∆ Jackson

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 15 2013

Racism.

Yup.  School’s out, but I’ve got something on my mind.  A couple things, actually.

First, I’ve been reworking my lessons and the order in which I want to teach each unit AND I’ve been attending awesome conference calls with the Science Director of the Mississippi TFA region about making science content more relevant to students’ and their community, so basically I am bursting  with ideas and can hardly contain my excitement for the upcoming school year (I’m just not quite ready yet, because I have several more units I need to figure out, so that was NOT a comment about wanting summer to go faster AT ALL!!).  Wow, run-on sentence.

Second, Racism.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  It’s crossed my mind for numerous reasons.

Racism came up in my small group summer study at church last week and I commented on how I felt the South was more racist than I anticipated.  This was taken better by some than others in the group.  I did not mean it to offend any particular person I have simply noticed a lot more segregation and racist remarks than I am used to.  This is not to say racism does not exist everywhere in our great US of A, because it does, I was simply making an observation.

The comment came up that in Jackson, as whites, we are the minority, and we experience a lot of racism as well.  Which is true.  I have experienced racism numerous times.

In fact on a student survey one time, a student (a black student) even told me that one of the reasons she thought her class had so many discipline problems was because people were racist.  She added on (to clarify what she meant) that not only white people can be racist, black people can be racist, too.  The way she wrote it almost sounded like an apology.

I have experienced racist remarks from my co-workers.

I have overheard students say or been told by students, Ms K’s not white, which they mean as a compliment, but why can’t I be white and still earn their respect as a woman?

I also do believe that I have to work much harder than my black co-workers to gain students’ respect.  But if you look at the segregated city in which I live, it is easy to see why!  Many of my students know and interact with so few white people in their day to day lives and often those they do might not leave a good impression.  So if they have never met a white woman they respect before, why would they respect me?  I have to work for that respect, because they have little prior experience.

All that said, this is not a post about me crying because I have experienced racism in the workplace.  Racism of any kind is WRONG, but lets face it, for every one racist experience I have had, my students have probably have many more.  It’s called white privilege, ladies and gentlemen.  And we are fooling ourselves if we do not think it exists.

Which brings me to the reason I was finally moved to write this post:

THIS little gem I found on facebook.

Click on it.  Read it.  (Don’t read the comments, that’s a waste of your time, just read the text that goes with the photo and come back to my blog to read my response.)

Yeah.  That.  So, a friend of mine reposted it from that man’s facebook page and I came upon it and commented a really long comment (sorry about that), but I don’t feel like that’s enough.  I felt like I needed to share my thought on racism with everyone, so here I am.

It is true that racism goes both ways.  Like I said, as the white minority in the city in which I live, I have definitely experienced racism.  It’s not pleasant; it’s not right.

On the other hand, there are no White Colleges because when colleges first opened, only white people could attend.  Historically, that’s where Black Colleges come from.  All colleges opened before the civil rights movement were white colleges.  Thank God that whether a college proclaims itself as historically black or not, anyone of any race can attend any college they want today.

Scholarships that give money primarily to black Americans do so because of an inequality in the opportunities for black people even still today.  Of course, legally we are all given the same “opportunities” but statistically far less minority students go to college.  Not because they aren’t as smart, but maybe because they can’t afford it or because they grew up in poverty and didn’t do well in high school because they were working a job to help put food on the table.  Yes, this is true for some white people as well, but statistically, far more true for Black, Hispanic, or Native Americans.

We celebrate President’s Day in honor of George Washington’s birthday, who was white, as was every other president up until 2008.  We celebrate Christopher Columbus day, who was white.  We celebrate MLK day not because he was black, but because he did amazing things for the civil rights movement-and DIED for what he believed in!  Things like Black History month were put in place because there were no holidays celebrating role models for the minority students in our school, whereas we celebrate and learn about role models for white students almost everyday.

Trust me, it is difficult enough to find Google images of black kids doing science activities to use in my prezis, try finding black scientists my kids can actually look up to and think, “Yeah, that could be me some day.”  If you are white, it might be hard to imagine why that is important.  That’s because of white privilege.  You have always been shown white role models so you don’t understand how discouraging it can be to continually not see anyone that looks like you in a history book or a science book or an English book….etc.

As much as we wish that our nation was completely and 100% equal, white privilege absolutely still exists.

I AM proud to be white, because that is who I am. I am proud of the color of my skin and heritage of where my ancestors came from.  I hope that everyone is. But the reality is that I also know that with the color of my skin comes a lot of privilege that I might not even think about day to day.  For example, no one thinks I’m a terrorist when I walk onto a plane because of the color of my skin.  No one looks at me and automatically assumes I’m going to be loud and obnoxious in a restaurant just because I’m a black woman.  No one is going to think I’m an illegal immigrant if I am speaking Spanish to my children in the grocery store.

It’s not only whites that are racists, I’ve experienced that first hand.  But also, we maybe don’t know how good we have it.

4 Responses

  1. Veronica

    I hope my post did not focus on what you called “reverse racism” because that was certainly not the point. However, I do understand what you are saying. I have recently (since this post was written) read Beverly Tatum’s book as a part of a book club study, so I am familar with the fact that there are many other definition of racism. My own thoughts and feelings on the topic have certainlly developed since I have written this. Tatum’s definition specifies that of a culture where one systematically befits from their race, often without even noticing. She compares it to smog:“sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in” Using her definition, all white people are racist because they benefit from the system, unless theybare actively anti racist. (She does make the distiction between active racism and passive racism AND the fact that by this definition, being racist does not necessarily make you a bad person) I highly recommend this book if you haven’t already read it.
    Although Tatum’s definition puts me at risk of being labeled passively racist (unless I am actively anti racist) I would tend to agree with her definition more than the one you provided. First, because of a reason you pointed out and that I mentioned in my post: racism in America is very systematic! Second, I believe by your definition that people of any color certainly can be racist. A person very well may believe that their race is superior even if they are not white. Also by your definition a person might not be considered racist if they do not believe that their race is superior.
    By Tatum’s definition, only white people can be racist and I own that. But I disagree that racism must be based on one feeling superior based on race because I think that limits what racism truly is. We can not make assumptions about whether or not someone feels superior, but we can look analytically at the system that oppresses minorities in our nation. I hope you’ll agree!
    Thanks for great conversation and for commenting on my blog!

  2. darilynnhammond

    Sorry, I’m an English major, so I’m a stickler for corrections. In my original comment I stated, “(and I in know way bring this up to be condescending).” That “know” should be a “no.”

  3. darilynnhammond

    I think your article is beautifully written and brings up very important points. I agree with Lina that your students are very lucky to have you. However, I would like to make a comment regarding your discussion of what many people might term “reverse racism.” First, I think it’s important to look at the definitions and differences between racism and prejudice (and I in know way bring this up to be condescending). Racism is “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” It can also be defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” I’d also like to add that often in America, racism has a systematic component; it reaches beyond individual ideas and experiences and permeates the various aspects of our everyday lives. Prejudice, however, is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience” or a “dislike, hostility, or unjust behavior deriving from unfounded opinions.” For this reason, there is an argument that, particularly in the American context, reverse racism doesn’t exist. I have to agree with that assertion. In America, as we all know, we often talk about racism in a white and black or white and “other” context. That is not coincidental. When reviewing our nation’s history we come across many accounts of white Americans, since the founding of our nation, attempting to prove that black people and other minorities were inferior to white people. This belief justified white doctors operating on black slaves without anesthesia. This belief provided justification for the Tuskegee experiments. It was used to justify the mass slaughtering and exile of Native Americans. That belief was, and in many ways still is, systematic, pervasive and about far more than individual experiences. I in no way mean to trivialize your personal experience, or the similar experiences of others. It is not fair and not right and I sincerely hope that this ill treatment has and will continue to improve. But, I do hope to work towards using better language to describe that experience. What I am suggesting is not that we focus on the depth of pain or discomfort elicited by individual and widespread offenses such as racism and prejudice (although doing so is important and purposeful). Rather, I simply suggest that we appropriately term said occurrences. What you experienced was prejudice–black people exhibiting a hostility towards you based on unfounded opinions about who you are, what you believe, how you might treat them, your character, etc because you’re white. That does not mean that they considered you and your race as a whole INFERIOR to them. It does not mean that they developed assumptions about you as a white person that would imply that you and everyone who looks like you, are inherently “bad” or “lacking” because you are white. It means that they don’t like you because you are white. Neither is right, but there is a marked difference between those two scenarios. Racism is the assumption of widespread racial INFERIORITY, not just widespread racial DISTASTE or DISDAIN. Racism is not just not liking someone because they are of a different race. It is viewing that person and their race as a whole as problematic, inferior, lesser, to one’s own race as a whole. Moreover, there is a systematic component of racism. You mention “white privilege.” As you know, what we’re talking about when we bring “white privilege” into discussions of race are the systematic, often times unconscious benefits, of identifying and being recognized as white in America. A black person’s racial prejudice, their dislike and possible distrust of white people, hasn’t and currently isn’t placing them in a position of systematic “privilege.” (Just to note, I place “white privilege” in quotation marks because I don’t consider many of the so-called benefits of whiteness as privileges. For example, many people will argue that when white people make the comment “I don’t see color,” it is a result of “white privilege” and their “luxury” of not having to “see” or consider race. I don’t consider it a “privilege” not to see someone for what they are. I much rather you see my race and love and respect me regardless. My race is a part of who I am. Similarly, someone might witness a group of white police officers profile and beat a black man, go to trial, and be acquitted of all charges and suggest that they were able to do so as a result of “white privilege.” I know very well what people mean when they say this. It is important that people realize that there is a discrepancy between the liberties and measures of justice afforded to white people, compared to that of people of color, on a systematic level. But words have power. So we must be careful about describing those white police officers leaving that black man and his family without legal justice as a “privilege.” Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois uses, what I believe, is more appropriate language when he discusses “white privilege” as the “public and psychological wages of whiteness.”)

  4. Lina LaV

    Thank you for posting this! I am currently writing my letter of intent for the 2014 application and racism is a big part of my educational history. Your classroom is very lucky to have a teacher like you!

    Cheers!

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