They were silent or apologetic for not having had a chance to read, or they proffered personal exhortations or sometimes "unrelated" contemporary for instances. The dynamic has not boded well for classroom interaction. I feared that the class would degenerate into a bi-weekly "gripe" session that vanquished the concrete under the overly broad and that the assigned material would go unaddressed. Divisions were clearly occurring, and frustration was not in short supply. In the course of discussion, one of the older adult Black female students, who admitted she had not read much, sought to add something to the dialogue about Black women and support networks on the job and in the community. She said (a fairly close paraphrase): "... unlike how some of us act today. For instance, today how Black females go to these 'chinks' to get their nails done." (How does that line go in the new Lauryn Hill song, "Doo Wop (That Thing)" on her new CD The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill?: "It's silly when girls sell their souls because it's in/Look at where you be in hair weaves like Europeans/Fake nails done by Koreans/Come again ...")
One second of shock, before my hand pierces the air like a missile. "Hold it, a minute!" I must admit I'm quite angry at this point. The student tries to defend her statement - about Black women and nails. "Wait!" I raise my voice, even louder. "No, no, no, I have to say something here." Finally, after several attempts, I am allowed to speak. "I'm not going to debate you about Black women and their nails, but we can't use words such as 'chink'." I launch into my in-this-class line: "In this class where we are talking about anti-racist, anti-sexist struggles ... " I can't tell what she is thinking at this point; her body language reads nonchalance: "Ok, then. Asians. Or Asian-Americans."
Why do I feel like a scolding parent? This can't be good? A bright neon internal sign flashes before my eyes: Beware of hierarchy. Displeased and dismayed at not only the comment, but the uneven discussions, I decided to make an intervention. I asked everyone to tell me in writing what they thought of the class so far. Five out of seven students responded to my request.
After a couple of weeks, I finally found the gumption and "clarity" to reply. Here are excerpts from students' statements and my replies: