on sylvia plath and cultural sensitivity
tonight we discussed sylvia plath at length in the college class I teach. we discussed 'daddy', 'lady lazarus', and 'morning song'. if you know anything about sylvia plath, then you probably know that she often used the holocaust in her poems - for comparisons, metaphors, etc. I have often had students misinterpret plath's intention and message. actually, one student once told me that her anti-semitism disgusted him, and he couldn't even talk about her (this was in reaction to 'the thin people', I believe). for the most part I feel really comfortable discussing plath's work. she's so fascinating... and if you don't know anything about her, she's not anti-semetic at all. I mean, there's just something about lines like: "Dying /Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well." dying... is an art... like everything else. !!! anyway, I digress. I don't mean to get all poetry-nerdy on you.
so, back to where I was going - this semester I have an orthodox jewish woman in my class. this is the second class of mine she has been in. I love her. she's a fantastic and bright student. I've had a few orthodox women in the past, too - the town I teach/live in is right on the border of another town that has a huge orthodox community. but this is the first time I've had an orthodox student in an english II class - the class where we talk about sylvia plath. I went into the class with hesitation - knowing that there was a possibility that she might misinterpret plath - or something worse. so we listened to plath reading 'daddy' - and every time she said the word 'jew', I shuddered a little, really hoping that my student wouldn't be offended. long story short, she wasn't - or at least didn't seem to be. she was amazed, after our discussion, to learn that plath's father wasn't a nazi. but she seemed unphased by everything else.
so, what't my point, I bet you're wondering... I was thinking to myself about this hesitation that I had. and I've felt it before - like when we read flannery o'connor and she uses the 'n' word. or when I talk to my students about the civil rights movement. there is something strangely uncomfortable there for me. like I'm afraid I'm going to say something to offend a jewish or african american, or any other minority student. or worse yet, I might say something wrong and they will think I'm racist.
I feel like I work hard to be non-judgmental, to be equal and fair in my mind to all people - regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. I don't want to offend anyone, especially not out of ignorance (haha, like, if I'm going to offend you, I want it to be with all of my intelligence!). but I think my biggest realization (after all of that babbling) is that I worry more about what others will think of me. is my cultural sensitivity really in the best interest of others, or myself? it's kind of like that old saying: 'it's not what I think, or what you think, but what I think you think.' hmm, but I have a hard time swallowing this. if I was really that self-centered I wouldn't care if the other person was offended. and I do care. really, I do. and I don't think it's out of some superficial political-correctness, either. I think, deep down, I truly believe in the 'do unto others' mentality.
I know, this all just seems like blibbity blabbity. but this is where I'm at - in this moment.