Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Failure to Be a "Real American"? [Arrow Right] Challenging Failure: An Impetus to Shape Scholarship and Teaching

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Failure to Be a "Real American"? [Arrow Right] Challenging Failure: An Impetus to Shape Scholarship and Teaching

Article excerpt

Not-so-fond Memories

I am five and three-quarters years old. I shimmy into a powder blue parka in the hallway and run out of the double doors of the school to join my friends for recess. "Jzzz!" echoes the zipper of my coat in the crisp fall air as I scamper across the lawn that separates me from the playground. My brown eyes widen, breath stops, as I look up and am startled by the obstacle in my path. The cold blue eyes of a boy from another kindergarten class peer at me under hooded lids as he cranes his head out from behind the wide trunk of an oak tree. Strands of his russet hair flail in the snapping wind. Orange freckles blaze high on his cheeks. He darts a sharp tongue out between his grimacing lips, and pulls the outer corners of his narrowed eyes up towards his temples with his forefingers.

Frozen in place, I ball my mittened hands into fists at my sides. Long, straight ropes of my black hair whip my flushed cheeks. He swings behind the tree only to reappear on its other side: "Chink," he sneers, baring his front teeth and scrunching up his nose. I furrow my brow. I do not know what this word means, but his face tells me that the word is ugly. He again slips out of vision behind the tree. I bite my lower lip in dread. I flinch to run away, but he reappears again on the other side: He is a blockade of terror. "Gook," he scorns, shoving his lips outward and exaggerating the syllable. This is another baffling word that, paired with his hideous expression, frightens me. I feel a hot tear running down the side of my nose. An involuntary cry escapes my lips as I dash past him and he shoves me, using my momentum as a weapon against me. I stumble, but do not fall. He spits, and the glob leaves a slimy darkened trail staining the back of my parka as it oozes downward. A montage of thoughts rampage through my mind: For Setting the Stage

The above incident was the first many such confrontations that led me to believe that I somehow was failing to be a "real American." As I grew up, I struggled to negotiate this perceived failure. With critical reflection as I entered graduate studies in my adulthood, I came to better understand the hegemonic dynamics leading up to such encounters, and came to recognize the underlying injustices promoted. These understandings sparked my anger. I used this rage as a catalyst to take action, speak out, resist, and challenge this injustice and inequity: I find myself fighting back through my scholarship and teaching. In our privileged positions as scholars and educators, I believe we have a responsibility to do so. In the passages that follow, and with the hopes that my journey might inspire, inflame empathic frustrations with an inegalitarian status quo, and remind others how important it is for us to participate in fighting for justice, I share my experiences and developing understandings as I have learned to embrace more counterhegemonic scholarship and practices.

Throughout this article I include brief narrative vignettes relaying my childhood and adult experiences with racism. The intent of these narratives is to "show rather than tell" (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995, p. 32) readers about my experiences as a non-White individual in the U.S., so that they might empathize and glean an understanding as close to a "lived experience" (p. 63) as possible, and thereby spark an emotional connection. I will point out how my childhood experiences and daily life experiences as an adult (discussed next) have shaped my work as a researcher and teacher of art education. I support these discussions with a review of key concepts from postcolonial theory, new racism, and multicultural education theory that inform this journey. Let us fast-forward from my childhood, to adulthood.

Continuing Oppression

I have been a U.S. citizen since age five, am of Chinese ancestry, and was born in Kingston, Jamaica. My physical features reflect my Asian ancestry. The above story lives on for me as a vivid and painful memory from my childhood. …

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