Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Pedagogical Question: Am I Evil Because I Showed Paul Mooney and Dave Chappelle in My Class On Whiteness?

Random pedagogical question for you folks out there who are teachers, or have ever been college students...

In my seminars I like to use real examples to demonstrate such abstractions as "privilege" and the idea that race is a "social construct." Specifically, I like to use humor because nothing cuts so deep--especially for the White students in my class--as seeing a person of color reverse the gaze and deconstruct their follies. It really is Earth shattering for some that the little man behind the stove (to borrow from Ellison) knows more about them, than they often know about themselves.

I am also a bit of a jerk who pulls no punches in the classroom. I don't use the "n-word," I say nigger. I don't poo poo white guilt and hold a we are the world Oprah session confessional where people can talk about their "feelings." No, I talk about White supremacy and how there is a chain of evidence from the past to the present, clear winners and losers, beneficiaries, victims, and deniers. I am both loved and least according to my evaluations.

So my question: Am I so wrong to have shown Paul Mooney talking about the ways of White folk? Am I doubly wrong to have been smiling to myself as some of the White students, the more Conservative men in particular, looked on the verge of tears while their Black, Latino, and Asian students had a good laugh?

Second question, is there a better example of the true lie that is race than Chappelle's Clayton Bigsby sketch?

And yes, Eddie Murphy's "White People" routine from SNL is a close second:


macon d said...

You sound to me like an awesome teacher. Negative reactions may well blossom into positive (anti-racist) ones later. And if they don't, well, fug em if they can't take a joke.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Great post and loved the videos; hadn't seen that skit by Mooney.

OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin said...

Chauncey, I'm guessing you've seen this: Teaching the N-Word. Honestly, I found it a bit tedious, but I suppose that's b/c it's obviously geared for a white readership.

I once had a prof., a UofChi tweed jacket/turtleneck type, who would lecture on the German Idealism or Herder or Schleiermacher... in Black preacher vernacular.

Of course, as a PK it was the one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen. The poor nonBlack students were completely bewildered by the delivery, because I guess the expectation was something superficially profound and entertaining and instead they got Kant and Hegel. Sounding like Thurgood Marshall channelling MLK.

It was so excellent. Oh, we had fun.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@Macon--What a complement. If I am serviceable I would be happy.

@Kit--Remember when Eddie was actually funny>

@OhCrap--Small world. Do we know each other fellow Hyde Parker?


Anonymous said...

I'm starting to draw connections between some good folk here.

I thought about using Mooney in one of my classes as well but for various reasons, didn't think it would be as effective as others (I anticipated the demographics of my class wrongly). It would have worked wonderfully. So no, friend, you're not evil. Using humor as an entry point in speaking truth to power is often effective. Or, in my case, you are called a "race traitor" in more than one of your evaluations. Sigh.

marzolian said...

I see the point of showing these clips, but am I missing something? Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy were (brilliantly) mocking racism, while in this clip Paul Money just seems to be acting racist. Maybe it's just cathartic, and that's enough to make your point. Of course, a few of his remarks really hit the mark, but after a while I just felt numb.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@Anon--You poor race traitors need to stick together. To deflect your that turn of phrase? you should post a copy of Noel Ignatiev's work on door.

@marzolian--Paul is turning the gaze back and is attacking the sense that Whiteness equals normality. For many white folks this is shocking and frightening because 1. they see themselves as everyone and 2. because few know how they are studied by "us."


Sabina E. said...

"So my question: Am I so wrong to have shown Paul Mooney talking about the ways of White folk? Am I doubly wrong to have been smiling to myself as some of the White students, the more Conservative men in particular, looked on the verge of tears while their Black, Latino, and Asian students had a good laugh?"

no, you're not wrong.

I had an awesome badass African American professor in college who teaches Africana Womanism and Black Literature. She was bold, raw and honest. She laid down the TRUTH and didn't sugarcoat anything, especially for white students. Various white girls (who called themselves "feminists") were offended and dropped out from her class cos they couldn't handle their own white privilege glaring right in front of their own faces.

OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin said...

@Chauncey, n, the prof was the HPer, though I would not be surprised if we had less than 2 degrees of separation.

@DeafMuslim - I find white feminists to often be the worst offenders. " a WOMAN, I ALSO..." etc. It's like, dearie, didn't you read Arn't I A Woman? 1851 was a long time ago, but dang if a lot of it doesn't still hold true to this very minute.

Anonymous said...

I feel like Chappelle Show is too popular to shock or spur new thought patterns. Personally, I'd prefer a clip that I have not seen before. Otherwise I'll just be entertained.

Mooney is on point.

The site linked below is becoming really popular, but its popularity does highlight nicely a fad of white people hating on white people. Maybe it could help enrich discussion.

Trent said...

First answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact, you should be applauded! You deserve a raise! And you can tell your boss, that I personally said you deserve a raise. Bravo!

Second answer: Dave Chappelle's "The Racial Draft"
It is the best television skit ever on race. Pure comedy gold.

Keep doing what you're doing. There are too many teachers -- both black and white -- who sugar-coat the subject of race in America because they are afraid to hurt people's feelings.

And please tell all of your students, that just because President Obama is in the White House, it doesn't mean that we live a "post-racial" world. And, no, racism has not ended. So stop that bullshit.

Thank you for this post. You are doing an incredible job. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

As a white feminist, I don't think you are bad for showing those videos! How could you be?

Myself, I don't find Mooney funny...I find it sad because it is a reminder of how much white privilege there still is.

"who sugar-coat the subject of race in America because they are afraid to hurt people's feelings"

You know what? It is 2010, and frak people's feelings. It is ridiculous to have so much racism and white privilege around. Quit being nice because it isn't working. Just like putting up with sexism. The world has changed from 1950, if folks don't want to change that's THEIR problem and we should let them know it is.

annum natalem said...

I would pay money to go to one of your classes... if I lived nearby. Paul Mooney is GREAT.

Diedre said...

I'm teaching a community class on Race and Racism where we deal extensively with white privilege. Sigh, it is a saaad state of affairs. It is amazing to see how little "work" most white folks (at least in my corner of the world) have done regarding their own identity, cultural attributes and disease. (Yes, white folks I said disease, white privilege is a symptom of a communicable disease that affects all of us.)

I like the clips, however other than helping folks to understand that we know a hell of a lot more about them then they do about us, I am not sure how it is useful. Funny sure, but useful? I'd like to hear more about what you to do help whites unpack their own backpack of white privilege (thanks, Peggy McIntosh) or start to heal from their collective amnesia and post traumatic stress syndrome....

chaunceydevega said...


@Ohcrap--It is a small world. You are right about white feminists. I do rank oppressions in my class because to not do so is intellectually dishonest. When we begin talking about citizenship and how white women had representation by proxy through their husbands in the slaveocracy/jim crow--and were complicitous and enabled white supremacy you should see the hurt faces. I actually had a young white woman suggest that white women were more oppressed than black male slaves--I had to correct her. I don't think she liked it.

@Anon--Good point. When I show it, I always tell them Chappelle was right to have quit the show. He was not going to be the butt of "their" jokes. In the light of what we read some of the students do see the clip in a different light. Chappelle was right too many folks--white and black--were simply laughing and not getting the deep social critique that was his work.

@Trent--Many teachers do want these conversations to become an Oprah Winfrey how I feel session. I don't allow it. Sorry. Funny, a former student told me about her sociology teacher doing a "sharing" exercise where folks write anonymous journals and share their feelings about race and identity. That can work for some, but we have too much serious intellectual work to do in my classes to engage in such exercises.

@Anon--Any BSG references always get extra points. Frak them all! So say we all!

@Fictional Eyes--Thanks. Coming from an evil genius such as yourself that is a complement.

@Diedre--Good points and question. I don't often talk about pedagogical issues or my classes (lest I give away the worst kept secret ever), but I will do a post on that issue.

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