Monday, 2 December 2013

Passing/Out: Education, Race, Class and the Failure/Refusal to Assimilate

Deep into thinking about the PhD at the moment so no free brain space to come up with a proper written post, so instead this is some of the research I'm working on at the moment on the way social stigmas are formed and reinforced in the intersections of race, class and gender in the (predominantly, ie except hooks) British education system.

Bell Hooks: 'Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about race or gender; the uncool subject is class. It's the subject that makes us all tense, nervous, uncertain about where we stand...Racism and sexism can be exploited in the interests of class power. Yet no one wants to talk about class.'

'At the end of the day the threat of class warfare, of class struggle, is just too dangerous to face. The neat binary of white and black or male and female are not there when it comes to class.'

'Often times I too am afraid to think and write about class. I began my journey to class consciousness as a college student learning about the politics of the America left, reading Marx, Fanon, Gramsci, Memmi, the little red book and so on. But when my studies ended, I still felt my language to be inadequate. I still found it difficult to make sense of class in relation to race and gender. Even now the intellectual left in this nation looks down on anyone who does not speak the chosen jargon. The domain of academic and/ or intellectual discourse about class is still mostly white, mostly male. While a few women get to have there say, most of the time men do not really listen. Most leftist men will not fully recognise the left politics of revolutionary feminism: to them class remains the only issues. Within revolutionary feminism a class analysis matters, but so does an analysis of race and gender.'

'Even as we sat next to the children of black doctors., lawyers, and undertakers in our segregated schoolrooms, no one talked about class. When these children were treated better, we thought it was because they were prettier, smarter, and just knew the right way to act.'

'Throughout my graduate student years I was told again and again that I lacked the proper decorum of a graduate student, that I did not understand my place. Slowly I began to understand fully that there was no place in academe for folks from working-class backgrounds who did not wish to leave the past behind. That was the price of the ticket. Poor students  would be welcome at the best institutions of higher learning only if they were willing to  surrender memory and forget the past and claim the assimilated present as the only worthwhile and meaningful reality.'

'All my notions of higher education were informed by a romantic vision of intellectual hard work and camaraderie, I like most of my working-class peers, was not prepared to face class hierarchies present in academia, or the way information in the class room was slanted to protect the interests of ruling class groups.'

Jo Spence: 'Within weeks of the term beginning I was already filled with shame of what I didn't know, what I lacked. This has never fully gone away despite of all the work I have done since. In this respect, I come from a background where, within state education, I was systematically treated as if I was stupid..Entering higher education for working-class people is problematic if it does not address the realities of our lives, or the ways in which our particular subjectivities were formed'.

'The middle-class mystifies and refines knowledge at the same time it manages to rationalize its activity by convincing us that this is all in the interests of progress and economic growth. Photography as a tool is far removed from such attitudes because it negates elitism...Community photographers are encouraging people to photograph each other, friends and family, then their social environment. This provides immediate feedback for discussion, provides aids for story telling and reading, and makes it possible to look at the world differently. People can discover how to relate to themselves, and to others more positively when armed with images of themselves – images which counteract the stereotypes usually seen in the mass media...The main objective here is to enable people to achieve some degree of autonomy in their own lives and to be able to express themselves more easily, thus gaining solidarity with each other.(Spence 1995:35)

Owen Jones in Chavs
'Being born into a prosperous middle-class family typically endows you with a safety net for life. If you are not naturally very bright, you are still likely to go far and, at the very least, will never experience poverty as an adult. A good education compounded by your parents' 'cultural capital', final support and networks will always see you through. If you are a bright child born into a working-class family, you do not have any of these things. The odds are that you will not be better off than your parents. Britain’s class system is like an invisible prison.' (Jones, 2011:182)

Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction 
'When class fractions who previously made little use of the school system enter the race for academic qualifications, the effect is to force the groups whose reproduction was mainly or exclusively achieved through education to step up their investments so as to maintain the relative scarcity of their qualifications and, consequently, their position in the class structure. Academic qualifications and the school system which awards them thus become one of the key stakes in an interclass competition which generates a general and continuous growth in the demand for education and an inflation of academic qualification....The very rapid growth in girl's and women's education has been a significant factor in the devaluing of academic qualifications.'

Ziauddin Sardar, British, Muslim, writer, speaking of his secondary school history teacher,
'I found it difficult to understand how Mr Brilliant could talk about Victorian England without talking about what Victorian England did to India and Africa. Then I found his account of the “Indian Mutiny” too difficult to swallow. But most of all I resented the fact that he was not interested in my history at all'.

Paul Dash in Foreday Morning,
Dash was born in Barbados and came to school in the UK in the late 1950s, 'To this day I balk at the whole idea of grammar-school education, because there are bound to be many children who, like me, feel excluded, failures merely because of the school they mind themselves in...As an eleven-year-old, I brooded on this inequality, and grew more and more anxious. Instead of turning in on myself and allowing myself to be defeated by exclusion, I vowed to overcome my serious social educational disadvantages by self-education.'  (Dash,2002:113)

Griselda Pollock Art, Art School, Culture: Individualism after the Death of the Artist (1985)
'The hidden agenda is institutional sexism. Let there be no flippant underestimation of what this intimidating and bizarre parody of an education means to women. Some have literal died of the experience...Education has been named as one of the major ideological state apparatuses, that is, not just a place of learning but an institution where we are taught our places within a hierarchical system of class, gender and race relations.' (Pollock,1996:53)

Irving Goffman on "passing" in STIGMA - Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity: 'Because of the great rewards in being considered normal, almost all persons who are in a position to pass will do so on some occasion by intent...The stigmatised and the normal are part of each other; if one can prove vulnerable, it must be expected that the other can too...Shame becomes a central possibility, arising from the individual’s perception of one of his own attributes as being a defiling thing to posses, and one he can readily see himself as not possessing...The phenomenon of passing has always raised issues regarding the psychic state of the passer. First, it is assumed that he must necessarily pay a great psychological price, a very high level of anxiety, in living a life that can be collapsed at any moment.' (Goffman, 1990:108-109)

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