FOWC with Fandango: Ethnicity

For the majority of my followers, you all know I typically write poetry. This subject though, of ethnicity is kind-of a biggy, as I was formerly a public school teacher.

I grew up in a town which was predominantly white. I remember one black family in town and I had two friends that each had one white parent and one black parent. Back then that was pretty rare, at least in my town, and I thought it quite interesting that you could “do that”. I never saw it as wrong, I know that, but just different.

My first year of college, which was at the University of Connecticut, was an eye opener to ethnic diversity. First semester my roommate, Debbie, was as white as I was, if not more. Her mother was super strict and pretty nasty and I am sure if Debbie ever wanted to have any friends that were of a different ethnicity her mother probably poo-pooed it. Second semester I moved upstairs and lived with a totally different type of roommate. This one was from a very diverse town, had many black friends, and didn’t even see a difference. I will never forget one night she said she was going to have some friends from her hometown stop by. I figured, sure, why not meet some more people. Well, knock-knock-knock and five or six of the tallest and biggest black men I had ever seen were now standing in my ten by ten dormroom squished in the center between our two beds. We got to talking and I told one of them what town I grew up in. He asked me, “are you allowed to talk to me?” and I said “what do you mean?” He said “well I didn’t know kids from that town were allowed to talk to black people.” What!?!?!?! I had never heard such a thing. I was shocked and appalled that this was the image I represented based on the town I grew up in. Needless to say, we were all friends for all four years of college.

Skip ahead to teaching:
My first job was in an inner-city clinical day treatment center for children with social-emotional disturbance, who had been outplaced from their home school due to behaviors that were no longer manageable in the public setting. Ethnicity was so diverse, it was actually wonderful to see. It was here that I learned so many things and tried so many different foods, participated in multi-cultural celebrations, etc. I loved it. This was the first time I worked with children, those of who the majority were from mixed marriages. I will never forget being called a racist. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that someone would call me that. At the time and even now, I know most of that came from their own anger and emotional issues, not from any vibe I was sending. There was one time a student told me I didn’t like him because he was black. Ooh, I got fired up. I didn’t like being called a racist and I sure wasn’t going to let it slide by. Instead, without flinching, I asked him if he liked the middle of an oreo, the clouds, or milk. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Well,” I said, “If I’m racist then you probably are too and these are some of the things you probably don’t like.” He asked why and I said because they are white. Well, he got so mad! I said, “Doesn’t it feel awful to be accused of something so ridiculous?” He got my point and I don’t think I was ever accused of being racist in that school again.

My second job was in a different inner-city at a different type of clinical day school. The difference here was the students were in high school and most were or had been involved with the law, and I don’t mean in a positive way. When you crossed these kids, as a white teacher, the first thing that came out of their mouths was “yeah, you’re racist!” Well, actually, no I’m not. It was during one of their accusatory sessions that I pointed out that I was actually the minority because I was the only white person in the room. The students looked around. It was true. There were kids from every ethnic background you could probably imagine and then there was me. I said, “If I was racist, do you really think I would be here trying to teach you guys? Do you think I would say how much I care about you guys if I was racist?” Well, that ended that rant.

My third job, also in a city, same kind of thing. And then again with my last job.

Funny, though, as I write this I think about how I might be upsetting some readers, with my blatant statement that I am not racist. I mean what is politically or socially correct these days? I do wonder, where do kids get it from? Okay, some of you will say home, others will say the media. Wherever it is that children get this from it is sad, so very sad. Why? It is so sad that in this day and age some people still believe that there is a difference between people because of skin color. It makes me sick and although I openly discuss these issues with students, I typically don’t get up on the soap box about it. It is just so scary to think that with all of the science and technology we have today that someone could honestly say that one “color” is better than another.

Unfortunately, right now with the government being in such an upheaval it has made matters worse. I hope someday, even if I am not alive to see it, that people finally stop looking at skin color to determine what kind of person is inside.