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Why I Am Teaching Ferguson

December 12, 2014

Because I have been teaching my students To Kill a Mockingbird and discussing Jim Crow laws, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, the history of the n-word, and I cannot ignore the continued repercussions of institutional oppression as they play out right now in our country.  In our own city.

Because I live out my white privilege every day, and people of color do not have that luxury.

Because my students of color talk tentatively and quietly about being followed around in stores, about assumptions of drug use, about questioning their choice of honors classes because black girls aren’t supposed to be smart.

Because the racial divide is sort of like global warming:  you can say you “don’t believe in it,” but it still exists and is exacerbated by those who do nothing because they want to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Because we are trained as a culture to see non-white males as threats.  As potentially violent.  As barely restrained criminals.

Because my brother and my cousins and my uncle are police officers who put their lives at risk every time they go to work to protect and help their communities.

Because I stand in solidarity with the non-white community but I will not march next to someone carrying a “Killer Cop” sign.

Because talking about race is not racist.

Because I was too afraid to talk about Trayvon Martin last year.  And I have been too afraid to talk about race in current culture.  And we must have the uncomfortable conversations in order for anything to change.

Because I want my students to experience a breadth of media coverage, including first-person accounts, in order for them to gain an understanding of media bias as well as the content itself.  If they only listen to the news outlets that their parents listen to, it perpetuates the idea that Judge Taylor says in To Kill a Mockingbird:  “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

Because our system is broken; our lofty ideals of what Scout calls “equal rights for all, special privileges for none” (To Kill a Mockingbird) is still an illusion.  Racism did not end with Martin Luther King, Jr., as many of my past students have believed.  Racism is woven into every level of our society.  It is about poverty, and race.  It is about the disparities in public education, and race.  It is about housing, and race.  It is about college and job opportunities, and race.  White privilege means the belief that race is not an issue.

Because there seem to be two sides:  one who calls cops “killers” and one who says that Michael Brown (and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and on and on) “deserved” their deaths.  Because I cannot stand on either side, or look at this issue as clearly as right and wrong.  Because there must be middle ground we can find.  Always.

Because this dialogue needs to happen.  The wounds must be revealed in order for anything to heal.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Jane Mulholland permalink
    December 13, 2014 11:33 pm

    So proud to know you, Michelle. As always, your courage and honesty are beautiful gifts to your students as well as to your readers.

    • December 14, 2014 2:36 pm

      Thank you, MJ. I aim to inspire my students, as you have inspired me. xo

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