“The thing is, I really don’t see color in my class,” I told my husband and daughter at dinner one night. We were discussing a student who had accused me of being racist (a story I’ll explain in another post), and I was describing my honest surprise at the student’s comment.
Of course I’m not blind, but I was genuinely offended by the student accusing me of reacting to him because of his skin color. Having taught for more than a quarter of a century, I prided myself on being fair with my students. When I said that I don’t see color, I meant that I placed the color of someone’s skin on the same level as the color of their hair or their eyes. I meant that it was not a factor in my decisions about how to educate that student. Growing up in a generation where acknowledging that a person was a different color was equivalent to prejudice and stereotyping, I thought I was doing the right thing by ignoring skin tone completely. I had made the mistake that we often make in education (and in life) by over-correcting and jumping to the opposite extreme.
After last week’s post, I was afraid to write anything else. I know that I have been racist, though unintentionally, and I was fearful that anything I said might, once again, shed light on my ignorance.
But then I got inspiration from what some might think to be an unlikely source. I was listening to the latest My Favorite Murder podcast episode, “It’s Jenga,” as I walked my dog this morning. The hosts were discussing current events, and one of them admitted, “We’re so nervous to even talk about this because we don’t want to be wrong.”
“Yes!” I thought. And then she shared some insight from her therapist:
So, I will admit that I was wrong to ignore the skin color of my students. It was wrong because it meant that I was not willing to acknowledge the systemic problems that assault people of color in every area of their lives, the trauma that it can cause, and the way I might need to differentiate for this in my classroom. I am truly sorry. (For a much more detailed explanation of why I shouldn’t have ignored color, please read this post by Joy Mohammed on We Are Teachers.)
In the meantime, I have been introspective about other parts of my life where I have been ignoring people of color. I looked at my list of “Engaging Educators” on this blog, and realized I only had one person of color on the list. This was not a conscious decision – but that’s the problem. I sought to change that, and I have now added some other people who I deeply admire but it just never occurred to me include. If you know of any other education bloggers I should consider, please let me know in the comments below or @terrieichholz on Twitter.
In my attempt to become anti-racist, instead of being a silent bystander, I am pledging to write at least one anti-racist post each week. For those of you who follow me for the resources I share, I will resume doing that next week as well.
Take care out there. I noticed a few hits on my blog today for this post, “Treat People Right.” If you want to see a story that reminds you that there are many humans out there trying to be kind and do the right thing, check out that short video from StoryCorps.