Black lives matter. I say it, and I wholeheartedly believe it. I always have. I have never considered myself “racist”. But I am learning something from the huge outpouring of emotion being voiced and displayed at the rallies going on around the country right now: I don’t know what I don’t know.
I am white. I am female. I grew up in a middle-class family in a middle-class town. I went to a predominantly white high school with all white teachers. I was taught [white] American history and [white] European history. I heard about Rosa Parks real quick, and Martin Luther King, Jr. real quick. But that’s just it. Those lessons were real quick, and then the teachers, probably by no fault of their own, moved onto the next lesson in the textbook: something else about someone white.
And that’s exactly how I remember my “history education”, from elementary school right through college: a whole bunch of stuff about a whole bunch of white people who did a whole bunch of things. There was also Rosa Parks, who was a total badass, and Dr. Martin Luther King, whose I Have a Dream speech is still motivating and being referenced by civil rights leaders, 52 years after his assassination.
I remember next to nothing about the white history I was taught, but I was interested in the tiny bit of black history I was taught.
I can’t tell you the names of many famous white people in the history books, or even the names of my history teachers, but I learned the names of these two black people.
I was terrible at history. HATED history. Time had a magical way of standing still when I was in history class. I could not pay attention to save my life. But looking back, the few times I was able to engage was when the tiniest bit of black history was taught. I didn’t know I wanted to learn more about black history at the time, but in hindsight, I did.
And apparently, I was denied that opportunity. The curriculum taught in my schools didn’t expand upon these people any further than the one or two pages in the textbook. My teachers most likely couldn’t have elaborated much more even if they wanted to, because they weren’t taught anything beyond the surface level of black history either.
This is the problem.
When I look around, I don’t see many people that I would consider racist in the traditional sense. Everyone I choose to associate with believes that black lives matter, that we are all equal, that we should all be treated the same. But what I am realizing is that despite all of our good intentions, we have been conditioned to be ignorant. Conditioned ignorance:
“Conditioned ignorance is the new modern phenomenon, which is self-evident in many countries and cultures. It helps people minimize the complexity of life, but keeps them in perpetual ignorance of certain values, problems and areas of knowledge, without which they become cogs in the wheel of life and remain prisoners of commercial, political and ideological interests, beliefs and values.” (Conditioned Ignorance, The New Social Trend)
We are ignorant to the subtle racist messages all around us. Our minds have been trained to filter out these messages and not give them a thought. That is not OK. For me, it was not my teachers or family who instilled in me a subconscious bias. It was the media. TV shows portraying the stereotypical black American family. Magazine ads and album covers showing black men as gangsters. Movies with just one or two black characters who are poor, academically-challenged, or the class clowns. Shows where the black men are the criminals. Or the stories about black Americans who were in unfortunate situations but worked so hard to find their way out of them. That’s great for them, don’t get me wrong, but where are the shows and stories about successful black Americans? Or even just an average black American family – without stereotypes?
That’s the part of racism that I wasn’t seeing until recently. The hidden messages sent by the media. And I am angry that my schools failed to educate me about this other culture that is speaking up so very loudly right now. I am angry that I, and most of my peers, fell victim to the media’s subliminal messages, allowing racism in America to continue in a different form.
So this is where I stand: I acknowledge that racism is still a very real thing in this country. I am ashamed of that. I have learned a lot about black stereotypes from the media. I have learned a lot of real information about black people and cultures from my students. And I am fortunate to have a number of colleagues who are passionate about creating change in our school and community. I want to know more, I want to be better, and I want racism to end. I stand behind my students of color and look to them to help educate me, since the system failed to do so.
Most importantly, I look forward to a time when our country is not “accepting” people of color by expecting them to look, act or behave “white”. Equality does not mean changing one person to be resemble another; it means accepting and celebrating each person exactly the way they are.
Conditioned Ignorance, The New Social Trend, www.hinduwebsite.com/editorial/conditioned-ignorance.asp.