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Hard Conversations

March 5, 2012

Photo by Laura Slotkoff

By Audrey June Davidson, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Sarah T. Reed Elementary

The historical trajectory of institutionalized racial inequality is a loaded topic no matter who you are talking to—but when talking to my students about it I can almost feel their paradigms shifting. By being completely honest about my own difficult upbringing, I’ve been able to break down some of my students’ ingrained misconceptions about “white people,” such as “all white people have money” and the like. Nevertheless they sometimes treat me like the exception to a rule. In fact, many of my students refuse to see me as white at all, but refer to me as “red” instead.

A few weeks ago, I was assisting in my students’ social studies class while they were watching a film on Black History. As I was walking around, one of my students said something very troubling to me—“Miss Audrey, when I get older I’ma get a shotgun and shoot all the older white folks I see.”

I responded, “So you’d kill my parents?”

“No, they don’t live in New Orleans. The white people here are racist. There needs to be justice for all the bad things white people did to black people back in the day, like slavery and lynchings.”

“I know those things were wrong, but there is no way for you to know whether the people you kill are the ones who did anything wrong. Not all white people are racist, or else I wouldn’t be here right now. Violence will only perpetuate more violence and hatred. The only way to make anything better is to have conversations like this.”

“But it isn’t fair what they did, “ he responded.

“I know, but the people who did that are not the people you’d be shooting.”

While I’m not sure what conclusion he has come to since this discussion, I do know it has made him think about it more in-depth.

Earlier that week I had had a very different conversation about race with two of my high-achieving girls. I began by asking them if they knew what the Civil Rights movement was. They were familiar with the word, but didn’t quite know how to define it—they just knew that it was important. I was surprised to find out that they didn’t know much about Civil Rights History—even things that happened in their own backyard, like the story of Ruby Bridges. I told them if it weren’t for Ruby Bridges and the Civil Rights movement, I wouldn’t be able to be at Reed Elementary. They seemed glad about that and proud that such important things happened in New Orleans. Toward the end of our talk, one of them said something that both made me laugh and gave me hope—“ I’m not racist. You know, there are a lot of mean white people out there, but there are a lot of mean black people too! And you’re so nice Miss Audrey!”

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 6, 2012 1:34 pm

    Thank you for your service! I am originally from the “racially divided south” and being of mixed race I too have come into contact with bold blanket statements such as these. I believe it is unfortunate that students make observations of race relations in their communities at such a young age that shift their perspective to have such negative views toward an entire race of people. It’s comforting that you were able to take the passion/rage of your students race issues and expand their thinking thought education.

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