Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Surprisingly Moved by a Human and Not the Arts

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

The most intriguing part of our Saturday trip was the mural arts tour. A lot of feelings and questions came up for me as we drove from one mural to the other with our tour guide.  I was curious and somewhat taken aback by our tour guide who was also a former teacher in the public education system. If we think in terms of power in our society, his identity as a white male symbolizes the epitome of white privilege and supremacy. So, I was really surprised when he choked up while reading a student-written poem about despair and the harsh impact  inner-city neighborhoods have on the minds and actions of young people. I was touched that he was touched and so, as I tried to play it cool and not tear up from the break in his voice, a streamline of questions popped intomy  mind. Why did he care so much as a white man about students of color and this neighborhood? What reaction was he trying to get out of us? If he cared so much, why wasn't he still teaching? What exaclty moved him about this student's words...voice? Did he see a reflectionof himself? What's his background?

As these thoughts flooded my mind, I grew ashamed of them. Why did I need to inquire into his past in order to validate his sentiments and excuse his whiteness? If he had revealed that he grew up poor or, perhaps, that his mother was actually latino or black, why did I need to look for characteristics that merited his behavior?  I didn' t like that I needed to know more of his past--it wasn't enough that he taught inner-city youth--to fully feel comfortable with both his and my reaction. I guess part of me really wanted to believe that people with cultural capital genuinely want to connect to and find it necessary to work alongside--not save--less privileged people regardless of race, class and gender. I truly believe our tour guide was the closest example of this "fairy-tale-ish" dream that I sometimes fear will never become a reality.



HSBurke's picture

I am thankful here your

I am thankful here your interpretation and appreciation of our guide's emotional display. I saw it a little differently. My impression was the he was mourning for the way his neighborhood used to be and lamenting it's physical and social deterioration (a point that the student poem clearly addresses). This came through, for me, in his focus on the location of old synagogues and landmarks. However, your post let me see things through a different lens, one that correlates better with the guide's background in education and current career with Mural Arts. So thank you!