Combating Racism in the Christian Classroom

I am always disappointed when I hear negative comments about the Christian community ignoring social issues such as racism. It happens in our churches, but we ignore it. It happens in our culture and in our world, yet we do not necessarily equip our youth to see it for what it is and do something about it.

Christian school teachers, in my opinion, are even more called to train their students to understand racism in all of its ugly forms, not as an outside entity (It happens “over there” to “some people” in “other places”), but as a continuous process of stereotyping, negative attitudes and discriminatory perceptions. Why is this part of our mission? It is an issue that it NOT political; it is a matter of ethics. Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, we can appreciate the fact that a black American has finally made it to the Presidency and celebrate that fact by encouraging our youth to take advantage of education opportunities. We can take it upon ourselves to motivate our students to develop positive identities and role models within the African American community.

As a little white girl from rural Western NY, it is difficult for me at times to believe that I have a voice in helping to stop racism. I’m tempted to just say, “What do I know about racism? I’m one of the privileged majority. What right do I have to draw the attention of my multicultural students to the dangerous mindsets that perpetuate racism? Don’t they already know more than I do about these issues?” In this sense, it is not about white or black–we all have a part and a duty to train students to see clearly. Yes, my students may have had more personal experiences concerning racism. But it doesn’t necessarily make them mature thinkers in terms of how to react to these experiences and how to pinpoint how they affected their identity and their responses to society.

The interesting part is that in one of my very multicultural classrooms, where each student comes from a different ethnic/regional background, I found my students making blanket statements such as, “Black people create their own stereotypes” or “If they don’t receive a quality education, it is their own fault.” Now that my students have opened the can of worms dialogue, how can I guide them toward appreciating African American culture? These discussions came as a result of reading Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God and I found myself growing discouraged. What is the point of introducing such a beautiful, lyrical, important multicultural text if my students just aren’t “getting” it?

The solution to this problem that I am pondering right now is to get together some of the variety of women from the U.S., Panama and other Latin American countries who have successfully established themselves in a career field. My preference would be to choose a variety of women who come from different economic brackets, who can not only speak on the African-American female experience in a way that is relevant to the novel, but can also open up dialogue from personal experience concerning racism and how it has affected them. Will this work? I certainly hope so. Feel free to respond with your own ideas or comments.

One thing is for sure in my mind. Whenever students believe that racism is dead in their particular area of the world, or that it is someone else’s problem and not their problem, we cannot in good conscience permit that mindset to go unanswered. The danger lies in pretending that simply because we do not perceive aspects of racism or that it is not as visible in certain regions as in others that it has simply erased itself from society. How can we motivate students in the black community to rise above racism and believe in their own achievement? How can we encourage students to take advantage of educational opportunities offered to them instead of thinking, “That’s not for someone like me.” How can we show that we believe in our students, regardless of their racial background?

Let’s make our Christian school students aware of the issues around them, instead of just ignoring them because we believe they might be outside of their personal experience. We don’t stop teaching the Holocaust simply because we don’t happen to have any Jewish students in the classroom, so let’s not take teaching multicultural literature for granted.

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