A Debate You Can't Win

So today one of my black students said I don't like black people. As someone who was thinking, "Right on!" when Kanye made a similar proclamation not so long ago I was pretty taken aback. I guess considering the racial dynamics (i.e. white teacher all non-white class) I shouldn't be surprised that this kind of conversation might arise. Then again, the accusation that I don't call on black students seems utterly ridiculous. Especially considering I try to use popsicle sticks with the students' names to be as equitable as possible in class discussions the student's argument doesn't really hold up to reason.

Still, with a statement like that does it matter? I was so frustrated that I just said something stupid sounding (but nonetheless true) like, "That's ridiculous and disgusting. I hate racism and there is no racism in this classroom." If the student really feels I'm being racist towards the black students in the class is there anything I can say that will refute that? More likely this student (a constant headache) was just trying to get under my skin because she knows she can. And one of the easiest ways to do so is the play the race card.

So what can I really do? Ignore it like any one of the other inappropriate comments made in my class towards me? Or, at the risk of making an issue where there isn't one, do I use it as a jumping off point for a serious discussion about race in our classroom? Either way, I know I won't let this student frame the debate when she seems unlikely to engage in any serious conversation about something I take very seriously.


NYC Educator said…
I hate when kids say such things. It's inevitable, I guess. When kids get in trouble in my class, they're liable to say it's because I don't like Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Hindi, Tagalog, or Polish speakers. But it's usually just because I don't like when they forget their homework or fail tests.

I don't usually break out into lessons about stereotypes and prejudice unless I see kids in the class using them against one another.

I remember once I was teaching a Spanish class when a kid asked me, "Wny are you white?" This job is nothing if not interesting.

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