Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Racist Rebecca Mirrors Twitter Posts

Today we talked about the election in class. Briefly. And mostly, as in past elections, my classes were calm. One class, however, had a Racist Rebecca, who straight out laughingly said, "I can't believe we re-elected a man who could be the missing link. I mean, come on, how could people be so stupid to re-elect a monkey?!"

I should have been prepared for the topic of race to come up, but after four years of Obama, I figured people were aware that he's of mixed race. And because of this, I simply stared at Racist Rebecca for what felt like an interminably long time, but I'm sure was probably five seconds.

And my response to her was sorely lacking. I merely said, "I'm sorry to hear you're a racist. I thought better of you." Of course, this led to a splutteringly inadequate attempt to claim she was joking, after which I instructed students to start working on today's assignment.

When I got back to my office, I noticed that the latest 'rage' on twitter was that people were calling President Obama the "N word." Apparently the hatred and ignorance isn't limited to Racist Rebecca.

In addition to lacking reading, writing, or any kind of analytical skills, apparently Americans continue to exhibit ignorance and hatred. Here is the example of (mostly) high schoolers  posting ignorant, hateful racial epithets in response to President Obama's election. This makes me sick.

And Racist Rebecca wants to come see me tomorrow. She emailed me to say she didn't appreciate my calling her a racist in front of the class. I have yet to respond to her.

36 comments:

  1. The word racist is so difficult. On the one hand, you need to call out racism when you encounter it - especially that casual stuff, the tacit approval of which only encourages racist people to cling to their beliefs.

    And yet, if you call people racist, it never, ever goes well.

    I think it takes the finesse of saying something hand-holding, snowflakey, and gentle. "Rebecca, that may be your opinion, but when you say it using this comparison, it comes out with the tinges of racism. Humans are humans and we should not call people animals simply because of the color of their skin."

    In saying that, you still call her racist, but failing to give the ultimate "you're A RACIST" attack.

    I've had a similar thing happen to me in the classroom, with a guy being totally and bluntly sexist. I'm afraid I was not as smooth as I wish I had been when trying to get him to stop telling me how inferior female professors are.

    What a goddamned fool.

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  2. This hasn't happened very often in my classes, thank goodness, although I do get the homophobic comments with slurs. My default reaction is looking very surprised for a moment--long enough for them to figure out something's wrong--and then saying something like, "Uh, did you just call a black man a monkey?" They figure it out from there. Then a reminder that slurs violate the part of the syllabus requiring civil discussion.

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  3. I'd tell Rebecca that if she didn't appreciate being called a racist, she shouldn't make racist comments. I'd also tell her she's lucky that I did not report her to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action. I'd THINK about telling her that she is a fucktard.

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  4. I see where you are coming from, Academic Monkey, but if we can't use the word racist to describe things like that, things that are blatantly, purposefully, provokingly racist, then what hope do we have??

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  5. I mean she wasn't even trying to dog whistle. She was just flying her racist flag. So if she doesn't want to get called on it then she should STFU. Good job, OP

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  6. I think I would have said I didn't appreciate her being a racist either. I've already seen plenty of it on Facebook and have deleted some "friends" because I'm sick of their idiotic vitriol. I scrolled past it during the campaign, but the ugly got turned up to 11 after last night's victory.

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  7. Your response sounds appropriate to me. Good for you for pushing back on it in any way; as a beneficiary of white privilege who travels in pretty liberal circles, I've had a few moments where I should have said something and was too shocked to come up with the words, and that only contributes to the problem.

    Maybe you could write something like "Please do come by, I'd be happy to go over our university code of conduct with you" (surely they have something like that.)

    And start thinking about activist-type students in this class who could back up your version of events if she inexplicably decides to go over your head.

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  8. I can't believe she would say that and then have the guts to complain to the professor! I have been psychologically traumatized by the trouble that ensued after I made a racist comment myself in the 90s.

    I was reported to the Dean of Students and to the office in charge of complaints for harassment, had a meeting at both offices and I thought I was going to get suspended. I was not, but I was never allowed to set foot in that classroom again, although I ended up getting a good grade (it happened after the midterm, which I had aced). I wrote the final exam in the professor's office and the professor actually tutored me for about 15 minutes every week, but I was banned from that particular class, although not from my other classes.

    I must say that the arrangement was the professor's own idea and the Dean was surprised, so I probably didn't have to accept it. It's just that I was afraid of what would have happened, in terms of disciplinary action or grading, if I insisted on enforcing whatever rights I may have had.

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  9. I would have pulled out my Mauser Bolo and said in a clear voice "In the name of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (now unfortunately deceased) I destroy you as a fascist and an enemy of human progress" and then blown her face off.

    Smert' Fascismu!

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    1. Aww Strelli... I've missed you! Kisses!

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    2. Настоящий советский патриот употребляет пистолетом Шпягин, а не немецко-фашистскым Маузером.

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  10. Contemplative Cynic, you did the right thing. I know it's easy to second guess yourself, and yes you might have said it more elegantly, but saying it elegantly isn't what's called for in that situation. She compared a black man to a monkey, and that is racist, and she needs to be called a racist for doing so.

    I second Kate's solution, and will double down on it. Here's what I suggest you do.

    1. Email your chair and say "I have a conflict with a student. I would like you to be present when I meet with her." Explain the situation and make it clear that you are considering charging her with creating a hostile class environment for your minority students by making that comment. (This assumes that your chair is not an idiot. If he/she is, then I don't know, punt or something -- is that the right sports metaphor? Christ, I don't know, I'm gay.)

    2. Email the student and say "I would like to discuss this with you. I have invited the chair of my department to attend our meeting."

    3. At the meeting, read to her the policy on harassment from the handbook. Tell her that her comment made a hostile environment for other students in the class -- of all races, not just minority races -- as well as yourself (that last part is important, as it's the only thing you can pin on her solidly, and it doesn't matter what race you are), and you want to make it very clear that it was racist. You called her on it, say, because it was wrong and you are a teacher. Probably, your policy offers a warning. Tell her that a single other incident will, after this warning, constitute harassment and she will be charged according to the procedures laid out in the handbook for making a hostile classroom environment.

    4. Ask if there are any questions. If she says "it's not fair that you . . . " or "I just feel that . . . " tell her that those aren't questions, and you don't care what she regards as fair or what she feels, because the handbook is clear and you are very, very, mortally and horribly offended by her words.

    5. If you have a good chair, like mine, he will look grim and remain silent throughout. He's there as a witness for future proceedings against the student.

    6. Above all, make it clear that you have been made uncomfortable by this statement, and that you find it has created a hostile classroom environment for *you*. Say that several times, because that's what matters according to the law.

    7. She will, if it's not too late, drop your class after this, and you will have one fewer paper to grade.

    Sorry this happened to you. It is, actually, pretty serious stuff, and that she's going to pretend that she's victim is *infuriating*. Just keep your cool during that meeting.

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    1. Bravo. What Professor Chiltepin said.

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    3. Agreed, get witnesses, and get ready to turn the tables on this student. Whether you pursue the hostile work situation (which I would not do at my institution), or simply get the facts out in the presence of witnesses, it will deflate this student's misguided counterreaction and help protect you from possible lies.

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    4. is that the right sports metaphor? Christ, I don't know, I'm gay.

      I found that, in the middle of a thread on student racism, to be a bit puzzling (amusing, too, of course).

      Some of us straights are non-jocks too, y'know. <silly grin>

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    5. I think everyone should print this out or bookmark it.

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  11. I totally agree with Professor Chiltepin as well. You did the right thing and your student needs to have the fear put into her about being such a racist idiot, not be allowed to bully people who call her out on her racism. But yes, have a witness with you (chair/dean is ideal, but loyal colleague is also OK if you can't count on a higher-up). I wouldn't put anything past this student.

    Believe me, your other students are grateful that you said what you did.

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  12. I can count on my chair as a backup. The chair may not stand her ground when it comes to parents of toddlers, but she supports her faculty in the department when a student complains or thinks s/he is entitled to complain. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  13. Prof Chiltepin's instructions are really good. Hope that works out.

    As a side project, I like the recommendation of one of Jezebel's commenters. Find out who these idiots are and publicize their tweets. Serves them right.

    I'd only point out that threats of violence or death wishes are pretty common on Twitter from all around the political spectrum. It's just that nobody bothers threatening the loser.

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  14. I'm seeing a pattern with regards to behavior, a "Twitterization" of the culture.

    These lackbrains have been posting every (for lack of a better term) thought for some time now. They've been protected by the anonymity of the Web and have not had to deal with any real consequences of their statements. They've gotten so used to it that whatever filter they had between brain (again, for lack of a better term) and mouth has atrophied or just shut down.

    Some may argue that their pre-frontal cortex won't be developed until they're 25, and in previous posts I've advanced the notion that that is just a crutch. In many ways the brain is like a muscle. If it isn't exercised it doesn't grow. These twits have mistakenly learned that the universe is "me" centered, and that the people who wiped their bottoms are their "friends", not authority figures.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Chiltepin. Perhaps Rebecca will at least learn from you that it's a good idea to think twice before speaking, not the other way around. That could be the most important thing she could learn in any class.

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  15. I'm seeing a pattern with regards to behavior, a "Twitterization" of the culture.

    These lackbrains have been posting every (for lack of a better term) thought for some time now. They've been protected by the anonymity of the Web and have not had to deal with any real consequences of their statements. They've gotten so used to it that whatever filter they had between brain (again, for lack of a better term) and mouth has atrophied or just shut down.

    Some may argue that their pre-frontal cortex won't be developed until they're 25, and in previous posts I've advanced the notion that that is just a crutch. In many ways the brain is like a muscle. If it isn't exercised it doesn't grow. These twits have mistakenly learned that the universe is "me" centered, and that the people who wiped their bottoms are their "friends", not authority figures.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Chiltepin. Perhaps Rebecca will at least learn from you that it's a good idea to think twice before speaking, not the other way around. That could be the most important thing she could learn in any class.

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  16. That twitter feed is really disturbing. Give or take a few modern details (including, of course, the medium), the sentiments are eerily familiar for anyone familiar with Reconstruction/post-Reconstruction rhetoric. Of course, that strongly suggests that younger people are getting it from their elders (including on cable TV, talk radio, etc.); not only racism, but an entrenched culture of racism, is alive and well. I'm sure the economic situation is making it worse, but apparently solidarity among those who can claim the label "white" is still a more powerful force than solidarity among those who find themselves at the bottom of the economic pile. Racist sentiments even seem to be drowning out resentment of Obama as a member (admittedly a fairly recent member, but still a member; see the image accompanying the earlier Obama reelection post) of the elite himself; it's a bit strange for someone who so closely fits the American ideal of the self-made man (self-made millionaire, in fact, as well as double Ivy League grad) to be dismissed as ignorant and feeding/living off the public trough. It feels like racist myths/narratives almost have a life of their own, lurking out there, ready for people to attach their anger to, whether or not the connections make the slightest sense.

    As far as the classroom situation goes, in general, I'm in favor of labeling the comment rather than the person "racist," in hopes that that approach is more likely to create a teachable moment rather than a self-appointed conservative martyr. But I'm not at all sure I'd be quick enough on my feet to do it myself (in fact, in such a situation, i'd probably be most likely to deploy the shocked silence technique, because I was, in fact, shocked into silence). Like others, I think Prof. Chiltepin's suggestions are on-target for handling the situation as it stands. While Rebecca's ideas are unlikely to be changed (they were unlikely to be changed anyway), at least she will learn that it isn't in her best interest to express racist sentiments openly in a professional setting. That's a valuable key to success, and one can hope that it might even keep her employed in a multicultural workplace long enough to have some of her ideas challenged by reality (but see comments about how racist ideas seem to have a life of their own, independent from reality, above; I'm not tremendously hopeful).

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  17. As a Canuck outsider, I had a very pleasant experience in being witness to student reaction to the US election. I'm currently in a US city in the Midwest, next to a large university campus, and on election night went to a movie theatre showing the election results rolling in, which was packed with nearly all early-20s university students. The positive reaction to Obama's re-election aside, it was great to see so many students engaged and enthusiastic enough about the election to gather to watch it unfold - and they roared or booed for various key Senate and Congress races across the country too, so they seemed pretty informed about things beyond Obama vs Mitt.

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  18. Please let us know what transpires during that meeting.

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  19. I currently have a student with a somewhat similar perspective to your "Rebecca". Recently this student told the class that the reason Obama is supporting abortion rights is because 80% of those who choose this proceedure are white women. And that Romney is against abortion in otder to "save" the white race. Also, this student made a comment that white women are waiting until they are older in order to have children... Which leads to the influx of Down Syndrome and Autism. I need to add that I am a 36 yo white woman who is 4 months pregnant. My students know this and everyone was shocked at the alluded comment. Today, after watching a movie to address social racial issues, this student stormed out. I feel bullied and that I have to take it from students and not respond.
    Best wishes to you. As someone who feels backed into a corner, as well.

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    1. I'm sorry you have to deal with this student, Prof. Reina. But you don't have to be bullied and take it. Probably your college's code of student conduct gives you the upper hand now that the student has "stormed out." If the student left class early or the storming out was disruptive (e.g., if other students stopped and stared), then present this student with Student Misconduct paperwork ASAP, meaning before the next class period. Meet him at his seat, if necessary, and escort him outside the room to talk with him. If you're worried about your safety, call your campus cops and request a plainclothes officer in the classroom that day.

      At my college, we can suspend the student from the next two class periods for disruptive behavior, to give the Discipline staff time to process the paperwork and call the student in for a chat.

      Please let us know how it goes. We (blogistically speaking) have your back.

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    2. Wow, having to deal with that on a regular basis must be so demoralizing. What a jerk of a student, Prof. Reina.

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    3. I requested a plain-clothes officer in my class one day due to some similar bullshit. Campus PD told me that was illegal.

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  20. Proffie Galore is correct. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you feel bullied without your consent.

    There was a time that instructors were acknowledged as the leaders in the classroom. The snowflakes haven't been taught that lesson, and think that those in authority also want to be their friends. Unfortunately, proffies have been cowed by the threat of a bad evaluation.

    If you don't have tenure you'll have to tread lightly. If you do, you can be like Froderick and establish dominance early. Failing that, there's always Strelnikov's approach: смерть снежные хлопья (Death to snowflakes).

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  21. Contemplative Cynic, I hope you get all the support you need on this. I too would worry about it, even though the student clearly was making racist comments, and even though you know your Chair will back you up. I will follow everyone here and back up Professor Chiltepin's suggestions. I also just have to wonder if you can work this into a logical discussion with her along the lines of what she can reasonably hope to expect will be the reaction she will get from such a comment. I am going to guess that she has never actually thought about it. If she can bring herself to reasonably look at the situation, I'd try to get her to explain, even write out the answers to questions such as: What was her desired outcome? What did she hope to achieve or accomplish by making such a comment? A little camaraderie? Perhaps she wanted to influence the thoughts of others? What would be more effective ways of achieving those goals? What are the various outcomes one can reasonably expect to happen if one makes a statement like that? Did she anticipate those outcomes? Did she realize that in trying to get her desired outcome, she was risking those other outcomes? Is there ever a time when it is worth it to speak when you risk a negative outcome for yourself? When?

    I know I am taking this a bit far, perhaps, but I have actually had good luck with sitting down with students who have made offensive remarks, and rather than debating their opinions, getting them to think about how they are perceived by others and what kinds of effects they can have on people and how that can impact them socially and professionally.

    The twitter angle is important too, because people feel emboldened by the false sense of camaraderie they get there. They are anonymous, and they risk nothing by being offensive (well....except when they do, as was the case with the Reddit post from a while back). Students need to realize the difference between the two "locales" and to realize there is a completely different set of outcomes in a classroom than there is in a chat room.

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    1. We will meet next week, and when these things happen, I do attempt to turn these events into learning moments so that (1) they don't turn around to bite me on student evals, although they always do, even when I think we've reached some level of understanding and they seem calm and grateful for my perspective; the little shits can't seem to let go of the fact that they're wrong or that they've done something unpraiseworthy; (2) because I really want them to grow (despite my cynicism).

      I'll try to keep calm. Mostly, my chair has decided that she is going to explain why what was said was a problem in a class setting (in an attempt to make the last month together in class more bearable) and wants me to simply be there to explain 'freedom of speech" and "consequences." Racist Rebecca seems more contrite now, but who really knows.

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