Being Brave: Teach Me About Race

I admit to being one of white privilege.  But, I want to learn how to speak intelligently and respectfully about race and culture in the classroom.  I understand my second graders see through the lens of their own experience.  But, looking at my classroom library I don’t see enough fiction stories with a wide variety of children.  I’m reading aloud Ranger in Time Long Road to Freedom by Kate Messner.  My students are needing all kinds of historical context in order to understand why children could possibly be owned by another human being at any time in history.  I know there are children in slavery all over the world in the year 2016.  But its easier to tell my students we don’t have slavery in our country that is legal any more.  What is not easy is sharing with my students the reality of the racial and cultural prejudice people face on a daily basis.  I think it is important to help them understand there are still very real prejudices and hatred being voiced in the media toward groups of people because of the color of their skin or the religion they choose.  So I’m trying to make sure and include this in the context of their present.  When I write the 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2000’s on the board in a timeline to show the conflicts about race and culture that have already been part of our country’s history, I can’t help but include the recent issues about immigration in the 2000’s and the #blacklivesmatter movement going on right now.  I want my students to know the struggle is not over for equality and working toward the treatment all people with dignity and respect.  I want them to be informed so they can be part of the change.  I don’t claim to speak from experience.  I want to know where people are not treated fairly so I can speak on their behalf intelligently and compassionately.  Please let me know what you are doing in your classroom to help your students make sense of what is going on in our world.  I know it needs to be a conversation where we share our stories and learn from each other.  Please feel free to share your own story so we can learn together.

1 thought on “Being Brave: Teach Me About Race”

  1. I can only share my own experience as a high school English teacher and hope that there is something valuable for someone else within it.

    I grew up a white (Jewish) woman in rural New England. When I moved to Boston, I had NO experience teaching students of color, and minimal experience interacting with people of color in general. I put my foot in my mouth. I tried, I did. I wanted to be an ally and a voice for social justice, but I had a hard time seeing outside the lens of my privilege, and I didn’t know how to escape the stereotype of the white savior teacher.

    It took some very awkward interactions with my students for me to actively seek out training. I took classes in anti-racist teaching. I read lots of books, articles, and blogs. I didn’t expect my colleagues of color to teach me what to do, but I tried to train myself to listen more and talk less. I sought to challenge my curriculum. Teaching more authors of color, focusing my classes on themes related to power and privilege, knowing that they weren’t going to get as much of The (White) Canon and being okay with that.

    Now, I start by telling my students my own story. I tell them I don’t have all the answers, that I will probably make mistakes when talking about this, too, because of the way we are all raised. I let them have time and space — days even — to have “difficult” conversations, ask questions, get angry, disagree with each other, figure out how to talk to each other about race, class, and gender. I try to skew students toward the pro-active, the positive, toward change. I tell them that being guilty doesn’t solve it, ignoring it doesn’t solve it.

    And my husband, who is a Pre-K teacher, does things that are appropriate for his students’ level. He actively seeks out books that feature diverse characters that aren’t necessarily ABOUT the characters’ race/gender. He looks for bias in things like The Three Little Pigs (practically every picture book features a big dark scary wolf and three pink or white pigs — things that are so subtle we barely notice them). He makes sure that the toys and dolls he provides are diverse.

    This stuff is HARD. I think the examples of what you DO do from your post are good. It’s hard with little ones, I would imagine, to toe the line between informing them and scaring them. To do it in an age-appropriate way. I’m sure there are people much more versed in that than I am.

    Here are some recent resources I’ve found useful and/or talk about literature and education. I hope they help:

    And a couple of organizations that I would recommend (also on Facebook): (SURJ – a white allyship group) (Raising Race Conscious Children)

    Wanting to be better is the first step. I wish you the best.


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