Letters: Why I Don’t Just Color In One Crayon

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Dear Random Commenters and Viewers of My Blog,

In my last post, I contended, from personal experience and other sources, that Black and Latino males were definitely needed as participants in schools across the nation, especially in the role of teacher, head figure of most people’s experience with school and the man or woman in the front lines of this proverbial war. While it may be true that the teaching field needs more teachers, a point I alluded to somewhere in my last scribe, I find the particular dearth of males of color within the school systems with a high percentage of people of color a bit troubling. Many of you corroborated this theorem, from Henry Thiele who provided this wonderful article along the same lines to Sharon Elin who provided this great comment about how the lack of balance and experiences in the urban school setting in terms of sex, gender, and race often leads to an instability amongst the students. In the writing, I hoped to achieve a semblance of objectivity and pragmatism in my line of thinking.

Naturally, some of those who read were quick to say “Why you gotta make it racial for?”

Even without saying it directly, the way some of you reacted shows some troubling trends and why this issue is an unspoken passion for the tons of people who retweeted, posted, and e-mailed my post all over the web. And in no way am I angry, mad, pissed, or even disappointed. I’ve become matured in this dialogue to take offense to this sort of thing. Plus, some of this comes from people who I actually respect for their work. Thus, I write this as a piece for thought. Here’s a list of burning and non-rhetorical questions to consider:

1) How much does my own skin color affect my decision to write this post? I sort of mean that question tongue-in-cheek: there’s a direct correlation between my personal expertise in the topic and the reason I wrote it. But I’m puzzled by a caveat in this matter: I was mentioned as an African-American writer when the original blog was linked. While well-intentioned, I feel that those who aren’t comfortable with race issues use very PC terms to not offend me but end up making a gross generalization anyways. If the person said Black, I wouldn’t be offended. Not that I’m offended by being called African-American either, but if he had read the whole post, he’d see in the first line nearing the end of the post, I clearly give an identifier to my background. This matter is a whole ‘nother post in and of itself.

2) Why do some of us try to generalize an issue when there’s a discussion about a specific group of people? For instance, if we were discussing the disparate rates of pay between men and women in the same position, where women may get paid anywhere from 10%- 25% less on average for the same positions men hold in the United States, it would be implicitly chauvinist or even sexist of me to counter-argue  that everyone’s wages are either staying on level or decreasing as the US as a whole has become mired in debt and other monetary ailments, because it suggests a fatalism about the disparity, as if there was MORE equality when the economy was in better shape. In the same way, I think after bringing up the need for more Black and Latino males in this country, bringing up that we need more teachers in general sounds at least avoidant, as if tackling the issue at hand would be too much.

3) In turn, how can anyone of any color expect children to be interested in the teaching profession when they’re dissuaded from becoming teachers by their primary teachers? In a way, I understand: the school system has a way of making too many teachers scapegoats for the very deceitful policies that ostracizes too many of our talented and bright youth. No one wants to work in a place where all of the blame and none of the aut0nomy goes to the teacher. Conversely, I can’t understand how the solution to this problem is to boycott the profession. Unlike any other business of employ one boycotts, vacating education positions has and continues to have devastating effects on the lives and images of many underrepresented youth. Those in more affluent neighborhoods and better school systems see the value in education because a) they see people just like them and people who support them actually showing them how to become successful in very meaningful ways and b) they have the appropriate funds and structures in place to facilitate success within their edifice. I’d be dumb to say the same about some of the school systems in which we work.

But not once did I think to myself as a teacher, “My job is useless. Why even do this?” Never once did I back down when my mom, who probably thinks along the same lines some of you think, said, “Why even do this?” Even when people put me through hell, fire, and brimstone to see if I could stand the heat of an nontenured NYC Teaching Fellow, I never once told myself, “I think I’ll just quit tomorrow.” Maybe a couple of times, I felt like blaming myself for not being able to push all 90 students into the stratosphere where I think they belong. I just couldn’t see myself going up to someone with my aptitude and attitude about children of color and telling them, “Teaching? Just don’t.” Rather, I mentor as many as I humanly can, answer as many letters and e-mails as possible, comment on as many teacher blogs as possible, and maybe even do an interview or two, just to make sure people like me continue to pursue the classroom, even if it’s for a 5-6 year stint.

I’d never ask any of you, my readers, fellow teachers, and those interested in education, to color me in any crayon besides the one designated brown. As a Black Latino, I have my own set of experiences I share with no regret or remorse. I also just don’t see myself settling for anything more than true progress. Many of you continue to inspire me with your actual concern about the plight of urban students as I mentioned before. I encourage anyone who’s truly committed to helping children succeed to get into education to do so. Hopefully this letter clarifies the backbone from which I speak. As we expect our students to raise their hands and respond to our questions and speak from their own expertise and experiences with the material we present, we teachers have to do the same with what life deals us.

And even having said that, something still itches me about this issue …

Jose, who had an Audre Lorde moment a few hours ago …