Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh York St John University. ‘ En/Countering the Elephant in the (Class)room ’ : teaching race and ethnicity on the introductory module, 1EN450 ‘ Gender and Writing ’ HEA ‘ Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy ’ conference, Reading University, April 29 2014.
‘En/Countering the Elephant in the (Class)room’: teaching race and ethnicity on the introductory module,
1EN450 ‘Gender and Writing’
HEA ‘Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy’ conference, Reading University, April 29 2014.
Always consider talking about race & ethnicity – don’t just annex these discussions onto the end of modules/ a course or reserve them for discussion of specially selected texts and/or issues.
Talk about race and ethnicity in relation to all texts, including canonical/white ones & include critical approaches to ‘whiteness’ & other hegemonic and/or normative categories as part of this study. (You can use Chinua Achebe and Toni Morrison materials cited in bibliography as supporting resources on this for students.)
Students can learn more about the notion of race as a construct by being allowed to research key stereotypes (e.g. in relation to the objectification & commodification of the black female body), their historical roots & legacies and by being encouraged to discuss how many stereotypes are still manifest today (e.g. in advertising images). This kind of deeper learning is more productive than simply telling students that race & ethnicity are not fixed categories and allows them to trace for themselves some of the shifts in understanding and terminology that have taken - and are still - taking place
Include and encourage students tomake links to wider non-literary sources (e.g. images, blogs, journalistic pieces, essays) and to current debates in the media. Currently we make links to:
debates on slavery and reparation in the Caribbean,
media representation of Twelve Years a Slave, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o & her 2014 speech about race & beauty (see resources),
writer & musician Questlove blogging on racial discrimination in the Trayvon Martin case and racial/sexual politics as a man of color,
Students need to be taken out of their ‘comfort zone’ and allowed to confront difficult or disturbing issues in their literary study but they also need support in formulating appropriate skills and, especially, critical vocabulary, for talking about race and ethnicity.
Allow students to express their reservations, difficulties and/or anxieties in talking about race and ethnicity, if they have any.
Give students opportunities to ‘own’ discussions, by:
August Strindberg, Miss Julie.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Grace Nichols, The Fat Black Women's Poems.
Nella Larsen, Passing.
Jackie Kay, Trumpet.
Plus selected poems including:
Dean Atta, ‘I am Nobody’s Nigger’,
Linton Kwesi Johnson,‘Sonny’s Lettah’, Inglan is a Bitch’, ‘If I Woz a Tap-Natch Poet’,
Paul Laurence Dunbar, ‘We Wear the Mask’,
Una Marson, ‘Kinky Hair Blues’.
PLUS 1x 2000 word essay which focuses on at least two module texts.
Lupita Nyong’o’s 2014 speech (excerpted below) is taught alongside Charish Halliburton’s, 2014 Black Feminists blog post, ‘The Fetishisation of Lupita Nyong’o’, to encourage contextualized critical debate.