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Racism as a Barrier to Teaching: Reactions to Moyenda

The Unknown's picture


I couldn’t help but thinking whether or not a white racial autobiography could be written. Are there not enough or no limits to the culture of “whiteness” after someone’s skin tone has been accepted in society?

            Who is the audience when talking about racial issues? Who should be educated? Who is listening? Who is talking/writing?

            I thought it was interesting that when the author spoke with her mother, the writer’s mother could only remember events where the author’s mother questioned/ spoke up/ challenged racism. I don’t know if we suppress what we are ashamed of completely.

            Though this piece is obviously primarily about race, I found it interesting the way the author incorporated how genders were separated from a young age.

            I do not necessarily agree with some of the sweeping judgments the author makes and the lack of sympathy for anyone else’s opinion, but at the same time I appreciate her conviction and fortitude. For instance, in the first story, concerning the girl who pulled the author’s hair, I would imagine this to really hurt, and definitely enough to scream, yet the author undermines the “blonde girl’s” feelings: “I was startled when she shouted, all too dramatically, “Owwwch!’ as if I’d pulled a fistful out of her head” (Berlak and Moyenda 19).

            However, I do find the teacher’s response racist, unprofessional, ignorant, and irrational: “The teacher looked at me and said, ‘Stop it! Stop it right now. I won’t have this in my classroom” (Berlak and Moyenda 20). I interpreted this statement to mean that the author did not belong in the classroom and that perhaps people of color were not included in the class.

            I was angry that the school did not inform the author’s mother of the incident and that to “avoid” racism they simply dismissed the issue. “Not in a community trying to portray itself as committed to ‘multiculturalism” (Berlak and Moyenda 20). In order to give off a “multicultural” façade, the institution ignores racism. The school’s image was more important than how racism impacted the main character or what could be learned from the incident. The teacher’s response also encouraged and “taught” racism by showing the students that people can and should be treated differently depending on their skin color and even if the other students did not understand that message at the time, subliminally their interactions with people of color might be damaged.  

            Another issue that the author raises is that in many situations people of color do not have authority and their words do not carry as much weight or are as influential in creating change as white people. There is this notion that people of color are “spoiled” or are born with incapacities and there is no interest in educating them. They are helpless. There is little acknowledgment about how often people of color are reminded of their inadequacies and how large of a role that plays in their success and confidence or lack there of. There is no justified failure for people of color: “But to my mother, being neat and clean in the office workplace was far more important than dressing in style. ‘Never give white people any excuse to accuse you of not being professional” (Berlak and Moyenda 26). Any deficiency or mistake reflects people of color’s character and people are not judged based on their morals or even previous actions, but the assumptions that are made about his, her, or their race. Also, the author suggests that white people will use racism in its many accepted forms to hinder people of color’s success.

            Also, though it is important to recognize how often the author’s mother defended and stood-up for her daughter, many people do not have the time or the energy to constantly combat the many forms in which racism manifests itself. The mother has to “toughen the author’s skin” in order for the narrator to navigate life.

            “But her focus was distorted, bitter, and racist. It prevented her from performing her duties as a teacher. In fact, she dishonored the profession” (Berlak and Moyenda 24). One can be a racist and a teacher; being a racist impairs judgment and prevents people from seeing systematic problems and how they relate to individual circumstances related to race.

            The author also brings up this idea that white people feel entitled to access people of color’s intimate and personal questions, but that what goes on in “white” or upper-class culture is a secret and is hidden from people of color.

            “If you teach me betrayal, I’ll learn distrust” (Berlak and Moyenda 25). I think it is important to recognize that this story is about discovering, confronting, and facing the consequences of racism. As a white child, my parents did not have to “warn” me about racism or ruin my innocence by explaining that I would be treated unfairly and not receive the same opportunities as many others. 

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