View From Lodi, CA: Joe Meets With Lodi High Students To Discuss "Racism"
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Last December, Lodi High School English instructor Jerry Pike invited me to speak to his students.

Pike teaches a class of mostly juniors and seniors titled "Video Production: Making Documentaries." The class received a grant from the California Council for the Humanities (with matching funds from the school district) to create a film centered on the connection/disconnection between Lodi teenagers and their community.

Pike's students are divided into five production groups each working on their own film. They are: ethnic and socio-economic differences among local teens, video gaming and its impact on friends and family, alcohol and drug abuse, teen skaters and the teen perception that Lodi offers little in the way of diversions for the 18-and-under population. Each groups' film will be about 45 minutes long.

I became involved because of my August 2007 News-Sentinel column that disputed the findings of a survey ranking Lodi as last in diversity acceptance among participating cities. Pike's class wanted to hear first-hand my views on the role race plays in Lodi.

I'm always flattered when I'm asked to talk to students, because it means that they're reading my News-Sentinel articles. And it gives me an opportunity to expand on my ideas, controversial to some, which otherwise are limited to my weekly 600-word allotment.

A student working on the ethnic and socio-economic portion of the project asked me pointedly, on camera, if the Lodi High campus and Lodi in general are guilty of racism.

Now, I don't want to give away the end for you because you'll be able to see the class' films at the Lodi 12 Theaters on Saturday, May 17th at 9:30 A.M. and also at the California State Stanislaus Student Union on May 13th. Or you will be able to watch it on DVD format that will be distributed to the local schools.

If you don't want to spoil your spring morning at the Lodi 12, read no further. But if you simply can't wait, then proceed.

What I said was that "racism" is an emotionally-charged word, most frequently used accusatorially and almost always thoughtlessly.

"Racism" and "racist" are destructive rather than constructive words. They offend and put on the defensive those targeted thus effectively ending any real opportunity to iron out differences, should they exist.

Those called "racists" are invariably white and those leveling the charge are usually not —a form of racism in and of itself.

Lodians don't have to search too far back in time to see the divisiveness of random racism charges.

During the last quarter of 2007, a majority of district teachers were forced to watch a video titled "Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible" that accused them, if they were white, of allowing inherent racism to prevent them from giving equal educational opportunity to minority students.

The mandated video came shortly after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell made a similar statement at a San Francisco convention.

Teacher reaction was swift—and angry. They correctly objected to the sweeping smear. Many pointed to their lifelong careers of helping children of all ethnicities.

The unfounded, knee-jerk claim that hidden racism is rampant only infuriated the white teachers—and many of their black and Asian colleagues—to whom it was directed. Nothing constructive came of it. And many teachers are still smarting.

Since the words "racism" and "racist" are so overused, my advice is to never utter them. Relying on these now tired clichés only reflects poorly on the person who uses them.

Don't miss Pike's project when it gets to the Lodi 12. Other interviewees offer their opinions and they are not necessarily the same as mine.

Pike and his students have worked hard and they deserve your support.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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