The Importance of Voice

Delgado (1995) argues that the stories of people of color come from a different frame of reference, one underpinned by racism, and that this therefore gives them a voice that is different from the dominant culture and deserves to be heard. Arguing in a similar vein, Dixson and Rousseau (2006, p. 10) define the concept of voice as ‘the assertion and acknowledgement of the importance of the personal and community experiences of people of color as sources of knowledge’. Delgado and Stefancic (2001, p. 38) remind us that that Native Americans were great storytellers who used history and myth to preserve their culture and bind the groups together; that African Americans draw on a long history of storytelling that includes slave narratives, such as tales written to unmask the brutality behind the gentility promoted by the plantation society; and that in Latino society ‘picaresque novelists made sly fun of social convention, puffed- up nobility, and illegitimate authority’ (ibid.). Such ‘stories’ are important and need to be listened to in order to counter hegemonic discourse. Ladson-Billings (2006, p. xi) insists that CRT scholars are not ‘making up stories’, but constructing narratives ‘out of the historical, socio-cultural and political realities of their lives and those of people of color’ (ibid.). Moreover, as Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995, pp. 59-60) argue, to make linkages between CRT and education, we need the voice of people of color to complete an analysis of the education system. Without the authentic voices of people of color (teachers, parents, administrators, students and community members, they conclude, ‘it is doubtful that we can say or know anything useful about education in their communities’ (ibid.).

While such insights are extremely illuminating, particularly for white people whose life experiences are restricted to monocultural settings, the crucial point for Marxists is that people of color need always to be listened to because they have been racialized in class societies. Racism can be best understood by both listening to and/or learning about the life histories and experiences of those at the receiving end of racism, and by objective Marxist analysis, which makes links with class and capitalism. There is thus considerable purchase in Zeus Leonardo’s (2004) attempt to ‘integrate Marxist objectivism and race theory’s focus on subjectivity’ (see also Maisuria 2006). At the beginning of an article on racism in Britain, Alpesh Maisuria (2006, p. 1) explains his theoretical technique of linking state policy with his family’s experiences of racism:

I will ... [highlight] events and legislation that have shaped and defined

macro policy, and also the micro experiences of the Maisuria family. It is of

huge important to establish a connection between macro politics and micro

struggles in a liberal democracy to see how the state links with lived lives.5

As Steven Watts (1991, p. 652, cited in Darder and Torres 2004, p. 102) puts it, scholars who favour the use of narrative often ‘fail to challenge the underlying socioeconomic, political and cultural structures that have excluded these groups to begin with and have sustained the illusion of choice’. Thus, as Darder and Torres 2004, p. 102, point out, ‘the narrative and storytelling approach can render the scholarship antidialectical by creating a false dichotomy between objectivity and subjectivity’, ‘forgetting that one is implied in the other, [while ignoring] a basic dialectical prin?ciple: that men and women make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing’ (Viotti da Costa 2001, p. 20, cited in Darder and Torres 2004, p. 102) (the last phrase is, of course, adapted from Marx).

 
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