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Multicultural Girlhood

Multicultural Girlhood: Racism, Sexuality, and the Conflicted Spaces of American Education

Mary E. Thomas
Series: Global Youth
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Multicultural Girlhood
    Book Description:

    High school turf wars are often a teenage rite of passage, but there are extremes-as when a race riot at a Los Angeles campus in the spring of 2005 resulted in a police lockdown. In her fascinating book,Multicultural Girlhood, Mary Thomas interviewed 26 Latina, Armenian, Filipina, African-American, and Anglo girls at this high school to gauge their responses to the campus violence. They all denounced the outbreak, calling for multicultural understanding and peaceful coexistence.

    However, as much as the girls want everyone to just "get along," they also exhibit strong racist beliefs and validate segregated social spaces on campus and beyond. How can teenagers and "girl power" work together to empower instead of alienate multicultural groups? In her perceptive book, Thomas foregrounds the spaces of teen girlhood and the role that space plays in girls' practices that perpetuate social difference, and she explains the ways we navigate the intellectual terrain between scholarship and school yard.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0733-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    One spring morning in 2005, I contacted a high school principal in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles about the possibility of doing research with teen girls at her school. By coincidence, a large fight broke out at noon that day on the school campus. Over the lunchtime break, hundreds of Armenian and Latino students, almost exclusively boys, battled each other in the center of campus, where their segregated turfs met. The LA Police Department was summoned, the school was locked down, and the students were allowed to leave only under police escort in groups of two or three...

  5. 2 Banal Multiculturalism and Its Opaque Racisms: New Racial Ideals and the Limits of “Getting Along”
    (pp. 27-50)

    When I first sat down with the girls, I asked them for their thoughts about what happened on the day of the riot. Their hearty stories, emotional descriptions, and passionate pleas for peace all illustrate the force that the day exerted on them. As I make clear in this book, however, the emotive force of these events does not indicate a direct or self-evident process, and their replies to the riot do not represent a fully conscious experience for the girls themselves. In this chapter, I examine their articulated commitments to countering racial tension at school, but I juxtapose the...

  6. 3 The Sexual Attraction of Racism: The Latent Desires of “Boys Are Stupid”
    (pp. 51-78)

    “Boys are stupid.” This prototypical phrase was uttered time and again as the girls explained to me how the race riot began at their school. “Just boys being stupid and fighting.” But how do the girls so easily skim the importance of race in this explanation? Certainly boys were the main instigators and battlers that messy day, but the fight was fundamentally a racialized conflict as well as a masculine one. to further confound this story, some girls also told a gendered story about the fight’s ignition: a boy of one race hit a girl of another race, prompting “other”...

  7. 4 The Pain of Segregation: School Territoriality, Racial Embodiment, and Paranoid Geographies
    (pp. 79-110)

    This chapter explores the “misplacement” of racialized bodies in this high school’s segregated territories of racial-ethnic difference. In particular, it considers the importance of the subjective and emotional experiences of the girls, such as fifteen-year-old Mayra, who either venture into strange racial territory or find themselves receiving friends who have crossed racial-ethnic boundaries. Over the course of my interviews, Mayra’s story became a familiar one. The “funny” looks, the discomfort, the hurt feelings, and the accusations of being a race traitor, I argue, are important clues for examining the role that the social body—and how others evaluate it—plays...

  8. 5 Geographies of Migrant Girlhood: Families and Racialization
    (pp. 111-144)

    Between 1980 and 2000, the Armenian-speaking, foreign-born population of the United States increased from about 70,000 to 156,555.¹ In 2004, the city of Los Angeles had 70,000 Armenian speakers in its households. In fact, according to 2004 data, Armenian speakers over the age of five are the third largest non-English-speaking category in the city (3.3 percent), after Spanish (74 percent of non-English speakers) and Korean (4.2 percent). Tagalog is close to Armenian (3.2 percent). Most of these Armenian speakers live in the San Fernando Valley. Glendale, a Valley city not included in LA data, has 54,000 Armenians according to “...

  9. 6 What Girls Want at School: Surveillance, Care, and a Predictable Space
    (pp. 145-172)

    As my interview time with each girl or group of girls drew to a close, I asked them what questions I may have neglected that they thought would be important to address in my research. Although many of them said, “I think we covered everything,” one other issue came up repeatedly: education.

    Mary: So what do you think are important things in your lives that . . . you want to talk about?

    Amy: Education.

    Mary: Education.

    Lola: Probably I would ask about school because that’s, like, education. . . . It’s the biggest part of our lives.

    Rachelle: School...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 173-190)

    Banal multiculturalism saturates American urban education. Youth are inundated with its messages of respect, diversity, and “getting along.” This book has shown the effectiveness of these banal messages and ways that girls hold on to them with feeling, commitment, and the desire for peaceful school relationships. Yet banal multiculturalism has given rise to problematic identities that allow youth to espouse humanistic beliefs of similarity while remaining committed and invested in racial, sexual, and gender difference. The girls indicated the racial antagonism they felt through the resentment of others’ privileges, their naturalizations of racial segregation, the pain of interracial friendships, and...

  11. References
    (pp. 191-200)
  12. Index
    (pp. 201-204)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)