I am cleaning out email boxes and I discover some notes from a writing class I took at a National conference that addresses multicultural education
I discover a piece I wrote in the class about an experience I had as an assistant librarian in an independent school.
When you’re the multi in a culture not so used to difference:
She is in the second grade
She stands in the library,
surrounded by books, a determined seeker
of that which only she knows.
There is no smile on her face but she does not frown either.
Deep in thought, surrounded by her classmates
she does not see anything but what she seeks.
The found book is brought proudly to the circulation desk
where I stand. I do not frown but I do know this is not the book
she can have right now. I do not remember why it is not right.
I just remember it is not right for her right now.
She balks and pouts and keeps asking “Why,” as if to hear me
say the same thing over and over again. I sense that she is not used to
the color of my voice,
this child with permission to resist an adult.
It is a battle of the wills, her determination vs. my authority
which I do not think about in that tug of war moment.
I want what’s best for her seven-year-old mind.
She wants what she wants. I do not see the steel in her eyes
when she turns to leave the library with her class.
She leaves sans coveted book, but wrapped tightly in her determination
she tells a different story of intimidation
when she gets home to Mama.
who writes to the teacher who writes to me
though knowing me does not defend me
but succors the mother.
I am a black woman who manages her voice at school,
tempers it to match the sensibility of my little patrons.
The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself as the norm and judges those who do not meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other. Perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal rights, may be characterized as less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html
I have worked with summer programs for 20+ years. In the early years, the programs were cocooned, separate from the majority culture. Though the population of children was somewhat diverse, the teachers and staff all looked like me, all African American.
The summer program to which I am now attached is of a different “color, “simply meaning, while some diversity is still in place in the student population, the teachers are mostly white. There is nothing wrong with this mix because the teachers (who are in the final stage of a credentials program) bring to the students all they need to continue to grow and stretch academically. However, we are housed on a campus with a separate program that is not used to such diversity, so the field is ripe for misunderstandings, assumptions and micro-aggressions … on their part, not mine.
Yes, this issue of the “Other that is Me” lies not with the students or the teachers but with the opinions of those around me who do not look like me, individuals whose only information about the “Other Who Is Me” may come through the media and/or opinions of people who also look just like them.
When the “Other That Is Me” comes into view, certain assumotions come into play about the capability and ability of the “Other Who Is Me” to function well, if even at all.
It is assumed that when a situation appears untenable or unmanageable, I will, of course, need assistance, without bothering to check with me to see if, indeed, I need any help at all.
It is assumed, when the children wander into spaces where they should not be (which children have been known to do), that I should be informed as to how such scenarios should be handled without even once just Informng me about the situation and trusting me to handle it because, after all, I do have some experience with this population and the program.
It is assumed that if a playground is left messy that it had to be our kids because, you know, that is how the “Others” roll. And yes, trash was left on the playground, but, having worked at the site during school years, I am well aware of messes left behind in the cafeteria and on those same playgrounds. When I do check out the “mess,” I discover trash along the perimeter of the playground that appears to have been there for a while. I leave it in place for their maintenance people to do their job.
I have been the “Other That Is Me” all my life though the burden of “Otherness” is not as much of a concern for me as it was when I was younger. I am more vocal these days about those things that need to be addressed in the moment. I see every such moment as an opportunity for someone to learn and to grow and to stretch, namely those individuals who can only see me, and the children, as the “Other.”
What I do need, as well, is the grace to speak the truth in love, to understand the micro-aggression as ignorance, the stereotype as uninformed and the assumption as asinine misinformation.
I love the sitcom “black-ish.” Usually, the thirty minute episodes are filled with laugh generating moments.
The episode of 2/24, not so much.
The summary for that episode is as follows:
HOPE: “A highly publicized court case involving police brutality and an African American teenager leads the kids to ask tough questions, but Dre and Bow have conflicted views. Dre and his parents think the children need to know the harsh reality while Bow would prefer to give them a more optimistic view of life “
Usually the setting of the sitcom is split between the upscale home of the Johnson’s and the PR office where the father, Dre, holds a high level position. Oh, by the way, Dre’s wife, Rainbow, is a doctor. Yes, this black family is an affluent black family raising black children who have never known the hardness of poverty, the mis- education of public schools, or the mean toughness of urban streets.
But, this time, the conversation is contained inside the four walls of the Johnson home against the backdrop of a wall mounted flatscreen TV through which a talking head keeps the Johnson’s apprised of the turmoil in the community.
Life has indeed been good to the Johnson family, but in this episode, they try to come to grips with the police brutality and harassment that too often targets the black community.
Dre was raised in the hood by a tough no-nonsense father and a doting black Jesus loving mother (who really needs to stop ragging on Rainbow) while his wife was raised by interracial bohemian type hippies. This difference in background is bound to result in how each sees the criminal justice system and black people in America.
Rainbow holds on to hope while Dre “knows” there is no hope!
The struggle comes when the adults engage in the often circuitous conversation about what will happen, what has happened, what should not happen and how to cope with the potentials of possibilities and eventualities.
Needless to say, there is no hard resolution to an issue so complex.
“I don’t need some book to tell me how I feel. I know how I feel and it’s lost.” ~Zoe, teenage daughter, ” black-ish”
All that remains is the determination to hold on to hope, a concept that is more often than not too nebulous for the African American community. The Johnson’s make the decision to take a proactive stand for the right to have access to a justice that is always just, to be part of a movement even when the future is murky.
This will be a thought provoking episode for some viewers. For others, it will be a revisit to conversations they have already had in their own living rooms. For too many it will be uncomfortable and downright troubling. Others will label it black paranoia and African Americans need to get over it!
My hope us that this episode will generate conversations across those hard drawn lines of them and us, that though we may not come to an agreement, we will at least take the time to listen to one another.