Subtle (and not so subtle) racism in our classrooms | Mentoring in the Middle

Subtle (and not so subtle) racism in our classrooms

Roseann Barr made the news a few weeks ago by comparing an African-American woman to a monkey.  That got me thinking about the kinds of things we hear and correct, or hear and let go in our classrooms.  How should we respond to them?

 We were walking off a field, having just finished a game of kickball.  A young boy went to pick up his sweatshirt, but someone accidentally stepped on it.  "Oh great, now my sweatshirt's been stepped on by a fag" he muttered.

I hesitated.  It was almost the end of school year.  Should I ruin his day? 
But what about the kid for whom the comment was intended?

And so I pulled him aside.  "I heard a comment you made a few minutes ago."  He looked up and said, "Yeah, that wasn't a good word to choose."  He admitted his mistake. 
Was that enough?

"You know," I said, "You talk a lot about God and honor, and I know Scouting is an important part of your life."  At this, the tears started to flow.  "I'm not yelling at you, but I am telling you that as a kid who honors these values, that word is disgusting.  It has no place in your vocabulary.  Please stop using it.  I know you have a lot to deal with right now (he's had a recent traumatic experience) and you're allowed to feel angry, really angry.  But even with that, this word has no place coming out of your mouth."

Talking to him reminded me of this well-known story:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, 
"It made a difference for that one.” 

The conversations have to be had, whether at the beginning, the middle or the end of the school year.  Let's turn our students into citizens we would be proud of!

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