Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Whistling Vivaldi at the Anchorage School District with Tim Wise

Tim Wise met with ASD teachers and administrators today and talked about a lot of situations where racial stereotypes - on the part of the students as well as the teachers - affected students.  He cited a book called Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele.  The title, he said, comes from a black kid who found that at night when he walked near whites, they tended to cross the street and/or clutch their purses much closer.  He started whistling Vivaldi in these situations and white folks stopped avoiding him.   An interesting story that reminds me of black male friends and acquaintances who tend to dress up when driving to lower the odds of being stopped by the police.

Wise cited a number of other studies some of which are in the Vivaldi book.  Here's an example from a review of the book by Coert Visser

Experiment 2: Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keough, Steele & Brown (1999)
In this experiment, the researchers asked highly competent white males to take a difficult math test. In the control condition the test was taken normally. In the experimental condition, the researchers told the test takers that one of their reasons for doing the research was to understand why Asians seemed to perform better on these tests. Thus, they artificially created a stereotype threat. In the experimental condition, the test takers solved significantly fewer of the problems on the test and felt less confident about their performance.

You can listen to an Claude Steele on Talk of the Nation back in April this year.

And if you are in Anchorage, you can hear Tim Wise at UAA Wendy Williamson Auditorium tonight (TUESDAY, SEPT 14) at 7:30pm.  Free.  Parking around Wendy Williamson is also free from 7pm. 

1 comment:

  1. Adaptive behavior, isn't it? When I was interning in DC in 1986, I remember seeing black folks wearing suits, and yes, I felt safer. But so did my black friends I was walking with. It was simply 'street smarts'. 'Whistling Vivald' in this illustration can also illustrate breaking through surface expectations and finding ways to reorientate acceptance (or not).

    As a gay person, I've done this all my life to decrease the chances of being harmed when in a 'difficult' environment. These conditions cueing judgment is not unique to race -- in Britain, class is still arguably a potent qualifier in all one is and does. Being here has given me so much more insight into the revolution writings of the industrial age. Through that lens, the world isn't so black or white.

    America has, with South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean nations (and the list goes on to any people colonized whether by white or other) what it thinks to be a unique relationship to race culture. That projection I get particularly tired of now; it does not. All need to engage their histories and conduct, and given developing economies in what was called the 'third world', we must and we will.

    Yet, as to not trigger the emotional defenses that are called upon when one is charged with racism, an idea of white privilege takes its place. It is a difficult substitution as Tim well knows.

    To me, it shares its process with much of religious teaching. Rather like being male and coming to terms with sexism. All of a sudden, I was barred from certain meetings of friends who were female. I wanted to be inside the room, not outside. But I could not be inside.

    It is this experience of outsider that we don't understand and don't wish to know. Even my own experience of being 'outside' as a gay person didn't prepare me for my reaction to be 'outside' on matters of color or class. In one situation, I lack privilege. In another, I possess privilege.

    My problem with this result is that its premise accepts making others feel shame -- again, a religious precept. Are we really surprised when others react badly to its message?

    Somehow, some way, I believe Tim doesn't yet hold the way to bridging different realities people possess through life's chance allocation. As I've participated in training on privilege, it compartmentalizes those realities as to who is now 'victim' and who is 'perp'. To me, it begs the introduction of another practice: to improve human capacity to regard those outside our own body as we do ourselves. I could go on, but this is a blog, not a living room conversation, sadly.

    For now, there is so much that people don't say for fear of immediate censure of things best not spoken as others wait to ambush heresy. Tim is Wise to find ways to teach people to go softly on how we respond as we all work to drive out our collective and private demons.

    I see evidence of change. In the meantime, blessed are the unrelenting peacemakers. Thanks for being part of the solution.


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