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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cultural sensitivity and public shaming

Over at Racialicious, there's a post today about a group of Palo Alto High School girls who got dressed up in their best Native American Stereotype gear and went to the Stanford Powwow. You should read the article here: When Non Native Participation in Powwows Goes Terribly Wrong by Adrienne K.

This is the picture that went with the article.

Maybe because I will possibly end up teaching one of these girls (Paly is, not surprisingly, a feeder school for Stanford), I had to comment. I'm reprinting here because I'd love to know what you think.
Wow. I am not at all shocked - I teach at Stanford, and spent several years living in Palo Alto among the Palo Alto High School students and, more problematically, their parents. I am not shocked, but it's still appalling.

While I know from experience how tiring it can be to educate people on why and how their gleeful ignorance (trying to err on the side of the most charitable interpretation) is offensive, I am really glad to see that the author and her friends gave these girls a gift by sending them to talk with the head of the Native Center. Adrienne, your mom is probably right that they didn't know any better. One can, sadly, assume that their educations - both on Native history and in cultural sensitivity - have been lacking. But you are absolutely right to say that they *should* know better, and maybe now they will. Maybe they'll actually learn from this. Maybe they'll even bring some of that new knowledge with them to share with their classmates and friends when 1/2 of them come to Stanford.

Because I know from experience how tiring it can be to educate people on how unacceptable their glib insensitivity (cultural, racial, socio-economic, religious) is.
I am glad that there is at least some element of public shaming going on (though I do think it was good to block out their faces at least a little). I think more people should have shame about the right things, and I think a photo like this is a great place to start. But the teacher in me is also glad that someone actually said something to these girls. Shame is no good if there's no understanding of why you should be ashamed.


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