I run two women’s studies seminars this semester as a teaching assistant. My classes are made up of predominantly White, predominantly self-identified heterosexual, women. We have spent the last 6 weeks talking about privilege and oppression. Beyond the study of how women are oppressed by men, we have focused on how race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, age, and gender identity intersect with being a woman to give us all very different experiences of being oppressed. This week my students started saying racist and homophobic things. One provided an example of how people of Colour in her home town were racist against White people. “It was a huge problem”, she said. Another complained about how in her high school, two lesbian students were always holding hands and kissing, made out in class once, and would say that hetero’s were disgusting.
I put my best facilitator hat on and tried to lead the other students to disagree with these examples. I tried to suggest that what these students had witnessed may have been a backlash on the system that had been oppressing the people of Colour and the lesbian students in these small towns. I tried to suggest that by accusing the people of Colour and the lesbians of being racist and hetero-phobic, we were in fact perpetuating the racism and homophobia that led to these altercations. I tried to suggest that the privilege of being White and straight creates a lens through which you see events, causing an aversive, defensive reaction to a person of Colour defending themselves, or two women expressing their relationship in public. The lens of privilege lets you see the people of Colour and the lesbians as committing White-racism and hetero-phobia, while at the same time blinding you of your own racism and homophobia.
But the students did not make the connection. I feel like I failed as a teacher this week. I can only hope that in the remaining 3 classes of the semester I can turn this around… Does anyone have ideas for learning exercises I could put them through to start to see things from another perspective?