"American Tongues" revisited

Mai Kuha mkuha at BSU.EDU
Fri Sep 12 23:02:19 UTC 2003

Thanks for reporting on this, Bethany. It's helpful to hear about different
approaches in classrooms.

It seems to me that, given the asymmetric relationship between the
instructor and the students, students are not truly free to withhold
permission to show the video. I've run into this in another situation: at
the first class meeting, I like to take a photo of every student. I used to
say: "if you'd rather not have your picture taken, just let me know", but it
became evident that people felt obligated to conform. Then I thought I found
a perfect solution: I send around an attendance sheet with two columns
labeled "sign here if it's OK to take your picture" and "sign here if you'd
rather not have your picture taken" and say that it's perfectly all right to
sign in the second column, even if nobody else does. In some groups, people
do seem to feel free to opt out of being photographed, but once a student
signed in the first column reluctantly, muttering very quietly: "I want to
be nice". And in the video permission situation, it would be obvious to them
that you would be inconvenienced if they say no--you'd have to re-plan the
whole class meeting. Still, you did consult them, and obviously that's
vastly different from business as usual.

Your comments made me think again of a question I wonder about from time to
time. What if non-African-American students are offended at the racial slur
on the video on behalf of African Americans? Is that offense less important
than that of group members themselves, or should we consult everyone?

-Mai, resigned to being stuck in an institutional role in interactions with

> From: "Bethany K. Dumas" <dumasb at UTKUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU>
> Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 21:17:49 -0400

> As some of you may recall, I routinely show the original, uncut 56-minute
> version of "American Tongues" in most of my university classes. (...)
> There has been discussion here from time to time suggesting that it is
> inappropriate to show the full version because of its inclusion of
> offensive uses of the n-word and the f-word. (...)  and this semester I
> decided to try something new. I showed the film in an undergraduate
> linguistics class last week. As usual, I warned the whole class about
> various offensive scenes, including those depicting <hillbillies>. But I
> also talked privately with the African-American students in the class
> ahead of time and told then that I wanted to do something I had not done
> before, that I wanted to ask their permission to show the film in class.
> Their reaction was very interesting. They could hardly believe that a
> professor was actually asking students for permission to do something.
> They all gave me permission and told me that they very much wanted to see
> the film. I showed the film and distributed the unofficial handout that
> Dennis Preston I put together some years ago.

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