SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Amy Villanueva

The White Girl

I never knew what would happen in 1999 when I registered for an Ethnic Studies class. There were many reasons why I chose that class. I personally love other cultures. I even married into another culture different from my own. I feel it is important to have friends from as many backgrounds as possible. I was looking forward to making new friends, yet this was a class with students from many ethnic backgrounds who were some of the most prejudiced people that I have ever encountered.

The first few weeks of class I can interpret that I only wanted others to see me as what I would like them to. However, being silent in the ethnic studies class got me labeled me as a dumb blonde who is blind and mindless. With more than forty brown eyes glaring at me, I thought what is the point of me being here? Why should I continue this class? No one should have to tolerate this treatment. I knew the answers; I had to teach them what many minorities have taught me. Minorities have to deal with ignorance and prejudice as a part of their daily life. Our society needs to stop being so narrow minded and prejudiced.

In my own experience, I have learned to listen carefully to my inner gut feelings. Uncomfortable with the idea of being the only white person, I had to listen to my gut feeling. I wanted to speak but I felt intimidated. This is because I did not want the other students in class to jump to conclusions about me. However, they already did when they saw my blonde hair and green eyes. I stood out in that small classroom like a sore thumb. It was apparent that the Hispanic and Black students were prejudiced against me just because of the color of my skin. They spoke freely about racism, the way they were treated by white people, as the Asians and Native Americans nodded their heads along in agreement. I sat there and felt like I was in the middle of a blizzard with no jacket.

Did she really believe that she was immune from discrimination? I experience people discriminating against me all the time. Being different and living with constant discrimination is something I have learned since early childhood. I have explained to my wife on numerous occasions about how political the workplace can be for a Puerto Rican. Now she is able to get a tiny taste for a few weeks of what it is like to be a minority. I think this class will help my wife learn through experience that there is no such thing as being colorblind. The truth is people do see color and many judge on the basis of their ethnicity.

 I listened to my wife express her anger and confusion each week after her class. She had a hard time with other classmates treating her the way most minorities are treated. She is a friendly, outgoing person who does not judge someone on the basis of skin or language. After all, she married me for who I am, not for what I am. I felt sorry for her because she had a hard time to speak up in class. This was not my wife sitting in class. A white person sat there inside my wifeķs body. She had no clue how white she was until this class.

 After about six weeks of discrimination, my wife broke the silence barrier. She finally spoke about being married to me and about having three children with mixed ethnic identities. I was glad; I started to wonder to myself is she ashamed to be married to me? Are all white people the same? I started to question my wife. However, she immediately reinforced her stand and taught me and the other students that not all white people are the same.

I no longer questioned what was the purpose for me to continue to go to class and listen to the discussions. Finally after several weeks, I decided to take on the challenge and be a part of those discussions instead of feeling like a victim of reverse discrimination. I knew that I was able to think about choices of what words to say and how it would affect others. I was no longer freezing with my arms interlocked together. I finally raised my hand, as sweat dripped off my eyebrow and said, ģIt is easy to hate what you do not know and I encourage friendships and appreciate our differences.ī

There are numerous benefits for students from all different ethnic backgrounds to be together in the same class. First of all, everyone is able to learn from each other. The pooling of knowledge leads to greater achievements to benefit all of students. It is important to learn about other cultures to have a better understanding of each other, particularly when people all live in the same vicinity. It helps to dissolve some of the prejudices that many people are raised with.  I believe people are people, no matter what their beliefs. People gradually adapt all the beliefs of a certain culture; so when things within the culture change or evolve, it can be considered growth. It also allows the opportunity to grow and to gain personal experience. I think we need to have a multicultural society to help eliminate stereotypes. Finally, while students are sitting in a classroom together they are able to get experience and learn about a culture first hand rather than from a textbook. A multicultural society helps with the greater acceptance of all people.

Unfortunately, there are also some disadvantages of a multicultural society. The ignorance of other cultures leads to mutual fear and distrust of different values. The fear and ignorance usually lead to hate, bigotry, prejudice and violence. It is an imposition of values that the majority does not agree to. In that respect, no new ideas can be broadcast and this results in suppression of individual views. In turn, the smaller and less dominant factions adopt the traditions and ideas of the larger and more dominant group. On the other hand, without the specific definition of a traditional culture, it is impossible to determine any and all changes. Some people believe that the great American ģmelting potī experiment will fail. This is because many people will have no idea of where they came from or where they are going. Furthermore, it is obvious that culture itself becomes watered down with outside beliefs when, over time, they have been exposed to the way of other cultures. The reason for this is because Americans think foreigners are different and treat them as so; they are often treated badly. For example, it is not uncommon to hear stories about people who work at factories where they hired many Mexicans. For a white person to get promoted to a supervisor position is very rare. Why? Because they told him in order to get the position, he would have to be able to speak Spanish. So now, this individual has a bad attitude towards Mexicans. I have also read and have had conversations that multiculturalism is a fad and a new kind of watchword in academics. It has been labeled to match what is actually going on in society. Finally, I think it allows a larger separation of the class system causing larger impoverished population.

According to Thandeka, in "The Race Game" I needed to be conscious of the racialization process. My humiliation was based on a part of my identity. I denied who I was because I associated being white as a negative thing. I wanted to be thought of as a person, not that ģwhite girlī. Learning from this limited experience as ģthe white girlī has given me strength to continue to learn more about whom I am, and others who will cross my path. I am able to understand how significant this knowledge is and to utilize it.

Overall, I believe variety is the spice of life. I think a multicultural society can change the character of culture from traditional cultures. It has to because, as we cohabitate with other cultures we start to use some of their ideas, morals, foods, etc. as our own, very soon these will intertwine as one huge culture.

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