We all have had times when we felt like everyone was laughing at us (and not in a good way). It feels terrible. It alienates us. It is not what anyone deserves.
In one of my Oral Communications classes, my student Jose shared a powerful statement based on the personal strength he discovered in himself after years of feeling like the “eternal punchline.”
Jose is Mexican-American, hard-working, and a super talented speaker. He is not a traditional student in that he is not “fresh” out of high school, but he is most definitely a refreshing addition to his program and to all those he encounters.
The Oral Communications course is designed to bring awareness to interpersonal differences and strengthen communication skills. With most of the chapters in our text, I ask students to write a personal reflection on the content or how it applies to their own experiences. Chapter 6 is on unfair judgement and bias. I asked my students to share their thoughts on a time when they experienced bias in their own personal lives and how it has affected the way they communicate with or view others.
Jose’s response was so honest and so powerful, I had to read it a few times to wrap my head around his pragmatic approach to the unfair way others (even his closest friends) have spoken to or of him.
“I’ve had to deal with everything from stereotypes to very direct racism from multiple sources, including other Mexican-Americans.” Jose shared that bias has come at him so frequently that “It’s hard to track down one specific event because it has just become a common thing now.”
Based on his interactions and work in the classroom, I never would have thought anyone would disrespect or undervalue Jose. He was very successful in his coursework and his classmates clearly appreciated his work ethic and skill.
As he elaborated on the challenges of facing direct and indirect bias, Jose pointed out that in the past there had been times where he called out his friends or colleagues on their hurtful or racist statements. With each encounter though, he found that they had not intended to harm him; it was simply a matter of ignorance towards his feelings and what they were saying. Jose says he now shrugs off most of these comments, “Over the course of times and with enough discussions about this behavior, I’ve come to understand that these jokes will be common as the “eternal punchline” and that these comments never come from any place of negativity within my own people.”
Jose went on to explain that he has developed a sound awareness in his outlook towards other minorities and patience towards ignorance. With a personality that fulfills positive stereotypes Jose has earned respect from his peers and helped to dispel any negative ideas others may have about him. Today Jose says, “I’m proud of my heritage, race, and ethnicity and I want to show the world that the person or people so many others are quick to pass judgement on are more than the color of their skin.”
The Intentergy behind this post is to encourage you to consider the bias (intentional or unintentional) in your day and allow your views and words to put an end to any “eternal punchlines” that may negatively impact those with whom you work, play, or love. Get the good out there. Be like Jose and take pride and celebrate the differences of those in our lives.
By: Melanie A. Peters
P.S. This is one of those posts about how the student becomes the teacher. Thank you, Jose.