Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The dirtiest word I can think of...

I have had to deal with a lot of ignorance since I've been a high school teacher.  When I first started it was all about homophobia.  My first few years were spent battling with students who wanted to continuously use the word "gay" in a derogatory way.  I spent endless hours explaining to them that I wasn't the one turning it around to be bad...that the way they were using it was offensive. 
And then it started getting better.  I remember reflecting with another teacher this summer on how instead of hearing a student call something they didn't like "gay" 6 times a day, it might only happen 6 times a semester.  I thought that a new generation of acceptance and love was moving into the picture - to fix the cracks and imperfections of my own generation.

Until this year.
For the first time in my career I have to deal with I never thought I would have to deal with - RACISM.
I teach at a mostly Caucasian school in what could be considered a suburban community.  There is poverty at my school and there are different races - not many, but there are a few. 
But I never thought I'd have to deal with racism in my classroom. 
We're not talking the kind that is blatant and easy to discipline.  We're talking the kind that paints Confederate flags on every piece of artwork.  (Which, I acknowledge is NOT a racist act in and of itself).  The kind that says nasty things under their breath as they walk past another student - something so bad that I can't even get the other student to repeat it.  The kind that posts status updates on their Facebook page that rejoices that "it is the first day of Black History Month and there is a white-out".  (This is total eavesdropping - I definitely did not see this person's status update on Facebook.)  The kind that gets mad when there is a Malcolm X quote on the announcements because Malcolm X "was racist toward whites."  The kind that you can't argue with, but the kind that is nearly impossible to protect your students from.    The kind that are unapologetically respectful to everyone else - that falls within their "race".  And the worst part?  The kind that I genuinely get along with in my classroom.
Every teacher I talk to knows that this is going on.  It doesn't seem like something that has any solution.
But you know what?  I have invested interest.  My heart is on the line.  I don't have it in me to be a bystander....maybe before, but not now. 
You see, I have two little boys that I want to grow up to love everyone.  Even these guys that will inevitably say racist things to them - about them.  I even want them to love them. 
But not before I stop standing on the sidelines in shock - letting it happen in my presence.  That is no longer an option.

I give my students a hard time when they use the word "hate" in my classroom.  I always tell them that "hate fuels wars."  I don't necessarily live by that philosophy....because I HATE racism.


Cori said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

What a hard thing to deal with. I commend you for deciding to find a way to stop it, at least in your room. Please let us know if you make any headway.

Celeste and Tom said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

How sad & frustrating. At work we have a diversity class and there is someone who is discriminated against as part of the exercise(Just wanted to share that my niece is a h.s. english teacher and if her students call something "gay" she has them wear heinous holiday sweaters or vests from her diversity closet.)

Mmmbop- It has meaning said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

T Wyse-
Let me just start off by saying that you have been one of the most influential teachers that I have ever had when it comes to my attitude and to my language. I did not even know what Deragatory was before having you...and well I still do not know how to spell it. But as far as racism goes...it's so real, and it is something that I have experienced and seen so much of while being in school here in Chicago. I think it would be foolish for me to say that it did not exist when I went to good ole' Wacohi..because it did exist. People weren't as up front about it though. Which maybe was worse. We were so passive aggressive about our hate towards people different than us. We also stereotyped so bad when I was there. The boys who dressed 'black' and listened to what they think is 'black' music and think that they are well 'black.' All stereotyping who a 'black' person is. Forgetting that we all have identities.
Anyways my school does this trip every year called Sankofa. They pair up students of different races and then take them through the south, ending in Louisiana, and then driving back. All on a bus. Dealing with racism in this country and working out their ignorances. It's great. And God is moving in it. People aren't educated about it as well anymore. and that is what we lack in this world 'better' education. You are doing that. And I know that you are. I learned from you--and I was a punk.
Anyways I want to encourage you. Be who you are, say what you believe, and well if you offend some punk kid...maybe they will think about it later in life.
Hope you are well!!

Ashley (A.J.)