Losing The Race

| Learning | September 2, 2013

(I am in 11th grade English class. We have just finished reading a novel that takes place in South Africa in the 1960’s and are divided into groups to create a presentation on different aspects of South Africa. I am grouped with two other girls and our topic is ‘The Status of Black Women in South Africa.’ We have been figuring out how to split up the work. Partner #1 has taken on a leadership role and Partner #2 has been very quiet through most of the discussion.)

Partner #1: “Alright, so I’m tackling the general topic of prejudice against women. [My name], you’ve got the presentation design, visual components and digging up any photographs you can find from the 1960’s. [Partner #2], what part do you wanna take on for the presentation?”

Partner #2: “Oprah.”

Me: “Do you mean about the school she had built in South Africa? You could do that to segue into the topic of education of young black women in South Africa.”

Partner #2: “No, my topic is Oprah.”

Partner #1: “But, Oprah isn’t from South Africa.”

Partner #2: “She’s African American.”

Partner #1: “Yes, she is, but she was born in the United States. She’s not South African.”

Partner #2: *gasp* “You can’t say that! That’s racist!”

Partner #1: “Say what?”

Partner #2: “You have to say African American!”

Me: “If someone is from South Africa, they’re called South African. Like Canada has Canadians, Europe has Europeans, Asia has Asians. It’s not racist; it’s a regional title.”

Partner #2: “That’s just wrong! You’re all racists!”

(After that, we drop the subject and get to work. Partner #2 insists on sticking to her topic on Oprah, so Partner #1 and I work on our stuff and hope for the best. I put together a little write up about the education system as back up, as well as a snippet about the girls’ school involving Oprah. Come presentation day, and Partner #1 and I have just finished our bits and it is Partner #2’s turn. Her blurb ends up being a short biography of Oprah’s life, and she never touches on anything in regards to South Africa. It comes to the time for questions from the class.)

Student #1: “So… is Oprah South African?”

Partner #2: “She’s African American.”

Student #2: “What does she have to do with black women of South Africa?”

Partner #2: “AFRICAN AMERICAN! YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!! IT’S—”

Me: “—what [partner #2] means to say, is…”

(I give the quick speech about the school and education system.)

Partner #2: “NO! That is not what I meant to say! My presentation is about Oprah! OPRAH! Not some dumb school!”

(With that, she storms out, leaving the rest of the class totally stumped.)

Teacher: “Don’t worry; I’ll mark [partner #2] separately. And I think she and I need to have a little talk.”

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