When my daughter CB was in kindergarten I spent about 2-3 hours every week volunteering in her classroom. I wanted to get to know her classmates and be part of her first year of school. The teacher was a good sport, he gave me interesting things to do with the kids, and I got to know all of them pretty well.
The class had 18 kids, 12 boys and 6 girls, mostly white, but five of the boys were black. The teacher, who was pretty young, and the teacher's aides, who tended to be older, were all white, as am I. I never thought much about it.
But then I started noticing that the teacher treated the black boys much differently than the white boys, reacting much more harshly to the same behaviors if committed by the black boys rather than the white ones.
The teachers' aide, a very nice woman, became almost a different person when working with the black kids. She would assume they couldn't do the project or assignment, and would often just give up. I'd step in and could see that these kids could do the projects just as well as any of the other kids in the class.
But the most memorable event had to do with a substitute teacher. She was white, probably in her 30s, from a suburban area. She was very uncomfortable with the black kids.
When one of them did something or needed some direction, she acted like she was afraid of them. In fact, I could see that she was afraid of them, the expression on her face was one of fear, almost terror. These are five year olds we're talking about.
She asked me to deal with them, which I did. I knew the kids pretty well by then, and they knew me.
What has stuck with me from that day is the fear on the face of this woman. A fear of five year olds. Because they were black. That really opened my eyes. I realized how naive I'd been.
From that moment I began noticing a lot of things that we white folks are used to not seeing, not recognizing, or ignoring. How black kids are treated differently, in a negative sense, by the white adults in authority. And of course other kids notice that.
One day my daughter came home from kindergarten and said, "the dark-skinned boys are bad." At the time we were shocked that she'd say that, but I realized that she was just saying what she was seeing. The adults in the room treated the black boys as bad, and so they were bad. White boys who did the same things were merely mischievous.
Most white Americans reportedly think that racism is a thing of the past, and that we live in a colorblind society. Any continuing disadvantages experienced by blacks must, by this logic, be their own fault. And we shouldn't even really talk about race, because, the thinking goes, that is what perpetuates racism.
We live in the US Northeast, in a town that is very liberal. No one is openly racist. Yet the attitudes of white adults towards these black children reflect an ingrained racism. What I saw in CB's kindergarten class was real. And it showed me that if most white Americans believe racism is dead, then most white Americans don't understand how insidious racism continues to be.
And of course part of the problem was me. I did not stand up to any of these people and call them on their racism. Thinking about it now, some of them were probably not even aware of what they were doing. I know that they would have been extremely offended had I pointed it out. Since I was a new kindergarten parent, I was overly cautious on this and on other issues. If it were now I think I would have reacted differently.
But would it have mattered?
All of these school district employees had been through "multicultural and diversity training," meant to make them sensitive to issues of race and class. But it didn't seem to help. I know groups that advocate for children of color in our town, and they are frustrated with the school district administration and much of the school board. The administration and board are all good white liberals, and they just don't get it.
I don't have an answer. But these personal experiences have led me to see that the bottom line is, the race problem in this country is a white problem.
Reposted (slightly revised) from daddychip2.