For a time, I was a special education classroom assistant at an elementary school with students that were mostly Mexican American and Polish American. There were a few African American students but not many. One day, I was sitting at the back of a 7th grade classroom and I overheard a conversation between a couple of nonblack students (I say nonblack because I don’t know their specific ethnicities).
One of the boys said, “I axed you to give me the book.” His friend said, “It’s asked, not axed.” The boy replied back, “It’s axed cause I’m black for the day.”
After I heard that, a million things popped in my head (and wanted to pop out of my mouth), but my blood pressure went down and I eventually realized that everybody makes or has made (before being born again of course) distasteful racial jokes at some point, including myself. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s the truth.
America is experiencing a lot of racial tensions in light of the killings of several unarmed black men (and women, although not talked about as much) that have been killed by police. I just listened to a TED talk featuring diversity advocate Verna Myers called “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them,” in which she addresses these current events. She talks about the need to acknowledge our biases and confront them head-on in order to create better relations between black men and the rest of America. I completely agree with her, especially her belief that denial about biases can be dangerous. I would go further to say that believing that you don’t see race or any other ways that someone is different from you is dangerous.
While I used to say, “I don’t like other people’s kids. Kids are mean.” I no longer feel that way (completely). Kids say what they think and often lack the tact or political correctness that most adults (hopefully) have. Even though I felt like turning over every desk in that classroom when I heard the “I’m black for the day” joke, I realized that at least this kid is not in denial about his ignorant stereotypes about black people. In this day, many people assume that we now have a post-racial society because we have an African American president. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This type of thinking will only lead to more dead unarmed black and brown people in the streets at the hand of an inherently racist law and justice system. Yet, only once all of us acknowledge that we are different from one another and actually EMBRACE those differences instead of fear or loathe them can our children live in a better America than we do today. If we try to act like race has nothing to do with why unarmed black men and women are being killed at the hands of police or while in police custody, we will never solve the many problems influenced by our collective racial history in America. I don’t believe that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant for us to deny or ignore race, but called for us to not be judged by it.
Definitely take a look at the TED talk featuring Verna Myers and as always, stay P.O.P.ed 😉