The causes and consequences of stereotyping

February 23, 2011

The goal with these online exercises is to explore our own attitudes and mindsets with regards to stereotypes, stereotyping, and ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups. A set of easy-to-take tests at Harvard, part of its Project Implicit, will help us do this. I’d like each of us to take at least two of these Project Implicit tests, and choose any two other than “Weapons” or “Presidents.” Each test takes approximately five minutes.

I also want each student to take two of the surveys at UnderstandingPrejudice.org. You are going to love these, I think. (I did!). After you’ve taken the four tests (two at each website), comment to this post about what you learned, if anything. Did you learn or were you made aware of anything useful? Surprising? Did the surveys change your thinking in any way? (I found out that I’m a “benevolent sexist,” for example, which I’m still processing but have to agree with to some degree.) Share your experiences with these surveys here, and do so before midnight Sunday, Feb. 27. I look forward to reading your responses.


A time when you were in the “out” group

February 18, 2011

Inspired by our conversations in Visual Rhetoric, I want to leverage the blog to explore what is perhaps a widely shared view: That individuals and groups who feel slighted or offended should just get over it, that they are being too sensitive, that we shouldn’t be so concerned with what we might call ‘political correctness.’ This theme is from our examination of the Popeye’s re-do ad featuring the four college students.

Before I ask for your reactions, a few thoughts:

First, as I shared in class, a general principle holds that if a group sees that there is the possibility that they are being insulted by another, it will. This is how we are hard-wired. We are always on guard. We like to think the best of FILL IN THE BLANK HERE (Northerners, white people, the French, whomever), but we don’t.

I will default to my worst fear. For an African American viewing the Popeye’s Annie (the one we didn’t see), he or she will fear you are perpetuating Aunt Jemima. Consider if Annie were white. The black stereotype and historical antecedent disappears. The default fear is gone. (We still might think about the portrayal of gender.)

So if we think there is any chance of intent to slight us, we will feel slighted. We live in a culture of indignation. Some are hacked off because we got it wrong. Some are hacked off because we got it right. This is the key: We should care about the first; we don’t necessarily have to lose sleep about the second.

Second, is it up to us to determine when another people group should or should not feel insulted, regardless of intent? When we don’t share that group’s history, culture or even language, how can we judge? We do not relinquish our own “right” to decide when we’ve been slighted, I wonder how it is that we are so quick to decide for others.

Third, our goals in the course are ethical decision-making, ethical image-making, ethical communication. And ethics requires a process. We need diverse people in the room. We also need a process for systematic dialogue and conversation, so we can be deliberate, thoughtful and persuasive. So we can say what we mean, not something else. To discuss how a group or groups might be unintentionally offended, alienated or even victimized by our messages costs very little before the message goes out. As we’ve seen in our in-class examples, it can become quite costly after.

Perhaps a good guide for us is the Keith Woods quotation on the board Wednesday: ‘Appreciate my uniqueness, but treat me the same.’ This gets to the universal sameness of difference and diversity. Don’t we all share this sentiment?

So how do we better appreciate difference? We all are guilty to some degree of staying in our comfort zone, of failing to notice much less engage with the ‘Other,’ with those outside our group, whoever that might mean. I have a trio of exercises that will help us better appreciate difference and what it means to be on the outside looking in, exercises that get increasingly difficult. Don’t worry; all of them should be fun, if you buy into the point or ‘takeaway’ here.

So, to get us started, the first exercise:

Write a response to this post that tells the rest of us of a time when you were the ‘Other,’ a time when you didn’t fit in, when you were excluded. Say something about what that felt like, and about what you wish the dominant or ‘in’ group knew or considered or valued. This exercise is required.

Deadline: midnight Tuesday, Feb. 22.


Generating story ideas for Project GoingGreen

February 14, 2011

As a followup to Friday’s budget meeting and to keep our planning moving forward, I’d like us to begin brainstorming individual story ideas. For Wednesday, Feb. 16, please comment to this post with three individual story ideas proposed in the form of a headline. An example: Evans School sustainability committee readying specific proposals.

For each story idea, please identify one or two sources, specifically (by name). For the headline above, for example: Dean Tom Kennedy, Prof. Jim Watkins (chair of the committee).

To help you, and to re-cap Friday, we discussed a multimedia package on sustainability, water conservation and distribution in NW Georgia, and recycling efforts in the area. Going Green. Three key questions driving much of this:

  1. What does sustainability look like?
  2. What is or defines “success” (or failure)?
  3. What’s being done (concretely, specifically, right now)?
  4. Is there any accountability?

We also discussed the need to get beyond the bubble. This means that in addition to Berry, we should look at Shorter, Ga Highlands, NW Ga Tech (or whatever it’s called), hospitals in town, industry, the city and county (municipal recycling programs, for example).

We should also look at waste. Atlanta ‘wastes’ as much water per day as Rome uses.

And we talked quite a bit about water supply in this area, the competition for this water between Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia (and all sorts of constituencies in each of these states), and the concern for the quality of the water that we do have.

I will work to get Joe Cook, director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, and an alum of our department. Awaiting your story ideas and sources. We’ll use these ideas as fodder for our next budget meeting, Friday in the library seminar room.


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