I assumed that the happy, sheltered bubble I lived in was reality.
I assumed that I treated all my students the same.
I assumed that we lived in an evolved society where color didn’t matter.
I assumed the “racists” were the outliers.
I assumed my own kids would not deal with major racially charged conflicts.
Then, in what sometimes seems like the blink of an eye, the bubble popped.
Reality broken. Eyes opened. Life changed.
I remember when my world first collided with reality. We were waiting to get into a club in Minnesota and the bouncer wouldn’t let my (then) boyfriend in because he didn’t meet the dress code. Our white friend had just been let in wearing the exact same outfit. A racial slur (that I didn’t hear) was muttered by a bystander on our way out the door, and all bets were off. I didn’t understand the anger. I didn’t understand what had happened. In my defense, I didn’t hear what had actually happened, but in reality, I just didn’t get it - because that wasn’t MY reality.
“I don’t see color,” is a phrase I’m sure I said at some point in my life, probably more than once. And then I realized that I didn’t see color because I didn’t have to - until very recently, that is. Nobody had ever watched my family as we sat down to eat at the local fast food restaurant. Nobody had ever introduced themselves to my significant other by explaining the difference between “black men” and “n*****s.” Nobody had ever blogged about my inability to parent properly because my child’s hair is different than mine. Nobody had ever told me my child was beautiful simply because of her genetic makeup. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are adorable, but people don’t usually cite their race as the reason. But trust me, I’ve said this, too. I’m not exempt from bias because I’m marrying a black man.
What assumptions do you make about your students? About their families? Do you make assumptions based on older siblings? On parents that you had when they were in school? About the part of town they come from or the state they moved from? We want education and opportunities and authenticity for all kids. But can we offer that if we don’t strive to understand the realities of all kids? If we don’t help them see the reality of others?
We were discussing trade and culture in South America in Geography class one day. At one point I asked the students if we would be having the same conversation if Carlos had been there that day. The room fell silent. Reality had just shifted. Let’s be honest. We are all happily unaware of our biases because it makes life easier. The world was a happier place when I got to view it through my white, middle class lens. “That doesn’t happen here.” Until that eye-opening moment reality smacks us in the face. The first thirty years of my life are no longer my reality.
Will people see my youngest daughter, with her caramel complexion and dark hair and eyes and make assumptions?
Will they assume her mother has a master’s degree and license in administration, that her father has a degree in physical therapy and works as a production supervisor?
Will they assume that the young white boy teasing her and walking beside her is her fiercest protector?
Can I assume that my biracial daughter will get the same opportunities as my white sons?
Because I’ll be honest with you, I am facing my most difficult parenting dilemma to date. I would love to think that my parenting style is my parenting style. But I am raising kids for two very different worlds - and hopefully, if I’m lucky, raising my kids to see a clear picture of the real world. I won’t ever claim to have it all together. My journey toward understanding any of this is just beginning, and my journey is just that - mine. But as I think about how I raise my own kids and how I educate others, I fall back on my new mantra. No longer are they things that are done to me, “Broken Reality. Eyes Opened. Life Changed.” It’s about what I strive to do for myself and for others. “Break Reality. Open Eyes. Create Change.”
I can only break reality by forcing myself to step outside my own comfort zone. I can only help people identify their biases by confronting and being honest about my own. I can only create change by modeling that change myself. This is what I want for my family; for my students; for my teachers; for myself.