Reader Response Journal

More than a Game: A Critical Discourse Analysis of a Racial Inequality Exercise in Japan by Kay Hammond

This article outlines another racial discrimination simulation, this time at a university in Japan. Hammond frames her study with discussions of simulations games, race relations in Japan, critical pedagogies and critical discourse analysis. Hammond carried out her inequality simulation twice, based on procedures similar to the Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes exercise. The first year she divided student based on the color of their clothing, but the second she made the marginalized group wear pink sashes. She enacted a number of discriminatory practices, keeping her distance and refusing to make eye contact with the disfavored group, referring to them collectively rather than by name and invalidating their efforts to imitate the favored group. In contrast, she used the names of the students in the favored group, spoke to them enthusiastically and praised their efforts. The first year she had two groups of equal size, with each student spending half their time as part of each group. Based on student feedback, in the second year, the favored group was twice as large as the non-favored group, which meant each student experienced being in the favored group twice and the non-favored group once. In the first session, the favored students adopted one member of the non-favored group to treat well, decided what to do with the extra chairs provided for them (the non-favored group did not have enough chairs for everyone) and chose a name for the non-favored group. In the second session, Hammond gave the favored group a set of non-verbal instructions, which allowed them to follow along during a gibberish discussion, while the non-favored group was lost. The favored group members were also given pieces of paper to make into balls to throw at the non-favors group, which only received one sheet of paper to share amongst themselves. In the final session students took a fake test with impossible answers, to allow one student from the non-favored group to be promoted to the favored group. One test sheet had the correct answer printed on it in advance, ensuring that that student and only that student would pass. After the simulation, the students wrote written reflections on their experiences, which Hammond compared to written statements by people who has experienced actual racial discrimination. She compared the themes and found the students responses to be similar to the authentic accounts, including themes such as uncomfortable feelings, entitlement and coping mechanisms. This implied that the students’ awareness of racial issues had, in fact, increased. However, then she did a critical discourse analysis to examine the language that the students had used. She found that the students engaged in several forms of diversion, focusing attention on overt rather than subtle forms of racism, and shifting their reflections away from racial issues by making analogies to other forms of discrimination. Hammond reflects on the ways her own identity and the choices she made while designing the simulation might have encouraged these forms of diversion. By framing the exercise as being intended to help students see “what discrimination feels like” (p. 562), she encouraged them to focus on their experiences when they were in the discriminated group, rather than the experience of being part of the privileged group, which was also part of the exercise. By including obviously discriminatory actions in each of the sessions, she may have led them to focus on overt racism and the expense of recognizing more subtle forms. In the second year, when the favored group was larger, she may have discouraged the students from recognizing that racism can be enacted by powerful groups, even when they are numerically smaller. By enacting the most obvious behaviors herself, she also framed racism as being made up of visible individual actions, rather than subtle systemic and intergroup practices. She also reflects that her own identity as a White woman may have influenced the student responses, which were written in English rather than Japanese. She ends the article with a section on the pedagogical implications of her study, encouraging teachers to make sure that their students aren’t allowed to use diversionary tactics such as focusing only on overt racism or making analogies that don’t then return to the racial issues. She gives some specific suggestions on how her simulation could be modified to include more subtle forms of racism, including framing the activity as a chance to experience racism from both sides, including actions that contain more subtle forms of racism (like the benevolent racism of praising the disfavored group for only one characteristic) and sometimes conducting simulations where the favored group is in the minority. She also encourages a more critical awareness of the language students use in their reflections after such exercises.

The biggest takeaway from this article for me was how the content and the language of the students’ reactions could carry such different messages. Recognizing the diversionary tactics that people engage in to avoid in depth consideration of social issues is really important, and this article makes it clear just how much students can be avoiding the core issues while seeming to achieve the goals of an exercise. I was also struck by how thoughtfully Hammond deconstructed the way she might have contributed to these diversionary discourses. Thinking about the impact of the choices we make as teachers is incredibly important, and Hammond clearly demonstrates how this is even more the case when our goal is to raise our students’ social awareness. In the future, if I ever use activities that are similar to this, I will be sure to incorporate the more subtle forms of discrimination as well, which is necessary for a complete picture of how racism plays out in society.

Hammond, K. (2006). More than a game: A critical discourse analysis of a racial inequality exercise in Japan. TESOL Quarterly, 40(3), 545-571.

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