Frame of Reference Glasses Diagram

Frame of Reference Glasses Diagram

In order to develop critical social justice literacy, we must be able to see how our ideas, views, and opinions are not objective and independent, but rather the result of myriad social messages and conditioning forces. The first layer of socialization we might easily identify is our family. While our families do indeed form the first unit through which we learn language, values, and behaviors, our parents and families are not the sole or dominant forces of socialization. There are many other socializing forces including schooling, media, and religion, which also wield great authority. Thus the common conception that families are the sole forces of socialization is an incomplete view because our families themselves are products of socialization. In order to critically reflect on the forces of socialization that shape us, we must understand the role of broader society.

“You” in Relation to the “Groups” to Which You Belong

Humans are social beings who depend on the humans around us to make sense of our world. A useful metaphor for understanding how we learn to make sense of our world is to think of our culture as a pair of glasses that we wear at all times (see Figure 3.2). Just like the fish is always immersed in water, we are always wearing our cultural glasses and cannot ever truly take them off. There are two significant parts to these glasses: the frames and the lenses. The frames are the “big picture” (macro) norms—what everyone in that culture is taught from birth. The lenses constitute the individual (micro) perspective.

At the frame (macro) level, for example, in the culture of mainstream United States and Canada, we are all taught that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, that democracy and free market capitalism are the best forms of government and economic policy, and that we should strive to be independent from others. Regardless of whether or not we personally agree


with these teachings, we all receive them through social institutions like schools, government, and the mass media.

For example, even if as parents we want to challenge traditional gender roles and intentionally avoid dressing our daughters in pink or sons in blue, we still receive the message in mainstream culture whenever we watch TV, walk through the toy aisles in stores, or order a Happy Meal at McDonald’s and are asked if we want the “girl” or “boy” toy. In fact, many parents who try to avoid traditional gender teachings find it to be a losing battle, given the relentless messages children receive from everything else around them; we are constantly being pressured to follow the norms of society.

The social groups we are born or develop into are part of the frames of our glasses. For example, when we are born we are socialized according to whether we are male or female, rich or poor, able-bodied or with a disability. While group divisions are not in reality this clear-cut, the macro level of society organizes groups into simple either/or groupings (called binaries). For every social group, there is an opposite group. One cannot learn what a social group is, without also learning what the group is not. Thus the frames of our glasses are the big picture ideas about social groups. Although there are many, the primary groups that we name here are: race, class, gender, sexuality, ability status/exceptionality, religion, and nationality.

Figure 3.3 is intended to help readers begin the process of identifying several of their key social group memberships. Despite these limitations, our intention is that readers use this chart for the purpose of beginning to understand the relevance of race/ethnicity in society at large.

We develop our ideas about people in terms of their race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, ability, and citizenship from the culture that surrounds us, and many of these ideas are “below the surface” or below the conscious level. But we all rely on shared understandings about these social groups because we receive messages collectively about them from our culture. The frameworks we use to make sense of race, class, or gender are taken for granted and often invisible to us.

PERSPECTIVE CHECK: We have based the list in Figure 3.3 on categories of identification that are collected by the Canadian and U.S. governments. However, these categorizations do not reflect the complexities of race and ethnicity as experienced in society. For example, in Figure 3.3 we have included Latino/Hispanic under the category of race despite the fact that this is not technically a singular racial group; it includes many racial


groups. We have included it because of the very real racialized experiences that occur for people who are identified as Latino/Hispanic.

Race and ethnicity are examples of how complex and interrelated these categories can be. While race and ethnicity are related in important ways and often used interchangeably, they are not interchangeable. Race is a socially constructed system of classifying humans based on particular phenotypical characteristics (skin color, hair texture, and bone structure). Ethnicity refers to a group of people bound by a common language, culture, spiritual tradition, and/or ancestry. Ethnic groups can bridge national borders and still be one group (such as the Cree community, which straddles the United States and Canada). At the same time, ethnic groups can live within the same national borders and not share the same ethnic identity. For example, “British” refers to people of English, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry who live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. However the English, Scottish, and Welsh are distinct ethnic groups. As well, British can refer to citizens of Great Britain who may have racial and ethnic heritages other than English, Scottish, or Welsh— such as African, Asian, or Arab.

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