May 19 2011

This is why I’m hot

by Mims

I’m so PISSED right now. I need to remind myself that there are amazing, inspiring, down CMs who are DOING WORK every single day. For now it’s a little eclipsed by open racism by CMs (who for whatever reason love to talk about their racism on this very website). In fact, a CM just wrote (writing about the thoughts in her mind she knows are racist and wishes she didn’t have as she met students at a mostly black school in Dallas):

“I wonder what it’s like at home? I wonder if they ate breakfast? I wonder what they plan to do after school? I wonder if you’re in a gang? I wonder… Why do we wonder so much? Why can’t we just teach?

Uh, excuse me, WTF? Why can’t you just teach – because you are racist enough to look at black skin and see poverty and violence. I would never, never, never, never, never let a teacher who expressed that type of hatred (that’s what it is folks, good intentions or not, having that level of fear about a child is hateful) for black people teach my children. What upsets me – is that thanks to TFA some parents now won’t have that option. I want to call them and tell them, because I don’t want those students to have to suffer under the racism of low expectations that this teacher holds so near and dear. This is why I hesitated before I hit accept, because I didn’t want to be part of an organization that gives this individual the power to deeply impact childrens’ lives. I know there is so much good happening in TFA. I have had amazing conversations with CMs all over the country, I love my region staff, but I hate this. It makes me want to jump ship. I know – then racism wins, then this CM pushes me out of the classroom and I won’t let that happen. I know how to turn this around and use it for motivation, but it doesn’t mean I’m not pissed. Why am I internalizing this and not using it to call TFA to task? Can we do some better anti-racism work? What about an accountability policy? Okay, okay – imma make this work (that is if I don’t get distracted and join a gang on my way to the regional office!)

Addendum: I’m mostly upset because I’m assuming the aforementioned CM speaks for many CMs and just folks in general. It’s personal because I can imagine how she / they might treat my future children and how said treatment is part of the maintenance of a system in which white people are privileged and brown folks aren’t. I don’t actually have and ill will towards this CM, rather I wish she’d stay the hell away from little brown children.

16 Responses

  1. Is that teacher really being racist? Or does she just have biases that she is confronting so that she can be a great teacher?

    • adrilicious

      seeing black skin and assuming a narrative of poverty and violence and an inability to be respectful as students is racist. not saying it’s not something to be confronted, but it is racist – the teacher admits as much in her actual post. just in terms of definition:

      “racism is a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.” So racism is the systemic (like the way capitalism is systemic) maintenance of this power structure. There’s obviously a lot to be said here, but 2 main points are crucial: racism isn’t abstract, it’s real, systemic and privileges white people in profound ways.”

      Her actions and beliefs are most def playing into that system. Regardless – I’m not sure why you would every but the word “just” in front of bias as if it were small potatoes.

  2. aea107

    i am sure you’ll get a lot of shit for this post and i think it’s especially difficult to judge the tone of people’s commentary over the internet, but i personally agree with you wholeheartedly, and it is something that scares me about teach for america and also just life in general. in fact, it’s so depressing i haven’t gone on this website in months. i am feeling pretty down about these topics in general, ever since finishing my thesis a few weeks ago on race rhetoric and argumentation inside and outside of the legal world with relation to equality seeking methodology, with a focus on urban education and school reform litigation. this shit is hard to deal with and the sad part is that we are so rarely taught how to confront it on a regular basis that even those of us who choose to live our lives with it as our focus can’t properly synthesize it most of the time, while others, who do not claim the same internal prioritization that we (forgive my assumptions, but i, at least, i won’t speak for you) do have the “gift” of simply choosing to ignore it.

    was it on your blog that i saw mention of a book on becoming an antiracist teacher? is there any literature or something beyond the “diversity training” tfa gives us that might help us in trying to understand and respond to some of these problems?


    • adrilicious

      your assumptions are exactly on point. bell hooks wrote teaching for liberation, but lisa delpit’s ‘other people’s children’ is a reallly great text too.

      I just feel so torn – so about teaching, so glad I get to do, so amazed by some CMs and so destroyed by others. Whatever – I get that we live in an imperfect world, but damn, having to absorb microgressions like this is tough.

      • aea107

        i guess i’m waiting to see what tfa has to say about all of it at institute. i have had “diversity training” so emphasized in the pedagogy at my college that i am not concerned about individually struggling with some of the necessities of teaching a diverse and multi-cultural and sensitive curriculum (especially with young children as i am doing ECE). what i am worried about, though, is not allowing almost imperceptible unconscious prejudice or assumption to reify the hegemonic model of the outside world, inside of my classroom. where are you supposed to learn how not to do that? as a white lady with a devout focus on africana studies, this is a quandary i have very often examined both in and out of classrooms. but because mainstream white america is so infrequently taught to examine the role of privilege in the fabric of every day life, it is difficult to imagine that this is a topic that i will feel is satisfactorily addressed virtually anywhere. it’s disheartening, to say the least.

        i suppose you can try to distance yourself from the ignorance and implicit (and explicit) racism that you see going on on the pages of this website and that you feel frustrated with tfa for not doing enough to curb. at least, that’s my plan. yes, i will call it everywhere i see it, and loudly, probably, but i am trying not to let this reality of life both in teach for america and outside of teach for america to radically alter my views on the organization holistically.

        • Wess

          It isn’t addressed at institute. Not explicitly, at least. The DCA sessions at my school were really good, but it’s mostly geared at getting people who don’t think about or recognize their own biases to think about and recognize their own biases. In a very general, biases 101 sort of way. I don’t think you’d encounter the “racism = prejudice + power” definition at any session at institute, and I do know that you’ll probably encounter a lot of white CMs who dominate the discussion with how uncomfortable they are with TFA’s words on diversity (namely, that CMs of color have an additional profound impact whites don’t have in classrooms of color).

  3. Wess

    Whoa there.
    Why isn’t it okay for someone to acknowledge and challenge their own biases?
    And wouldn’t it be more productively anti-racist to confront this problem in a less combative way?

    Seems like this could be seen as a teaching moment. I honestly would love to learn half the stuff you guys know about race rhetoric or how to live my life without hatred, and would be very interested in reading posts on how those of us who have not extensively studied anything related to social justice or race relations could become better at living anti-racist, as well.

    • adrilicious

      I actually think practice is more important than theory. Everyone should confront their biases, what I’m saying is that biases don’t exist outside of a racist system (so ‘just a bias’ dismisses that for me).

      What I’m saying is more personal than anything else. I would never accept this person as a teacher of my children – other people may or may not feel the same way. What troubles me is being part of an organization that represents that person. It’s deeply upsetting to think how she might treat my kids, or might think about them. It’s keeping me up and raising my allostatic load.

      The only thing I really take as an issue in your comment is the “less combative” (which i read as: be nice – why is it that the person who names racism is told to do it nicely, when I’d rather see that energy focused on telling to actively engage in work that might help them not act on racist biases. I mean – read a book) and the defining of anti-racism. I’m not sure that being nice is part of the definition of anti-racism. Here’s some other folks that feel this way:

      Like I said, the author herself admitted what she was thinking was racist (she called her post ‘Racism’). I’m just saying it hurts me that I’m part of that via association and how that might impact this teacher’s students. I just want a space wherein students are honored and respected (and not assumed to be gang members living in destitute poverty that can’t achieve) and I want TFA to be the kind of organization that calls for that. It’s not yet – and that cuts deep.

      • Wess

        TFA definitely isn’t an anti-racist organization (and I appreciate the ‘yet’ below), and I wish I could understand what that feels like. But by “less combative,” I just meant it would benefit your cause more to trust that the author wants to learn and to trust her ability to do so.

        And I’m serious about wanting to read more about this–yes I can read a book, but it’d also be really informative to learn from a fellow CM.

  4. '08

    I can understand your frustration with posts of this nature and in turn your feelings towards TFA. What makes me curious though, is why TFA then? These days there are many alternative routes into the classroom if your passion is teaching. Why sign on to teach through organization that you don’t feel 100% about?

    • adrilicious

      Basically because I know I’ll encounter these issues any where – TFA is not exempt, but I’m hoping it’ll be a space where there’s room for improvement and change.

  5. stateofhope

    Are you angry that these thoughts went through her/is head? Because we know, right, that exact message: brown people are (__________) insert any negative individual or social prejudice here, is part of the system of racism that we live in. This CM didn’t invent her/is racist thoughts they were socialized in a country that is based on them. Obviously, this is something you know.

    Or are you angry, and if so I’m with you here, that TFA is not an anti-racist organization? Because we know that it is not. TFA is, at its best, not anti anything, it is a about achievement not opposing oppression. And I imagine TFA, from an organizational standpoint, actually would not have much of a problem with the CM’s comments, maybe a problem with them being posted publicly… But as long as that CM was able to “overcome her/is bias” to ensure high achievement for her students I don’t think it would be something that entered into consideration.

    TFA sees the USA as primarily a country based on meritocracy. If our students can come out of public school with an excellent education, they will have the same access to success as any white, wealthy or other group of privilege has in this country. How poverty or race came to be an indicator of unequal access to an excellent education (and everything else) is entirely overlooked.

    Of course, we know that success in the US is not based on merit, it is a class system based on exploitation and racism is one of the primary ways it is maintained. Whether or not our students receive the phenomenal education that they, and every child, deserve with every fiber of their being, they will continue to live in an unjust world. That’s why our students (and us) are going to have to change this system and a just education is a step towards that change.

    Sorry to go off on a slightly coffee fueled diatribe here but I think it’s always important that when we look at in individual instance of racist, classist, unjust behavior we put it in context of the system it exists within.

    • adrilicious

      I think I’m mostly upset that TFA has no built in accountability for CMs around isms. Like it’s probably fine to be homophobic and a CM. I mean what would happen if a CM dropped the f-bomb in a classroom, would there be follow up from TFA, is there an anti-discrimination policy? I don’t even need TFA to be anti-racist (well yeah I do, but that’s not gonna happen) but can it at least have some policies around discrimination (I mean is there even an anti-sexual harassment policy?)

      Of course this CM isn’t the source of racism, but she’s an active participant, and it irritates me that her privilege is being defended by lots of folks ’round these parts.

      I’m glad I have the opportunity to fight for a more just world and I know there are many CMs joining me in that work (and many that have gone before me). Its true that the US is not a meritocracy as TFA imagines it to be. I mean any tool can be used for good, it’s just a little disheartening dealing with the bad.

      There’s research that shows that poc tend to react to microagressions about every 11 times they experience one. I think this was my 11th.

      • -05 STL Alum

        There is an anti-discrimination policy. It is quite stringent and comprehensive in fact.

        • adrilicious

          I’ve only seen the 3 paragraph statement that mostly addresses staff. If there’s something that addresses corps members and communities, families and students I’d love to see it!

  6. -05 STL Alum

    You are right, the organization isn’t there yet. However, blogs and dialogues like this one help to push people to examine themselves and their words that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. This movement tackles (probably) the biggest challenge our country faces and is confronting racism in a way NO other sector does both inside and outside of the movement. don’t lose sight of one day. keep writing/commenting and calling that ‘stuff’ out when you read it.

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