Today I had the opportunity to talk with some Year 11 & 12 students openly about their views on prejudice at school. This school is multicultural and students believed that identifying certain cultures, and areas that they tend to sit in at the school with nicknames are OK since “they don’t care” and “they call themselves that too”. Their argument was that since a particular group of students identified themselves with certain stereotypical features or names then it must be OK and therefore there is no prejudice or racist views included with these names or labels.
I tried to explain that the names/labels that I had heard some groups of students being called would be defined as prejudice by people in the wider community. I tried to explain that possibly these groups were perpetuating the stereotypes that were given to them – labeled – by other groups (generally the majority) in an attempt to *belong* to the wider school culture. The discussion did not go very far and I don’t believe I had made much impact on their original argument; however, I reminded the students that they should be questioning EVERYTHING, especially norms in society and within school culture. What does it say about our community though, that which our school cultures are based on, when stereotypical views and constantly perpetuated norms & sayings like “that’s gay!” is a common occurrence and rarely challenged by students, teachers, media and citizens?
The concept of ascriptions of identity, which is prescribed to individuals by society, is something that these students had not considered or had seemingly never heard of before. These ascriptions are so consistently prescribed, so often confirmed by stereotyped expectations, that individuals take-on these norms & labels without question. This does NOT make it OK though. I don’t think this is an easy thing to teach and yet I believe it is so IMPORTANT that we start to teach this. It is important that we teach students, our children, to question norms and stereotypes. We live in a global society and places like Australia are increasingly multicultural, which should therefore DEMAND that we teach our children to THINK FOR THEMSELVES!