Still Stuck on Race

I know I was quick to dismiss the comments of my student who accused me of not liking black people. Perhaps it was just a self-defense mechanism, easily triggered by a student who disrespects me constantly. But even though I didn't pursue the matter with the student, beyond vehemently shutting her down, the conversation's stayed on my mind.

There are three important truths I must acknowledge as a white teacher in the Bronx. One is that my reasons for being there are based on a deep belief in equality and a desire to find racial injustice in this country. I truly believe that this country still operates under a segregationist education system, and by attempting to teach in a "high-need" school, I am fighting to close the achievement gap between the poor and the privileged.

The second truth is tied to my conception of what I view as a "separate, but unequal" school system. Because I am a product of that very system, I have had access to countless advantages and privileges denied my students and generations of students like them. So even while trying to fight racism and its systemic effects, my position in life is really a result of racism at the same time. Recognizing that fact means that although I work very hard towards the cause of equality in my classroom I am in some ways a representation of our society's inequalities.

Thirdly, while I told my student that, "I hate racism with every part of my body. It disgusts me," this does not mean I am immune to racial bias. Consciously or unconsciously I make judgments and decisions that are likely influenced by the culture and color of my students. It is an uneasy realization, but accepting it means I am more likely to fight its influence.

It's unfortunate I can't have a conversation like this with my students, especially the one who leveled the accusation towards me. Still, by understanding that I am a beneficiary of racism and that despite my best efforts I am ingrained with racialist thinking, I can hope to move my thinking and the culture of my class beyond issues black and white.


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