Preface: I'm a white woman who grew up in a mostly-white town outside of Seattle, Washington. There were four black students in my graduating class. I went to the University of Washington where half of the students were white, a quarter were Asian, and the other 25% were black, Hispanic, American Indians, and "other." 99% of the people in my college major, though, were white. Most of my friends are white (my oldest and closest are not, however), most of my family is white, and most of my neighbors are white. What does this have to do with what I am about to write? Absolutely nothing.
I taught high school Sociology and History for six years to a mostly white audience of students. Every year, we discussed Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday, as well as throughout the year. I showed his Dream speech and teared up without fail every single time. In Sociology class we discussed Race and Ethnicity and the burdens that different groups bear. We talked about the "Invisible Knapsack" of white privilege, read "Black Like Me," and discussed Thoreau's influence on Ghandi and Gandhi's influence on King, who in turn influenced tens of thousands of blacks and whites to join together to overcome white supremacy in both the north and the south. I taught black history. I didn't wait until February. I loved the stories, the triumphs, the victories. I saw value in showing the sacrifice that black and white families made to let their young men and women join the Freedom Riders knowing they would face abuse and possibly death. The passion for freedom and equity that drove black men and women to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge never failed to inspire me and motivate my students. I tried to light a fire in my students that some things, such as your right to marry who you want, to practice the religion you believe in, to stand up for the weak when you are yourself strong, are worth fighting for, even to the death.
I moved to a different community about four years ago. My new students are not all white. One-third of my students are black, another quarter are Hispanic. Half of my students know poverty like I've never known (including white boys and girls). Many feel persecuted, prejudiced against, and trapped. They are also younger since I now teach in a middle school. I haven't talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. in three years except to my own children. I think, perhaps subconsciously, I haven't believed that I have the right to do so. Before, in my old life, perhaps I thought I was enlightening my students whose white parents didn't talk to them about another people's history and it was something simply interesting to learn about. But now, how dare I think that I can teach black students something about their history? Why do I have this mindset? Why have I feared being a white teacher teaching black history to my black students?
Click here for Part Two and here for Part Three.
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.