Why I Will Continue to Support Black Lives Matter Even Though I’m White

First ofblack-lives-matter all, I shouldn’t have to write “even though I’m white,” but I feel that it is necessary because I’m hoping that this will reach at least one white person who doesn’t think it’s okay to support the Black Lives Matter movement as if it will harm their white privilege in some way. Secondly, I will attempt to refrain my anger and sarcasm as much as possible, but I can’t make any promises. These are my disclaimers.

As a teacher, I have witnessed many forms of oppression in our society, especially against black people. I see that the public school system reinforces many of this oppression. What do I mean? Let’s look at desegregation. When black children were finally allowed to attend “white” schools, how much did the schools change to include their culture? Did the history books change to include positive attributes made by black people? No. Did literature books change to include a fair amount of black writers? No. The only thing that changed was that they were allowed to attend. When I look back on my education, I think about how much I did not know about black people as a child. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading Toni Morrison,  Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, etc. All that I was exposed to was the “norm.” So, looking at this from the perspective of a black child (if I may venture to do so), what would this tell me about my race? As a white child of a racist mother, I learned that white was normal, good, accepted. I was taught that black boys were rapists and violent. I was taught that black women were bitches. And, I was taught that all black people were stupid and did not belong in our society. My mother would say that she wished that black people would be sent back to Africa. I want to add here that I have long since departed from these teachings, but I’m afraid that many people still have this mentality. So, in 2016, has the public school system changed? No. They simply added a month to celebrate Black History–the shortest month of the year. Yes, they have included more black people in history and literature, but the narrative is ultimately the same. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE BEGINS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

As a college English teacher, I emphasize the fact that we are all basically bilingual. When I’m at home, I sometimes say things like, “He done started something,” or “She gone get in trouble.” This is our dialect. I know that it is technically incorrect, but I do not dismiss dialect because it brings richness, culture and identity to people’s voices. My black students are not used to this. They are not used to their speech being accepted as a language. They look at me like I’m an alien. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE CONTINUES THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE.

Don’t get me wrong, black people are strong. I admire them for their perseverance. They have made tremendous strides considering the lack of acceptance in our society. They don’t need my support. It’s the white people who need to know that it’s okay to support them.

In fact, white people could benefit majorly from true inclusion. Look at the school system again. Now tests are the ultimate basis of knowledge. If a student doesn’t pass the test, the student is judged, the teacher is judged, the school is judged. The problem with this is that not all student knowledge can be measured by a test. And, ultimately the tests do not reflect the differences in race. This is a difficult subject because it may sound bad, but hear me out. When black people were allowed to attend white schools, they had basically no education besides the little bit that other black people could teach them. They were not up to white people’s “standards.” So, instead of changing the system and letting the black students catch up, they just kept going in hopes that they would give up. Then, legislature is passed that says that all schools must be performing. These black students who couldn’t catch up were hurting the numbers. What happens? They lower the standards. Now middle and lower class white students are also suffering. And, this is pretty much where the education system is today.

Also, some black people did give up. They recognized that they couldn’t survive this system. This system NEVER really let them in. So, what do they do? Turn to ways to survive that don’t include getting an education.

Another form of oppression is the welfare system. The welfare system was set up initially to help people get back on their feet after the Great Depression. Now, it reinforces a cycle of slavery to poverty. I once overheard a conversation among a couple of black seventh graders (ages 13-14). They were talking about naming their babies. I heard one of them say that she hoped that she would have twins so that her grandmother would get two more checks. When a person only knows one way of life, it is difficult to break out of it. It is the norm. It is a cycle. I’m going out on a limb to say that I’d bet most of our politicians know this, which is why welfare continues. I’m not saying welfare should disappear because I understand its important in helping people in need, but it should be a means to an end, not the end. So many white people disagree with me on this point because they are jealous that the government gives black people money. This is so stupid because 1. white people get welfare too, and 2. a life depending on the government is not a good one. White people say “I wish I could drive a Cadillac and get on welfare,” but that Cadillac does not make up for other hardships, and this is just nasty ass stupid prejudice assumption. Think of it this way: Do I want my daughter at 13 to be thinking about naming her child, the child that she is having so that her grandmother can get another check? Nope.

I could go on and on about the systems of oppression (a.k.a. slavery) that are thriving in our society, but this is supposed to be about Black Lives Matter. I’m writing this in response to white people trying to diminish this movement by using the term Blue Lives Matter as a rebuttal. NO NO NO! This movement was not established as a blow against police officers. It was established as a cry for help. Mothers of victims. Mother of victims. They lost their children. They lost their children to the violence of our society. Our society excluded their children, and they ended up dead at young ages. This is the problem. Stop trying to stifle their voices. Stop ignoring the exclusion. Stop saying that they can’t speak up for themselves without taking away from white people. Do white people need black lives to not matter?

No one said that blue lives don’t matter. No one said that white lives don’t matter. When a police officer shoots a black man sitting in his car unarmed, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a white man shoots a black teenager for wearing a hoody and playing loud music, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a child is gunned down for having a toy gun, it shows that someone believed his life didn’t matter. There are methods for preventing this violence, but they are not exercised. Are all instances of police violence about race? No. Am I saying that police officers should not protect themselves? No. I am saying that racism and oppression exist and cannot be ignored. I am saying that black lives do matter, but that does not have to take away from others’ lives. I am saying that if there are instances where a black person is targeted, then there need to consequences and recognition.

I don’t worry that my son will get shot because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be excluded in school because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be profiled because of the color of his skin. I enjoy white privilege in this way. I do not want to have to worry, but I want to share those same privileges with my black neighbors. I want my students to feel accepted in my classroom. I want my students to succeed and become productive members of society. I want to live in a society where we stop lying and start fixing the problem. If you want to say ALL LIVES MATTER, fine. THEN ACT LIKE IT! Until then recognize that BLACK LIVES MATTER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking in the Shoes of the Other: A Study of Jane Elliot’s Class on Race

Walking in the Shoes of the Other

There is an old saying about walking a mile in another person’s shoes before you judge them, which means that before a person can truly understand what another person is going through, he or she has to share the same experience. In 1968, a time of racial controversy in the United States, school teacher Jane Elliott made  her students walk  in others’ shoes. Through an experiment that she conducted, she had them experience what it was like to be discriminated against because of a biological feature. The experiment that Ms. Elliott conducted on her class demonstrated George Herbert Mead’s theory  of the social self as it demonstrated how the students developed social reactions or behavior through their experiences.

    First of all, Ms. Elliott  explained to the students that the class would be divided into two categories: the blue eyed students and the brown eyed students. Simply because she has blue eyes, she said that the blue eyed students would be the better students on the first day. She gave the students scarves to wear to indicate that they were the brown eyed students. These symbols demonstrate Mead’s theory that “social experience is the exchange of symbols” (Macionis 69). People use symbols like words, hand gestures, or a smile to create meaning (Macionis 69). Ms. Elliott assigned the label of brown eyed students as the lower part of the class, and when she did she created meaning. When the students put on the scarves, they began to identify themselves as the lower class, and they felt what it was like to be the targets of discrimination. One girl kept looking around as if she was going to cry. This identification demonstrates another part of Mead’s theory that the self is the product of social experience (Macionis 69). The children were told that the brown eyed children were slower, less intelligent, and more greedy than the blue eyed children, and both sets of children began to experience themselves in this  way. The blue eyed children exhibited feelings that they were superior to the brown eyed children, and the brown eyed children showed that they felt inferior.

After the children understood the exercise, they really began to assert their roles. Ms. Elliott made comments throughout the class that provoked the students. At one time, she said that her yard stick was missing, and one of the blue eyed students said that she should keep that handy in case one of the brown eyed students misbehaved. She asked him if he felt that that was the thing to use if they misbehaved, and he said yes. She commented that the brown eyed students were slower and that the class had to wait on them. She said that the brown eyed students could not drink from the water fountain, and she said that they could not get second helpings at lunch like the blue eyed students could. To this one student replied that the brown eyed students would take too much, implicating that they were greedy and selfish. Ms. Elliott really did a good job of building the scenario so that the students could really experience what discrimination was like.    

The impact of the scenario was greatest when the students went out to recess. Ms. Elliott told the students that they could not play together because of their differences. The brown eyed students demonstrated how their self image had been built by their previous social experiences because they expressed that they felt like they could not do anything. All of the students sat down by themselves away from the others. One student held his book over his face in shame. Mead’s third concept leads into the idea of the “looking glass.” In this concept, others are a mirror in which people see themselves; therefore, what people think of themselves depends on how they think others see them (Macionis 69). Because the blue eyed children saw the brown eyed children as lower–slower, dumber, etc.–the brown eyed children began to see themselves in those same lenses.  

When the students returned to the classroom, Ms. Elliott addressed a fight that had occurred on the playground. One of the blue eyed students had been calling one of the brown eyed students names and picking on him, so the brown eyed boy had hit him. The significance of this incident was revealed in the responses of the children. Ms. Elliott asked the brown eyed boy why he hit the blue eyed boy, and he responded by saying that he was calling him names. Ms. Elliott asked him what names he was calling him, and he said that he was calling him brown eyed. Ms. Elliott then asked why this was a bad thing, and the brown eyed boy responded “because it means I’m stupider.” This shows that even though the students previously knew this to be untrue, their social experience caused them to create this image. One boy said that this was like when people call black people “niggers.” Just because the students had been told that the brown eyed students were not as good as the blue eyed students, both felt that this was true, which once again demonstrates Mead’s theory that the self is developed through social experience.

The next day, Ms. Elliott reversed the roles. She told the class that the brown eyed people were now better than the blue eyed people. The blue eyed people had to wear the scarves. Immediately after putting on the scarves, the blue eyed students’ body language exhibited their feelings. One student laid his head on the desk. Ms. Elliott used this as an opportunity to point out a negative quality of the blue eyed students just like she had done the day before with the brown eyed students. She would use actions that all of the students would normally do to point out that because one of the lower class students was doing it, it meant that they were all bad.

The oppression caused by the scarves or labeling was felt in more  ways than just the students’ feelings. Ms. Elliott’s class used phonic cards, and this was a timed exercise. On Tuesday, when the brown eyed students were the lower class, their timing was awful. On Wednesday, when the brown eyed students were labeled the better students, their timing improved by twice the time. When Ms. Elliott asked them why, they said because all they could think about on Tuesday was the scarves. The labeling actually oppressed their ability to learn and think as well as their social abilities.

Mead’s fourth point in his theory states, “by taking the role of the other, we become self-aware” (Macionis 69). When Ms. Elliott reversed the roles of the students, they had to walk in each others’ shoes. The subjective side of the self (the “I”) was exhibited when the students were a part of the better group, and the objective side was exhibited when the students were a part of the lower group. When Ms. Elliott asked the students to evaluate their experience as part of the lower group, they described it as feeling like being locked up in jail, or “like a dog on a leash.” Because both sets of students had experienced the same oppression, both could appreciate their experiences. When asked if it was okay or right to treat people differently because of their differences, all of the students agreed that it was not right. In this stage, the children developed their knowledge of the generalized other, or cultural norms and values that we use as references in evaluating ourselves (Macionis 70). They saw that the way that society sees them is a part of how they see themselves. So, they all agreed that viewing others as lesser because of biological differences is wrong.  

Ms. Elliott’s experiment may have only reached a few students, but it is a model that effectively taught young people about the harms and effects of racism and discrimination. Mead wrote, “No hard-and-fast line can be drawn between our own selves and the selves of others” (Macionis 69), and this is what Ms. Elliott’s experiment demonstrates. The self is built by social interaction. The students exhibited that the ways they felt about themselves were affected by social interaction. They showed that their ability to learn and think was affected by social interaction. And, they also showed that the way that they interact with others is affected by social interaction. Overall, Ms. Elliott’s lesson in racism forced the students to walk in each other’s shoes in order to demonstrate what racism and discrimination actually feels like so that they would not continue the cycle of hate. By taking on the role of the other, the students were able to build a self that would understand the feelings of oppression caused by racism and not become racist themselves. When the students returned years later, they indicated how much Ms. Elliott’s project had affected their lives, proving that social experience builds people’s personalities. Ms. Elliott’s experiment should be a part of third grade curriculum today.     

Bibliography

Macionis, John J. Society: The Basics. 12th Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.