As some folks feel a need to debate if it should be #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter I’ve seen some wonderful analogies to help them understand why BLM is happening. One person wrote about attending multiple fundraisers for breast cancer cures. She said no one comes running in to those events screaming about the importance of colon cancer or skin cancer or some other disease. Another described someone going to see a doctor for a broken bone. The doctor addresses that bone, the doctor doesn’t say, “Well, what about all these other bones?”
I have absolutely no doubt that every life does matter, every life is special. I also have absolutely no doubt that some lives, in our society, are not seen that way by many. I’ve heard enough people talk about my students and my students’ families to know that their lives are not as important to many as they should be.
Most of what I hear people say is so common, so typical, I think many people wouldn’t even notice.Comments about ‘these students’ need or ‘these students’ should or ‘these families’ don’t. Sweeping generalizations that begin with ‘these students’ or ‘these families’ should be a red flag. If what follows those two words isn’t something you’d say about your neighbors or your friends, it’s time to pause and rethink the statement.
I’ve admitted before to my own racism. I’m not proud of it but I am reflective enough to recognize it. I can feel it as I skim through Black Lives Matter protest photos on Flickr. I see images of young black men standing up, arms raised, energizing a crowd and I can feel two emotions. One is positive, a feeling of excitement and hope that this is happening. One is fear of a powerful, young, black man. I can recognize that fear and fight it. Or I can pretend it isn’t there. Pretending doesn’t help me. It allows my bias and racism to continue without a struggle.
As a teacher my racism is not a matter of life or death for someone. I’m not armed. I don’t have that sort of power. That’s true for the great majority of us. Our racism won’t directly endanger the life of a person of color. Our racism is more subtle, it’s danger is more insidious, harder to fight in some ways. If I hold lower expectations of a student because of their skin color or their socioeconomic status or the way they talk or the music they listen to or how they dress, that’s dangerous for them. It’s not as visible. But it is harmful.
I’ve just begun reading Christopher Emdin‘s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. On page 10 he writes:
For teachers to acknowledge that the ways they perceive, group, and diagnose students has a dramatic impact on student outcomes, moves them toward reconciling the cultural differences they have with students, a significant step toward changing the way educators engage with urban youth of color.
I’ll suggest this statement speaks far more broadly than just urban youth of color.
We are still a society that values some more than others. I think that’s been true of all societies for centuries. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we are different, better than those of the past. We have a long way to go to truly live the idea that All Lives Matter.