It would be so easy to stop caring about race.
Yes, I can only say this because I’m White.
Yes, I can only say this because I’ve been so tempted so many times.
It would be so easy, and I wouldn’t even have to make a big deal about it. I could still be passionate about things, still be an advocate for kids and schools and still write about what it means to be a teacher. I could just stop doing that one thing, let that one thing go.
Plenty of people wouldn’t even notice. Plenty of people would be relieved. Plenty of people would like my work more, would be able to support what I do without adding caveats about how “not afraid of controversy” I am.
It would be so easy, and I feel pressured constantly to do so, to stop caring about race, just for once, to stop writing about it and sharing articles about it and bringing it up in meetings and emails. To drop it.
It’s not all pressure, of course. I get a lot of credit for talking about racism as a White guy. I get a lot of attention for some mediocre-ass takes on good ideas I was dragged to, kicking and screaming, by people of color that have been doing this work for way longer and have faced real consequences and real harassment for doing it.
Still, as a White guy with a White family and a whole bunch of White colleagues, there is a constant uncomfortable push to just give it a rest every once in a while. “It’s not always about race,” says a family member on Facebook. “The equity stuff is just another fad,” say the teachers online and in meetings. “The race stuff was a bit much,” say many reviews of my book, “but the really impactful parts were…”
It would be so easy for me to stop caring.
I already go through most of my day mostly unaware of how my skin color is impacting my experience. I shop without hassle, drive without fear. I worry about where my daughter goes to school, but know that as a White girl she is likely to be well educated and cared for and encouraged no matter what building she goes to every day.
It would be easy, so easy, to imagine that my experience must be everyone’s experience, if only they, like me, acted like it should be.
So, it sometimes almost works. I am a constant “but what if I’m wrong”er. Sometimes I let myself be convinced that maybe race isn’t as big a deal as we’re making it. Sometimes one comment hits me just wrong, or sometimes I’m just so tired, or sometimes I just want to enjoy that movie I liked as a kid. Or I get pushback the other way—the White People Woke Olympics way—of “your post about puppies is problematic in these ways” way.
When I get to that point, there are a few things I do to remind myself:
Listen to People of Color: In order to believe that racism and its impact are not an immediate and enormous threat to people, you need to ignore the stories and perspectives of millions of people of color who are telling us White people that it is.
Be Conscious of Privilege: Sometimes, I will sit back and think about the day or week I just had, and imagine what may have been different if I was a Black man instead of a White one. Or I will look through the news, or flip through TV shows thinking the same thing. I—and I don’t think I’m alone here—struggle to be constantly conscious of what it means to have White skin, and it is sometimes hard to imagine the absence of harassment or of expected emotional labor. That’s why I find it important to slow myself down now and again and look hard for how my privilege impacts my life. Once I start looking, really looking, it’s really hard not to see.
Look at a Timeline: Take any of our largest institutions: schools, policing and imprisonment, politics, entertainment, sports, labor. Take a brief walk through its racial history. If it was racist 200 years ago and 100 years ago and 20 years ago, is it so hard to imagine that it is racist now? In fact, isn’t it pretty unlikely that after hundreds of years of impossibly oppressive racism in our country, racism that has constantly shifted and adapted to new laws and new systems, that we figured things out like 10 years ago and everything is OK now?
Quit Being so Fragile: Because here’s the thing: So much of the resistance I feel and fall prey to about race and racism has to do with the fact that it is super, super uncomfortable to talk about and feel. I don’t want to feel guilty. I don’t want to feel like my teaching or my writing or my house or my family or anything important in my life has come about because it was denied to someone else, or that it was easier for me, that I didn’t deserve it.
Behind the intellectual arguments, behind the rolled eyes and the exasperation, there is a wish for a world in which racism did not exist, a wish we White people sometimes imagine can happen if we just let it go. But the discomfort we feel in addressing racism, the defensiveness we feel when we lose even a small part of our expected privilege, all of that is bullshit compared to the tragic, violent, constant harm that racism is doing, especially when we decide not to look.
This was originally published by Tom Rademacher on Education Post’s blog. Tom (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called “IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” and you can order it now.