Proma Tagore, In Our Own Voices

Books like this are important for a teacher to read, especially one with good intentions but who is after all white, male, and (not old, but) thirty-seven. Proma Tagore edited this collection of essays by students and instructors, In Our Own Voices: Learning and Teaching Toward Decolonisation, and I'll keep working back and forth through it after this quick first read.

I'd like to think I run a non-racist classroom, and I have had non-Caucasian students choose to take multiple classes from me, but I'm confident after reading In Our Own Voices that I don't fully understand how to get to the gold standard anti-racist classroom.

For example, I want students to talk in class, and I'm always careful to prevent individuals from dominating discussion. I want to hear from students of different genders, ethnicities, fashion senses, and degree programs. But as Lisa Okada points out in her thoughtful essay about her experience as a Japanese Canadian student in a Women's Studies course, there is a sense in which her words are not heard as individual, but as representative: "racialised students speak, white students listen and learn.... This superficial and contingent granting of space is what marks racialised minority students' speech as 'special' in spaces that are predominantly white" (25).

If Lisa Okada was in my class, I would encourage her to speak precisely because she is not Caucasian -- not because I think she has any more to say than anyone else, and not because I have a special expectation of her, but because I want opinions and comments to come from multiple students, and because I don't want all the speakers to look alike. This makes my class a non-racist space (I think?), but it doesn't satisfy the really interesting conditions that Okada describes for an anti-racist space.

At this point I can't see big changes that need to be made in my classes, but I've learned some small things, and I've got more background for the ongoing reconsideration of the big issues.

For example: While I can't always remember the differences between terza rima and the villanelle, I need to remember in my class discussions of poetic form that there are all kinds of non-Anglo forms. More than that, I need to learn enough about these other forms that I can at least fumble through the toolbox as necessary.


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