As an undergraduate rising senior, I know something about professor variety and styles of teaching. Two particular professors have taken me under wings: one as a mother/grandmother, the other, a comfortable friend. I listen to them, I learn from them, I work extra hard in their classes, I share with them my most intimate thoughts (educational and personal). These two teachers, I admire, respect, and enjoy. It wasn’t until a friend asked if they were black that I realized the race of my beloved instructors. They are white. I am African American. I believe that a nurturing learning environment and relationship transcends the confines of race.
My university is a historically black institution and some people expect that students of such a school are concerned only with African and African American centered studies. I want to know about all cultures and mingle with people who share my complexion and those who do not. Until that moment with my friend, I never took significant notice of those professors’ race. I acknowledged them not by what they were not (not being black), rather by what they were: kind, wise, spirited, and inspiring. Those traits smother racial stereotypes and keep my attention for the duration of each encounter. Sipping tea and sharing a slice of berry crumb cake while discussing graduate school, honor societies, and life’s relationships on a plush coffee shop sofa, it was not important that my professor was white. It mattered not that my motherly professor was white when I spent the afternoon at her home playing with her dog and learning of her hunting adventures.
My love for heritage and my ethnicity is rooted deep and strong. My parents instilled the value of knowledge of self and ancestry and I grew to eagerly seek such knowledge voluntarily. My present connects to my past and shapes my future. However, the blanket of humanity covers all races and should be respected for its intricate stitching. Each thread is a different color and the absence of one colored thread would altar the blanket’s texture. In the classroom, the plethora of colors that share perspectives and opinions shapes the minds of students and professors. I swam through the wild waves of Moby Dick in a white professor’s class amongst multi-ethnic peers and would challenge almost anyone to a detailed Melville discussion; my thoughts may not be popular but they are complex because of that class. A white professor instructs my creative nonfiction class in which my writing improves with each essay draft.
What I know for sure is that color should not alter the academy or a student’s learning space. The race of a professor or fellow student should be one of those factors acknowledged after bonds have been established, after the exchange of knowledge has commenced. In professors, scholars should not see color but wells of education to share—this I believe. I’m proud of that day, when I answered my friend’s question, “Are they black?” barely interrupting my activity, “No, they’re white.”
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