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racial bias

July 25, 2008

Coming from Skepchick is a story about racial differences between Latinos and Asians in the classroom. Overwhelmingly, it seems, from both the students and the teachers at Lincoln Heights, that Asians tend to have better grades on the whole because of the home life and the stereotypes laid out ahead of them. Asian families (stereotypically) want their children to achieve academically, while Latino families want their children to provide for the family. However, with exceptions to both rules floating about, the joke remains that those students must not be the race they claim to be. Carlos Garcia, one of the A students from the article, is teased that he must be Asian.

My experiences are similar. A friend of mine from college, though he normally had a hard time making it to class on time, and generally only did so-so in classes, was obviously good at math. Truth is, he could have been lousy, but none of us would have been the wiser. He was Asian, and there were things we took for granted with him.

In the last school I worked, there was probably only two Asian students from grades 7-12. The one I know of was accepted outright as a good guy. He genuinely was. I think I could count on him for just about anything.

The same school was likely 40-50% Latino, where some of them strove to succeed at everything they could, while others lacked the motivation. I’d blame the home life or the cultural attitudes. One of the band students (similar to one of the Latino students in the article) loved to read, but, being Latino, he had to hide his passion because of the stigma of being educated versus being useful. Another boy wants desperately to be a band director, but in the meantime is struggling to keep his head above water and his attitude in a cage while he tries to impress his friends around school. When we took our spring trip to California, he was a model students, and very respectful. Outside his daily influences, I could count on him to be a leader.

Stereotypes are the attitudes that we maintain in order to help us make better flash judgments that we sometimes need to manage a situation quickly. A convenience store clerk, racist though it may seem, has to make decisions about every person coming in the story, and they need to be able to react quickly to any possible theft that might occur, sometimes with regards to their own personal safety. As a teacher, I have more liberty to make my decisions based on what the student can do, but I would be lying if I told you that I never let stereotypes influence those decisions anyway.

It’s just part of what we do, as humans.

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