Of the blog posts I’ve written, the only one that keeps being read and shared more than any of the others, is Why Race Matters for This White Teacher and I hope you’ll check it out, too. To summarize it, I had to come to terms with my own prejudice and be proactive about changing that narrative so I could better care, reach, and teach my students of color and help heal the divide that continues to play out in our country.
This past week, I was able to participate in a courageous conversation about race in a room full of female educators, all school leaders and influencers, and mixed races, though most of us were white. I call it a courageous conversation because that’s what Jon Washington, a local community leader who serves and supports our Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators (GAABSE) called it in the the aforementioned blog post. To me, a courageous conversation is where people of different races can talk and share without being scared that someone else is going to attack them or shut down their experiences. It’s a conversation that allows for free speech, a safe place for vulnerability and questions, and one that everyone leaves with an insight of new perspectives that can serve as a catalyst of change. (There’s also a book called Courageous Conversations that I’m definitely going to read soon.) My reflection is we need to have more of these in our professional developments as well in our private lives.
The purpose of this PD session was to address the need that students of every color and religion need to see themselves in print, in the books in their classroom and school libraries. And these books need to be read by the majority and minority races. These books don’t need to be about slavery and oppression, though that is important, but we need more about heroes of color who helped shape our society and world with the important contributions only they could bring. We need more books in our libraries with kids of different shades of melanin who are just everyday kids like the ones turning the pages. This act alone fosters social emotional learning in literacy and unity among all students. This is not something to be downplayed, this is what is going to help shape our world where all of us truly feel like we belong and matter and have something unique to contribute, especially for our students of color.
But before we could get to those jewels, we needed to understand that prejudice, in the form of microagression, does exist, and that there is a difference in the way white people and people of color are brought up in our country. If we can’t talk about this, if we can’t listen to others with different perspectives and accept it, then we can’t challenge it, and break down the stereotypes, and the overall importance of this class wouldn’t be worth anything to the attendee. The conversation that took place was powerful and sense-awakening. There were tears of sadness, frustration, and hope. I could be wrong, but I think it was the first courageous conversation that some of these women had ever been part of, and that alone is promising of more to come!
One Step In the Right Direction
Something we white educators can stop saying right now is Color doesn’t matter to me, or I’m colorblind while professing to care for all of our students. It is these kinds of microaggressions that tear down the spirit and esteem of our students of color. Not long ago, my friend Tacha (who is half Haitian and half white) shared with me how she was constantly confronted with questions like What are you? as an introduction question! White and black people would make statements like You think you’re white or You think you’re black… so in her youth, she would try very hard to disguise her heritage, even to the point of being embarrassed to be seen with her Haitian father. Her little sister, who was darker skinned than she, would say You are white and I am black because that is how society was shaping her own sense of skin color. That would infuriate Tacha and she would tell her sister, We are the same, but the damage was done as society would not let them be exactly who they were, both ethnicities. Subconsciously, Tacha understood it would be to her advantage if she passed as white. I write this to say, that whether it’s microaggressions or direct, racist remarks, the truth is our students of color are facing a world in our public school system that says we see your color and we don’t like it, and you will be judged as less than for it….
Refusing to see and listen to this is ignoring the experiences of so many brought up in our society today. It’s only by trying to see this perspective that we can be change-agents. We ourselves can stop perpetuating this subtle form of racism that is actually destroying our youth of color and the hope for all of us to find unity. So friend, instead of saying, It doesn’t matter what color my students are, try saying and believing, It matters what color you are and you matter to me.
A Call For Partnerships in Education
I can’t speak for everyone involved, but I do believe that for some of us who were part of this courageous conversation, we left changed and better equipped to see life through someone else’s unique perspective. We left with a greater respect for our sisters of color and an appreciation for their strength of character and leadership. Our eyes were opened to the need for all of our students to read and choose books that showed a character like or unlike themselves. As a white female educator, I feel more certain that in this day and age, I need to be bold in tearing down the walls our ancestors erected hundreds of years ago, yet not that long ago, and whose foundations are still in place.
For my friends, colleagues, and students of color, my role to partner and fight for equity and equality, in all parts of education, has never felt more clear or important.