Privilege and Duty

The other day, our monitor (think campus bouncer) pulled me aside. He wanted to invite me to something, which he prefaced with, “this is gonna sound weird, but…” – He then invited me to the next meeting of the Brazos Valley Alliance of Black School Educators. I was honored, and of course said yes. The current president is a woman I’ve heard speak in the past, and greatly admire, and I am beyond excited to attend the next meeting.

That evening, I told my husband my news, and he responded, innocently, with “but you’re not black.”

It’s true. I am not black. I’m (currently) blonde, pale, and have a face full of Scottish freckles. I’m not appropriating black culture, or trying to stay hip to the trends of my black students. But I am a teacher who loves her kids, and I am being given an opportunity to learn how to better help them. My husband’s comment, while innocuous, bothered me, not because he made it, but because it was logical and illogical all at once.

I wasn’t raised in a million dollar home, in a gated community. I come from parents who didn’t complete college. My mom cleaned houses and worked for preschools, while my dad owned a machine shop. My step-parents are college graduates, and ambitious, but I wouldn’t call us traditionally wealthy. I was raised to be kind and to love all people. I was raised with love, and respect, and high expectations. I was taught to fight injustice, quietly but whole-heartedly. I am privileged.

It is my whiteness, my privilege, and my position as a public school teacher that requires me to become part of this organization. While the voice of the broken mobs can eventually be heard when they act as one, it is the single but microphoned voice that cuts over the dull roar. Being part of the BVABSE will allow me to add my voice to the mob. And when it comes to my students, I will riot. I will riot with words, and letters, and my raspy ginger voice. I will riot with all 5’2″ of my body, and every ounce of my soul.

And no, life isn’t always a fight. But. When you are aware of a need, and you ignore it because it doesn’t affect you – that is wrong, and that is how injustice wins, and how the fight begins. My whiteness does not exclude me from being a member of an organization that works to help the public education system. One of the TABSE initiatives is to close the achievement gap between populations of students. This is not only a TABSE objective, but also a checkbox on TEA’s list of criteria for being a successful public school. I look at the achievement gap, and the need to close it, as the OPPOSITE of “no child left behind”, which successfully just left a bunch of children behind. Closing the achievement gap does not happen by lowering expectations; it happens by raising them.

For learning to occur, kids must feel safe. That is my first job, and why I am excited to attend the next meeting of the BVABSE. We have students who assume that teachers don’t care about them. They assume they will be judged based on misconception, or previous behavior, or association. Over decades, we have trained our kids to look at us as a faceless “authority figure” that can’t be trusted. It’s not their faults. We’ve groomed this behavior by seeing them as faceless “bad kids” for so long. I know these are not popular opinions, or nice dinner table talk for some, but it’s what I have noticed in my short time as a teacher. And I find it heartbreaking. The most heartbreaking email I ever received from a parent was from a mom, who lived out of town, and was worried about her struggling son. She accused me of, in some rather aggressive phrasing, of not loving her son. She didn’t know me. She knew “teachers”. It is my job to undo that damage. In that situation, I succeeded, and she and I became teammates in her son’s path to success. I’m still, however, left wondering what had happened in that kid’s educational life to make his mom react in that manner. And how do we fix it before senior year?

I’m a big fan of the word ally. To be an ally means you are there. You may not truly understand, but you are present and ready to help. I’m an ally for the LGBQT population, for the CPS population, and will be an ally for all my students, regardless of race, origin, or religious creed. I can never understand, but I can be present. I am here.


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