“They Call Us Blackxicans”: Addressing Issues of Race and Racism in Dual Immersion Programs

by multilingualmania on September 8, 2010

in Bilingual Education, bilingual teachers, Bilingualism, Culture, Dual Immersion, Language and Identity, Multiculturalism, Racial Identity, Racism

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During my experiences in working with Dual Immersion programs over the years there have been numerous times when issues of race, racism and identity have arisen with regard to African American students. I remember the very first time that an African American parent mentioned that she believed that unconscious acts of racism were occurring in the dual language program, and I remember feeling at a loss for words when it appeared that her concerns were not taken seriously.

“My daughter says that the Latino kids make fun of her hair on the playground. They also taunt her and call her a blackxican-a black Mexican. I think that there is some racism going on and it needs to be addressed,” the parent suggested during a meeting about her daughter’s progress in class.

“I haven’t noticed that and she hasn’t told me anything,” the teacher said.

I immediately said, “Just because you haven’t noticed anything doesn’t mean that it might not be happening. This is something that you might want to talk to your students about,” I suggested.

An uncomfortable “case closed” feeling lingered in the air throughout the rest of the meeting with the parent.

On a separate occasion, another African American parent raised concerns that although a handful of African American students had entered the dual language program there appeared to be only two African American students left in her child’s classroom. “I want to know where the other African American students have gone, and I want to make sure that my daughter doesn’t feel like she is different than other students,” the parent said.

I mentioned that this was a legitimate concern, as there are issues of identity development that take place within dual language programs and it’s important that we ensure that students of all races and ethnicities feel that their cultural identity is validated. However, I once again noticed that subtle and uncomfortable “case closed” feeling that seemed to linger in the air throughout the remainder of the meeting.

After the meeting, the school counselor approached me and said, “All she’s concerned about is that she wants her kids to be around other black kids”. He made a funny face to me as he said it, as if there was a secret “you know what I’m talking about” connection between the two of us.

I once again mentioned that it was a legitimate concern, because it is a valid question. Where had all the African American students gone?? Why were most of the African American students exited out of the program?

Over the years a few other African American parents have mentioned to me that the Spanish-speaking children in the classroom call their children “blackxicans”. One parent recently stated, “I’m sure that the kids don’t know that it is offensive to some of us, but it really bothers many of us in the African American community and no one really seems to care that we are offended”. When I have tried to address the topic with dual language educators and administrators, I typically hear giggling in the audience and see people wiggling uncomfortably in their chairs. People tend to dismiss this as a “kids will be kids scenario” and suggest that parents who are offended may be overly sensitive.

Various researchers have documented similar situations regarding African American students in Dual Immersion programs. Carrigo (2000) conducted a case study of a well-established dual language program in the Northeast with a sizable African American student population. Carrigo’s case study demonstrated that although the site was successful in elevating the Latina/o culture and language, less support was provided to the African American students in the program. Parchia (2000) also found a similar phenomenon where African American parents felt that their culture was not represented in the program yet they choose to remain in the program in order for their child to receive the benefits of biliteracy.

Considering that one of the primary goals of Dual Immersion programs is to foster cross-cultural integration and appreciation, it’s imperative that dual language educators address such issues of race and potential racism in dual language programs. Only a frank and open discussion with students about the meanings and implications of using a term such as “blackxican” will provide insight into the reasons as to why students might be using such a term-whether such reasons stem from racism or an innocent play with language and identity.

Only one thing can be certain: Failure to address such topics in dual language programs may eventually alienate the African American community and contribute to decreased participation of African American students in dual language programs over time.

Books to Talk About Issues of Race and Racism With Children:

The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism

Let’s Talk About Race

Hablemos Del Racismo

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