Race shouldn’t be a topic one day or one month out of the year. The racial disparities that exist in this country, and especially in the classroom, deserve to be addressed and acknowledged within the curriculum and daily life; because that is how they are experienced. They are not something to be checked off the list on a certain day or month, because it is a privilege to be learning about racism rather than experiencing it. Acknowledging and educating on race and racism in classrooms should be considered normal. Now more than ever it must be incorporated into the curriculum. We exist in a time of divisiveness and distrust; a global tragedy looming over our heads amplifies the ever-present institutional racism. The pandemic amplifies issues of race in that it affects people of color so much more, just like most issues in this country.
The primary issue in discussions on race in school is the fact that they are simply not occurring. Especially at younger levels, where children should be developing the vocabulary to be able to talk about race; there is this odd myth that children are “colorblind” and learn about race and racism as they grow, and this is simply not true. Children are able to recognize race and differences in people at an extremely young age and are not given the vocabulary to discuss and comprehend anything to do with race. By inhibiting these conversations, they become taboo and are pushed under the rug only furthering the issues with race in schools. These necessary discussions are usually not happening in normal classrooms and when many transitioned to remote, these conversations become even more difficult and rare.
Once they move forward with their education it becomes quite uncomfortable to talk about recent issues of race. Instead, school curriculum places these issues in the past, solely basing discussions on slavery or the civil rights movement, furthermore, implying the historical aspect of it rather than the present issues. Understanding the past is of course important, however, within that, we must acknowledge the present as well. Implying these issues are only in the past is extremely harmful to the rhetoric around race as well as students of color. Students of color experience the bias and prejudice that white students are fortunate enough to only learn about, and even then, many are not informed on the present discrimination. Teachers usually do not look like their students. The achievement gap is real. Stereotype threat is real. Discriminatory practices within education are very real. Discriminatory school practices are a reflection of much greater issues throughout the country. As I have brought up in previous blogs schools can oftentimes be perceived as a microcosm for the rest of our country. Structural racism cannot be dismantled within the walls of a school, but addressing these, especially those present in the school, can be an incredibly important tool.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred this summer, many teachers I spoke to felt obliged to incorporate more discussions around race. Including special diversity projects or even just bringing up racial issues within the old curriculum, many even said it came up more naturally within the previous curriculum just because it is on the forefront of many student’s minds. While most of these actions are far from groundbreaking, it is slightly hopeful that it is being worked in the new normal in schools. These topics, which are already difficult for some to initiate, only become more difficult when learning and teaching through a screen. This is a sort of Catch-22 because the surrounding world that has created the situation in which remote learning is necessary, has a huge racial impact that must be discussed. COVID disproportionally affects Black people and we live in a system that profits off of the exploitation of people of color; when it starts to crumble those are the ones who will be affected.
Our country has faced incredible turbulence this past year. Divides between different groups are growing and at times it has felt incredibly hopeless. The racism that exists in our country is hardly specific to this year, however, the pandemic created this unique situation where one instance of police brutality in Minneapolis was enough to be the spark. Unfortunately, George Floyd was one of many in the police’s checkered past. The events that occurred after felt like a long time coming. Everyone in the country bore witness to the protests that occurred and continue to do so, especially students. This was a large event and, frankly, quite traumatic for students of color. That makes it even more important to address this in classrooms appropriately and sensitively. There is this fear of being offensive and that fear enables many educators into sweeping a lot of racial issues under the rug, not always because they don’t care, just because it is easy to give in to their discomfort. However, this discomfort is important to uncover. The pandemic has created a situation where it is even more difficult to facilitate conversations surrounding the racism in our classroom and country, and this very pandemic is amplifying the racial issues the country faces; this makes it all the more important to do so. Education amidst social unrest is not just important, but necessary.
As a white college student, I will never understand what people of color experience daily, and I will never fully understand what I am writing about today because of the color of my skin. My words above barely scratch the surface of the racial issues within schools. I hope that it sheds some light on these issues and how the pandemic negatively influences them. It is time for white people to listen, amplify and most importantly to learn. The school system is very powerful and the change that is needed starts there.