The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Having Hard Conversations About Race

           Recently, I watched a documentary on William Kuntsler titled Disturbing the Universe. (It was made by his daughters.)  The sort of lawyer who defended the defenseless, the type of lawyer who championed people who had comitted horrific crimes, he suffered, and his family suffered as well.  Through the phases when his kids could not leave the house due to all the photographers and journalists camped out on their yard, and during the times when the public hated him because he insisted on doing his job, he never stopped embracing people of all faiths and all hues.

          Kuntsler felt that all white people are prejudiced.  I suppose his thought is that no white person truly knows what it's like to watch decades and decades of television shows and never see a face that looks like his (or at least, never see a person who is setting a positive example and looks like them).  A person who is white cannot fully know what is like to be suspect, just because they're driving their car in an affluent community and their skin is the color of cauliflower.

         This really hit me during a conversation with my friend.  I was recalling how much fun I had as a teenager, riding the bus to a local outdoor mall.  We would window shop all day, and, rolling up our pant legs, would wade in the fountains (when the weather was warm).

           I asked my friend, in a flood of excitement, if she had gone to this mall a lot when she was a kid.  Deep down, I wanted our childhood life lines to intersect.  I wanted to be able to hang onto something that we had in common. We are very much alike in many ways now, but as youngsters we led different lives...

         She kind of  snorted and said, "Black kids wading around in the water? Oh no!"

           An activity that was a blast, a bit of fun that I didn't even wonder if I had the option of engaging in...she knew that wading in the fountain would be crossing some sort of line.

         One of the songs we sing in our classroom is an old one---Choice of Colors.  Part of the song goes like this:

           If you had a choice of colors,
           Which one would you choose, my brother?

            ...Who told you that you hated your white teacher?
             And who told you that you loved your black preacher?

        Too often people are suspect just because of their differences.  I know that sometimes parents squint their mind's eye suspiciously when they look at me, just because my skin is white and theirs is black.  And I know that when we skirt around the issue in our classrooms, we allow the elephant to remain in the room.

       We have to be willing to have conversations that make us uncomfortable, that make us vulnerable, that reveal personal things.  As teachers and writers, we have to embrace differences, rather than pretend they don't exist.  And, we have to go above and beyond to create a community in our classroom.

         How do you make your parents feel included?  How do you make sure your parents feel like they're an integral part of what goes on in the classroom?  I'd love to hear from you...

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