Kawania Wooten’s voice tightens when she describes the struggle she’s having at the school her son attends. When his class created a timeline of civilization, Wooten saw the Greeks, the Romans and the Incas. But nothing was said about Africa, even though the class has several African American students.
Wooten, who is black, spoke to the school’s director, a white woman — who insisted that the omission wasn’t racially biased.
“Her first comment was, ‘you know, we’ve just been following the curriculum. We’re not talking about whether people are white or black,’” recalls Wooten, who lives in Bowie, Md. “I said that the children have eyes and they can see. And I’d like them to see that our culture was a strong, viable culture.”
That kind of story brings a groan from Mark Benn, a psychologist and adjunct professor at Colorado State University. He hears similar tales whenever he delivers lectures about race relations.
Such incidents are examples of racial “colorblindness” — the idea that ignoring or overlooking racial and ethnic differences promotes racial harmony.
Trainers and facilitators say colorblindness does just the opposite: folks who enjoy racial privilege are closing their eyes to the experiences of others.
“It benefits me not to pay attention,” says Benn, who is white. “I never have to question whether or not my race is being held in question when I apply for a job. It benefits me not to question that (because) it makes it look like I got here on my own.”
Paying attention to the cultural experience of students is becoming increasingly important, given the differences between the demographics of American students and their teachers.
According to reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 80 percent of American teachers are white, while children of color make up more than 40 percent of the student body.
As the nation’s demographics shift, the sight of a white teacher leaning over the desk of a brown or black student is likely become more and more common. In order to be effective, teachers will have to learn about the cultural experiences of their students, while using these experiences as a foundation for teaching. The approach is called culturally relevant pedagogy.
But that is hard to do if a teacher doesn’t see differences as valuable. That means the blinders have to come off, says Randy Ross, a senior equity specialist at the New England Equity Assistance Center, a program of Brown University’s Education Alliance. Ross facilitates workshops on racism and culturally responsive teaching. And in her experience, white people have the hardest time opening their eyes.
“I have never heard a teacher of color say ‘I don’t see color,” Ross says. “There may be issues of cultural competence [among teachers of color], but colorblindness is not one of them. The core of ‘I don’t see color,’ is ‘I don’t see my own color, I don’t see difference because my race and culture is the center of the universe.’”
Such tunnel vision is the reason a teacher can omit Africa from a timeline of world civilizations, Ross says. Still, she cautions, the flaws of the colorblind approach run deeper than curriculum.
Failure to see and acknowledge racial differences makes it difficult to recognize the unconscious biases everyone has. Those biases can taint a teacher’s expectations of a student’s ability and negatively influence a student’s performance. Study after study has shown that low teacher expectations are harmful to students from socially stigmatized groups.
“I don’t see skin color”
I’ve grown to hate that statement. Why?
It means that someone-usually a white person-is not paying attention to something that affects people who are not white-their race. For white people, they don’t have to see color, because in their world, white is the norm. It’s what society is wrapped around. Our culture privileges white people, such that they don’t need to consider the struggles of others. To say “I don’t see color” is to say “I don’t see, nor do I care about the story you have to tell about how your race has impacted your life”. The problem is not one of “not seeing race”. The problem is in seeing race and using that as the way you judge the quality of a person’s character. I want you to see that that I’m a black man. That’s one aspect of me. I won’t, nor can I, hide from that. But I don’t want you to judge my character based on my skin color (judge me for my political or social views-that’s fair game). When you judge the quality of a person’s character based on their skin color-that’s racism. So white people? Stop saying “I don’t see skin color”.
In case anyone didn’t know my opinion of these people, I think they are scum. They are some of the most vile human beings on the planet, and I would be quite happy if they’d simply go live on an island away from civilized people and spend the rest of their days there.
When your father last visited, he took you past the front yard at your grandparents’ house and sat beside you on a square of sidewalk. I had supplied the chalk — $0.75 on sale in the checkout line at a supermarket — but stayed at home both to relax and to give you two space and time to bond.Your father is big like Mike Brown was. At 6’5″, his walk has heft, his forearms are a bit like boulders, and whenever I think of him making sidewalk drawings with you in the cool of an afternoon, I am newly amused. He sent me pictures of your handiwork, your name emblazoned in a multicolored blast. For you, the sidewalk became a concrete quilt. For you, it told the story of a family. For now, this is all it needs to tell you. For now, this is just as it should be.You won’t know this for at least a year or two — we have not started to read books like Henry’s Freedom Box or Freedom on the Menu; you have not heard of Emmett Till, have not seen what it seems that every black child must: his bloated, disfigured face in an open casket — but someday you will understand just how many of our horror stories begin and end with sidewalks.
Police brutality, both physical and mental, are so prevalent that being pulled over by police fills me and most young black men I know with a sort dread I don’t think white people ever experience. It’s not an “this is an inconvenience” thing, but a “will the police officer act like he has any sense?” feeling. You feel like a second class citizen that somehow doesn’t have the same rights as everyone else.
Modern US police departments share a colonial history that gives context to police violence of today – recognizing this framework is essential when examining how police brutality has developed historically. From constables in the 1600s who made up a sort of “neighborhood watch,” wherein they would capture slaves and prevent them from organizing for payment, the slave patrols of the early 1700s, the brazen appointment of police officers by way of their political affiliations in the 1880’s and stop-and-frisk, adopted from English common law, we learn that not only is violence an inherent part of the institution itself but it is a necessary component which allows for the state to control its citizens, and it has emerged and developed in the most destructive of ways. Police officers are trained to use force and are given the most lethal of weapons in order for them to do so and, according to data presented in the June 2014 report by the ACLU, this violence is overwhelmingly directed towards people of color. “Sixty-one percent of all the people impacted by SWAT raids in drug cases were minorities” and a majority are Black
- WE WANT FREEDOM. WE WANT POWER TO DETERMINE THE DESTINY OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES.
We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.
- WE WANT FULL EMPLOYMENT FOR OUR PEOPLE.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every person employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
- WE WANT AN END TO THE ROBBERY BY THE CAPITALISTS OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.
- WE WANT DECENT HOUSING, FIT FOR THE SHELTER OF HUMAN BEINGS.
We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.
- WE WANT DECENT EDUCATION FOR OUR PEOPLE THAT EXPOSES THE TRUE NATURE OF THIS DECADENT AMERICAN SOCIETY. WE WANT EDUCATION THAT TEACHES US OUR TRUE HISTORY AND OUR ROLE IN THE PRESENT-DAY SOCIETY.
We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.
- WE WANT COMPLETELY FREE HEALTH CARE FOR All BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE.
We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.
- WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND MURDER OF BLACK PEOPLE, OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR, All OPPRESSED PEOPLE INSIDE THE UNITED STATES.
We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the united States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.
- WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO ALL WARS OF AGGRESSION.
We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.
- WE WANT FREEDOM FOR ALL BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE NOW HELD IN U. S. FEDERAL, STATE, COUNTY, CITY AND MILITARY PRISONS AND JAILS. WE WANT TRIALS BY A JURY OF PEERS FOR All PERSONS CHARGED WITH SO-CALLED CRIMES UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS COUNTRY.
We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.
- WE WANT LAND, BREAD, HOUSING, EDUCATION, CLOTHING, JUSTICE, PEACE AND PEOPLE’S COMMUNITY CONTROL OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
This may have b
een written in 1966, but it is still valid today.