; I have never and would never treat a student differently or unfairly because of his or her race. Fortunately, most students are not like the ones I described. I know that some may have suffered from racist attacks in the past, but that doesn't give them the right to accuse me of something I haven't done. I always have to be careful not to react angrily, though; it's a situation where I always have to be careful and composed, even if that's not how I'm really feeling.

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  2. I know. We do live in a time where it's hard to define the line of what's appropriate and inappropriate to say and what's taken out of context. My biggest concern I see in some schools is that race isn't really talked about. There are virtually no books read about people of color. There are large groups of white children blissfully unaware of the problems. Then there are large groups of black children who are too aware. And some of them are being shot unarmed. The power is so skewed in this country and it's so entrenched, so many without power are looking to point at whatever problem they can point to.
    I have to confess that I let comments like Sadie's slide. And the reason is that a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. can't be put on You Tube without a string of racial slurs popping in the comment feed until it has to be closed. There's clearly a giant problem here. And I wouldn't be surprised if Sadie received rape threats, which I'm sure Jerry did not. Even on Facebook and Twitter I see it. The anger against African Americans and women run so deep in our culture. I don't know what the answers are. But the problems are bigger than some offhand comments.

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    1. Hi Theresa,
      I know what you mean! When I was in grade school, I did learn about slavery and how African Americans were treated in the past, but I did not learn much (or anything) about how other minorities, like Latino Americans and Asian Americans, were treated until I got to college. In Chicago it's very easy for some people to "overlook" what's going on in other neighborhoods, especially if they never visit those places.
      Saida Grundy definitely doesn't deserve to be threatened, but I think she needs to realize that actions (and words) have consequences, such as the fact that her academic reputation is now tarnished. I can understand why she's angry about the way African Americans are treated, but she shouldn't make generalizations about white people, just like the people she's railing against shouldn't make generalizations about African Americans.

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    2. Yes, generalizations, no matter what the source, are something we should avoid.

      And it's hard to try to hard to include everyone and be accused of not including everyone. All we can do is try our best.

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  3. I've started this comment several times, and nothing sounds right. So I'll just say that I've read this post, and the issues you raise are so important - because everything else I try to write sounds trite, and I don't want to cause unintended offence. I don't have the experiences to comment further.

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    1. Hi Annalisa,
      I'm sure that you wouldn't write anything trite or offensive, though I can understand your caution. I always have to be careful about what I say and write, because I'm afraid of what could happen if I said and wrote the wrong thing.

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  4. This post really hit home. I feel as educators we are constantly dodging trip wires these days.

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    1. Hi Leslie,
      I like the point you made about trip wires; that's it exactly! It feels like educators get blamed for so many things these days, and a lot of those things are not within our control. I heard about a school that won't even allow teachers to suspend students for disrespectful or disruptive behavior anymore; the article made it sound as if the teachers, not the students, were out of line.

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  5. This whole name-calling environment we live in is ridiculous to me. Everyone is afraid of being called racist or sexist or homophobic or anti-Muslim or whatever the heck is the popular politically correct trend at any given moment. Being in education, you are smart not to reveal your name or anything about you. The education culture is one of the worst right now for prejudice if you're not on the "right" side.

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    1. Hi Karen,
      I've been tempted to reveal who I am on this blog more than once; I nearly told my students about it, but I quickly decided against it. I am careful about what I reveal about teaching, because I never know who could get "offended" by what I write. And I definitely agree with you that this environment is ridiculous; people have taken political correctness to the extreme. Educators in particular are blamed for everything these days; people are always quick to blame the teachers, but God forbid we should criticize the students or the parents in any way, in case THEY get offended.

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  6. I was just having a conversation about how difficult things are for teachers these days. I'm so glad you held your ground!

    Recently I heard the most horrifying story (somewhat tangential but also somewhat related to your post). It happened to my sister's friend who's a teacher at a suburban high school. A boy in her class exposed himself---during class. Just sat at his desk & pulled out his wanky. As a result, the teacher was "sentenced" to take a class on how to engage students' minds. Their stance was that it was HER fault because class wasn't interesting enough. This world has gone completely nuts.

    Grundy is clearly racist. She can explain her comments away all she wants, doesn't change the facts.

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    1. Hi Nicki,
      During my first year of teaching, I was so afraid of offending people that I didn't put my foot down as often as I should have. I'm not like that anymore, fortunately.
      I can't believe that teacher was punished for what the boy did! Jeez! I bet that even if they had Broadway performers up there at the front of the classroom, that kid would still have exposed himself. That is so unfair how the teacher was treated, and I'm sure that his parents and other people were quick to make excuses for him. And I bet he'll do it again, and who will they blame the next time?
      What Grundy said made me so angry. BU spoke out against her statements, but they didn't discipline or fire her in any way. People have gotten in trouble for what they wrote online before, so why should they make an exception for her? Freedom of speech is important, but people like her take it to the extreme.

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  7. Ugh. Political correctness is one of the most annoying things in life in my opinion. I feel like I am constantly walking on eggshells, especially as a teacher or in the classroom because I fear one "wrong" word will get me in trouble. It's unfortunate because freedom of ideas and being able to have a reasonable conversation (which a lot of people don't know how to do anymore) are an important part of education. And I feel like I can't express an opposite opinion on ANYTHING (in a general setting, but especially online) out of fear of being attacked. It's ridiculous.

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    1. Hi Catherine,
      Sorry about my late response! I haven't been online much all weekend.
      Anyway, I read an article about how Jerry Seinfeld doesn't perform at colleges. He said that students are so concerned with political correctness that they don't even know what racism or sexism is anymore. I think that to a certain extent, he's right. People are so quick to accuse others of politically incorrect behavior that they disregard the context or the actual meaning of that behavior, and that's wrong.
      It bothers me that certain students have said things that I definitely didn't agree with and was offended by, and they more or less got away with it.

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  8. No worries on the late response. I had a rather full weekend myself (getting ready for summer class and such). But I think Seinfeld's reasoning makes sense. Most people (including students) don't really know what a lot of the "ism" terms mean, they just throw them around trying to sound "cool." And most of them aren't willing to really critically think about a given issue--especially one that has very polarized opinions.

    I feel the same way re: students that say things I don't agree with. It's really hard to grade something I don't agree with too (hence I tend to ban certain topics, but that's another story).

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