I am an amateur in so many areas, it’s really kind of lame. One of the mental games I like to play with myself is the hidden costs of things, like trying to pull data from chaos. I am ill equipped and humbled. All I can offer is I like to think about big things, and this will be separated by multiple posts.
The question is: How does racism affect white people? Understand this question is not intended to center white people. We’ve been centered plenty. It’s meant to explore why this construct of race and power keeps getting propped up, exploited, and used to keep groups in fear, confusion, disoriented, and in danger.
When I was in high school, I went to a predominately white, wealthy parents, large high school in suburban Denver. Kids wore $300 boots and drove BMWs. I was not one of these kids. I was friends with a boy named Bryan. Bryan was Black. He was funny, smart, and always cracked me up. One evening, when we were at a football game, he told me he and his family were moving so he could attend the mostly Black high school. I did not understand fully why, and was heartbroken. I didn’t have the emotional means to express what was happening then, and I’m not sure I do now. It may have been a mixture of things: wasn’t our current school ‘better?’ And trust me: I tell the truth when I say I also recognized why going to the other high school was important and was indeed, better for him and his brothers. Was my friendship not enough to make him feel part of a community? But we lost. We lost his smile, his gifts, and his friendship. I knew once he moved, even if it was only twenty minutes away, he was moving to the other side of the world, our world.
I found my high school yearbook during the great Quarantine Time of Purging All Closets, and saw his picture. I miss that friend.
Flash-forward to the election of 2016. White kids chanting “BUILD THE WALL” in those predominately white schools in my former district. When I told my principal about her previous school and what the students did she said no, it wasn’t them, it was another building. Her denial was somewhat shocking at the time, but now considering she’s still social media friends with a teacher in the building who is a loud and proud Trump supporter, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The amount of energy and time for white educators and parents they spend on building their mental fort is incredible. What if…WHAT IF…they spent that time and energy saying and doing something ELSE. ANOTHER ACTION.
What if all teachers had to do a study with Jane Elliott’s and Cornell West’s work in educational philosophy? Why, when I was in second grade, did I get the teacher who, when asked if she believed in “women’s lib” answered, “Oh no, I like having the doors opened for me!” I was crushed. I was born a feminist, and to hear my teacher say this was devastating. And the little boy’s smug face as he got the answer he wanted is burned in my brain. Now think of all the trillions of micro and macro aggressions: what if?
What if when people had land, resources, built a community they understood that the community is better with diversity of experiences, gifts, talents, and contributions?
Because right now we have administrators, parents, school boards and parents who force teachers into subterfuge and “asking forgiveness” whenever they talk about Malcom X or want to teach books from the #ProjectLit or #DisruptTexts communities. Right now, I’m trying to remind myself as a new person in a district/building that change takes time, even if I’ve been doing this work for almost 15 years as a teacher. Just getting some titles that aren’t white, colonized canon approved is painstakingly slow. There are gatekeepers and bureaucrats.
The hidden costs may include:
- losing a friend
- no collaboration
- decreased joy
- stale thinking
- fixed mindsets
- destruction of parent/child love and relationships
- loss of respect and inclusion (think of cancel culture but more hidden)
Since this series is “White People Homework” keep in mind it’s not for BIPOC to do your work for you. Take some time, pray if that’s something you do, meditate, relax, and think: how would your life be better if we all practiced anti-racism work?
One idea: if an administrator asks you to do something in your classroom that is counter to anti-racism work, ask why, and request a detailed response. Ask if they are willing to have a conversation with the school board, the parents, and other teachers and students: identify the real stakeholders in the community.
Merritt, K. (2017). Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South (Cambridge Studies on the American South). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316875568.