Sunday, May 18, 2008

Black or White

The following is based on a response to local reporters who were debating black and white.

"I can only offer you my own perspective. I was raised color-blind. And by that I mean that I didn't learn to assign value to anyone based on color. I learned that people were people. I wasn't taught to recognize that skin color meant anything.
I'm going to be 49 in two weeks. I grew up in the south. I came from enlightened people who taught me that we recognize folks based on their character. I was astonished to learn that other people gave value to the difference in skin color. It has pained me since I was a small child that anyone could devalue another on such a small thing. We are all just shades of brown.

I lived in Memphis, Tennessee when the garbage strikes were going on. I saw mountains of trash higher than a house. I saw rats bigger than cats, and they were abundant. I went to Peabody elementary school. My grandmother went to the same school in Midtown Memphis. There is a separate entrance for "boys" and "girls." I went to school with black and white children, I never thought anything about it. I lived there in Midtown Memphis when we got word that Dr. King had been killed. I saw the tanks in the streets. I didn't get to go to school because of civil unrest that resulted in martial law. My parents were so horrified by all that went on. They told me that the whole issue was because people were not appreciated for their efforts and that some folks were unkind. This is a unique perspective.

I knew Henry Loeb. He was a family friend. My third grade class of black and white children got to tour his new office at the new city hall because my grandmother asked him if we could come visit. We were the first group of school children to be so honored.

I moved to Texas when I was ten. I grew up in the suburbs, just in time to hear about all the desegregation things going on in DISD. I went to Garland schools. Looking back they seemed to include pretty much everyone that lived in the neighborhood. Garland had "choice of school forms" so that any child could attend any school in Garland if the parents were willing to provide transportation. I always went to my neighborhood schools that were in retrospect fairly diverse. I did on occasion hear some ignorant stuff come out of the mouths of ignorant people. There will always be ignorant people. I learned to take ignorance with a grain of salt, and if I learned prejudice, it was prejudice toward the willfully ignorant.

I moved back to Memphis in 1988. My father was very anxious about this. I didn't understand why. I understood after I moved back there. I didn't realize that my parents had protected me from so much. I experienced racism. I was blown away. I really never realized that people could just hate me because of the color of my skin, not knowing anything about me. I had a job at the Mall of Memphis and there were people who would cuss at me and call me names for no reason that I could see. I would go home in tears. At this point I had four children of my own. I'd never taught them to see people based on color. I didn't know how to see people based on color. It was horrific. I cried to my father and asked in anguish how people could be so ugly. He cried with me and shared that he had wanted to protect me from any ugliness.

We moved our family back to Dallas. We lived in the suburbs but were interested in the magnet school opportunities in DISD. We cautiously moved back into the district. Our children were all placed in some of the finest magnet programs around. Our children went to Sidney Lanier, and Greiner and Hotchkiss and Booker T. Washington and Kramer and Franklin and Hillcrest. They got a great education. It was a wonderful experience, until we had to pull our son out of Lanier at the early part of 6th grade because he was getting beat up. Our child who was raised "color-blind" was getting the crap beat out of him on a weekly basis. He didn't understand why until another child screamed at him that he was of the wrong race. We were horrified that our child could be physically abused because of his race. He was horrified and had many traumatized hours. We couldn't explain to him why other folks would be ugly to him because of his race, because we don't understand.

I'm in my tenth year teaching. I love it. I hate it. I love the kids. I hate the kids. I hate the administration downtown. I hate working for fools.
I'm still color blind. I was raised that way my whole life. I just can't see how people can judge ANYONE based on anything but their character. I've learned about a whole new level of racism. I started teaching after my kids were all in school. I worked three jobs while going to school to get my degree so that I could teach. Kids don't scare me. I know their game. Every year, I have seen an increasing amount of racism in my students. It blows my mind. I don't care which color my student is. I heard that it should be a rule that teachers love all the kids. It's not true, but in my heart I think it should be. Teachers should love all the kids. Why else are they in education? People who don't love kids shouldn't teach.

My heart hurts more and more. I've been cussed at so many times this year that it's not funny. I've been called ugly names. I give a kid a true grade for effort and I'm told that I am racist.

Racism looms large. What can we do?