Getting Upset Over a “Racist Sandwich” and Missing the Point: Supporting Cultural Competency in Schools (and in Communities)

Today, it’s back to school for me and many other professors and college students in Portland.  And instead of packing up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to serve as a quick lunch between classes, I’ll be using this sandwich (and its recent controversy) to start a conversation about equity and cultural competency…students, get ready!

A friend and colleague of mine sent me a few articles recently that she thought might spark some good conversation in my course on educational equity.  Here are some links to some of these articles:

In my colleague’s email, she noted that reading the comments under each of these articles was just as enlightening as reading the articles themselves and that this collection would be a wonderful conversation starter for students who are working to think more deeply about our public schools, cultural competency, and what educational equity might look like.  I agree.  I will be using these in my class in the fall term.

Reading through the articles and the comments really fired me up to become even more vocal and involved in educating myself, my students, and my community about what cultural competency really is.  I applaud Principal Gutierrez for being willing to point out the subtle things that we can do to make all students invited and involved in their learning.  While a peanut butter and jelly sandwich itself is clearly not racist (this is just an attention grabber for newspaper writers seeking readers), norming things (foods among them) that are associated with only one cultural tradition is deeply problematic and does not invite or build critical thinking or cultural awareness in our city’s children.  Yes, we should write math examples with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pita, and torta and beyond.  Yes, we should talk about difference rather than skimming over our diverse cultural traditions by saying that “we’re all human and difference shouldn’t matter.”  Difference does matter.  It’s beautiful.  It’s complex.  It’s real.  It’s a part of each individual’s lived experience every day.  Denying difference and pretending like people don’t experience the world differently because of their culture, their skin color, their economic status, their gender, etc., is not a way to teach our children to become empathetic and interculturally sensitive and knowledgeable.

In my classes, I use some fairly straightforward readings to open up the conversation on intercultural awareness.  I like to use Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue” and a reading on a intercultural sensitivity scale in Learning Through Servingand local articles on the fair housing crisis in Portland and the like.  I encourage students to step outside of the classroom to continue these conversations in forums like McMenamin’s Race Talks series.  And I always talk about intercultural competency as an ongoing process.  We are never done.  We must constantly learn and grow.

I am glad to see that Portland Public Schools are using Courageous Conversations About Race to host continued conversations for staff members on cultural competency in schools; I think that conversations in classrooms with students and across the community with groups of all kinds could only benefit our city and start to create the sort of real understanding of diverse experiences that we need and deserve.


One thought on “Getting Upset Over a “Racist Sandwich” and Missing the Point: Supporting Cultural Competency in Schools (and in Communities)

  1. Pingback: Arizona: Banning Books, Canceling Classes, and Demonizing Teachers in the 21st Century (by Guest Writer Kelsey Robertson) |

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