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Rob Pattman seminar at the University of Johannesburg

talk by Rob Pattman from Stellenbosch University at SOTL at UJ seminar series, about teaching 'race'

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Rob Pattman seminar at the University of Johannesburg

  1. 1.  'Thank you for making race not feel like walking on eggs and for injecting humour': teaching race at Stellenbosch".  This was from a student evaluation of a 2nd year undergraduate course I teach on race  It was noticeable how frequently the course was praised for being ‘funny’  How can race be funny, and how can it be good to teach a course on race which makes people laugh?  What about the pain of race? Doesn’t humour trivialise this?
  2. 2. Associations of race and humour with racist jokes:There’s this girl in Res she has a tendency to make racist jokes. She says it like it’s joking. But it’s not funny. Some of us are going to drive to the test but you blacks are poor so you must walk.They tell me I’m getting over sensitive if I get mad at things like that. (black woman student in Luister documentary) How is humour mobilised in the course in ways which do not reproduce racist stereotypes and power relations but encourages ‘transformation’. In relation to this I will be looking at how and where humour emerges in the course as it was taught…. What’s funny, and what does humour do in in the lecture theatre to students and to me, the teacher?
  3. 3.  What the seminar’s about?  The (different) ways in which students and I construct race in various activities and discussions in this course  This entails focusing on what is said and how it is said and the emotions conveyed (including humour) and the context (the discussion or activity) in which it emerges.
  4. 4.  Concerns I had about understandings of transformation at Stellenbosch which framed the course:  Although transformation is such a familiar term, it often seems difficult to define, or to define in a way in which people can imagine participating.  Asking academics in a meeting what role they might play, in promoting ‘transformation’ generated silence, as if ‘transformation’ was a senior management responsibility to define and to promote through developing institutional policies
  5. 5. I was concerned too about the limitations of ways of conceptualisingTransformation which focuses exclusively on ‘improving diversity’ understood only in terms of numbers of students mainly from ‘previously’ excluded racially defined groups While this is important in a formerly white university in which 62% of its students are white, focusing only on this can lead to the fetishisation of race in a way which puts a premium on co-existence , and idealises diversity as an end in itself and the effect of this is may be to reify and naturalise race and present Black and coloured students as the diverse Others reinforcing whiteness as the norm
  6. 6. How diverse students experience the university, whether they cross divides (in terms of race, gender and class and sexuality etc.) and whether they feel integrated or marginalised in different university contexts is not being addressed if we only focus on diversity as measurable entity. Further, Gender, class, sexuality, disability, academic status and the complex ways these may intersect and interact with each other and with race in influencing student’s experiences of social cohesion and diversity is not addressed if diversity is only understood in terms of numbers of black, coloured and Indian students compared to white students.
  7. 7.  My aim was to teach race at Stellenbosch in participatory ways which changed the focus on race as something we have to something we do  engages with students as knowledge producers, and makes their lives and the ways they conceptualise these central.  raises questions about informal and everyday processes of learning about being a student, about race, gender, sexuality and many other things on campus.  Blurs boundaries between teaching and research
  8. 8.  One of the ironies of this course is that it questions the very topic being taught. Rather than taking race for granted, I encourage students to critically reflect on this and the significance and meanings if any which race carries for them and others.
  9. 9.  Course Outline  Reflecting on you and race ( introduced at the beginning and a key theme throughout the course)  Sociological understandings of race (which introduce the idea of race as an historical construction and invention as well as something which is constructed in everyday social practices and interactions, including conversations, in the here and now )  History of race in SA: colonialism & apartheid (in a way which provides a context for understanding the present)  Race class and material inequalities in contemporary SA  Race practices and the racialisation of spaces in contemporary SA, Stellenbosch and the University.  Race gender & transformation at Stellenbosch University.
  10. 10. Reflecting on you and race If you were to describe race to an outsider from another planet what would you say? This was a question I put to the (450) students in the first session in the lecture theatre. They wrote responses anonymously and I collected them and read through as many as I could before the next lecture. In the next lecture I presented examples (some of which I’ve listed below) of the most commonly occurring kinds of responses.
  11. 11. Almost all the definitions of race which were given shared the idea that race was something fundamental, that it told you who someone was, that it bound people into groups and differentiated group. Quite a lot of people specified skin colour.
  12. 12. In the next lecture I presented and read out these examples of commonly occurring definitions of race which students had given, and asked students to reflect on how helpful these would be in clarifying what race is to an outsider who had never experienced race. I played the role of outsider myself and posed the following ‘absurd’ questions which drew a lot of laughter from students.  Race is something that binds you to a group and each race is unique in history belief and relations. (an outsider’s interpretation: is race glue?)  People who look different from one another grouped according to tradition culture background, mainly segregated by physical attributes. (an outsider’s interpretation: everyone looks different from everyone else, so does that mean the only people who don’t belong to different races are identitical twins?)
  13. 13.  It’s a visual way to see which culture someone belongs. (an outsider’s interpretation: so race is the same as culture, if so what’s culture and how does race make you see culture? Is it like getting a new pair of spectacles?) Race refers to the colour of a person’s skin, like white or black. (an outsider’s confusion on not seeing anyone whose skin is white or black: Paper is white and laptops are black but whose skin matches paper or lap tops?)
  14. 14. The questions were absurd from the point of view of an insider who is familiar with race. But I argued this seemed to be a ‘powerful’ example of the sociological importance of taking the role of outsider (Schulz’s the Stranger) and de-familiarising the familiar in order to obtain insights into meaning of things we take for granted. I suggested that it wasn’t the questions which were absurd but the ways in which race was being defined by them as something we’re born with which produces who we essentially are, as if we’re born belonging to different species It’s when we try and define race by stipulating the ‘markers of race’ the criteria we use to identify races, as if these exist as biological facts that race becomes absurd as demonstrated in the difficulties providing definitions about what race is (to an ‘outsider’).
  15. 15.  The absurdity of this (race fetishism)  Compounding the absurdity of this by having a (didactic) teacher of race (I pretend to get angry with my students for taking a course on a topic and not even being able to define what the topic is, which produces lots of laughter)
  16. 16.  Introducing students to sociological ways of thinking about race as a verb  Taking race as a recent historical invention rather than a timeless feature of human existence rooted in biology  Race as a way of classifying people, in particular societies, as if they belong to different species which can be ordered hierarchically  How and why ‘superficial differences’ such as skin colour, or accent or facial features are taken as symbolic markers of race in different kinds of societies. ((Omi and Winant)  How the classification of people according to constructions of ‘skin colour’ produces material differences and inequalities in power and resources under colonialism
  17. 17.  Showing two videos on the social construction of race, one in a primary class in a school in the Southern States of Amercica in the late 1960s and the other through the eyes of a black woman, Sandra Laing born into a whiteAfrikaans family under apartheid.
  18. 18.  A class Divided: Jane Elliot  This was made in the United States in the late 1960s and focuses on a social experiment in which Jane Elliot, a teacher working in a primary school in the deep South of the US decides to divide her class according to the eye colour of her learners. She announces that blue eyed children are more clever than brown eyed, and starts to treat them differently in terms of eye colour, praising the blue eyed children in her class and patronizing green eyed children.  She does this over a couple of days and the video takes a fly on the wall view of the classroom and shows how the learners respond to being labeled and stereotyped in negative or positive ways, according to eye colour. She conducted this experiment just after the assassination of Martin Luther King. She wanted to encourage her learners at the all- white school in which she was teaching to try understand forms of racism
  19. 19.  Students’ reactions while watching - expressed shock, for example when Elliot made brown eyed children wear special collars to accentuate and make visible their difference, but also laughed at what they saw as the absurdity of this (as they elaborated in the discussion afterwards).There was much laughter in the lecture theatre when one of boys in the video tried to tear through his collar when Elliot announced at the end that blue eyed and brown eyed people were no different and that she had only treated them differently so that they could see what it was like to be discriminated against like black people.The students were also amazed at how quickly polarized identifications developed in relation to eye colour between the children
  20. 20.  Teaching Apartheid DVD Extract from SKIN   The movie Skin is based on the true story of Sandra Laing a black woman born into a white Afrikaans family under apartheid, (white children can occasionally be born in black families and blacks in white families if their ancestors had mixed relations). What do we learn about the dynamics of a particular society (in this case SA under apartheid) from the experiences of an ‘outsider’ in this case a person who didn’t neatly slot into the taken for granted racial categories to which so much significance was attached?
  21. 21. Students’ reactions while watching it , very animated, laughter (eg when her father is overjoyed when the apartheid government changes its criteria for deciding what makes someone white and declares Sandra’s white or when her parents arrange dates for Sandra to go out with suitable white suitors) and expressions of shock (eg when Sandra experiences racial discrimination for the first time when she goes to an all white boarding school and is bullied by teachers and learners or when her father finds she is having a relationship with a black man and shoots at him )
  22. 22.  Making apartheid relevant in teaching  Teaching apartheid in a way which focuses on the Social Construction of Race and racialisation of inequalities.  How this connects with ways of thinking about race which informs understandings of transformation informed by commitments to non-racialism which do not slide into ‘colour blindness’ 
  23. 23. Learning about race in these participatory activities:
  24. 24. Race is absurd Race is painful Race has a material if not a biological basis Race involves processes of identification and dis-identification When it comes to understanding the dynamics of race it may help to take the position of outsider
  25. 25. Humour as pedagogy: Making it easier to engage with a ‘troubling’ topic Playing around with and subverting categories which normally we reify and take for granted but not in a way which is insensitive to the pain these produce.
  26. 26.  Race class and material inequalities in contemporary SA  Participatory activities:  mapping living and recreational spaces and resources in and around Stellenbosch.  comparing the town and the townships, and the emerging significance of race and class
  27. 27.  Race practices and the racialisation of spaces in contemporary SA, Stellenbosch and the University.
  28. 28. The reification of ‘race’ through the racialisation of spaces and bodies in contemporary SA (de-reifying these spaces and bodies through the concept of racialisation) Mapping contemporary Stellenbosch racially. What makes a nightclub black or white or coloured?The music?What’s white music? Rock? Is Rock white?Well it’s what white people like? Does it send out white vibes?
  29. 29.  Race is troubling  Asking questions about what makes spaces black, white and coloured stimulates lots of interest and also exasperation as if I’m like a child asking loads of questions like why do puddles have water in them, which it seems can only be answered with they just do.  But such questions were troubling for some people because they assumed they were being criticised for not mixing much racially (See Durrheim et al) and were critical of what they called ‘forced integration.’
  30. 30.  Trying not to be accusatory and putting people on guilt trips, but posing transformation questions around how to invoke tastes (Dolby) in ways which don’t produce racialized differences but encourage social and recreational practices which cut across lines of race. Framing transformation in terms of creating opportunities to learn from people from diverse backgrounds.
  31. 31.  Concerns about ‘forced integration’ were raised by a number of students in some of the tut sessions.Yet the first tut exercise of the course in which they were required to conduct a semi structured interview with another member of the group they didn’t know and if possible different across lines of race and/or gender was not experienced as forced integration precisely because it was in the words of many very enjoyable and surprising
  32. 32.  FirstTut: Race can yield pleasant surprises when the borders are crossed  You are going to be asked to interview someone you don’t know (if possible) and preferably someone of the opposite sex and another ‘race’ to find out:  why they are a student at Stellenbosch and what they like/don’t like about this  why they are doing sociology and what they like/don’t like about this, interests   This is a semi structured interview and you should aim to pick up on issues raised by your interview and make it conversational   You should provide a detailed account of your interviewee’s views on being a student at Stellenbosch, doing sociology and their hobbies and interests and how they spend their leisure time, which shows you have tried to emphasise with him her and listened hard to what he/she is saying   You should also write an account of what it was like to interview and be interviewed by your partner, how difficult or easy it was, and the kinds of relations you established with your partner  
  33. 33.  How ‘Race thinking’ * may contribute to forms of racial segregation among students on campus and elsewhere  *unconscious tendency to think racially or to use race as a lens through which to see and interpret the world, to identify themselves and others in terms of racial categories and to interact with people in particular ways according to understandings of race.
  34. 34. This question is raised in the following 3 autobiographical accounts of students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal reflecting on their experiences of living in Durban and their relations with various different people.These pieces were produced in response to a request to undergraduate and Hons. students to write about their lives and identities.
  35. 35.  I’m an African not a Coloured, Wesley Oakes . Being a young black woman from Botswana in Durban, One Selohilwe A Creole Mauritian with an Olive Skin coming to Durban, Marie Saramandif  (Pattman & Khan (2007)Undressing Durban)
  36. 36. The students writing these pieces are all from other countries and focus on how other people in SA relate to them and treat them. In doing so they tell us things about South African life which people born and brought up in SA often take for granted.These authors are able to do this precisely because of their positioning as strangers or outsiders in SA. 
  37. 37. All 3 students were used to mixing and making friends with people across lines of race and were surprised when they came to UKZN how racialized friendship patterns were, and how this impacted on them.
  38. 38. Wesley a Canadian student with a black mother and white father, who had always identified as black but had white and black friends was surprised when black and white students ignored him at UKZN and he was approached by coloured students. One, a black student from Botswana, hung about in a small mixed race group at UKZN and got started at and even criticised by other students because one of her friends was a white man with whom, it was assumed, she was having a sexual relationship. Marie, a student from Mauritius found that while she made friends across lines of race at UKZN , she only ever mixed with white, coloured, black and Indian people in segregated race groups. She also found that people in different races constructed her differently and in ways which made her seem like one of them. Eg.White people assumed she was a white person with a good tan, Indian students though she was a light skinned Indian, and coloured students thought she was coloured.
  39. 39. These readings generated much interest and dicussion among students in the lecture theatre at Stellenbosch, partly because the writers were students themselves and because they provided such powerful insights on race thinking and construction of race. They radically challenged the idea that race has a biological basis rooted in skin clour, draw attention, instead, to the production of race/gender borders through taken for granted forms of race thinking
  40. 40. These readings also generated laughter about the absurdity of race categories, especially when abstracted from the context in which they are produced, as if they exist in nature. I contributed to this humour in the following multi choice question I gave them Why didWesley Oakes discover he wasn’t black when he arrived at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from Canada where he had lived all his life? a. He got a new mirror b. He got sick in the flight and was pale when he landed in South Africa. c. Black students tended to ignore him and only coloured students befriended him. d. He realised that he was really coloured after all.
  41. 41.  While Wesley, One and Marie’s stories were very popular among the Stellenbosch students and generated much discussion and laughter, they were interpreted and appropriated by different students in ways which connected with their own experiences and identifications.  The notion of Race as race thinking, and the production of race borders through race categories, seem to resonate with students’ interests and experiences as articulated in the lecture theatre. But while some students interpreted the stories as providing evidence for the fiction of race, others, notably some black and coloured students emphasised the materiality of race , and in particular the racialisation of inequalities in contemporary South Africa which could not be wished way by thinking differently.
  42. 42. This divide between thinking about race as a material reality and a as social construction emerged as a key point of contestation in the course which set out to critique the assumption that race has a biological basis, that it is possible to divide humans as if they belong to different species in invoking notions of race. Responding to this I argued for the importance of thinking about race as both a material reality and a symbolic construction. Illustrating this, I drew on research with Grade 12 learners at Kayamandi high school, a poorly resourced township school, in which all the learners were black about their views of Stellenbosch University, one of the most affluent academic institutions in Africa only 20 mins walk away. .
  43. 43.  Conducted focus group discussions with these learners, with myself and Johari Harris, a young African American female teacher at Kayamandi, as facilitators on the following topics : their interests, aspirations and views of Stellenbosch University 
  44. 44.  Common discourse: praising it for academic excellence but also saying the language might pose problems for them  Race was introduced by them but much later and when Johari was engaging with them. She asked about the ‘social side’.  Long response from one man.Tone changed, from quite jovial to serious and sad, no interruptions, or speaking over: 
  45. 45.   “I go there [to a Res at the University where he has a friend] sometimes with him and when he goes there he buys something. And we are are surrounded by all these um (2) white people that are speaking in Afrikaans you know and then I’ll, you know (2) is a bit intimidating you know (1) it happens automatically, I don’t choose to be intimidated but I don’t know if its me or it happens to everyone but I [slows down] tend to get a bit intimidated being surrounded by white people and you know in one place and being the only black or two blacks and you know it gets a bit intimidating. So, I think culture wise, [speeds up] I would prefer to go to UCT in terms of social life where there is a lot of diversity. There are a lot of people. I would prefer to go over Stellenbosch.”  Later in the discussions some of the boys complained about being seen as potential thieves when they went into town.
  46. 46. Research: the approach and the findings   He’s speaking not from the point of power but from a position of marginality  He speaks in an apologetic way as if concerned not to offend (perhaps me as a white person and an academic at Stellenbosch) and raises concerns about race at Stellenbosch in response to Johari not to me.  Language becomes linked with race and exclusionary practices and intimidation
  47. 47.  Grounds what (in the university transformation documents) are often abstract and top down discourses about diversity  Concretises and contextualises ‘white domination’  Raises issues about diversity (and numbers) in conjunction with experiences of social cohesion or marginalisation  Raises issues too about the materiality of race as experienced by him (and the other participants) when visiting Stellenbosch from Kayamandi as well as symbolic constructions of Stellenbosch as white, and how each feed on the other
  48. 48. Compare with the Luister video produced by Open Stellenbosch: as a pedagogic activity and a research exercise. Luister also draws attention to the everyday social construction of race and racism and also the materiality of race
  49. 49.  In the Luister video, the participants (mainly black students) provided reflective and very concrete accounts of experiences of marginalisation as black students, from being the butt of racist jokes, the victims and suspected perpetrators of violence and crime and at a loose in classes dominated by Afrikaans.The video which went ‘viral’ not only raised explicit concerns about lack of transformation at Stellenbosch, based on their experiences as black students, but also questioned implicitly the dynamics of power at Stellenbosch and transformation epistemologies.  Significantly gender hardly features, and when it does, only very abstractly in a comment about ‘patriarchy’
  50. 50.  Making Gender aTransformation Issue.  Linking gender and race  What does the toilet sign below. Only white people? How do we know ‘only men’?The symbolic construction of gender through toilet signs.
  51. 51.  Drawing parallels between gender and race in the social construction of student identifications and expressions of power.  Race always intersects with other variables notably gender, sexuality, age and class as sources of identification and dimensions of power and inequality
  52. 52.  (from Robertson, M and Pattman, R)  In Stellenbosch contemporary concerns about ‘diversity’ in the residences have focused, not surprisingly, on race given Stellenbosch’s status as a formerly white university and the significance historically attached to residences as affluent and privileged spaces in the heart of campus for its best students (as judged by academic and sporting achievements and family ties and connections). But our research on diversity and how this is experienced and constructed by black, white and coloured men and women first year students in exclusively female and male residences, raises questions about gender and sexuality as well as race, and how all three intersect and operate in the social construction of normative expectations and normative violence. (Butler)
  53. 53.  I invited Megan Robertson a coloured women masters student in her early 20s to take one session in the course and to present some of her findings from this research. In particular this focused on the practice of skakelling, between mainly single sex residences and the effects of this in marginalising students in terms of race, gender and sexuality. This was a key concern which emerged in her research which was raised mainly by black and coloured women students.
  54. 54.  What is Skakeling?  Plugging the ‘gender gap’ through skakeling  According to the students in Megan’s research the most obvious way in which residences today attempt to plug the ‘gender gap’ (which arguably they help create) is through the organisation of ‘Skakels’ in which female and male students are invited to socialise with each other. While these occur in the mixed gender residences, they assume particular significance in the single sex residences precisely because the possibilities of meeting and socialising informally across lines of gender are much diminished in these.
  55. 55.  They are hetero-normative events in which men take the lead, and are usually organised on quite formal lines which mimic conventional romantic narratives. Often the men and women are expected to line up facing each other.They then greet each other with a communal pre-arranged greeting, with members of the male residence collectively serenading members of the female residence, and then the men approach the women
  56. 56.  Contributing to polarization rather than social cohesion across lines of gender  While skakeling may be understood as a cultural practice aimed at promoting social interaction and therefore social cohesion across lines of gender, our view is it plays upon and contributes to forms of gender polarization by fetishizing heterosexual coupledom as the only or proper space for bonding across gender lines, rendering same sex desire and identifications invisible and making it difficult to contemplate possibilities of cross gender friendships  Black and coloured women raising concerns about racial exclusion and humiliation in skakels  Concerns were raised by black and coloured women students in Megan’s research about being overlooked or rejected by potential male suitors in skakels who were almost exclusively white.
  57. 57.  Transforming the lecture theatre: Megan’s presentation  Megan reported on these concerns, which seemed to resonate with many of the students (especially black and coloured women students) in the lecture theatre.  The fact that here was a young coloured woman presenting a lecture based on research which made Stellenbosch and its residences, as experienced and constructed by students , its central focus, made this a particularly enthralling session for many students, and afterwards Megan was congratulated by many students who chatted to her and hugged her.  It seemed like she was producing through legitimising forms of knowledge which resonated with their experiences  While she engaged with the pain of Skakelling for many students she also de-constructed the kinds of absurd identifications
  58. 58.  Putting myself and some of my students in the picture:  First photo: Failing the pencil test when I was younger  Second photo: Students at a protest march earlier this year against racism following a racist attack on black students in MacDonald’s in Stellenbosch

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    Nov. 7, 2015

talk by Rob Pattman from Stellenbosch University at SOTL at UJ seminar series, about teaching 'race'


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