When I was in seventh grade, my energetic history teacher bravely chose to tackle a new topic in her classroom full of homogenous, upper-class students: diversity. She explained the concept of diversity to us — that including multiple perspectives & backgrounds in any pursuit creates a richer, more dynamic community. We nodded our heads, digesting this idea of inclusiveness, and walked away feeling positive about it. Yeah, diversity, that sounds cool.
On that day, I went home feeling empowered & idealistic & lofty — I like diversity, so I must be anti-racist, right? I had a whole conversation about diversity. I knew everything.
Two weeks ago, that perception — my concept of comfort with race — came crashing down.
Until this year, racial identity and the concept of “white privilege” has existed as a theoretical concept in my life. I have read about race, discussed races, taken classes on race — but all in the safety of relative homogeneity. From that day in my Episcopal middle school to my semester-long course on race relations, I have primarily engaged in racial discourse from an outsider’s perspective. I have seen the effects of white privilege as tragic but removed from my life. Even when discussing horrifying statistics on discrimination in America, I haven’t felt the effects of those truths. Yes, those statistics are terrible — but here are these African-American and Latino/Latina students, sitting in the same classroom as I am, seemingly fine. They have surmounted the odds, and they are thriving. For the people of color in my life, everything’s okay.
This year, as the number of people of color in my life grew, I could no longer say that was true. Everything’s not okay.
In my classroom, we’ve talked about race. We’ve asked questions, challenged each other’s opinions, and reached new conclusions. My students’ remarks have ranged from insightful to doubtful, from inspiring to troubling. And while I have been eager to engage in these conversations, I’ve noticed a startling reality: during these discussions, my students are often teaching me. They’re considerably more adept at navigating conversations on race than I am, and oftentimes, I have become the student.
This year, I have become the energetic math teacher, bravely tackling the topic of diversity in my classroom of heterogeneous students of all backgrounds and circumstances, but rather than walking away feeling confident, I am walking into summer feeling more confused than ever.
And so, I’m embarking on this effort — to write about race each day for 30 days, and then some. To actively explore race — to refuse to be a bystander, to let this topic become external to me.
This is my start.