Grad school in the summer = not fun
I've been doing grad school and moving, hence my large absence here. Below is a brief I wrote about a "race issue" in my class. Part of the anecdote was already written here....
I teach 13 students, 8 of whom are diagnosed with emotional/behavioral disorders, all of whom are either Black or Latino. I am White, from the Midwest, and totally out of place in their culture, although somehow they didn’t seem to notice until 2 months before school was over.
In late April, two of my students got in a fight at lunch and as a result of that fight, were given a superintendent's suspension. In order to be given one of these suspensions you must first go to a hearing. The day before Malik was to go to his hearing about the fight, he began worrying about his fate, particularly about unfair judgment on behalf of the judge. Yahkemp, one of my other students, had just returned from a superintendent's suspension and was attempting to comfort Malik in his stress. Below is a dialogue that happened during choice time, a time students have to play math games, read, or draw at the end of the day as a reward for good behavior.
"What if the judge is white?" Malik asked as tears ran down his face.
"What?" I asked.
"White people lie and they never believe me. What if the judge is white?"
”Man, if you just stay calm and tell the truth, they on your side,” comforted Yahkemp.
"I'm white, I don't hate you, I do believe you when you tell the truth, and what you're saying is very racist, Malik," I said.
He looked at me, confused."You're not white," he said.
"I'm not?" I asked? "Then what am I?"
"I don't know. You're Ms. G. You listen to me. You know when I'm lying."
"Now I do, but that's because I know you like you're my own kids. In September I didn't. We've gotten to know each other. You know when I'm having a bad day just by looking at me, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "And when you want to laugh but you're trying not to," he said.
"Exactly," I said. "But the relationship that we have doesn't change the fact that I'm white. If anything it proves the fact that not all white people are out to get you."
"Yeah but see you're not white," chimes Yahkemp. "You're white on the outside but black on the inside."
"What?" I ask."Like, you get sunburned and you can see your veins but you're not like white people," he said. He was completely serious. It was an incredible segway to so many conversations that happened 2 minutes before it was time to go home.
“You’re really white?” asked Christopher, joining our conversation from across the room. “But are you Dominican or Puerto Rican?”
“Neither one,” I said. “I’m German and Swedish.”
“So are you Mexican?” Christopher asked?
He asked the Dominican, Puerto Rican, or Mexican question at least 3 more times, while my other students all listened. The next thing I knew my assistant principal was pounding on my door – we were late for dismissal. We left it at that - them not knowing where I came from because I couldn’t explain it to them in a way they would understand.
The conversation that day made my students curious about my background. They asked numerous questions about my family and my niece (who is biracial and who they had seen before in pictures.) While it did not break down racial barriers in the classroom, it allowed me to see myself, and white people in general, through my student’s eyes. White people, to them, have money, go to private schools, and are against who they are. Since I was their advocate, teacher, and shopped at C-Town, I could not be white.
We had two more months before the end of the year and I meant to bring in pictures of my ancestors, maps of where they immigrated from, and stories of what life was like for them as a child, but then I realized I didn’t really know. I know I’m German and Swedish. Other than that I don’t know much about my culture. It was not something I celebrated or studied as a child, and I would say my culture is much more midwest/Kansas than German or Swedish. I grew up giving the farmer wave to people on the dirt road that takes you to my house. I never back talked in school and you most certainly never had a discussion with race with someone that had a different skin color than you. On pg. 31 Jones encourages teachers to ask the question, “How do I want their lives to have been impacted by the time they spent with me?” I want my students to look at white people and not assume that they have money, go to private schools, or are against them. I want them to see my skin color and not be afraid of it. The conversation that I had with my students that day was uncomfortable for me. It was against how I was brought up, but in order for both my students and I to learn from and about each other these conversations must happen, and they must be open and honest. As their teacher I must face my fears, open myself up, and learn alongside my students.