Sunday, 27 April 2014

Digital Citizenship and Racism

There are a lot of articles that discuss integrating technology in the classroom and digital citizenship, and though many of these articles look at utilizing technology in a positive way in the classroom, many do not discuss issues such as racism in social media.  For the most part, my students have been taught about digital citizenship by other teachers, including myself.  Nonetheless, the amount of students being disciplined for cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of technology is growing.  Beyond this, many of my students drop racial slurs in the hallway with their friends on a consistent basis.  I talk to them about the derogatory terms they use and try to enlighten them about the historical viciousness of these words, but on Twitter and Facebook, there are a lot of young individuals using those same terms to describe situations. 

Over the last couple of years we have seen star athletes and scholarship recipients losing their scholarships for the negative, derogatory, and racist comments they have said.  Even living in a diverse city like Surrey, cultural sensitivity at times can be lost in the community, in our homes, but even worse, in our schools. The problem with technology is that if these students feel the need to use this vernacular in their discourse, they will also use it online as well. The beauty of social media is that it connects users together and we can share information instantly.  There are positives to this process, but also negatives.  I hear a lot of teachers asking other educators to show students how to positively use the internet, social media, and other technological tools, but understand for our students we are a very small and limited fraction of the audience they want to interact with.  Students will always digital citizenship rules when interacting with their teacher. So students, if having to use twitter to hand in assignments or schoolwork rarely use their personal profile. They will create new profiles to share their classwork, which is great, but this a un-authentic portion of their online identity because they are interacting with their teacher. What they do with their personal account is where the true issues arise. 

If you were to search #nigger #nigga #spic #terrorist or any other derogatory terms, you will see a multitude of people using that vernacular on their online discussions.  About a month ago, rapper Joe Budden took a picture of a Sikh man at the airport and put it on instagram with the caption "not on my watch, homeboy". And though the beauty of the lesson is that Joe Budden apologized after being called out by some followers and even being taught about the difference between someone who follows the Islamic Faith, and some who follow the Sikh Faith. He had already did the damage as many of his initial followers thought it was quite humorous.  It is that type of ignorance that continues to fuel segregation and hate amongst each other instead of bringing us closer together.  To show you another example, around the holiday season there was a discussion about whether schools should or should not have Christmas concerts?  The responses from students and parents alike was shocking.  Parents crying reverse racism, questioning why their children have to be exposed to other cultural holidays but cannot celebrate their own.  People stating that this only happens in "Curry, or I mean Surrey". 

Lesson plans, and cool online projects are awesome ways to keep students engaged in the classroom with using technology.  But at times I personally feel that educators forget a couple of things:

  • Many of our students come from different backgrounds and different socio-economic lifestyles and so we must be cognizant of that when we are teaching and using these technological tools, because there is still a bit of a digital divide.
  • When teaching digital citizenship (especially to highschool students) remember that racism is an important topic to discuss.  Students are using that type of language in their schools and are probably using them online as well.
  • Remind students that even racist quotes from popular music and online pictures that perpetuate derogatory ideologies are viewed as part of their online social identity and they can be held responsible for their online actions.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ken, thanks for sharing this important topic. One moment that stands out for me was the awful racism toward our First Nation community that happened with the "Idle No More" movement. When First Nation people pulled together and gained power, it became clear in the comments online that racism is alive and well in BC. Thankfully, news media organizations are starting to monitor this more carefully but it does not solve the fact that it exists. The digital world does bring to the forefront that these problems are still out there and we have a long way to go before we can say we live in a truly equitable, respectful, inclusive society. It is up to us as parents and educators to model the behaviour we want to see and stand up and say something when it happens. Thanks again for raising this issue.