In 1972 I taught a class in multiculturalism at the Phoenix OIC. It upset a lot of people that I was selected to do so b/c at that time the Black Power/Brown Power movements were at their height and OIC targeted those groups as well as poor Whites and other groups for job training, etc. The spirit of the times required a kind of consciousness raising which is possibly no longer on the front burner. There was a practical reason for addressing the idea of ethnicity, called “culture” then: only recently had laws been implemented to open jobs up to everybody, so a lot of our minority clients (students, enrollees, etc.) had grown up in a work environment that was restricted, so they needed to be informed that the job place had opened up.
However, in this particular organization, the ethnic component was paramount, with an emphasis on showing how the White Man had enslaved people of color. So guess who was teaching the course: me. White guy.
I quickly disabused the staff of any notion that I would present a weak version, in part b/c my knowledge of cultural history went far beyond that of any of them, and in part b/c I talked in a personal way about being raised White and then coming into contact with minorities (remember, we were just coming out of a period where the city was segregated and if a White person wanted to meet Blacks or Hispanics, he had to go to that part of town, which act itself was frowned on.
What I presented to them was an overall picture of culture and ethnicity with the term race defined very closely as a social construct destroyed by science some time ago. That itself was very controversial since our society was divided along racial lines, even for Hispanics, who are not a race. That last idea was very hard for people to wrap their heads around. Keep in mind, at that time many Mexican-Americans thought if you were brown like them, you must speak Spanish, and if you were White or Black, you did not speak Spanish. They were always amazed at seeing a Black person or White person speaking Spanish. Talk abut Argentina or Cuba did not help much b/c all they knew were their Phoenix barrios where their appearance declared who they were and what language they spoke.
I do not believe I kept the material I wrote up and I am unhappy about that. Today is my birthday, a non-chore day so I think I’ll look through a couple of things where I might have kept those papers. I think I did a pretty good job of laying out what was essentially a geography course. It’s too bad we don’t teach geography in our schools b/c I think it is the basis for understanding so much of what has happened in the past and what is happening now. When you hear someone say that some people have lived in a spot or practiced some trait for “thousands of years”, you know they don’t know any geography. My favorite story was of the ethnomusicologist who asked the African “tribe” to produce their oldest song; they led out a crone who shakily produced the oldest tune, which turned out to be Oh My Darling Clementine, learned from missionaries in the previous century. Or ancient folk tales where the gods use rifles.
So as I prepare a brief overview of language teaching methodology for a presentation, I think I’ll do a parallel overview of world geography, a survey course, if you will, heavy on definitions. It will go in this category, Basics.