Is it prejudice if “everyone” agrees?

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!

7 comments on “Is it prejudice if “everyone” agrees?

  1. Margaret says:

    My friend often refers to herself as beautiful ‘ black gin’ and feels she has reclaimed a derogative term used by non-Indigenous people to demean.

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    • elketeaches says:

      We’ve talked about that before and I find it hard to support that idea; however, I support her personal choice. It reminds me how African-Americans use the “N” word now and you can hear it often in music today. I think there’s a lot to be said for how the word or saying is said, the attitude around it, I still don’t think it’s OK though.

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  2. Elke, this is a great question. We need children to learn to think. We have enough adults in the world who do not think and just repeat what they were told.

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    • elketeaches says:

      Hi Ivon. There is so much focus on “getting through the curriculum” and grades right now that I don’t see a lot of questioning occurring in schools. If Year 12 students haven’t even stopped to wonder/question 1) why are these cultural groups OK with the labels? and 2) are there good ways to use the Internet? (etc.) then how does that impact our society? I also talked to Year 11s about the benefits of developing/growing their own digital footprint and they looked SURPRISED by the idea and that a “teacher” would be positive about Internet use! hmmm

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      • Elke, it is like we are often afraid of questions. I spend a lot of time with students uncovering what makes a good question. They often know and only need time to make it happen. I think the time is there and just ignore most of the bureaucratic bleating from the offices.

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  3. […] I am doing a very short unit (10 lessons) on International Business with Year 10 students.  I wanted to devote a whole lesson on Australian identity and culture so that they would have a good basis for comparisons when they start to research other countries.  I also thought it was important to discuss culture, identity, generalisations and stereotypes since we live in a globalised world and this particular school is visibly multicultural.  I have taught at this school 3 times now over the past 2 years and I commonly hear discriminatory, prejudiced language that when questioned about they commonly justify it as OK since “they’ve all agreed it’s OK”…..I wrote about this previously HERE. […]

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  4. […] or judgment then we are perpetuating  stereotypes. I wrote about this last year as well in my Is it prejudice if “everyone” agrees? post. In that post I argued that we had to teach students how to think for […]

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