8.22.2007

Crying Racism

I don't consider myself a racist. I bet most people say that.

During my second year of teaching, a year I hadn't wanted (I'd wanted to quit after one, and I should have), I had a parent accuse me of being a racist because I gave her child a bad grade on her speech. I had no response to that; it was the first time anyone had aimed that gun at me.

So I cried.

I was embarrassed, of course; no one likes to appear unprofessional during a conference and, more than that, through my sobbing I had the thought in the back of my mind that I didn't want this woman to think she had triumphed over me.

But I was surprised, and burnt-out, and twenty-three, so I cried.

In truth, I'd given the kid a bad grade because she started her speech by saying, "Shut up!" and then quit halfway through. But she didn't like me, and she sure didn't like her grade, so she cried racism and her mom believed her.

This year, my third period class has a group of four boys that WILL. NOT. SHUT. UP. No matter how many times I put them in the chair or the hall or give them dirty looks, they keep talking.

"It's because we're black, isn't it?" one asked the other day.

"Well," I said. "I'm sure it has nothing to do with your disrespectful attitude and unwillingness to follow the rules."

I think he was joking anyway, but I'm not comfortable even having the issue raised. Today I called three parents during class. The students were working on an assignment, and I took each offender into the next room (it was empty) and called their folks. In a matter of minutes, a completely new student walked back into my room. Bonus: once the other kids saw that I was serious, they put their heads down and got to work too.

But that one kid wouldn't let it go. "Ms. Flower," he said. "How come you don't like me? Cuz I'm a black boy?"

"Yeah," another chimed in. "Why you only calling black folks' parents?"

"Child," I said patiently, "Why do you misbehave in my classroom? Is it because I'm a white girl?"

("Naw, Ms. Flower," said Child 2. "We like white teachers.")

So I called Child 1's dad tonight. In addition to talking to him about C1's behavior and attitude problems, I also told him that C1 implied that I am a racist.

"I don't know him well enough to know if he's serious about that," I said. "But that's something I take very seriously, and I'm concerned that he would even think that."

"Well, I'll talk to him about that," Dad told me. "He knows I don't hold with that kind of stuff. Some of my best friends are white." [note: I may have had an internal giggle at that one.]

I talked to the teacher next door about it too, because I was really upset. She knows C1, had him last year in class.

"Tell Mr. H about it," she said. "He'll have a talk with C1. You'll probably hear it, too." [Mr. H is an assistant principal; his office is across the hall. All year long I teach to the gentle soundtrack of students getting paddled.] [Also, Mr. H is black.]

I'm torn: on the one hand, I do think C1 needs to learn that crying racism is not a solution to a problem, but on the other hand, have I already done enough?

2 comments:

Dreamy said...

Isn't it better to get that attitude knocked out of him now then wait until he is in a JC class, wasting everybody's time, arguing just because he feels like he's being picked on for being a minority?!

It may sound harsh, but the racist card isn't one that should be played lightly. This is speaking as a person from So. Cal who hears it all the darn time, and gets it in classes constantly.

Laura said...

You know what I ended up doing when a kid asked me if something was because he was black? I said, "Yes," and moved on.

Granted, I could probably only get away with this because the kids who would ask that were teasing and knew I loved them even when they drove me up a wall. Also, it was easier where I was, when I was outnumbered racially, and my students didn't feel threatened.

I like your question to the offending parties about their misbehaving because you're white. Given their response, I think maybe the next time they ask if it's because they're black, you could say, "Of course," and turn the joke back on them, since I suspect that's what it is. They learn it can push some "uncool" people's buttons, so it gets them the attention they want.

 

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