On March 16, the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages at the University of Connecticut hosted a lecture by Dr. Nicole Coleman. The lecture, “We are all more alike than not — Moving Beyond Universalism for Anti-Racist Pedagogies in the Literature Classroom” was hosted through Zoom, and the audience was given a chance to submit questions in the chat. Coleman emphasized the importance of moving beyond highlighting sameness or differences in anti-racism education and to focus instead on interculturality.
As she mentioned in the lecture, Coleman believes that highlighting sameness or celebrating differences within culture may have the opposite effect intended in anti-racist pedagogy. Instead, she calls for equality and equity within differences alongside commonalities that provide the space for anti-racist pedagogies. In her text, she looks at ways intercultural literature perceives differences.
“I create a taxonomy that distinguishes ways in which people — this could be readers or characters, as well as text — confront and engage cultural difference,” Coleman said.
Coleman categorized literature into four categories: cultural ignorance, cultural exclusion, universalism and interculturality. Cultural ignorance denies differences, she said, while cultural exclusion sees differences as threatening and uses them to exclude people. Coleman explained that universalism recognizes differences, but plays them down and uses ignorant explanations that are skewed and contaminated.
“In this category, differences can be understood and explained and they’re explained from this universal perspective,” Coleman said. “Universalism in that way is ignorant of the fact that these explanations that we have are necessarily skewed in contaminated by one’s own cultural filter without recognizing substantial different perspectives of world views.”
Intercultural texts, however, highlight sameness along with differences, according to Coleman. She described how intercultural texts also require ambiguous elements to give readers the opportunity to think critically and to be open to adjustment in their perspectives. Some of the elements that intercultural texts have are ambiguity and uncertainty; multiple perspectives; an unreliable narrator; meaning that is not absolute; and loose ends.
“This category can only work with an open and fluid definition of culture and presupposes that the realization that everyone is situated in, and influenced by, cultures and that all these cultures influence how we perceive the world,” Dr. Coleman said.
Coleman also compared two texts that highlight either universalism or interculturality. Coleman used “Go, Went, Gone” by Jenny Erpenbeck and “Nachts Ist Es Letse in Teheran” by Shida Bazyar to show the effectiveness of universalism and interculturality. Coleman classified “Go, Went, Gone” as a universalist text and the latter as interculturality.
Coleman also talked about the role she believes anti-racist pedagogy has in decolonization.
“Anti-racist pedagogy, to me, isn’t a decolonial practice, although it can be, but maybe better described as a pedagogy that decenters whiteness, amplifies otherwise marginalized voices, and needs to reflect the positioning of ourselves and our students,” Coleman said.
Coleman is an assistant professor at Wayne State University, where she teaches German language and culture classes, as well as global studies courses on comparative literature and intercultural competence. Coleman is also the author of a soon-to-be-released book called “The Right to Difference: Interculturality and Human Rights and Contemporary German Literature,” which creates a system for reading human rights literature within an intercultural lens and includes literary analysis and approaches to teaching social justice and intercultural citizenship.
For more information about Dr. Nicole Coleman and the Anti-racism lectures hosted by the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages, visit their website.