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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

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We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice

Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb Inaugural Poem

These words from Amanda Gorman hit a nerve. As a white woman raised in the south in the 60’s and 70’s, Just Is was a part of the thread that wove the fabric of racism in our time. Echoes of that’s just the way it is rang through the school hallways I walked, the places we shopped, the neighborhood streets we rode. The only dark faces I saw were our maids and their children. 

Desegregation didn’t happen until I was in the 4th grade, 1971. I remember having no school for two weeks while the scramble to mix it up began. That was fun for us kids. When we returned to school, there were new faces, new teachers. My favorite was Miss Love. She was a large black woman with a great bosom for hugging you close. She gave us one of my favorite assignments, a state project. I chose Maine because the capital city is Augustus, my birthday month (of course!). I have never gone to Maine but have a special place for it in my heart because of Miss Love.

Change is easy for kids. Children don’t really know racism. I didn’t when I was ten. But now, in retrospect, I see more clearly how “just is” was not “justice.” I cannot change the past. None of us can. But we can do better when we know better, another famous quote from an African American hero– Maya Angelou.

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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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Geno Delafosse

Geno Delafosse

La Poussiere means “the dust.”  The dance hall by this name in Breaux Bridge, LA was so named because the original floor was dirt, so when Cajuns danced a jig, the dust would fly.

Geno Delafose and the French Rocking Boogie sing a song entitled “She Makes the Dust Fly.”

Last night, my husband and I were Zydeco dancing to Geno at La Poussiere.

Twenty years ago, Geno would not have been welcome in La Poussiere.  There were strict unwritten rules against black people entering the club.  In 1996, The New York Times featured an article about a lawsuit that required La Poussiere to drop its policy and open its doors to black patrons, even on Saturday night.  Comments from locals stated that this was the way it’s always been.  There was an undercurrent of acceptance of racial discrimination.  However, as Breaux Bridge became more of a tourist area, these traditions came in to question.

Today, blacks and whites not only dance at La Poussiere, they often dance together. The cultures are becoming mixed and more accepting.  Last night, there was a Cajun man playing the triangle on stage with the all black band.

Yesterday, my friend Tara Smith posted about addressing civil rights issues with her students.  She teaches in an affluent, mostly white area.  She said, “As I have found in years past, none of my students had ever heard of Emmett Till, a boy not much older than they are, who lost his life to hatred and racism.   Few history text books seem to mention Emmett Till, and we can now add the names of Travon Martin and Tamir Rice (to name just two) to our country’s long legacy of racism and the heartbreaking violence it breeds.  But, teaching history demands that we seek the truth so that we can do better.”

Teaching demands that we do better.  We all need to do better.   We need to look at our neighbors as persons worthy of respect and honor whether we are dancing, having a meal, going to church, or driving on the highway.

Dancing and music are great equalizers. We are all comrades enjoying the parade.  Turn up the music, hear the beat, and remember always, always to be kind.

 

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