Friday, July 27, 2012

Ain't No White Kids

I went to the Big Brother Big Sisters picnic with my Little Sister a few weeks ago.  I want to say right away that I love this organization and think it serves a very needed purpose, especially for boys who often have no strong (or really any) male figures in their lives.  But I did notice one thing that disturbed me.  Not something about the organization, but rather about the demographics and socio-economic status in the area: almost all the mentors (the "Bigs") were white or Asian, while almost all the children (the "Littles") and families were black or Latino.  This was not without exception, but was true of the vast majority of the people there.

It reminded me of my first year teaching, when I was brand-new to the area, and still fairly naive about the racism and segregation that was (and is) present.  I started teaching in January of 2000, so I was trying to get to know the students at a time of year when most teachers can tell you more about their students than the computer database can. 

One of the projects we did that first week was a first grade-wide "I have a dream speech" for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.  I was trying to explain the bus boycott and segregation in general to first graders, which is no easy task.  At one point, I think I oversimplified and said something like, "He helped make it so black kids and white kids could go to school together."

I didn't know why the kids were looking at me so incredulously until one little girl spoke up.  "But, teacher, black kids don't go to school with white kids."  All the kids agreed with her.  That's when it dawned on me that she was right.  There was not one single white child at that school.*

Another time, I overheard a conversation that I mentioned here.  

First student: There are three kinds of kids.

Me: What are the three kinds of kids?

First student: There's black kids, Chinese kids**, and Mexican kids***.

Second student: What about white kids?

First student: Silly, there's no white kids. There's only white teachers.

I've been thinking about this for 13 years now and I'm still not sure how to respond to it.  My Little Sister is very intelligent and very observant.  I'm sure she noticed the demographics of the picnic and I'm sure she's noticed the demographics of her school.  How do I explain that to her?  Or do I just do what we all mostly do and try to pretend this inequality doesn't exist?  I don't feel like that's the best way but I haven't really thought of a better one yet.

*There were two white kids once; they were Bosnian refugees.

**In first grade, to these kids, all Asians are Chinese. The funny thing is that I don't think any of the Asian kids at the school were actually Chinese. Cambodian, Tongan, Samoan, Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong... but not Chinese.

***In first grade, to these kids, all Latinos are Mexican. They were mostly Mexican, but there were also Guatemalans, Salvadorians, Nicaraguans, Cubans, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The denial about segregation is rampant. Where are those in the community willing to confront this? Where are the Black teachers. Where are the exposés?

My school is seriously segregated. In the white suburbs!