Why are we still talking about race in 2012?

Discussing issues of race, from my experience as a teacher, has always been a touchy subject since my classes have predominantly been Caucasian with very few minority students. Yet despite this, I had made it an objective of mine to address such issues—especially if these students were to enter the greater world and interact with people in a less-homogenous environment. Like many of the discussions I have lead concerning such issues, I tried to use literature as kind of an introduction to the issue. While I try to keep my classroom open to discussion, I always found that I ended up having to play the role of “Devil’s Advocate” depending on the predominant perspective of the class—I have had to play both sides of the race topic. The hardest part of this had to have been working against the misconceptions my students had about race, given that many of them had little interaction with people of different racial and cultural backgrounds and most of their views were based on what they saw in the media. Even those minority students I did have felt uncomfortable having to be the lone voice for their race…most of whom by the time they reached high school had assimilated into the dominant culture to the point where any distinct racial qualities had been suppressed.

As educators, especially in high school, it is our responsibility to prepare our students for the greater world…and for those of us who are teaching in highly homogeneous communities that does mean addressing issues of race/gender/sexuality/ability. English class always seems to be the class where these issues are addressed the most…with the social sciences usually playing them off from a historic/sociological/psychological perspective. When teachers allow students to write about these issues, or read about them through the texts presented in class, they are exposed to new ideas that they may not have experienced before.  Now I will admit it could be construed as disingenuous for a Caucasian-appearing teacher (like myself) teaching the Harlem Renaissance to a class of students as white as the driven snow, and I will also admit that I have had my share of dealing with overtly racist attitudes in my classroom similar to the ones described by Logan—but these discussions need to happen.

The world is getting smaller and more inter-connected than ever before, and students need to realize that they need to be aware of what the rest of the world is like. Yet I feel that even when schools make a note to address such issues, they tend to be shallow at best unless there is an active effort on the part of the faculty…or at the least a representation of ANY minority group in the faculty or student body. Sadly, when there are cases like these, it just shows the worst of human nature. They do not want to acknowledge that there are people who are different from themselves in such minor ways as their skin color, and that makes them afraid. Throw in a minority teacher and you have parents creating a fecal tornado because their students may learn something they are sheltering them against. It’s the second decade of the 2000s, we need to get past this already.

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One comment on “Why are we still talking about race in 2012?

  1. Megan says:

    You made several good points that I could relate to. Even though our teaching experiences have been quite different, the issue of race is still very relevant in English classroom discussions; I too have found myself playing the role of “Devil’s Advocate” trying to encourage my students to see things in different ways.

    My students’ make-up was usually about 50-50 white / black. The African American students did not assimilate into the dominant culture, and they were often quite vocal about race and racism. I would not have discussions about race with my sophomores, but I would with my juniors. The African American students were very vocal and opinionated on this topic; the white students were practically silent. It was interesting to see the minority students become the dominant group. In these cases, I always had to mediate and say what the white students were too afraid to say….because they were scared of being labeled “racist” by the African Americans.

    Anyway, enough about my teaching…..I could talk forever on this topic…..I really liked your point about parents and teachers (sometimes) having opposing ideologies and values. As educators, we want to empower students to have a voice, as well as to encourage tolerance and hopefully acceptance of all people. Parents, on the other hand, can be more conservative and want their children to think exactly like them. Oh, what to do, when you have these conflicting interests?

    And how do we bring in multicultural literature….you mentioned the Harlem R. unit….without seeming disingenuous? What’s funny about that kind of a unit is the Harlem Renaissance was a movement to celebrate African American art, and in a way to subvert the dominant culture. Yet here we have a room full of white people, the dominant culture, studying the material that was written to subvert it. LoL. Ironic much?

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