Title got your attention? Good. Picture this and close your eyes. On second thought, read this, then close your eyes and picture it.
A series of adorable cartoon snails. They represent different people/agencies involved in a historic preservation process, so the “government” one has a suit and dark glasses, the “historic property owner” has a house instead of a shell, the one representing “education” has a cap and bandanna like a boy scout, etc. And then there’s one representing Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs, pronounced “thip-ohs”). It has a teepee instead of a shell, and a headdress and loincloth. OK. Now close your eyes, picture these adorable cartoon snails and decide: is the THPOs one racist?
My students decided that the headdress and loincloth were racist, but in this context – a historic preservation infographic – the teepee was appropriate. This after an extended and raucous conversation, and the admission that no one in the room could really present the view of a Native American. You may well disagree, in which case please explain why and this will inform round 2 of the conversation. Anyway, why do I bring this up?
Lots of people seem to think a liberal arts education and technical skills are at opposite ends of the continuum. I vehemently disagree, in part because of moments like the one described above. This took place in my infographics class, which focuses entirely – at least in theory – on developing technical and design skills. Of course, that’s not how I pictured it at all. I always figured thoughtful conversations would take place in this class, and I’ve been vindicated with only one third of the semester complete.
Working on details shouldn’t mean disconnecting from meaning. A primary benefit of the liberal arts approach is to remember to zoom out and look at the forest, not just the trees.
And now that you’ve been patient, here are the snails in question. Cute, right? And hopefully NOT racist.