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Intersection of Race and Gender

Racial identity and gender identity are stigmatized or tolerated depending on the society that defines them. American society has an almost unwavering perception of them. Characteristics of races are perpetuated through images in the media as well as long-standing perceptions that are deep rooted in history. These characteristics inevitably turn intoin to stereotypes. How society views a race impacts how people choose to identify with their race. The same can be said of gender. Sexual orientation is a topic in this country that only now seems to be somewhat thought about. The dialogue that is needed about sexual orientation is still lacking. Considering the controversial nature of these topics, it is important to be aware of how they affect children coming to terms and developing their own racial identity and gender identity while striving for academic success.

For years, race and culture have been thought of as things only minorities possess. However, White Americans have their own culture too. In ‘Shades of White,’ Perry argues that white identities “like all racial identities were fickle, multiple, and often contradictory” (Perry, 2002, p. 339). She goes on to explain that this was because in order to define one’s racial identity and social location they looked at large- and small-scale institutions as well as their own personal interactions with people of other colors (Perry, 2002, p. 339). The students look at society at large then at their area – school in this case – to help them understand what it means to be their race. I believe this theory isn’t just about Whites, but everyone. When I try to figure out what being Puerto Rican is, I look at the Puerto Rican community in Puerto Rico, the U.S. and finally my family. All are sources for me to continue to learn about my race and what it means to be a Boriqua. Many White students aren’t explicitly taught their culture which is why they feel as though they have none. Personally, my parents made sure I never forgot about neither my heritage nor my language. They were very blunt and clear with me about learning and maintaining my culture. However, further along in Perry’s article, the students she was observing mentioned the idea of not having colors. While this idea sounds good, it ultimately devalues everyone’s cultures by assuming we are all the same when that is certainly not the case. Educators, in good conscience, cannot promote color blindness in a color conscious world.

How children identify with their gender is shaped by interactions as well. When the teachers define a gender a certain way, they expect their students to fit the criteria. However, children are just as varied as teachers and will not always comply with their preconceived notions about how a young man or young lady should act. Femininity has generally been seen as something soft, genteel, kind and discrete, however, when young women go against the grain they are not perceived as lady-like. Race also impacts gender identity. These factors do not operate in a vacuum and intersect often. For example, “White women are penalized by their gender, but privileged by their race” (Collins, 1990, p. 225 as cited in Morris, 2007, p. 492). However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all men are privileged over White women. Black and Hispanic men for example are penalized for their race and may be less likely to obtain positions of higher status than a White woman. Black men – because of the perceptions of their race and gender – might be seen as more hostile (Morris, 2007). “Race alters the very meaning and impact of gender and gender alters the very meaning and impact of race” (Morris, 2007, p. 492). Since these two things are inextricably linked, it is nearly impossible to discuss gender identity without discussing racial identity. Many cultures have varying ideas of what it means to be a man or woman and these ideal don’t always coincide with mainstream America’s perception of what a man or woman is supposed to be. This mismatch of ideology also affects how the individual chooses to define or redefine themselves based on the views of the dominant culture.

Race and gender perceptions also affect academic success. White children are expected to succeed, whereas minorities are generally not expected to do so, unless they are female. Minority males are looked down upon and generally disciplined more than their female counterparts. For example, “Black boys and Black girls undergo distinctive disciplinary regimes in their schooling. Schools might view many Black girls as problematic and subject them to discipline, but in a different way than for Black boys” (Morris, 2007, p. 494). For Black students, while Black girls are seen as difficult to manage, Black boys are considered the bigger “problem” of the two. This discrimination between the sexes marginalizes male minority students, making them more likely to drop out.

As educators, our words, attitudes and beliefs carry a lot of weight in the classroom. Approaching a child’s racial and gender identity should be done so with respect and care. Children are socialized through the education system and see teachers as authority figures who are not only there to teach them, but also reflect the views of society. This an awesome responsibility and is not to be taken lightly. When disciplining students consider if you personally tend to pick on one gender more so than the other and think about how your actions could harm that student’s future.

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