I know I promised you all the second part of my journey into education, but I have just had so many subtly racist encounters this week, and I’m upset, and I need to rant for a minute.
Look, I’m glad that many of my white colleagues have taken steps toward developing a greater understanding of equity and institutional racism. I really am happy, because it brings the hope of lightening my load a bit.
But, ugh. While they are developing that understanding, I feel like the burden is so much heavier. Then, you throw in the power differences (administrator versus teacher, much more “experienced” teacher versus a newer teacher, etc.) and I am left losing sleep and drinking far too much wine. There are moments when I feel like I am watching Godzilla trash a city and munch on cars and I’m dutifully following, trying to pick up the pieces. Except, in this case, the buildings and cars are my students of color’s dignity and self-respect.
I have come to see two extremes in how many teachers and administrators deal with their newfound understanding of equity. One, they begin to crack down on everyone, which is tone deaf in its own way (another way of saying, “I don’t see color,” but instead they’re saying, “I see trouble in everyone!”) and the one I’ve been dealing with, which is that they ignore the students of color because they “already have it bad enough.”
All of this can be chalked up to white guilt. The people in charge at my school feel so much white guilt as they process the articles they’ve read, along with their newest educational bible, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, (my consternation with that one will come later, but oh, it’s there. Epic amounts of consternation. Epic, I tell you) that they are willingly choosing to ignore my students of color and any transgressions they may commit.
Take today, for example. Today, I had a meeting with an administrator, and I asked about a Latino student who’d missed a good chunk of my class in order to go to the office.
“Well,” my administrator began, “he was upset about a few of his peers, and he threatened to beat them up. He said he wanted to punch them and beat them up.”
I was surprised, because this student, whom we will call Rafael, had apparently named specific students in my class that he wanted to beat up, but he had shown up back in my class without any sort of notice or repercussion for his threats.
By the way, I’m not advocating for some sort of suspension or expulsion, but I do feel that it at least warranted a call home, which did not happen. Right?
“So why was Rafael back in my class if he threatened to beat up Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo?” (again, not real names, but they are the real names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) I asked, already hearing the Godzilla screams and buildings beginning to collapse.
“Well…” my administrator started, “he has anger issues, but we’re working on them, and we figured it would be okay…” my administrator paused to fidget with a pen. What came next is what inspired the post for today.
“Plus, he’s part of that pack of boys, and I think they’re already mad at me, and I didn’t want to have them hold a grudge.”
First of all, humans do not run in “packs.” That microagression alone warrants some vexation, but it was the part of not appropriately disciplining a student because they are one of a group of Latino boys who have noticed the fear glinting in their administrator’s eyes that really got to me.
“What?” I asked flatly.
“Oh, it’s just that they already have gotten in so much trouble, and we’re trying to be mindful, and we don’t want to make them more mad.” This was said with a hint of pride. Like they’d gotten it right. Like giving these boys a pass for bad decisions and behavior was giving them a step up in their development.
I was reeling. So much, in fact, that I didn’t say anything more. The meeting ended, Godzilla walked away and left me a trail of debris and wailing sirens.
It wasn’t until later, as so often happens, that I realized what I wanted to say. And because I haven’t invented a time machine yet, I can only write it here, in hindsight. Here goes:
“Don’t you realize what you taught this child? You taught him that if he threatens others, and acts really mad about it, he can do it? That, because he’s brown, the rules don’t apply to him? That he can literally put others’ safety in danger and that you’ll let him? Because you’re afraid, and you feel guilty. This isn’t about helping them. It’s about helping you feel better. This is about you getting to go home tonight and bragging about how equitable you were today. But you are crippling them. You are teaching them the wrong thing. They have so much to learn about navigating this world while brown and you are steering them into the storm.”
That’s what I should have said. But I didn’t. Oh, how I wished I had.
Today was just another day for this administrator. They left that meeting thinking they had done the right thing, and I’m here, on my second glass of wine (so far) kicking myself for not saying what I should have said. For not doing more to avoid the extreme. I know there are educators who “get it.” There’s this one for example, and I feel like my administrators can get there, too. But how? When?
I keep trying to tell myself that tomorrow might be better. That I will try harder to come up with the words as Godzilla begins to rear its head and gnash its teeth. I can do that, right?