In a class I took recently, one of my professors told a story about a couple 17-something year old Latinx students she had in one of her classes years ago. It was something along the lines of students needing to find something in a newspaper, that’s the extent of the premise that I remember. But she said, as some of her students found articles that positively related to them, these two students couldn’t. Essentially, they said the only Latinx persons they could find in the newspapers, covering multiple days, were arrest records.
No positive portrayal of the Latinx community in local media in an area where 36.5% of the population is Latinx.
This story, that is not just a story but a burning reality, has resurfaced in my conscious thought recently as I have begun to think more and more about how race will play (and already is playing) a role in my classroom.
Now, I haven’t begun teaching yet, and I won’t get around to stepping foot into my own space until next fall, but both I and my students, right now, are being shaped by race conversations, experiences, biases, and questions. For any of us to believe every racial strain and problem will be solved by next fall would be unequivocally naïve, and so I ask myself: what will my students come into the classroom believing about themselves and those around them just because of their skin color?
I will have students who believe they are better than their peers because of their whiteness.
I will have students who believe they are inferior to others because they’ve been told their whole life that their skin color makes them that way.
I will have student who feel helpless and hopeless because this conversation is too emotionally taxing.
I will have students who don’t think about race.
I will have students who only think about race.
I think we can stop this list here for now—you get the picture. My classroom will be an array of skin tones and experiences of an unimaginable number.
And when I think of all these things—who will be in my classroom, how each of them will look different and be different, I wonder why, nearly every novel I read, history lecture I listened to, and teacher I had in my K-12 years was white written, whitewashed, and white skinned. And when I think of this, I must ask myself if I will make sure my students’ experiences are any different or if I will continue to act as an integral, persisting part of systemic racism in our school systems.
Will I fight for my students to see their skin color, cultural backgrounds, languages and experiences REGULARLY and POSITIVELY in the classroom? Not just throwing in a quarterly assignment with the token Black author or Native American poet. Students need to see people of all colors, cultures, languages, and experiences sharing front and center stage because that is what the world should look like and that is where BIPOC people deserve to stand—front and center.
When God made humankind, He did not declare that white people should get center stage and everyone else is to be a side character. He did not only call white people fearfully and wonderfully made. He did not only knit white people together in the womb. Every single one of us has been given the incomparably Good title of Beautiful, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. White kids have been told all their life, by the school system, the political system, the justice system, the System, that somehow skin color makes white people deserving to be front and center, called good and praised for every success, and everyone else has been treated as and told that they are not good enough because the shade of their skin has reached “too far” over whiteness.
The things students are given access to, what educators, what I, choose to portray as Truth, these are the things that will either change, confirm, or isolate heart perspectives, experiences and attitudes toward issues of importance.
We do our students a great disservice when we refuse to be transparent about the way people of all different colors, cultures, languages and experiences both act and feel in the world. Being honest about the experiences of BIPOC people in this country and many others at the hands of white-inflicted systemic (and overt) racism will often give students a novel experience in the classroom because so often the white man is the hero and any other man or woman of a different color isn’t even mentioned at all.
We must have honest conversations and equal representation in our classroom because the classroom will come to be recognized as a main stronghold of systemic racism or as a critical part of the foundation of a revolution of true Equality.