by Alex Storm @alexstormtmt
A viral video from Oklahoma showing Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members chanting racial slurs and making a reference to lynching is proof that the younger generations of America are not beyond racism. Some people believe that millennials and younger generations can’t be racist due to our interconnected lives and the increased racial diversity in America. That’s not the case though. The boys who are implicated as the ring-leaders of the racist chant are average young adults from middle class families in Texas. Similarly, the hundreds of college students who participated in ‘black-face’ parties on college campuses across the United States are also average young, ignorant adults, who probably do not even realize the racism behind their actions.
It’s not just white students who need to be educated about race. It’s important for students of all races to be involved in these conversations, whether they are in diverse schools or not. In my classes, which are 99% Latino, students frequently say that race doesn’t matter. It’s only about Black and White, and racism doesn’t involve them. Then they will call each other by racial slurs in the hallway. The most dangerous mistake that we can make as educators is to let our students believe that race does not matter. If they believe that race does not matter, then racism in our education and justice system will be perpetuated because the growing generations will see no need to change the systems, which hurts everyone in the long run.
No matter what race a student is, it is important that they are not raised or educated to be color blind. If we, as educators, choose to ignore racial differences in our classroom or do not validate the histories of all peoples, then we are violating the intelligence and integrity of our students. History is written by the victors, and so the history that is written in the United States is written from an Anglo perspective. This limited version of history does little to acknowledge the stories from all races in the United States and outside of the U.S. They are mentioned, but their versions of history in the United States are not the perspectives that many students hear.
Teaching the history of all students is just a part of this process of teaching about race in schools. Equally important, are the conversations about current issues in our country that involve race and having honest open discussions about how our students’ different races create a different experience for them in the world. The more that students are able to hear and understand each other’s different experiences, the more tolerant they will become. Tolerance and understanding are built from gaining empathy and listening to others. If we want our students to grow up and be less racist, the only way is for them to learn about race. They have to hear each other’s stories, build relationships with each other, and see the stereotypes, that have already unknowingly become ingrained in their world view from media and/or family, shattered.
As educators, we have a moral obligation to educate our students about race. They need to learn about oppression, prejudice, hate, and all of the ‘isms, so that they can stop the cycle. We have to educate our students about the benefits of having multiple perspectives, incorporating everyone’s strengths, and recognizing how valuable everyone’s experience is, so that they create a better future in our global world.
Next week on the Modern Truth we will discuss the tools that educators can use to begin having these conversation with their students in a safe and effective manner.