Did I hear you right…?

You know, aside from the questionable benefits of drinking overpriced coffee or (in the case of last Friday) tea, and solid support for Marriage Equality – among other things – I gotta give Starbucks credit for hiring people who are generally literate.

Last Friday, I walked in fresh from a philosophical lunchtime discussion that was about to get a lot deeper, about the detrimental effects a professor whose delivery method lacks quite a bit in terms of clarity but who claims to be an authority, and what his impressionable students take away with them having encountered his authoritarian views on the subject.

The subject came up because I was simply appalled at the description said prof gave of a historical British figure, Benjamin Disraeli, the only “Jewish” prime minister of Britain. (a technicality, because Disraeli became a member of the Anglican Church at the age of 12).

It wasn’t the mention of Disraeli but the racial description that caught me off guard. I imagine the point was that this is what people thought of him, but the stereotypical framing of Disraeli’s features, his “annoying voice” (as seen in the movies…yes, really) were classic. And (IMNSHO) dead wrong. How do you prolong a stereotype? Repeat it. In class. When students are hanging on to every word as if it might appear on a test, which is possible.

So we talked about this, at length, at lunch. I know the guy means well, but if I hadn’t been running late, I might have stopped and given my prof a piece of my mind. I’ll be over it again by Wednesday, so I’ll let it rest for now, but on Friday we continued to discuss the subject, up to the point where the barista was working on filling measuring cups with hot steamed milk. She overheard the conversation and pointed me to the article below.

TED Talks: Chimamanda Adichie:
The danger of a single story

I’ll admit, I’ve been on TED a few times, and I’m pleased that NPR is picking up on these stories as jumping off points, so I get to hear about them more often than I have in a while, but she caught me off guard by agreeing with me on the subject. Bravo for her!

If we only hear one point of view, we might never know there are other points to believe. If the only stories we read are about people who are not us, we lose our own stories and we lose our frame of reference. It’s the danger I see in religious-based homeschooling as well. If you restrict the teaching so you never cover science, if your only sources for truth are intentionally omitting  important data, you’ll never know what you’re missing.

And if a professor draws a conclusion that Disraeli is the epitome of a Jew because he has short dark curly hair, small, beady eyes and a big nose, then that’s what you will come to expect. If you opt not to open your eyes to reality, you’ll be surprised to find people of African descent with blue eyes because it never occurs to you that blue eyes are recessive, not impossible. (I made that mistake 20 years ago and never forgot the look on my doctor’s face when I expressed surprise. I should have known better. Now I do.)

This point was so shocking, I lost a portion of the lecture in trying to wrap my mind around what he said.

If we are surprised at the political leanings of the White Student Union of Towson, we should look to our educators. These kids had to learn it somewhere. But that’s not all. Take a gander at the comments in this article from Towson’s Patch.

We’re on shaky ground in my class. We’re getting ready to talk about pre-Nazi Germany. Just as it’s easy to fall into the trap of self-diagnosis when one is a medical student, it’s also too easy to see Nazis everywhere. Trouble is, the Tea Party has built much of its party line on the foundation of racial supremacy, intolerance and nationalism, the same foundation on which the Nazis rose to power.

It’s hard not to see them everywhere. The only question (and I think it’s a good one) is whether we have enough of a balance to keep the wolves at bay. There’s an awful lot of paranoia out there right now, and a whole bunch of it is armed to the teeth, supported by the NRA and by power brokers like the Koch brothers.

“Just because you’re paranoid
doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

–Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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