Over the last few months working with a number of teachers in various places, interactions with people in social spaces, and lots of reading on race, equity, and whiteness, I have been thinking about a common theme, a colorblind theme - I don’t see color, we are all the same. This has been on my mind lately because this thinking leads to a perpetuation of the status quo in white children and their families. It is not a lesson that everyone should be treated with dignity, love, and respect, it seems more like a suggestion that all people should be like white people.
The same as what?
When we say everyone is the same, I wonder, “The same as what?” When you name something as the same, you are comparing it to some other thing. Because colorblindness is a racist ideology that allows white people to ignore race, when we say “we are all the same” we are suggesting we should all live up to the white normative standards that a white supremacist culture has designed. We are all capable of the meritocratic ideals of competition and being self-made. But, while we are all capable, are we all allowed to compete on the same track?
But no one is truly the same.
For all my years as a teacher, I can’t even count the number of times another teacher has said this - in the beginning of my career I believed this. But when you really begin to deconstruct the art of teaching and why it is such an intricate and convoluted practice it is easy to see that it is based almost wholly (standardized testing excluded - that’s a blog for another day) on differentiation and individualized student needs. Therefore, we all know deep down in our heart of hearts, no one is the same, we are all inherently different.
A teacher of a class called 3rd grade may have a group of fun and excited 8 and 9 year olds, but in that collection of students grouped together because they are supposed to be similar (not the same), we know we will find students who do not yet have reading mastered sitting next to someone who reads at a 5th grade level or higher. Yet, we don’t teach them all the same reading lessons. We build small groups and find leveled material, we scaffold material based on a student’s reading level because we know comprehension and reading are not always on the same level.
In math it is the same. In your group of 3rd graders you will have students who already know their multiplication facts working next to someone who may not know how to count by 5s. But we shouldn’t teach them all the same exact curriculum and think students lacking certain skills will magically catch up, while those that already have the skills will automatically know what to do next. Any teacher will tell you this sounds ridiculous.
So, why then do we suggest that racial literacy is different than having reading and math literacy? We are all different. We all show up the first day having different understandings of the world. It is our responsibility to stop sending colorblind messaging to our children by reframing and redefining racism and racial literacy in the United States.
What to say instead.
Growing up in the United States favors white people over everyone else. This is not to make anyone feel guilt or shame, but data across different systems (schooling, housing, justice, prisons, employment, etc…) will show that whites are ahead across the board. To think that it is because whites work harder, is a racist thought. To think it is because whites are smarter, is a racist thought. Instead, it is important to tell our children that while we all should be treated equally for our capabilities and gifts; and while we all should have the same opportunities to thrive and succeed, we do not. Telling white students we are the same reinforces these racist thoughts. Let’s speak to truth and teach students to see race, to see in justice, and to actively work to be anti-racist. Start by talking to your kids about race. They’re ready.