Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In my French class, we worked through a unit on vocabulary about shopping, make-up, and how to look seductive. (The curriculum could not possibly be any more French.) But when we came to a discussion question that asked us to tell a story about being judged by appearances, the conversation finally got a lot less banal. My class is very international, with students from Algeria, Eritrea, Mexico, Japan, Korea and a smattering of European countries, and every single person of colour in the class told a story about being openly insulted or harassed, not feeling safe on the subway or walking around at night in Paris. We talked about how France isn't exactly known for it's love of cultural pluralism. (Not that things are much better at, say, Queen's University.)

One of the frustrating things about language classes is how unimportant everything we learn seems to be - "Pierre is taller than Luc," "I would like to go to the movies with you." Simple, straightforward sentences about dull and meaningless topics so we can practice conjugating basic verbs. This felt a lot more relevant, and it was a nice antidote to all of the gender/sex/racial assumptions that our textbook makes. Finally - Paulo Friere breaks into L'Institut de Langue Francaise.

And then the woman who sits beside me finished a story about being harassed for wearing the hijab by pointing to the Korean and Japanese women across the room and saying, "but all Asians look the same to me. I can never tell your faces apart."

Baby steps, I guess.

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