Anonymous, from Race Speaks, published by the Center for Multicultural Affairs
Maybe I have been living under a rock or something because until I came to Duke I did not realize that people could be ab-normal. The first time this was revealed to me was in Issues of Education and Immigration, a great service-learning course where I was able to interact with Spanish speaking students in two elementary schools. It never once crossed my mind that some of them were considered ab-normal to my fellow peers. I saw them as students, trying to get through their math lessons and navigating the borderlands of Spanish/English and American/Latino cultures. Yes, I did know some of the students were undocumented and entrance into the higher education realm will not be guaranteed, but I never saw them as ab-normal; until one day in class. During a class discussion a girl made the comment, “They’re just normal kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from thinking; did she expect to see elementary students with an extra limb or students drastically different from “normal” citizens?
It’s times like these when I have to realize that everyone does not receive a multicultural education, which can lead to an interesting phenomenon known as “othering.” When this occurs there seems to be a clear separation between “us” and “them,” as if there is nothing that every individual within the human race has in common. The most common othering statement I have heard is “those people.” The sad truth is that it’s not just students that tend to use this type of language, many professors and advisers also adopt such language. Every once in a while I like to be challenged on my views but I never thought it would come from the adviser of a group, especially the adviser of a group that did so much work in Latin American countries. The way he spoke about “those people down there” and the various ways in which the collective “we” in the group were fundamentally different was disheartening to say the least. But it got worse as the conversation continued. I happened to be the only person of Hispanic heritage in the room listening to his story and lucky for me he also liked to racially profile people. He first asked where my family was from and like many other people, simply saying my state of origin within the United States is not enough. He then continued to suggest I would know all about the cultural practices of various locations within Latin America, simply because I happen to look Latino whatever that means. Fortunately I have not been in too many of these situations but when it does occur, I can’t seem to control the initial hate and disbelief that emerges. I know stereotypes and institutional racism are based in systematic problems but it sometimes seems that attacking the individual could serve to appease the dissatisfaction with those systematic problems. As I attempt to surround myself with culturally aware people, I have to remember the world might not be culturally aware but it is up to each of us to try to change the perceptions of others, preferably in a civil manner.