The Multicultural Studies Course Discussion

The Multicultural Studies Course Discussion

1. Write about how Takaki explains Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ from a multicultural perspective. Try to see whose perspective is represented. Try to connect to the Intellectual Traditions we read about last week. Just try.

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Keep those ideas about Intellectual Traditions close, as we will need them. We are going back to that idea about the Social Construction of Knowledge that we looked at in Week 2. (maybe go back and look at Wk 2 again)  The ideas I want to explain today are deep. We’ll be working with the ideas from today’s Session for the rest of our time together. (Remember, Takaki’s words in bold, Betsey’s in plain type) Here we go:  Takaki A Different Mirror The “Tempest” in the Wilderness  Betsey: Think about this with me: You sit down to write your assignment (you know, its due in 20 minutes). So, you sit there, assuming the writer’s position (imagine me, wrists in a typing position, staring out the window, looking at palm trees, warm surf, thinking of outdoor showers…). GOT IT? OK, where do those ideas come from? From the refrigerator? (like there’s something in there you can use?) It’s magic? Santa Claus brings those ideas? (are you laughing :-?)  I get my (words/ideas/stuff to write down) from the same place Will Shakespeare got his (words/ideas/stuff to write down): We – all of us – get those ideas, etc., from our lives.  experiences / parents / teachers / siblings / friends / books / videos / TV / etc. neighborhood/geography/location identity/language/culture/traditions/world view race/ethnicity/gender/social class/sexual orientation/religion/ disability I can hear you: you’re saying, ” SO?” Here is my point: this perspective of the process of ‘expressing knowing’ is central to Multicultural Studies.  Stay with me; this is important:  The Social Construction of Knowledge  What passes for knowledge is not an isolated phenomenon but is shaped by the political economy and social order of its day. The Social Construction of Knowledge is a theory that helps us to answer these questions:  In what ways does knowledge shape society? In what ways does the objective organization of society shape knowledge? (Newby and Newby, 1995) This is what Dr.Takaki means when he talks about epistemology (how do you know you know what you know?)  The concept that knowledge is socially constructed can help us to understand how to think from more than one perspective. Consider this: Many of you, in your responses to the history readings, have mentioned how shocked and disturbed you are by what you are reading. Several of you mention that you are amazed you were never taught a multicultural version of US history. Can you connect that to where you grew up, who your teachers and neighbors and friends have been? Please note, I’m not asking for testimonials. I’m asking you to NOTICE THE STORIES.  Consider that many people of color, especially those who grew up in multicultural communities, know the stories told in multicultural history texts. At least many know the stories that are about their ethnic group (notice I use the word ethnic in this context and not race). Consider also, when people of color grow up in homogeneous mainstream communities, they may have no access to these multicultural stories.  I will often ask you, “What stories do you know about….”? This is my way of asking you to notice the ways in which all of what we know came from someone who was influenced by all their multiple identities and the way those identities are perceived by others.  Let’s practice noticing. Here is Takaki’s frame of The Tempest:  a story about how Prospero was sent into exile with his daughter, took possession of an island inhabited by Caliban, and redeemed himself by marrying Miranda to the king’s son  Betsey: Who is this story about? How do you know who the important person in the story is? How would the story be different if it were told by another character? Let me show you; let’s look at that sentence again:  The Tempest: a story about how Prospero was sent into exile  Betsey: (he was sent? Through no fault of his own? Wasn’t there something about a relationship with the queen, a verbal indiscretion?)  with his daughter  (Can’t you hear her: “Hey, what’d I do? How come I have to go with you? It wasn’t my fault!) Of course, in the time Shakespeare was writing about she wouldn’t do that. This is an example of the concept that gender roles are socially constructed. What might she do? Would she follow her father dutifully? Would she talk back to him? Maybe in her mind?  took possession of an island  Betsey: (imagine me, wandering around your house, watching you study. Suppose I “take possession” of your house, because my yacht Grace, where I live, feels small, sometimes) (imagine what the power relationship would have to be for me to feel like I could “take possession” of your house, simply because I ‘need’ it)  inhabited by Caliban  Betsey: (you understand, this means HE LIVED HERE, he was born here, his parents were born here, his children were born here, his ancestors were buried here, his memories are everywhere he looks). What connections do you see between the experience of Caliban and the experiences of many people of color in the US?  and redeemed himself by marrying Miranda to the king’s son  Betsey: (Notice the power relationship embedded in this sentence. Who does the marrying? Who does the redeeming? Who is the pimp? I can imagine Miranda with a big dose of attitude, saying, “Hey, how is it that I have to marry the creepy prince to get your behind out of trouble?”.  Do you know about Caliban? He saw himself as a strong, self-possessed, virile, ethical person. He saw himself as powerful, as human. What did Prospero see when he looked at Caliban? He saw a ‘native’. Can you hold these two pictures in your mind at the same time: the way Caliban thought of himself and the way Prospero thought about Caliban? Think about the following sentences from Takaki:  Takaki: The Timing of ‘The Tempest’ was crucial: It was first performed after the English invasion of Ireland but before the colonization of New England, after John Smith’s arrival in Virginia but before the beginning of tobacco economy.  Betsey: Takaki suggests that The Tempest became a metaphor for British thinking about the New World. The connection to the social construction of knowledge:  Each of the characters in the play was portrayed from Prospero’s perspective Each of the characters came from Shakespeare’s view of his/their world. The London newspapers in 1611 were filled with stories of The New World, much as newspapers today are filled with stories about (what? Give me an example). AND, Shakespeare’s friends included both a navigator and a mapmaker, both of whom had been to the American colonies. It seems reasonable to assume that Shakespeare got some of his assumptions about the Indians from his friends. Can you see them at the local tavern, sitting over a warm brew, talking about their experiences? (“Man, Will, those Indians were N-A-K-E-D!”). AND, can you see my own stereotypes about how this might have been for them?  Make this connection: The Tempest was a hit. It was the British media event of 1611. Everyone in London either saw it, or said they saw it. Everyone in London knew the story. Also, many people in London in that time shared assumptions about who the Irish were and who the Indians were likely to be based on their perceived similarity to the Irish. Think of how terrorists were portrayed in the media in the weeks and months after the World Trade Center Bombing. Those are examples of the social construction of knowledge.  See if you can find connections to the social construction of knowledge in the following quotes from Takaki. What are the socially constructed assumptions embedded in each of the quotes? Can you see the Either/Or?  “The English claimed they had a God-given mandate to ‘inhabit and reform so barbarous a nation’ and to educate the Irish ‘brutes'”  “The English believed the Irish could be civilized, improved through what Shakespeare called “nurture” In short, the difference between the Irish and the English was a matter of culture.”  “The first English colonizers in the New World found that the Indians reminded them of the Irish.”  Think of some of the movies you have seen recently. Try to connect the videos you have seen to the Social Construction of Knowledge and Intellectual Traditions. Here is just an example so you will see what I am talking about: think of the Disney movie Pocahontas. In this video, Pocahontas is portrayed as a woman in love with John Smith. Consider that Pocahontas was still a child, maybe 11 or 12 years old, when John Smith came to her village. She was more like a hostage than a love interest. John Smith was in his forties or fifties, hardly a love interest for an 11-year-old girl. Keep thinking about this. Write your thoughts in the Discussion forum.

2.  Write a few paragraphs to explain the theory of ethnic and racial identity development, from Session 3.2.  Also see the handout on Racial /Ethnic Identity Development in this module.  Try to connect to the Intellectual Traditions


I want to talk today about racial and ethnic identity development. We’ll need those ideas from Intellectual Traditions and from Social Constructions to help us understand racial identity theory. You may want to go back and review those Sessions again.

The theory of racial and ethnic identity development states that there is a developmental process to recognizing ourselves as having race (and gender and social class, etc) in a culture that marks those categories, and assigns relative power and privilege based on those socially constructed categories.

Before we talk about racial and ethnic identity development, we need to clarify some issues.

Distinctions between Race and Ethnicity

The words race, ethnicity, and nationality are often used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. I make distinctions among these words:

  • Race: in the context of this course, race has primarily to do with skin color, as perceived by others
  • Ethnicity: the subgroup of a society you feel affinity with; may or may not be related to race
  • Nationality: means you are a citizen of which country? (what does it say on your passport?)

Racial Identity

Dr. Beverly Tatum defines racial identity as “…the meaning each of us has constructed or is constructing about what it means to be a White person or a person of color in a race-conscious society. It is because we live in a racist society (a society that practices discrimination based on race) that racial identity has as much meaning as it does”.  She defines racism as a system of advantage/oppression based on race.  Note that it is not racist to notice race or to talk about racism.  Let me say that again:

It is not racist to notice race or to talk about racism.

Also, let’s be wary of conflating the terms ‘racist’ and ‘racism’. These words don’t mean the same thing.

The theory of racial and ethnic identity development states that there is a developmental process to understanding ourselves and others as people who have race in a culture that assigns meaning to race. Many teachers and trainers in multicultural studies have noticed that their students seem to go through recognizable phases or stages in their development of multicultural competence.

Racial identity influences how you experience the world, how you see others, and how you communicate. Identity development models help explain individual differences.

There are some general patterns to racial identity development, and the patterns are different depending on whether you are a member of the dominant group or a member of a disenfranchised group. I’ll summarize it here, and then go into more detail.

Racial and Ethnic Identity Development

White Racial/Ethnic
Identity Development

Minority Racial/Ethnic
Identity Development

Stage 1: No awareness of racial identity

Stage 1: No awareness of racial identity

Stage 2: Begin to notice, causes discomfort

Stage 2: Begin to notice, causes discomfort

Stage 3: EITHER Born-again Anti-Racist

Stage 3: Reject dominant group, embrace own group

Stage 4: OR Retreat into White Culture

Stage 4: Introspection, learning to balance

Stage 5: Redefine Whiteness, open to learning

Stage 5: Renewed commitment to ending racism

(Ponterotto, J.G.; Pedersen, P.B. (1993) Preventing Prejudice: A guide for counselors and educators Sage.

From here, go to Week 3 Module, look for the handout called Racial Ethnic Identity Development

Actions and print it, so you can look at it a lot.  It doesn’t format well in the Sessions, so the handout (in landscape view) works better.

George Sims, statistician, writes: “Most models are wrong.  But many are useful”.

This racial identity model is like that, not totally accurate, too linear, leaves some folks out. And, despite all that, still useful for our purposes:  to see how racial and ethnic identity development can help us see race and ethnicity more clearly, from more than one perspective.

Do some research of your own about racial identity development.  This topic is not easy to research on the Internet, as many of the documents available are highly academic, and not easily accessible.  Try a search for the major researchers:  Beverly Daniel Tatum, William Cross, Janet Helms, Maria Root.  Several students have suggested that the models developed by Janet Helms are particularly useful.

This is a good explanation of Beverly Tatum’s work on identity development (Links to an external site.)

As you read, and think about racial identity models, see if you can identify your own level of racial identity development. Remember the model is not linear; you can go backwards, forwards, in between, mix two stages, etc. Remember, the stages are not predictable, only recognizable. Write about your insights in your notes, and in the Discussion Forum.

3.  Choose Session 3.3 or 3.4, and explain the main ideas, in your own words, using your own examples


I want to speak directly about some characteristics of White U.S. Culture. I am aware that this content is challenging and provocative. So just take it in for a time. Write about it in your notes.  Sit with whatever you feel about this to see what it can teach you.

I am talking about some features of culture that White people (and people of color who grew up in White culture) inherited.  You don’t have to feel guilty or blamed.  You will know you understand this content when you can read it without feeling defensive about it.  Go back and read the handout about Comfort Zones, Learning Edges and Triggers in Week 2cdc.  Try not to get defensive and fall off your learning edge.  You might need to print this one and read it over and over.  It is deep.

This session is adapted from Paul Kivel. (Kivel, P. (1996) Uprooting racism: How White people can work for racial justice.) I found this little paperback to be very helpful, and I reproduce the most helpful of Kivel’s words here. Again, I will show Kivel’s words in bold, and my comments in regular type.

Whiteness as the Default Category

Kivel:  Rarely in this country do we identify ourselves and each other as White. People are assumed to be white unless otherwise noted, much as people (and animals) are assumed to be male. Read the following lines:

  • He walked into the room and immediately noticed her
  • This new sitcom is about a middle-aged, middle class couple and their teenage children
  • The average American drinks two cups of coffee a day

Are all these people White? Read the sentences again and imagine Chinese Americans

Betsey:  All of us have pictures in our minds about the ways people and things are supposed to look and be. When I say the word ‘American’, what picture pops into your conscious mind? For most people, the ‘default’ American is a White male.  I am newly sensitive also to the very term ‘American’ which has come to mean ‘White US citizen, to the dismay of Central and South Americans, and Canadians (who are North American).

Kivel:  White people assume we are White. It can seem like we’re stating the obvious. Yet it makes us uneasy, marked. Why notice? What’s the point of saying I’m White?

Betsey:  In a culture that marks race, everyone’s race matters. You’ll see in a bit that the uneasiness you may be feeling is the result of values and beliefs that are part of the deep structure of White US culture, part of the ‘community of memory’ of White US culture, part of the master narrative of U.S. culture.

Kivel:  We have been led to believe that racism is a question of particular acts of discrimination or violence. Calling someone a name, denying someone a job, excluding someone from a neighborhood–that is racism. But what about living in a White neighborhood where people of color are excluded or harassed? What about working in an organization where people of color are paid less, etc.? 

Betsey:  Just to clarify, I use the word prejudice for ‘calling someone a name’.  Racism, a kind of discrimination, is something bigger than that, something that interferes with peoples’ life chances.

Kivel:  Racism affects each and every aspect of our lives, all the time, whether people of color are present or not.

Betsey:  It often seems that White people and people of color are talking about totally different things when they speak about racism. When White people say racism, they mean individual acts of prejudice that one person does to another person. We mean this kind of racism when we talk about how ‘racist’ someone is. The correct term for this is prejudiced. We’ll try not to say ‘racist’ in this class, at least until we are clear about what the terms mean.

When people who are multiculturally competent say the word racism, they more often mean the institutional and systematic practices of a culture that marks race as a social category, and assigns privileges based on racial distinctions that are meaningless.  It is the systemic, institutional racism I am speaking of when I speak about racism.  It is the kind of racism that is hard for people who grew up in White American culture to see, because we have been trained not to speak of it (not the same as not noticing).  Let me say that again:

When I say racism, I mean:  a system of advantages based on (White) race.  (Keep thinking about this)

Kivel:  Many people of color know this intimately. They know that where they live, work and walk, who they talk with and how, what they read, listen to, or watch on TV, their past experiences and future possibilities, are all influenced by racism.

Betsey:  Many people of color know this based on their lived experiences and the lived experiences of their families/ friends/ teachers/etc. That’s how people of color get good at noticing the nuances of racism. They have many opportunities to practice.  Many people of color experience every day the issues that we are learning about. Many White people think people of color are too ‘over the top’, because they speak about their life experiences in ways that White people rarely are required to understand.  Here’s what Paul Kivel says about this:

As White people, we know this also, but we do not talk about it. Because we don’t talk about it, naming Whiteness can seem scary, foolish, unnecessary, pointless, wrong. For the next few days, notice how rarely you see the words White, Caucasian, or Euro-American. Carry your race with you.  Notice it. During the day, in each new situation, remind yourself that you have race. What difference does it make? Who is around you, what are they doing, are they White or people of color?

Much of the time we don’t notice our Whiteness. However, when the subject is racism, many of us don’t want to be White, because it opens us up to charges of being racist, and brings up feeling of guilt, shame, embarrassment and hopelessness.

We begin here, with denial of our Whiteness, because racism keeps people of color in the limelight and makes Whiteness invisible. Whiteness is a concept, an ideology that holds tremendous power over our lives. Our challenge will be to keep Whiteness center stage.

Betsey:  If you are a person of color who grew up in White US culture, then you may feel some discomfort as well.  If you are a person of color who grew up in a multicultural community, you may wonder, “How did this get to be about White folks again?”  My answer:  This part has always been about White folks.

Kivel:  If, when you move down the streets of major US cities, other people assume, based on your appearance, that you are White, then in US society, that counts for being White. If not, then not.


What stage might you guess the White guy is in, in his understanding of himself as having race, in a culture that assigns meaning to race?  How about the Asian American woman?