There are lots of things I should be doing today.
1. Finishing writing my exams.
2. Grading students prezi projects about African nations.
3. Creating a check-list for Sunday set-up at church for our upcoming meeting.
4. Planning for my faculty fellow (student teacher) next semester.
5. Scheduling a dentist appointment.
6. Preparing for a Library Task Force Meeting.
But all I really want to do is be at Caribou with a mac writing about my experiences and thoughts over the last few weeks while I sip a holiday specialty drink from mug. I want space and time to think and process. I haven’t been making space for that recently. My reading chair has gotten cold.
sidebar: I feel stifled without a mac, really I do. They are so pretty, and I seem like the type of person who would have one I think.
Most present in my mind is a conversation I was asked to be a part of last week at school. A colleague and friend of mine invited me into a room with the 12 black male eighth grade students at our school. This colleague (G) may or may not be the only black male teacher in our division. It’s not surprising that we have become friends given my affinity for all things chocolate colored.
Here’s the issue:
A teacher overheard the boys calling each other the “n” word on the basketball court last week. The Dean asked G and another black male to address the boys and discuss their use of the word. He asked me to come because a) I’m female b) I’m white c) I’m on the diversity committee…and he thought I could add a different perspective.
“The word n____, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.” –Langston Hughes
I appreciate the space and time our school gives to conversations that need air. I like that we don’t brush past hard things. In general, we aim to face them head on. I feel like at another school, this would have been dealt with very differently. That being said, I would have dealt with it differently. Maybe this is a gender thing.I would have wanted to hear more from the kids. Put them in a circle and make them talk it out. And we did some of that. They said they use the word because it’s causal, they hear it on the radio, from kids in their neighborhoods, at church (at church!?). G wanted to preach at them and tell them why it was wrong. He said some good things, such as “when you use that word, you have accepted the stereotype that comes along with it–slave, disadvantaged person, inferior race.” He asked the students “what would you do if a white person directed that word at you?” They responded in unison that they would get violent. G told them about his experiences, how he had to be different, how he had to move beyond settling disputes with his fists. G exposed their double standard.
Three boys in the group told us they don’t use it at all; their parents taught them not to; they think it is degrading. It’s more than the word though. To me, their use of it shows me their desperate need for affinity as they develop their racial identity. In these years, they are learning what it means to be “black” in a place dominated by “whiteness.”
How do we facilitate racial identity development in junior high and high school?
W.E.B DuBois came to mind as I listened to two educated black men tell these boys why they were different. Why going to this school called them to something higher. How they need to rise above and be better men. Are black independent school attendees the new Talented Tenth?
Several of these boys were in my history class last year. They got fired up about fighting human trafficking, and we were close. I want to hear from them how things have or haven’t changed since this conversation.
How can we keep the conversation on the table?