I work at a university and work closely with students. The fall 2010 semester just began and students are talking about the classes they like and those that are really going to suck. One of my student assistants (I'll call her Tiffany) told me some horrific stuff this week and I thought I'd blog about it.
Tiffany is majoring in Anthropology. She is taking an African Cultures class this semester and she LOVES it! She tells me all about how amazing her teacher is every day. She wants to be just like him. She came back from class beaming on Tuesday.
Before going to much further, I need to offer some context. Tiffany is a 19-year old white woman. She has Irish heritage and has the tattoos on her feet in Gaelic to prove it. This summer she helped me teach my Upward Bound course. The students in our class are recruited from reservations across the country. The two Nations with the biggest population in my class are Dine from New Mexico and Lumbee from North Carolina. During orientation for the program, Tiffany came to the epiphany that she is an Indian. It's the typical my-great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee-princess fantasy heritage. Since then any mention of Indians makes her giddy. Now back to my story.
Tiffany was so excited that her African Cultures professor had worked on the Pine Ridge reservation for a year. (We have students from Pine Ridge in our Upward Bound course, so she was excited that she new of the reservation of which he was speaking.) Tiffany went on to explain that the professor said it was so much easier to get to know people in African villages than it was to know the people of Pine Ridge. He told the class that all the people on the Pine Ridge reservation lie about everything. He said every single thing they ever told him was a lie. It was impossible to really get to know anyone because they were all liars.
I asked Tiffany whether the professor discussed why First Nations people might not tell outsiders the truth. She said that he didn't. He went on to talk about how much more honest and friendly people in African tribes are.
I'm not at all surprised at this. Not even these post-racial times when Ethnic Studies programs are no longer needed because civil rights in the '60s fixed everything and we have a Black president. When I was Tiffany's age and in my sophomore year of college at a prestigious Jesuit college, one of my professors explained that "Hispanic" women prefer to be oppressed by their men because of the machismo Hispanic culture. As a social worker, one must learn to accept different cultures have differences we might not understand. So when a Hispanic client is being beaten by her husband it is because she likes it - it's her culture.
Tiffany was an Honors student all through high school and took AP classes that put her ahead of many once she started college. She'll no doubt go to grad school and perhaps even earn her PhD working for the amazing African Cultures professor. She'll teach at a university and propagate the same disgusting anthropological view of the "Other" that she will be lauded for learning and regurgitating in her years at university. Perhaps Tiffany will take an Ethnic Studies class and learn some alternative perspectives. One can only hope.