This blog started out one way and then went in a completely different direction–kind of like life!
Surely you’ve heard someone say, “they all look alike to me” when referring to one group of minorities or another. Before this year, I had never worked with so many minority students. There were a few, but by and large, my students were white. I have learned a lot about African-Americans this year, but the biggest lesson about race that I’ve learned is about myself. Despite the best of intentions, I now believe that when it came to really looking at people, I had trouble seeing past their color. Not so much in the classroom, where you get a chance to know people individually, but in my day-to-day life: at the movies, the mall, restaurants. I never really looked at people’s faces.
Some of this, I know, is cultural. White people asses people a little differently—we describe each other with hair color and texture, and eye color. Most African-Americans are the same in these areas: brown curly hair, brown eyes. Earlier this year, I wouldn’t recognize a student right away if she came in with extensions—I depend on hair as a marker, and for African-Americans it’s in constant flux. I also didn’t differentiate skin color very well—as I’ve said before, African-Americans are sharply attuned to the variations in skin color. For many, light skin is considered an asset. In my mind, a black person was a black person—tone only came into play when someone was so light I wasn’t sure if they were black or not. I had a lot of learning to do, and this wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself.
I’m not racist—shouldn’t that be enough?
But it’s not. I fully believe that to recognize a person for who they are, you have to be able to quickly get past their race and start looking deeper—no small thing when you spend thirty seconds with a person. Now that I have worked with so many African-Americans, I start to see different things when I look at them: their stature, their skin tone, their hair type, and their age. I quickly see more than just a black face—I see the features and there are differences. There is something there that I was missing before.
I’ve been missing out.
The pastor read a quote in church that I think sums things up nicely:
"I am a work in progress–I am not who I am going to be, but thank God, I am not who I was!"