American Multicultural Studies

American Multicultural Studies: Diversity of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality is an anthology of essays compiled by Sherrow O. Pinder examining different facets of diversity. The essays are separated into six categories: theorizing issues concerning American multicultural studies, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and education. Many of these essays focus on a combination of these, emphasizing the intersectional component of oppression. For example, the essay “Rethinking Speech and Language Impairments Within Fluency-Dominated Cultures” by Nicholas Hartlep and Antonio Ellis analyzes research on systematic problems that prevent students with speech and language impairments from making the most of their education. This essay is in the education section and focuses on disabilities, but also compares the success of white students with speech and language impairments as opposed to that of racial minorities, who were not given the same educational opportunities. Although the topics of all twenty-nine essays vary greatly, they are linked by a consistent theme of systematic inequity in education and how multiculturalism enhances the education system.

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In order to fully appreciate this book, one must understand the broader conversation to which Pinder is contributing: intersectionality. Not everyone experiences the same kind of discrimination. Women and black men encountered different obstacles in pursuing an education in the 19th century; black women in search of an education were another story entirely. Although the American education system has improved since its early days, minority groups still face institutional oppression in education and society. American Multicultural Studies delves into this issue in chapter ten, “Black Womanhood in the Global Imaginary.” The chapter claims that black women are not fully included in the feminist discourse due to “national, religious, and class differences” (160). The education available to a group translates to their human capital, which ultimately determines one’s worth in society, no matter how much potential one has. Therefore, equity in American multiculturalism begins with diversity in the classroom.

Diversity cannot be discussed without taking privilege into account. Just as intersectional oppression in society is rooted in an educational institution that prevents social mobility, intersectional privilege is a result of a dominant group that was given better educational opportunities, such as access to higher-performing schools and the ability to afford tutors, private school, and college. Here is the reflection of a professor on the realization of his own privilege:

I knew that I had worked hard in college, and figured I’d fully earned that job. Landing that job, I had thought, was a logical moment within my own developing narrative of hard work, individual merit, and well-deserved upward mobility. But with this (knowledge of institutional oppression) a few years later, I began retrospectively to re-read my getting that first job as a moment where intersectional privilege had operated in my favor.

As this educator so eloquently points out, and as Pinder demonstrates in her book, intersectional oppression is too often invisible to those who benefit in privilege. However, change has been made since the American school system began to develop and change can continue to be made by teachers who recognize the impact of schools in social stratification. After completing American Multicultural Studies, the reader can conclude that diversity in education is the key to thriving multiculturalism in society. As a future teacher myself, I will attempt to recognize my own privilege and utilize it to create better opportunities for my students.

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