Wednesday, March 4, 2009

So . . . black or white?

The reasoning behind my questions.

#1. I've put a lot of thought, and even hours of research into this question. Can a white teacher talk to her black class about race? I've come to conclude it can be done. And I'll admit I do it on a weekly basis. Last week we read an article about American food which led to a discussion about Jewish culture. Last semester we read a book about the Internment of Japanese Americans. See, that's the thing. I don't just talk to them about whites and blacks, we talk about it all. Racial prejudice, religious prejudice, black, purple and blue. I know I've opened my students eyes to racial issues they never even knew about. A couple of them have told me they like learning that black people aren't the only ones who are treated unfairly. Unfortunately they have noticed, it's usually white people doing the mistreating. When asked why that is, I was speechless.

But the reason I bring this up, is cause one of my dear friends and colleagues was yelled at by another teacher in the building for discussing race with her students. They were actually talking about how race shouldn't define you. And the neighboring teacher gave her a real mouthful at the end of the lesson. "You're white and you shouldn't be talking to these kids about race." This really irritated me. I already got the feeling from this teacher and her best friend, the assistant principal, that they are racist, but now I know they are. The racism fence goes both ways lady . . . She's probably just mad cause her students are running to the counselor to leave her class and join the other teacher's class.

Question #2. I've noticed in my students this little desire they have, they wish I were black. Often when we talk about race they'll make some side comment about white people, laugh, and then horrified, remember I'm white. They'll apologize only to find me laughing with them. "It's okay," I tell them. To which they respond "You don't seem white" or "I forget you're white." To which another kid wil shout, "That's because you're black Szilagyi." Then I dance a little, and they remember, nope she's white.

But the most interesting comment came last week when one of my brightest students asked me with the most sincerity I've ever seen her muster "What are you?"

"I'm 100% white. Why?"

"I was just hoping, thinking maybe you had something else in you. You know."

I thought, "No, I don't know. Tell me. You mean if I had said 'I'm 1/16th Latino' you'd like me more?" I know she loves me, mine is the only class she comes too. But I think somewhere inside her heart she wishes I could relate to her. She wishes I knew what it was like to be something other than white in an all white world. But I can't. I've never been a minority. Many of you may be thinking "You go to work everyday in a building with only 8 white people and 1000 black people. You are the minority." But really, I'm not. And I never will be. Not now, not when I was the only white girl in town, riding my bike around the city sharing the gospel. I am white, and because of that I will never really know what it is like to be a minority. I can never fully understand the hardships these kids face. And they love and trust me anyway. I think they just wish they could change me. Shoot me up with some African American blood. Cause then I wouldn't belong to the bad guys.

And #3. Which I'm sure has you wondering. Mr. Jones walked by my classroom and one of my students shouted "How's your 99 Honda?" And they all laughed. Knowing his car was stolen a few days earlier.

"That's not funny. And if any of you know anything about his car you need to say something about it."

They all looked at me like, no way in hell will I ever tell.

"He's reported it to the cops. They'll find his car. And the person who stole it will get caught." Which isn't wholly true, I just wanted to give them a little scare.

To break the silence I added "Besides, why would you steal a white person's car? We drive crap. Black people's cars are way nicer."

One girl cracked a smile and said, "You're right. You do drive old cars."

"And you all have Cadillacs. It's like shoes. You wouldn't steal my shoes, cause your's are way nicer." They all laughed cause they know it's true. They took a minute to discuss how white people dress a mess and care too much about their houses, and we went on with our lesson.

2 comments:

Carroll's said...

How funny that those kids want you to be black and they forget that your white. You must be such an awesome teacher. (I wish I could come to class with you for a day and just watch) It was great to see you at Ace the other day! Even though I only got to say Hi and you had to run out the door. p.s. I'd forgotten how tall you are.

Mom and Dad Bassett said...

I loved this blog Bettylou. I think you need to make all your Dunbar experiences into a collection. I also think you should return to Dunbar for one more year. It's your last and you already know what to expect there. Who knows, Virginia schools may be even worse in yet another way. That's my two bits.
I love and miss you.
Pa

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