Racism and the Fight for Change

I just read @pernilleripp’s blog post about racism and wanted to write a post. I do not claim to be an expert on racism because I am white but I do think that it is something we need to address as teachers. 

Let’s face facts this is a difficult topic to  discuss with students especially if you are a white teacher. It is difficult because you can’t say you can really relate to the situation of the students who feel racism. You can try to change the students perspective of racism. I do this in three ways. 

First, I know my own views on racism. I feel everyone should have equal rights and no one should be treated unfairly based on race, sexual orientation, religion, or size.  I am proud to say that my mother raised me right. She grew up during the Civil Rights movement and was mistreated for being friends with people of different races and ethnicities. As a result she always told us not to judge a book by it’s cover. She taught us to get to know a person before we made a judgement about them.  I have carried this over into my teaching career.  I make sure that I treat all my students as individuals and get to know them. My former principal was always complementing me because I gave awards to what some people considered to be our worst students. I gave the students those awards because I believed in them and I wanted to encourage them to do well. I also wanted them to know that I saw them trying their best and showing improvements.  This goes back to loving and encouraging all students. To love all students you really need to know how you feel about racism. If you are racist in some way you have to own that and be willing to change your views.

Secondly, I require my students to be respectful of others. If respect is not part of your classroom rules it should be. So much falls under this word including racism. Treating someone else badly because they are a different race from you is not respectful. To make it more real I always have my students define it for me. During our first week (this would be first day for classroom teachers) I ask them to explain what respect means and then we agree on the terms. This helps students to establish what respecting others looks like. School maybe the only place where they learn the importance of respecting others. Sadly some of our students are exposed to disrespectful and derogatory statements about people of other races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and sizes. I think it is our job to erase the hate by requiring mutual respect. 

Third, I teach them about the history of racism in our country and about other cultures. In our state there is a great amount of focus on reading and math so history gets lost. It is barely covered so kids at the elementary level  get a glossed over history. They learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Don’t get me wrong they need to know about these two great people but they also need to know that all races have fought for equality. I like to tell my students the story of the Greensboro four and the start of the sit-in movement. I tell them the basic story and then I make sure that I tell them about the White female students who attended UNCG (which was a all girls school at the time). I explain to them that the girls went to Woolworth’s too and helped force the integration of the lunch counter there. I tell this story mainly for my white students. One so they understand where racism comes from and two so they know that there were white people who fought against racial segregation in the South. I tell the story to give them some perspective and make them think about their own views as far as race. I also feel it is important for our students to learn all they can about other cultures. I think part of racism stems from ignorance about other races. If students know about other races and cultures then maybe they can also learn to be more tolerant of them and end racism in our country. 

Sadly, we have a long way to go to end social injustice in our country. As teachers we can help by fostering positive relationships with all students,  teaching mutual respect, and teaching about other races and cultures. 

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