Happy Monday everyone!
A comment on the College Admissions Counselors FB page reminded me that as we launch into Common App season again, we have the opportunity as international counselors to open up conversations about colonialism and the construction of racism and its different articulations within different countries and continents.
The Common App question asking students to identify their race and ethnicities always befuddles my students here in Ecuador. They are confused by the question since they may never have encountered this question before. For better or worse, Ecuadorian institutions don't ask these questions.
Over the years, I have taken the time to pause on this question and discuss the construction of race and the history of systemic racism—how racial divides have been constructed and imposed through the conquest, colonialism and slavery—with different articulations and systemic expressions on different continents and in different countries. Ecuador’s racial divide focuses on Indigenous Peoples and African Ecuadorians.
That said, students of privilege in Ecuador from upper class families are often shocked to encounter racism when they go to the US as they are lumped into the vitriol against Hispanics and immigrants. Many of my students experience racism directed at them for the first time when they go to the US. Almost all my students tell me after the fact about the different encounters they have with racist comments and ignorant assumptions. They have been verbally attacked for speaking Spanish on the train or in restaurants. One of my students even had an encounter with a racist older man in the South that went viral.
This isn't new. When I first went to the states to study in the western suburbs of Chicago in the mid 1980's I was shocked to see Hispanic friends smeared by racist comments both by students and professors. No one ever made a comment to me, even though I am Ecuadorian because I am of Swedish Irish English descent and pass as White American.
So, back to the Common App and the opportunity it provides to open up conversations around racism and prepare students for different social landscapes where they may encounter racism directed against them for the first time.
For many of my students, the conversation, and their encounters with the unfamiliar US, UK, or European racial landscape helps open their eyes to the way that THEY hold racial power in their positions of privilege in Ecuador.
Back around the time of the Charlottesville march there was a news story about a group of Colombian kids who identified as white supremacists and went to Europe to participate in a sponsored white supremacist event where they were attacked and badly beaten because they were not white.
All to say, the Common App questions can be shocking or puzzling to non US students and it provides an opportunity for us as counselors to talk about the history of racial oppression, the systemic construction of racism and how that shapes educational systems as well as to prepare our students to participate and navigate these important discussions of racial justice--both at home and abroad.
8/9/2021 10:13:07 am
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Lisa. Indeed, the notion of race is a construction, and it is without any scientific basis. It is, indeed, a regressive and pernicious notion, for all humans are of one, single, species. Its ok to discuss the pernicious force that distinguishing supposedly different races has and does have, of course, but apart from such discussions/analyses, I don't use the term, unless it is to explain why I don't use it. If asked on such forms, if there is a place for it, I put 'human.' If they ask about ethnic, regional, or national identities, that would be another matter -- but complicated -- as we all have multiple identities.
Lisa Maria Madera
8/9/2021 10:41:07 am
Thank you Bron for your comment. Yes. I love the vision of you writing HUMAN in these forms. I know that these categories are important when trying to rectify issues of racial justice and diversity within college campuses. At the same time, they re-inscribe narratives of categorizations that provide the brick and mortar for racist structures to hold. The categories are also complex because, as you suggest, our histories and identities are complex. We have multiple identities and so these constructed categories have complex blindspots and also promote erasure. I would appreciate a notice before asking these questions, a kind of public service warning saying WARNING: RACIAL AND ETHNIC CATEGORIES ARE PRODUCTS OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION THAT HAVE BEEN WEAPONIZED AND USED TO CAUSE GRAVE HARM, ESPECIALLY TO THOSE WHO FALL IN "NON WHITE" CATEGORIES.
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