STOP TREATING PEOPLE AS EXOTIC OTHERS

Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.Human zoo

For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.

Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.

Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.

We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.

It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.

Making A Difference This New Year

At about this time of year, our New Year’s resolutions can begin to wane. Our doubts creep in and we can begin to think we’re too insignificant to make a difference in our own lives, let alone anyone else’s. However, add a little imagination and who knows what we can come up with? Here are three examples.

Two neighbors in a small American town far removed from the Middle East were discussing the tragedies taking place in those countries. They came to the conclusion that despite being so far from these tragedies, there had to be something that they could do, and voila! They came up with the idea to bring Israeli and Palestinian youth to their north suburban neighborhood for a program of four weeks of peace and fellowship. That program ran for three summers, touching the lives of over 40 young people.

In another example, a doctor relayed a story of how one day – while he was in the middle of surgery! – he realized that he and the doctor assisting him were both presidents of their respective religious congregations, one a mosque and one a synagogue. They decided at that moment to bring their congregations together to create a dialog between them. The two congregations had several surprisingly open and heartfelt meetings, visiting each other’s places of worship and learning about each other’s religious and cultural heritages. This interfaith work has continued in various other forms into the present.

The third example centers on a leadership program for high school students, in which  students were tasked with the creation of service projects. One year, some students came up with the idea of holding a Senior Prom in which they would invite Seniors – that is, senior citizens – and hold an intergenerational dance.

Over the backyard fence, in the school or work hallways or, even over surgery, it’s so easy to complain about what isn’t working. But these people asked instead, “What can we do?”

This is the time of year when New Year’s Resolutions start to fall away. But, maybe, our ideas of what we could accomplish or inspire this year haven’t been large enough to excite and motivate us.

Ask yourself, “How can I turn my frustrations and concerns into a force for good? How can I make a difference in the world this new year?”

Immigrant Stories of Empowerment

“We are a country of immigrants. Almost all of our citizens have roots in other countries. Unless you are a full-blooded Native American, either you or one of your ancestors journeyed to the United States. Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was someone 300 years ago. But someone in your family, for whatever reason, was uprooted from home and culture, and traveled here, making the United States his or her new home” (Gretchen Morgan).

America is the great melting pot of culture and diversity. That is how our country started, and continues to become more and more diverse as time goes by. We must celebrate our many cultures and our many stories of the journey to America. Schools and teachers need to recognize that students come from a wide array of backgrounds. The more these backgrounds are embraced, the greater the learning will be.  

Below are a few links to find stories of immigration. Share them with your students. Encourage them to write and share their own family story of immigration.

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Morgan, G. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 4, 2012, from Immigrant Journeys.com: http://www.immigrantjourneys.com/

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Go to the many stories and short videos about immigration and other diversity themes on our RaceBridges Studio Sites. 

REMEMBERING 9/11

911September 11th marks the 10th Anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks on US soil.

Remembrance will happen in many ways. Healing from those events still continues. PBS Newshour is presenting a special report called America Remembers 9/11 and a 9/11 Video Quilt asking diverse Americans on what has changed since 9/11. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/

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We invite you to reflect on the following short RaceBridges videos.

From a Moslem American view, and from the account of a woman caught up in the hostility towards a mosque that followed 9/11. These short stories are told by professional storytellers. They provide perspectives of “another view”. They are food for thought and a way to pass on the challenge to search beyond stereotypes for our common humanity.
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Three Stories by Storyteller Arif Choudhury:

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A Story by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran:

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

By Storyteller Arif Choudhury

 

Story Summary:

 Bangladeshi-American Muslim storyteller, Arif Choudhury, shares stories about growing up as the only “brown-skinned boy” in the neighborhood and how 9-11 changed how others might perceive him and his family.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What’s the difference between an interrogation and a conversation? How do we be curious about one another but not pressure someone to represent their whole group or feel that they’re being examined and objectified?
  2. Did you ever wonder about your own identity? How did you resolve your questions and confusion?
  3. Has your understanding or behavior towards Muslims changed over the years? In what ways?

 

Resources:

 

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

JUST NOT MUSLIM ENOUGH

by Storyteller Arif Choudhury

 

Story Summary:

Sometimes we forget about the diversity that exists within a faith and within a family. In this story, Arif is reminded of how he is different from some of the relatives in his Muslim family.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would those within a similar group judge each other as to whether they are Muslim enough, Black enough, Manly enough and so forth?
  2. What are some of the differences within your ethnic or religious group? What is most misunderstood about your group?

 

Resources:

  • All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim by Wajahat Wali and Zahra T Suratwala
  • Muslim Communities in North America by Yvonne Hadda and Jane Idleman Smith

 

Themes:

  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims

MORE ALIKE THAN NOT

Featuring Storytellers Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What were you taught about other faith traditions? Were you given accurate information or misinformation?
  2. What groups do you identify with? Do you ever feel as though you don’t fit in in your own group?
  3. Why do people condemn, fear or stereotype people from different religions?
  4. Is there a religion you’d like to learn more about? What similarities between the major world religions might surprise you?

 

Resource:

  • Religious Tolerance and World Religions by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton

 

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking