Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ruminations on Race

One of my jobs, both as a teacher and a Girl Scout Leader, is to encourage and promote racial diversity. We have to try and plan our classrooms with as varied a racial mix as possible. Now, since my school is what qualifies in our smaller burg as "inner city", the main body of our school population is black. We have a fair number of Hispanics, too. Our Asian population is not as large as some of the other schools in our district, however. In the past, I've had students who were American Indians, of Arabic descent, and one year, I had both an Aleutian Islander (basically what we'd term an 'Eskimo') and a Japanese student who spoke no English at all.

It helps that we have a military installation here that brings in lots of other cultures. As far as black and white go, I don't really "get" all the hostility. I've grown up going to school in a racially mixed society, and I've had friends of all colors and creeds. I have never really felt like I lived in the stereotypical idea of what the South is to most people. I don't tend to think about a person's skin foremost when talking about them. It's never really mattered. At least, not to me.

Yes, I encounter racism, though. I do hear people saying hateful things to each other, so don't think that I'm trying to say it doesn't exsist. I know it does. I just would prefer a world where people are just plain people, and race wasn't a factor. I know it won't come about overnight. Hate is a learned behavior. If we teach love from a very early age, then that's what the kids remember.

As a white person, I am fairly sure that I will never fully understand. I'm sure that if I had lived under the specter of being a second-class citizen for so long, it would skew the way I view things. As I tried to explain to my Girl Scouts -- blacks aren't the only people who have experienced racism, they're just the ones who've managed to claw their way out from under it so well in "recent" memory. I told the girls that Jews have also been persecuted for centuries, and one girl actually told me that it wasn't the same because the Jews had never been enslaved. I asked her if she'd read the Bible lately -- that whole "let my people go"? What was that? And dying by the millions in death camps was so much better?

I've had kids tell me that black people can't be racist. I told them that anyone who takes hate to their breast and embraces it can be a racist. Anyone who would rather hate based on something so superficial as skin is a sad person indeed. If you never bother to get to know a person, who know what you could be missing out?

Looking at all the shining faces at school today made me think that I'm happy to have grown up with the opportunity to be exposed to different kinds of people. I'm sure that all-white communities in the wilds of, say -- Montana -- *think* they're progressive, but add a black family into the community and you start to hear rumblings of how the town's going to hell in a handbasket. I've known people who moved to Colorado specfically because it was a "mainly white" state. I just don't get that at all. The more you demonize something, the more power you give it over yourself! They see blacks as the enemy, and they treat them with disdain. Pretty soon, black people are on the defensive, rightly so, and suddenly it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hate begets hate, and it only snowballs from there.

My school, being a "ghetto" school, was not expected to perform well on standardized tests. I'm proud to say that we not only did better than expected, but our "poor little inner-city kids" blew the test out of the water, making more than a 50% improvement in some categories. We have a dedicated administration, and a staff who truly cares about these kids, and skin color hasn't got a damn thing to do with it. So, to all of those who felt so bad for me because I'm southern and work in a "ghetto" school -- you can kiss my test-acing, inner city grits!


Marni said...

I applaud you.

My kids don't see color... we have tried to instill in them that we are all the same inside and that the outside is a decoration. They should revel in everyone's differences and learn from one another.

Good job!

Beanie Baby said...

Awesome, KLee--not surprising, though. I already know you're a great teacher, and it doesn't surprise me to hear that you work in a great school.

I've come across the idea that racism is a white thing before, and actually, I tend to agree with it. It was explained to me that racism is bigotry+power, and since white people in western culture still hold most of the power, racism is a white thing. But that anyone can be a bigot and bigotry is still very wrong, regardless of who you are. Sort of that racism isn't just hating someone of a particular race but a whole social construct that deprives certain groups of people of their human rights.

But probably that's not what your kindergarten students were getting at.

Miche said...

It's heartwarming to know that there are people in positions of influence that are as open-minded and thoughtful as you!

Keep up the great work!

Old Lady said...


KLee said...

Andrea, I tend to agree that it's a mostly white thing, and I even agree with your assessment that racism = bigotry + power, but it doesn't apply to whites alone. At least not where I live. My city is majority black, and a lot of our civic leaders, including the mayor, are black. I think most blacks here feel that having blacks in positions of high authority makes the playing field a little more equitable. Blacks don't feel quite so desperately that their voices are going unheard. Or, at least, that's what I've been told.

It still is a mostly white-establishment, "let's keep the brothers down" kind of mentality in a lot of the white population, but most people that I grew up with really don't give much thought to color. That having been said, being white has never been as stigmatized as being black has been. So, I can't say for certain about other people, but as for me, I know that color is not the first thing I look at.

thanks to Marni and miche and Old Lady for their comments as well!

Yankee, Transferred said...

Bless you, KLee! It's teachers and parents like you who make my kids' high school so terrific.

I'll take that spoiled 10-year old now.

molly said...

I love this post, so well thought-out and and so well said. You're a gem. I'm a Jew and I grew up in a neighborhood where I was a minority. I was made fun of and it was painful. My brother had it worse than me, he was attacked by a local hoodlum, and both his arms were broken as he walked away from the fight. Not to forget that prejudice is prejudice, but prejudice against Jews is one of the oldest, continues to this day, and has its own special name, anti-Semitism.

ccw said...

A great post! Very well said.

Congrats to your kids on their test scores.

Bridget said...

great job on the test scores!
can't say i put much stock in the tests, but nice to know your kids are doing well.

ppb said...

This is a great post, but I'm a little troubled by your characterization of folks in Montana. Just because there is little diversity there doesn't necessarily mean there would be a problem. I see your point, but it seems like you're stereotyping folks from more rural areas like Montana.