Respecting ethnic groups
You, a francophone Acadian, are on a foreign planet with a Chinese person, a black African, an English person, an Amerindian.
You receive the following radio message:
ATTENTION! IMPORTANT MESSAGE. THE PLANET YOU ARE ON IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE. A ROCKET IS ON ITS WAY, WITH ROOM FOR THREE PEOPLE. YOU HAVE 10 MINUTES TO MAKE A DECISION. WHO WILL BE ON BOARD THE ROCKET?
Did you make a decision? (yes)
Which one? (Acadian, Amerindian, African)
Did you find the decision difficult? (yes)
Why? (because there were a lot of ethnic groups)
The story of this exercise given to 10-year-olds in New Brunswick, (see image underneath the article), as part of a curriculum teaching about diversity, was reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) after complaints from two mothers of children adopted from Ethiopia. The province’s Minister of Education had to step in to stop the school from using the exercise which, he said, “invites and encourages defining people by stereotypes”. Good for him.
The school thinks the exercise is a good one because
- it is intended to show the students how to be respectful to all groups
- some students have advocated keeping everyone
- some students have suggested keeping the three main groups in the community (“English, French and Amerindian”), “because of being able to communicate”
It’s hard to know where to even start with this one, so I’ll start at the beginning:
Firstly, the exercise assumes that everyone in this French-speaking school is an Acadian – a white Canadian of ultimately French origin – which clearly is not true. One of the mothers, at least, is apparently English-speaking (I could find no references to this event in the French-speaking press), and her daughter is not white.
Secondly, the assumption and lesson is that Chinese people, black Africans, “English people” (they mean English-speaking Canadians) and Amerindians are not like Acadians. And we’re not just talking ethnicity here. It doesn’t say, “a person of Chinese heritage, a black person, an English-speaking person, and a person of Amerindian heritage”.
Thirdly, what’s with the pictures? Check out the thick lips, the slanted eyes and the animal skins (it’s only mildly reassuring that there are no slitty eyes and feather headdresses).
Finally, how exactly does obliging children to decide who should be saved teach them to be respectful of all groups??? In fact, what it does is
- teach them their ethnic group (white) has that power over others, in particular people of colour
- reinforce the notion that certain groups have a right to be here and others don’t (as evidenced by the school’s comment above)
- perpetuate otherisation through its choice of ethnic descriptors
These are ten-year-olds, for pete’s sake! Instead of asking them to make a decision, how about telling them in no uncertain terms that it would be wrong to choose and ask them to think about why?!
(Thanks to pinkpoppies for the tip.)