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Monday, October 19, 2015

Race and Gender - Gender and Race

So let me get this straight:

     Girls can't be who they are because of girls, boys, adults and society

     Boys can't be who they are because of boys, girls, adults and society

     Adolescents can't be who they are because of stages and development and schema, boys, girls,            adults, and society

     Anyone who has race can't be who they are because of others like and unlike them and stages and        development and schema, and boys and girls, and society

     There is really no such thing as race, but we live in a world that is racial, in fact "a fundamental          organizing principle, a way of knowing and interpreting the social world."(121)

Is it any wonder that Nakkula and Toshalis describe the identities of the young people we work with as "performances" (121)?

We often discuss race and gender issues in my classroom, especially in the early part of the year and here is a link to a website my students and I discussed recently:  Understanding Race

Whenever possible, we try to distinguish the language of race from culture in my classroom, as culture is generally associated with pride and family, and race is usually associated with racism.  One of my students suggested today that we all check the "other" box when filling out demographic info, and write in "human" in the space provided.  I thought this was an excellent suggestion, and was even happier when it led to a spirited classroom discussion.  My favorite part was one student who steadfastly refused to consider that racism played a role in his life (white male) and while we never came to consensus as to why it might, neither did he eject or shut down from the conversation.  I can't wait until tomorrow.

How can anyone be expected to demonstrate "authentic" when what is expected of them is in such conflict with anything individual and personal?

I think that probably the most important task of adolescence and the one that causes the most stress to the individual is discovering who they are authentically, and allowing that to drive decisions and be seen by others.  I would contend that when young people pretend to be like others, act like the crowd, and it is not authentic to their true selves, that it causes massive internal conflict, which is apparent to others and the source for insecurity and beacons ridicule.  This in turn, rather than influencing the adolescent toward more individual pursuits, causes them to refine their attempts to fit in, with a shut down period in between.

It is only when adolescents make honest attempts to share their authentic selves regardless of the reinforcement they get from peers, that they are seen as individual, and respected.  This causes a conundrum for teens, the fear to be original leading to more adaptive behavior, which in turn leads to reinforcement of adaptive rather than individual behavior.  Whether assimilating to gender, race, or other social stimulus, young adolescents trend toward and desire inclusion, when in fact, it is the authentic individual that will attract true friends and commandeer respect among them.

One area in which chapters 6 & 7 fail to give enough room for is the manifestations of gender and racial pressure, which often show themselves in sex, and drug and alcohol use.

When young people experience frustration with gender and race roles, they often turn to risky behaviors in an attempt to fit in.  Adolescent boys as well as girls feel enormous pressure to engage in sexual relationships because of the stories and encouragement they feel from peers, often even more so than because of curiosity or raging hormones.  Girls and boys both feel pressure from their peer groups to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and as much as we may want to separate this from gender and race study, they are intertwined.

We hear about Antwon listening to rap, and wearing counter culture clothing, but not of hanging out with his crew smoking weed?  We discuss Lorena building muscle and flipping off classmates who question it, but not cries of "dyke"?  Predators (socially, sexually, and racially) know about the incredible pressure sex-alcohol-drugs have on teens, especially those in conflict, and we as educators need to be realistic in our outlook as well, have open conversations, and build strong foundations within our young people in order for them to have the necessary tools to face these daily challenges with more than just hope.  Building those skills is complex, and requires a strong sense of self, but also a flexible and open approach that is geared toward the individual.


  1. Brian, I also agree that I felt a lot was missing from these two chapters. I think an entire book could be written on each one of the points that you touched upon. I work with younger students, so hopefully the sex thing is not present yet, but it does show through in how my students dress. We wear uniforms here, but on dress down days the self expression come though. Though, I don't often feel it is self-expression but expression of peers. The conversations that you are talking about don't need to just happen in high school, but should be started in elementary school.

  2. Brian, I really like the way you open this and the way you break it all down into some type of performance people are giving at all times. I also like the way you question how anyone can try to be authentic when everything leads adolescents down the path of conformity. I think it is true also that at times frustration with gender and race can play out as risky behavior. So, the question can we encourage our students to be individuals in a world that promotes assimilation?

  3. I think that is great-- 'human"--

    I always wonder if our students are 'really' aware of how racial divided may shape their lives when they leave the school system. (I only say this because, my case study is unaware of struggles that may come because of race, or because of his last name.) I feel that our students may not have a full understanding of life outside of school- only what they hear in the media, from their church, or family. I am sure they have some experiences that are relevant in their lives, but do they know the full scope of it? It bothers me that some of my students haven't left the tri-city and might not have a clear understanding of what happens out of the city limits. I am sure I will explore most of these questions within my case study.

  4. Brian - I agree that these categories are often inseparable. Your discussion of risky behavior also made me wonder what happens when learning style is mixed in with racial and gender identity development. How do all three interact to affect an adolescent's choice to experiment with sex, drugs, and/or alcohol? How does an adolescent's awareness of where they stand in each of these categories affect their decisions? So much complexity!