The social upheaval following the killing of George Floyd is not going away. As days have morphed into weeks, the event has triggered a tidal wave of emotion, and conversation. In the days since the protests began one thing has become abundantly clear: As a country, we are collectively bad at talking about race. Our gaps in this arena have been on full display, and this is something we cannot pass on to the youth.
Our educational system has conditioned us to believe that racism is a relic of the past which is problematic for obvious reasons. The one benefit that has come from this narrative is the general consensus that racism, at least in its overt form is bad, but the main drawback is that people only recognize racism in its overt form. Moreover, it has made the topic of race so taboo, so untenable that even discussing it is something that most people avoid until it explodes and becomes unavoidable. The past two weeks have proven the “if we stop talking about race problems, it will go away” faction wrong forever, but that is not enough. We have to make sure we don’t pass this deficit on to the youth.
Teachers need to get their kids used to the idea of talking about race and not just in the history books, but in real life. Generation X and Y pretty much only talked about race when it was relevant to some history discussion that was being had at the time. This often led to us neglecting the elephants in the room. Black and white people have had differing ideas about police for a long time, and we’ve been aware of it. Comedians have made jokes, TV shows have dealt with it in episodes, and we have even had riots about it. But for the most part, the country simply waits for the news cycle to pass and for life to return to something approximating normal.
It’s also important to talk about race in the context of issues that aren’t objectively right or wrong. For example, many people would see a story about some terrible hate crime and choose to talk about that … which isn’t bad, but it’s probably not controversial, and it won’t give your students at-bats with having difficult conversations as an adult … and the latter is what we need. It is certainly important to talk about a mass shooting at a Black church. A conversation about a hate crime that is near-universally condemned, perhaps, isn’t as good of a learning experience as talking about a police shooting where the victim isn’t “perfect” and the perpetrator isn’t “evil.” The issues we are grappling with now are more nuanced than the ones our ancestors dealt with, but they are no less real.
These kinds of conversations in classrooms would be uncharted territory for most. Understandably many would be nervous to conduct such a discussion for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are afraid they don’t have the skills and knowledge to do so. Maybe they are afraid the students won’t take to it well. Maybe they are afraid of offending the parents. All of these are valid concerns, but it is important to realize that not teaching children this skill isn’t saving them from the experience; it just puts it off to a later date to theirs, and everyone else’s detriment.
Given our country’s history, it is understandable why some people would think it was best to avoid race conversations altogether. We have tried raising a generation of “colorblind” children, and it got us this. Let’s prepare generation z for the world as it is not as we wish it was.