Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Challenges of Assumption- A Meandering Stream of Consciousness on the issue of Ideological Assumptions

This particular post is sort of a meandering stream of consciousness.  I am unsure how well it holds together.  It will evolve as my thoughts evolve and solidify.  And please don't critique the APA, or lack thereof.

Once again, I am drawn to the blog Twinkle’s Happy Place, a blog run by a friend of mine who works in the education field, whom has a particular interest and focus on Aboriginal education and the integration of Indigenous resources and pedagogy into the classroom.  Her recent blog entry, -Sometimes I have to honest instead of nice - (how) can we talk to non-Indigenous people about Indigenous issues?- was a sharply worded, thoughtfully rendered piece that addressed some issues that were appearing online in Twitter.  The piece is passionate, angry and rational.  She was responding to assumptions that were being made online regarding success rates of Indigenous students in Canada and what was needed to solve the discrepancy in success rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.  The comments were from non-Indigenous people who were trying to make sense of issues without understanding the issues, the contributing factors and the real specific needs of the Indigenous population of Canada.  At least that is my understanding, and I do not wish to paint anybody with a broad brush stroke if it is undeserving.  As well, I suspect, Starleigh will also correct me if I have gotten the essence of this wrong.

This is an area that I have struggled with for a long time, still coming across parts that get me riled up, parts that leave me in despair, and times that have me wanting to throw it all away and go home and live the rez life, cut myself off from everyone and just disappear.  How can we talk to non-Indigenous people about Indigenous issues without being accused of having an agenda, or having “but that was in the past” thrown in your face?  How do we challenge the status quo when the status quo is unwilling to acknowledge that there is anything wrong?  One of the most interesting elements of my Masters program that came up again and again was the idea of centering and re-centering.  In our western, settler society, for better or for worse, the white person is the centre, with the rest of us circling around on the margins.  We aren’t called marginalized people for nothing.  Race is an issue in this regard because, whether one wants to admit it or not, we all live racialized identities that cannot be ignored.  Race matters because there is power there. 
Schick & St. Denis (2003) point out:  that race matters because without acknowledging that it does, we ignore how racialized identities are always operating to create difference: denial that one has a racial identity trivializes and makes invisible the effects of power (Roman, 1993). By claiming that "we're all part of the same human race" and that the "color of a person's skin" is invisible, students whitewash the daily advantage of white privilege (Henriques et al., 1984; MacIntosh, 1998; Sleeter, 1993). By denying that race matters, whiteness as in the dominant racial identification can be considered the invisible norm against which others are judged as "not white/not quite" (Bhabha, 1994, p. 92).” [1]
No one likes pointing out that particular difference.  The idea of white privilege is tied, inextricably, to colonization.  Many of the policies, regulations, laws, and practices that served to marginalize the Indigenous were done to enhance white privilege.  The land you live on in Canada.  Native land.  The resources used.  Native land.  The benevolent society that is Canada (Mackey, 1999) is built on the oppression of the Indigenous population, first by marginalizing and denigrating their cultures and practices, then by removing them from the land that has always been theirs.  For someone to be on top of society, there needs to be someone on the bottom.  The term white privilege can refer to the benefit received by the settlers in North America and other colonized regions, although, not every settler is white.  It is the accepted norms of the society that is recognized as the privilege and so non-European people who come to Canada are also enjoying white privilege because they are buying into the concepts that are western civilization and Canada.  This position is a position of power over the ‘Other’, the Native person in this case, and allows the privileged to a) decide what is normal, b) and decide what isn’t.  Talking about racial identity is frowned upon because it means facing issues like power and privilege in a colonial context.  This is evident from some of the comments I quote in the first post Why do we need Aboriginal education?.  There is always the ongoing push to maintain the norms and to identify as not normal the marginalized voice.  Opposing the Prosperity project became a war of words between honest people that wanted jobs and lazy Natives.  The Indigenous weren’t people anymore, they were separated out.  As many teachers of Aboriginal ancestry can attest, there are ‘real’ teachers and ‘Aboriginal’ teachers.  The desire to see success for Aboriginal students delineates the test scores as ‘Aboriginal results’ and student results.
There is no dispute that there is an achievement gap, or what have you between Aboriginal students and non-Aboriginal students.  There is a lot of paternal ways to address this disparity and a lot of Indigenous people who are unhappy with that.  A lot of it has to do with the assumptions that are made from the normative position that are just that, assumptions.  Why is there a disparity?
Schick & St. Denis (2003) identified three ideological assumptions:
Ideology Assumption #1: Race doesn't matter (culture does)
“These are statements we commonly hear in response to the anti-racist education we offer.
- As far as I'm concerned, we're all part of the same human race and that's all that matters. I don't see the color of the person's skin.
- We all need to appreciate and celebrate our racial differences. We just need to get along.
- How could I be racist? I don't even know any Aboriginal people.
- The problem is that their values and beliefs are so different from ours.”
Assumption #2: Meritocracy--Everyone has equal opportunity
“Here are some other statements we commonly hear in response to our anti-racist education.
- I was taught that I could do anything I wanted if I was prepared to make sacrifices.
- If a person expects to be treated with respect, then they will get respect. If they don't expect it, they will not get it.
- People are victims because they choose to be victims.
- My family started with nothing, and we worked hard to get to where we are now. They just want everything given to them.”
Ideology Ideology Assumption #3: Goodness and innocence--by individual acts and good intentions, one can secure innocence as well as superiority
“Finally, here are some further statements we commonly encounter in response to anti-racist education.
- I don't see race. I see people as people instead of judging by external appearance.
- I am fascinated by all the cultures. I love learning about them.
- We weren't like some families. At our house we were taught to respect all cultures.
- Why do they always bring up the past? I wasn't there.”
There is a thread, in all of these, which suggests the issues and challenges faced by Indigenous peoples may somehow be the fault of the Indigenous themselves.  I find that unfair.  It also doesn’t acknowledge that departure from the norm that we suspect is Indigeneity.  I once was part of a staff meeting that lamented the lack of ‘civility’ displayed by Aboriginal teenagers in the school.  One comment was about how good the kids used to be.  The ‘used to be’ was in their young childhood when they were in the elementary school, learning the norms of Canadian society.  What changed?  They reached an age where they came to the bitter realization that, while they wanted to fit into Canadian society, they were different because said society declared them different.  “Sorry. You are Aboriginal.  You are deficient.  See, it says so in our text books.” Every teen tries on different identities to figure out who they are.  These kids were doing because they were not as welcomed into society as they deserved to be and were met with the ‘uncivil’ comments.
For many, many years, settlers have assumed that there was something wrong with Indigenous people that needed fixing.  Even though, that assumption has, officially, changed, it is still there, whether it is conscious or not.  And, even though, many of us believe that we are not that person, the one that says “good little NDN, you’re trying your best,” there is likely still a part of everybody that has a bit of the colonial mentality in there, subconsciously subverting our ideals.  I know I do and I am a person of First Nations’ ancestry.
It is hard to talk to non-Indigenous people about Indigenous issues.  That relationship has always been a bit inequitable.

[1] (From the Abstract) What makes anti-racist pedagogy in teacher education difficult? Three popular ideological assumptions

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of a presenter we had come in who told the kids that they would only get bullied if they were bully-able.

    The speaker was a white male with an engineering degree.

    We're unpacking that statement in the classroom with a critical eye.