I’m White – Why Is It So Shocking that I Say This?   2 comments

On the first day of class, I often introduce myself with a monologue that goes something like this:

My name is Andi Cumbo, and I’ll be your English professor this semester.  I have been teaching here for ___ years, and I really love it.  I hold Masters’ degrees from ________ and ____________, and I write this blog at ________.  I have three cats, and I live in _________.  I am also white.

Through the first two-thirds of that introduction, their eyes are glazed over, and they’re wondering if they can get out of class early because it’s the first day.  But that last line, it always wakes them up.  I’m not sure why.  Given that the vast majority of my students can see, I expect they have already figured out this fact, but still, it stuns them that I say it.  And that’s why I do it – I truly believe we need to be much more upfront in our discussions about race, and in my classes, I am often using race and racism as a theme – therefore, it’s important that we get these things right out on that table.

Cover of NurtureShock

NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

My friend Heather loaned me a book called NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman because she thought I might appreciate the chapter entitled “Why White Parents Don’t Talk about Race,” and she was right.  Bronson and Merryman provide a strong argument and clear support for the fact that all parents need to discuss race with their children.  Research shows that children self-segregate based on what they observe – i.e. the color of a person’s skin – if they aren’t directly encouraged not to.  While many well-meaning parents (and people in general, myself included), sometimes think that by discussing race we make others more aware of it, it seems, instead, that people are, in fact, aware of race but don’t know what to do with that information if they’re not guided.  This makes sense when you think about it.  We all try to categorize people – for good or ill.  We use what information is readily available to us when we do so.  So if someone has no encouragement and context to go past the superficial, chances are that person will assume things about someone simply because they are different.

Bronson and Merryman argue that children need to be taught explicitly about race.  Parents (and others) need to not be afraid to discuss race openly with their kids and help students understand why race can matter but why it, ultimately, shouldn’t matter at all. (It’s really worth picking up the book for even just this chapter if you can.)

This is what – unwittingly – I’ve been doing in my classes – trying to just put the obvious out on the table where it can be discussed.  I have made a lot of mistakes in these discussions – including outing my own racism to myself and to my students – but in the end, I think we’re all better for talking openly about one of the toughest issues in American culture.

What do you think of this?  Parents, do you openly discuss race with your kids?  Why or why not?  Teachers, do you talk about with your students?  Does anyone discuss it with their friends?  I’d really love to hear what you think about this.


2 responses to “I’m White – Why Is It So Shocking that I Say This?

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  1. Very interesting topic raised; look forward to reading Nurtureshock..

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