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02 December 2006

Comments

Matthew Foglino

It is truly troubling to think just how deeply these cultural stereotypes that we hold run. Yet that is exactly what we tried to unpack the night of the discussion. The wonderful thing was that there were so many people from so many different backgrounds in one place to listen and to add to this thinking toward understanding and breaking these awful hindrances of human progress.

It is really refreshing to see so many people care. There seems to be so much negativity in this world. It is almost as if hatred and animosity run just beneath the surface in this great caldron of man that we call a city.

I am often the sole white face in the neighborhood in the Bronx which I live and teach. The decision to live and work where I am is a result of my conviction to help break down these stereotypes and fight the gross inequity of our culture.

The faces that I see are the faces of people who work hard to make a living. I am surrounded by Hispanic families who are experiencing the brunt of the latent hatred that is still so pervasive in our society. I also live next to so many African American families that have had generations of experience with hatred that has not always been so hidden. Despite this, I see people work and apply themselves to the daunting challenge of survival in a city that is increasingly becoming the playground of the rich.

These stereotypes run very deep indeed. In my classroom I try to fight them by exposing my students to some of the evils they have caused. I posed a question to my students at the beginning of the year, “how does the meaning of what it means to be an American change through time?” The question itself is one that is inherently loaded. It is loaded to show progress, yet still much work to be done.

As I have progressed with them, I have been able to see just how deeply these stereotypes have affected them at such a young age. When these students learn about the death of civil rights after Reconstruction with a backdoor deal; or they learn of the motivation of Custer’s mission that led to his last stand, it is often met with cynicism. It is almost as if they are already aware of this dark history even if they are learning of it for the first time. Sometimes, I am afraid these stereotypes have bred early adolescent nihilists.

This fear is precisely why I was so encouraged by the turnout of the discussion. There were so many people that wanted to work constructively toward challenging these awful banes to our collective consciousness. There are people who really care at fighting this on the intellectual and foundational level. That is very encouraging.

Mankind has a natural propensity to build and progress. Human history is but the story of the progression and its pitfalls. This deep seated animosity I experience with every cynical response to a lesson or graffiti covered wall, is indicative to me of a very great pitfall that we must all work together to cure. This book and the response show that there are others who are just as concerned and want to be part of that cure!

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