Facing Ourselves: Reading Race and Gender

Facing Ourselves:
Reading Race and Gender in America
Teacher: Ross Abrams
Spring 2014
The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions, which have been hidden by the answers. James Baldwin
Course Description:
This course is an exploration. As such, it begins not with a specific destination in mind but with a
general thrust: a series of critical questions to inspire us forward into uncharted territory. Be
forewarned, we may set out for the New World and end up somewhere else entirely different!
All cultures tell themselves stories that help them make sense of reality. Some of these stories are
accepted as fictions but other stories become so ingrained that people begin to see them as fact.
These collective stories, or myths, inevitably shape the lives of us as individuals, and we work
(and sometimes struggle) to figure out how we fit within those myths. Ask the girl who liked to
play with G.I. Joes or the boy who liked to dress up Barbies about their childhoods and they will
likely tell you how confusing it can be when an individual's story does not coalesce perfectly with
the collective myth.
Two of the most resonant cultural myths in America involve race and gender. In actuality, the
myths of race and gender are a collection of many smaller myths, some of them so subtle we
probably don't even notice they are there; (for example, take a close look at how Asian males in
American cinema and television interact with women). In this class, we will attempt to locate and
discuss some of the myths about race and gender that mould us and our perceptions of the world.
In order to do this, we will need to look closely at what we learn implicitly about race and gender
-- from television, film, literature, parents, friends, and the rest of our cultural universe. Through
encounters with a number of radical thinkers who attempt to revise, subvert, and shift the cultural
myths of race and gender, we may begin to revise our own understandings and use these new
perspectives to affect change. This class will work on the dialectical model, which means we will
often find ourselves in heated debate and disagreement but also in faith that these differences will
lead us to greater clarity.
This course is also designed to prepare you for college-level research and collaboration. We will
be discussing how to frame a research question, where to look for a wide range of sources, and
finally, how to write research papers and presentations.
The Critical Questions:
* How do we "read" ourselves and how does the rest of the world "read" us?
* How do we "read" others?
* What is race?
* What is gender?
* How are different people affected by the myths of race and gender?
* What agency do we have within the myths of race and gender?
* How do myths change?
Course Objectives
* Students will reflect critically on their own learned assumptions.
* Students will complexly analyze a variety of texts, ranging from pop culture artifacts to literary
* Students will learn how to participate in a college-level seminar discussion.
* Students will read, take Cornell notes on, and respond to academic articles.
* Students will complicate initial ideas and seek out conflicting evidence.
* Students will write their own research questions.
* Students will complete secondary research on topics of interest and prepare APA-style
* Students will complete primary research on topics of interest.
* Students will write and administer primary research proposals.
* Students will 'activate' what they have learned, producing articles, presentations, artworks, or
other expressions intended for the general public.
A Different Kind of Classroom
This is what one of the main sections of the new Google offices in Dublin look like. Notice how
there is no hierarchy, with bosses sitting in walled-off offices and how the design encourages
collaboration. In addition to having really cool
furniture, Google offices are also unique in that they
insist that workers spend up to 15% of each week
working on their own pet projects. Increasingly,
success in the professional world has to do with
how you work with others, how you motivate
yourself, and how you think outside the box.
Our classroom will reflect these changes. Using the
theoretical approaches of the “learner-activated”
classroom, this classroom will often look more like
an art workshop than a traditional English class. I
will be working as your coach and facilitator, but you will get to determine a good deal of what
you study and how you go about studying. As with anything new, I am sure we will discover
many places for improvement, so please let me know how this class is going for you!
Course Overview
Because of the scope of this topic, it is virtually impossible to cover all the ground necessary to
do justice to the myriad of important issues involving race and gender in America. Inevitably,
many essential stories/themes of race and gender will be omitted and, as we will discuss,
omissions can subtly reinforce cultural myths; for example, in our unit on collisions, a
disproportionate number of the articles I have located concern interactions between Black and
White Americans. In part, this is because these articles have been more frequently anthologized
and published. By allowing this focus to the reading list, I run the risk of marginalizing the
experiences of other Americans who do not fit into either category.
Unit I: Thinking Your Gender – The Play of Ideology
 Brown, P.L. (2008) Supporting girls and boys when the line isn’t clear. The New York
 Connell, R.W. (2009). Gender (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
 Press, Eyal. (2009). Do immigrants make us safer. The New York Times.
 Talbot, M. (2008). Red sex, blue sex. New Yorker.
 Waters, M. (2005). Optional Ethnicities.
 Wolf, N. (2002). The Beauty Myth. New York: HarperPerennial.
 Welsh, K. (2013). Is gender-flipping the most important meme ever. Junkee.com.
Retrieved from http://junkee.com/flip-it-and-reverse-it-how-to-fight-the-genderwars/15081.
 Quran (excerpts)
 Satrapi, M. (2003). Veiled threat. Guardian.com
 Takolia, N. (2012). The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations.
* Gender Flipping Campaign (with letter to administration explaining project and
presentation to the class)
* Three one-page academic responses (one for a long-form feature, one for an academic
lecture, and one for an academic paper)
Unit II: Living Pluralistically
* Steele, C. M. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi. New York: W.W. Norton
* Yoshino, K. (2010). Covering. New York Times.
* Race: The Power of Illusion. (2009). PBS
* Gladwell, Malcom. (2007). Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New
York: Back Bay Publishing.
* Waters, M.C. (2004). Optional ethnicities: For whites only?”
* Black and White. (documentary)
* Tatum, D. Defining racism: can we talk?
* Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources
* Primary Research Project
Unit III: The Great Complicators
* Selected Public Service Announcements
* Secondary Research
* Public Service Announcement published to the community
* Final reflection paper