Can We Talk About It With Our Students?
As a part of introducing my students to how the system of privilege impacts us personally and socially, we do a full class activity called “Who is the Best Person in the World.” We begin by brainstorming all the qualities we think the best person in the world should have. Once we’ve got a list on the board, I ask students to independently write down the names of who they think are the three best people in the world. Then we write them on the board. Once we get going, students start suggesting all kinds of names, many beyond what they had initially written down. We keep going until there aren’t any more suggestions or there isn’t any more room on the board. Then, while they watch, I underline all the people on the board who are men/male/ male-identified, and I ask the students what they all have in common. They are usually pretty quick to figure it out, and it is usually a large percentage of the names we’ve written on the board. Then we refer back to the list of qualities that we think the best person in the world should have, and I ask, “Did we say that the best person in the world should be male? Then why did we choose so many men?” Students make suggestions and we discuss historical and current reasons why we think this might be. We talk about what women are valued for in society – usually how we look – and how those things are not on our list of qualities that the best person in the world should have. Maybe the women we hear about in the media aren’t being celebrated as often as men for what we consider to be valuable reasons.
Next, with a different colour marker, I underline all the people on the board who are white. It usually takes them longer to fi gure out what this group has in common. This is not the fi rst time in the year that we discuss race. In an earlier class we talk about the difference between racism and talking about race. We talk about how racism is hurtful and tears people apart, but how talking about race is inclusive and builds community. I have noticed among students that, if someone mentions something that relates to race, a student will invariably yell out “Racist!” We discuss how, if we don’t talk about race, that makes parts of people’s identities invisible and unvalued. We talk about how we can discuss race respectfully. Even so, when it comes time to raise one’s hand and suggest that all the underlined people are white,