“Our children don’t see color and neither do we.” These are the cacophonous words that rang throughout my sensitive ears on my first day of new teacher training in Georgia. I remember thinking, ‘How can this be?’ When I look in the mirror, I see color. So was I supposed to be included in the “we” that our literacy coach spoke about on that first day? I believe that color should not matter, but it does.
Prior to moving to Georgia, I taught at an elementary school in Maryland where so-called minorities made up the majority of the student population and white women made up the majority of the teacher population—much like the population of my new school in Georgia. When I first started teaching I was under the false impression that since all of my students were non-white, that the students really didn’t see color amongst each other and there were really no color issues. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I began to listen to their conversations and their responses to various topics. I realized that not only did they see color, but that they were victims of internalized racism. I had seen the various “black doll/white doll” tests that people had done over the years, and decided to do a test of my own. I showed the students pictures of white people and people of their own race. I asked them to pick out the ‘bad, good, pretty, and not so pretty people.’ 9 times out of 10 the children attached the positive attributes to the white people and the negative attributes to the people of their own race. When asked why they felt this way, the answers varied and showed that the children had internalized racism. I am thankful that the administration at that school allowed me to do little experiments like this and facilitate discussions with our staff about different levels of racism and cultural responsiveness in the classroom. I had the privilege of working with a group of people who had the common goal of learning how to respond to racial issues in the classroom.
So one could understand why I cringed at the thought of entering a brand new environment where my philosophy of addressing racial issues in the classroom was devalued and overlooked. With the rigorous testing and curriculum in schools today, children are unable to have their inner souls educated, which leads to confusion and self-hatred. If I ignore the fact that children see color, as an educator I am in turn ignoring their emotional and psychological needs. Children need to know that they don’t have to mirror society’s image of them. They also need to know that they don’t have to fit the mold of what society says is beautiful. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to lift my own blinders so that our children can see.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.