White teacher trying to get it right

As a teacher, my biggest challenge is trying to instill hope and optimism in my students for their futures. Many feel depressed and hopeless. They don't see the world as my generation did . . . wide with possibilities and prosperity if one just works hard enough. Just talk to teenagers, and their underlying fears become painfully apparent. This generation has the highest level of mental and anxiety disorders than any other generation. This fear crosses all racial and socio-economic levels. Terrorism and global warming are the main sources of fear for most students.

The struggle with fear is even more so with my African American students who feel the deck is stacked against them. Recent events only intensify their fears, and social media posts of hate and ignorance demean us all as human beings.

White people, it doesn't do any good to become defensive and ignore or dismiss the problems hoping they will simply go away. It doesn't help at all to give into the sense of helplessness and hopelessness standing quietly by.

I have always considered myself an anti-racist. My friends are not overt racists and I would not associate with anyone that is, but that doesn't mean we might not be practicing aversive racism. I have been reading about race this summer to help better teach my students. I had to look hard at this term which, put very simply, means one may not say they think white people are better than black people, but they subconsciously think it. As a white child growing up in the South, this idea was implied and even stated openly to me. I will never forget when I was about 10 sitting on the porch of my grandfather's trailer one summer watching the garbage collectors pick up the trash. I have no idea what prompted my grandfather to say this, but he stated, "If you ever date a black man, I will kill you both." What a horrible thing to say to anyone much less a 10 year old child. This summer 45 years later, I had to face something in myself I did not like when I saw it, but I had to admit it was there and begin dealing with it. It made me almost physically ill to see this truth about myself.

Is aversive racism the cause of such indifference on the part of white people?

Now, with this new knowledge about myself, what am I going to do? How can I use it to help my students find hope?

Can we ever have honest and productive dialogues if we do not face the truth no matter how unpleasant it might be?


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