Friday, September 29, 2006

BASIC SKILLS CAUCASIAN AMERICAN WORKBOOK, by Beverly Slapin and Annie Esposito

I have used Basic Skills Caucasian American Workbook in classes and workshops. My experience is that people find it helpful in understanding what it feels like to have your culture presented by someone who knows little about it (or, more accurately, misrepresented by someone who knows little about it).

In the workbook you will find familiar worksheets. There are segments to read that have unfamiliar words followed by phonetic spelling to help pronounce the words. Blocks of text are followed by fill-in-the blank statements. There is a glossary. There are pages about education and schools, religion, and dating. The illustration on the front cover is of a man at a golf course.

Some people strongly object to the ways that the authors present Christianity, which makes the case beautifully about what is wrong with the ways that Native cultures and religions are presented in children's books.

If you find yourself thinking that a critique of one of your favorite (or a popular) children's book is "nit-picky," you will gain important insight by spending time with this book. It costs little ($13) and is available from Oyate.

9 comments:

Laura Atkins said...

Hi Debbie,
I know there have been some heated conversations on Child-lit about using Native Americans for advertising in the United States. I thought you might be interested to see an ad in the UK for Virgin Trains. I was quite shocked to see such an outdated and racist stereotype used by a company that prides itself on being hip and contemporary. You can watch it here: http://www.visit4info.com/static/advert_pages/37240.cfm?back_page=advertiser_pages/VirginTrains.cfm

I'm about to email Virgin to complain...
-Laura

Tockla said...

Hi Debbie,
Just to follow-up on my previous comment about the Virgin Train ad, I found an article from a UK paper about a Native American man living in the UK who is considering a lawsuit. I thought you might be interested:
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006440302,00.html

I have emailed to Virgin, and logged an official complaint with the advertising standards people. Hopefully enough people speaking up can make a difference.
-Laura

tigerkat said...

May I ask specifically what is "Caucasion" culture? Do you mean people of a certain skin color with Irish backgrounds, German, Nordic, British, or a mix?

And isn't it a bit stereotypical to have someone golfing on the cover?

Debbie Reese said...

tikerkat,

Your response suggests you object to a workbook with Caucasian in the title, and that you object to using a single image---a golfer---on the cover of such a workbook.

Why do you feel that way?

Can you see why American Indians object to the way that we are presented in the same narrow stereotypical ways again and again and again and again and again in children's books, TV, movies, and ads like the one Laura Atkins noted?

tigerkat said...

I ojbect to someone saying it is not ok to make money off of one stereotype, then going and making money off of another stereotype.

I was also trying to see what you ment by Caucasion-American. Because using that term in the context that you are using it in implies that someone's race and someone's culture and cultural background are the same. When that just isn't true. There are white folks from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds, just because are skin is different shades of the same color doesn't mean we are all culturally the same.

I am sure some Indians are sensitive about some stereotypical aspects being shown in the media. Other Indians (like the one I am married to) don't have as much of a problem with it.

I can understand not liking how something that is related to you is portrayed, but I don't really understand getting so upset about it that you rally against something like you have with such things as Touching Spirit Bear.

sarah park said...

tigerkat, you make a really good point: "There are white folks from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds, just because are skin is different shades of the same color doesn't mean we are all culturally the same."

In the same way you feel offense at this generalization, Americans from distinct Asian countries don't like being lumped together as a homogenous group: Asian American; and American Indians from distinct tribes may not appreciate being lumped together as a homogenous group. Sometimes it's a useful category in terms of forming bigger political coalitions, etc., but it's less useful when teaching about "Asian American culture" or "Native American culture."

If my memory of Caucasian workbook serves me correctly, I believe it purports to be an educational tool to show what's it's like when a majority culture is stereotyped, commodified, packaged and sold - the same way Native American cultures have been stereotyped etc in countless instances. If it gives offense, I believe it's done its job, as that offense should help readers think critically about the way race/culture/what have you is represented in books for youth, or just pop culture in general. I don't think Oyate is trying to make money off Caucasian culture (whatever it is in reality or in our imagination), but I think we can safely say that Native American cultures have been used in thousands of advertisements for a profit.

tigerkat said...

sarah park

You do make some very good points, and points I even discussed with my husband about things I've seen discussed on this blog. I had a friend in highschool who was Chinese and she had friends who were Koren and I did learn that there are very different cultured to those (and other) Asian countries. But my friend was also a lot like me because her race alone didn't make up her cultural identity.

I am not sure if this is a mistake or not but the Caucasion workbook happens to be in the humor section.

What I find offensive though, isn't the idea of a workbook for one specific race (although I don't agree that you can have a workbook that equates race and culture). It is that in this instance a stereotypical image and idea are being used and it is ok, but other times it isn't ok.

Chantilly Patiño said...

Debbie, this is such a smart idea. It's often very difficult to offend white Americans, since we're not usually a targeted group. This sounds really interesting and I'm looking forward to checking this out. I have seen books in the past that try to explain stereotyping from a perspective that whites can relate to, but I've felt like none of them have really gotten the point across. This workbook sounds very promising. I'll definitely check it out. Looking forward to learning more about this.

Truth Unleashed said...

The point is that stereotypical images and ideas AREN'T okay. This workbook was intended to come across as stultifying, trite, and offensive, because it is. It's not actually meant to be handed out to students to teach them about Caucasian culture. It's a chance for educators who are from that culture, or at least genuinely familiar with it, to understand how it feels to see their traditions, lifestyles, and cherished beliefs presented in the overly simplistic, exotifying, slightly condescending manner in which other cultures are so often presented in "multicultural" curriculum materials.