A different perspective

An acquaintance of mine at Motherhood and More wrote a post that I want to address. She is referring to MLK day and race issues in this country and she brings out several points that I often write  about. I’ll start with a quote:

How easy would it be, even subconsciously, for “I’m glad I’m white” to gradually morph into “It’s better that I’m white” and eventually to “I’m better because I’m white” if there wasn’t a strong message to counter that?

 

It sounds like a person who really wants to educate their children and overcome the pitfall of racial prejudice. Here’s a question. Is it possible that a black person could feel the same way? “ I am better because I am black.” Well here’s another quote:

But maybe there’s another layer to it that I have – in my white ignorance, perhaps – never considered. If a white child thinks “I’m glad I’m white,” could a black child think, “It sucks that I’m black?”

 

The white kid feels superior while the black kid feels inferior?   Yes I think some black kids come away with the message that black is inferior, but I also think that comes from the reinforcement of that idea that they get from society. The people who look at them and feel pity because they are buying into memes spread through the culture. I could take the same idea and apply it to women…should all women feel inferior because their history is littered with oppression? Should my daughter feel inferior because the 19th Amendment didn’t happen until 1920? I don’t think so.

My point is that if there is a black child who feels inferior the problem likely comes from teaching methods and societal reinforcement. If someone spent 50% of your day telling you that you had to fight for your rights and that you were a slave you might also feel inferior, but the problem with the picture is that the people telling these stories are not telling the whole story. They toss around the idea of the poor black slave, poor kids of black slaves…

This is exactly the sort of crap that pisses me off. The entire focus of the discussion is set up to reinforce negative notions of poor black kids whose ancestors were slaves.

The idea that the black kid would watch Dr. Kings speech and conclude that they do not want to be black, might be true to some extent, but it misses the big picture. There are many, many black people who grew up proud of who they were and where they came from. Kids who grew up in this time period with educated parents who focused on what all Americans at the time focused on; education and equality. These people, including my grandparents, never felt inferior and did not teach their kids the inferiority complex. Their children did not go to public schools and did not learn to the inferiority complex that you mention in your post.  No one talks about this in schools, but as an educator you have more freedom to give your kids the truth.  Give them a real education by providing information about these kids and parents who are forgotten by history because they do not fit the common narrative. Here is my suggestion: Next year instead of watching Dr. King and reinforcing an inaccurate, but mainstream meme, try listening to Extraordinary Ordinary People  and give your kids a gift of real understanding instead of reinforcing an old and tired stereotype that is both inaccurate and offensive.

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One thought on “A different perspective

  1. I posted a link to your post on my site and left a comment there.
    http://www.motherhoodandmore.com/2012/01/well-im-glad-im-white.html#comment-form

    But I’ll go ahead an paste it here as well. 🙂

    I’ve had a chance to read through the post above and I have a few thoughts.

    First, thank you for sharing your perspective. I’m trying hard to see where you’re coming from and determine whether it’s actually in conflict with what I wrote. Perhaps we need some clarification.

    I wasn’t actually aware that it was a mainstream meme that black kids might feel bad about their racial identity when learning about the civil rights movement. That was a new notion to me. Especially because most of the focus is on inspiring figures, such as Rosa Parks, Dr. King, etc., I’ve never thought of it as anything other than inspiring. But I see what I think you might be saying, in that even those famous figures can be problematic if that’s all a kid is seeing, because their roles were to help blacks gain equal rights, which again shines a light on the fact that blacks were seen as dirty and inferior. Harriet Tubman, too, right? As opposed to, say, George Washington Carver or other inspiring black figures whose accomplishments and fame are not related directly to civil rights or slave freedom. Am I in the ballpark?

    So here’s my question, though. As a white person and as a teacher, I feel like it would be dishonoring African Americans in general to not acknowledge, in a purposeful way, the history of slavery and segregation and how that history has affected where we are in race relations today. It would be nice to be able to focus primarily on stories of black families or individuals who aren’t related to that history, but are we really there yet? Because as far as I can tell, most famous black figures in history have had to overcome significant, if not enormous challenges, in order to accomplish whatever it is they accomplished, solely because of their skin color and all of the prejudices and societal limitations that went along with it – which all goes back to slavery. Wouldn’t it be dishonoring their stories to not acknowledge those race-specific struggles?

    I can see how this can be a vicious circle. I certainly don’t think that any kid should look at their ancestral history and feel inferior or superior. My student’s response wasn’t about superiority, although it could turn into that if unchecked. And my epiphany that a black kid might feel the opposite way wasn’t about inferiority, either, although that could also turn into that if unchecked. I think part of checking those things is having these kinds of conversations.

    Crap, I’ve got to go to bed. Feel free to ask me if any of this didn’t make sense.

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