Student’s Violent Outburst, Part Two

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(Please note that the video discussed in this post contains violence and offensive language. Many of the comments left on YouTube are also offensive.) In part two of this series on the viral video of a student disrupting a class at my school, I’d like to address what the video can teach us, and our students, about race. Looking at the comments on the YouTube video is a potent place to start. What’s immediately apparent is that the comments focus nearly exclusively on race. Some are blatantly and disturbingly racist, using the “n” word in reference to the student. Others, though, make some attempt to unpack the racial issues in the incident. I love teaching Steve Olson’s essay “The End of Race,” in which he argues that race persists even though it no longer has any biological basis. Needless to say, this video and the comments surrounding it complicate Olson’s argument, while also bringing his seemingly abstract discussion into the very real world. I can imagine asking students to read through this conversation. I can imagine asking them to analyze the arguments being made—which ones are convincing? Who uses evidence? What counts as evidence? I can also imagine inviting them to contribute to the discussion, with civility. Basic to this discussion is the question of what racism is. That is, is racism limited to whites? Should it be expected from historically oppressed populations? Should it be accepted? What do we do about it? Here I am reminded of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s essays "Making Conversation," and "The Primacy of Practice." One of Appiah’s basic arguments is simply that we need to find a way to live with others different from ourselves, simply because in the world today we are unavoidably surrounded by those different from ourselves. He calls this cosmopolitanism. I’m wondering if the video comments reflect that in action, or breaking down.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.