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Archive for November 28th, 2017

Slice of Life: Racism

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Up early this morning, I was reading my email and read a blog post from my friend Julieanne. She lives in Los Angeles, but a few weeks ago we were together at NCTE in St. Louis.  NCTE planted seeds. We left feeling refreshed, renewed, and challenged in our thoughts about teaching and about our lives.

This morning Julianne wrote:

I have been afraid to face racism straight on in the classroom. Fearful of being wrong. The thing is, it’s a done deal. I am wrong. I had manufactured a dilemma to hide in.
–Julieanne Harmatz

Her post reminded me of a conversation in the hallway returning from lunch.  Noah said to Jacob, “You know, you are my slave.”  He did know.  They had both figured out without any words from me that in the play they are rehearsing for the Shadows, a local plantation home, that they are acting as owner and slave.

My students have done this play for years, but this year I wanted to be clear about what their roles were.  I hadn’t talked about it yet with these boys, but they figured it out.  Jacob said, “I’m OK with it.  It’s just a play.”

But is it just a play?  What is our role in stopping racism?  How are we perpetuating the story without saying anything?

Back in class, we were looking through the collection of books I got at NCTE.  One book was Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.  I explained that Irene is a woman who looks like me, and Charles looks like Chloe’s dad.  In their book, Charles and Irene face racism head on. (No pun intended.) We came across a poem about the N-bomb.  What is the N-bomb?  My students wanted to know.

We had an honest discussion about how that word (I spelled it because I couldn’t say it out loud.) is racist.  And what is a racist?  Someone who judges another person by their race and not by who they really are.

Like Julieanne and many teachers affected by the words of Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds at NCTE, I will take the opportunities when they arise to have these tough conversations.  Teachable moments.  I am a white southern woman. I am part of the dilemma, but I can also be part of the solution.  So can you.

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