After my last blog post about language appropriation, it came to my attention that some White teachers are experiencing push-back from teachers of color about the language that they use. One colleague in particular, Chrissy Romano Arrabito from New Jersey, reached out to me to share that there were parts of that blog that she totally agreed with, yet there were other parts that required further clarification.
We can all agree that people who hang out together and are close friends or acquaintances tend to pick up on the cues of those whom they spend a lot of time with: mannerisms, choice of words, etc.. Chrissy asked, as a White teacher whose closest friends are Black, if it was wrong to use phrases that come from Black culture?
This might sound like an ignorant question, but it was a sincere query from a sincere White woman. There are White teachers who seek to learn, not to offend; however, according to Chrissy, during this post-election season on social media, White teachers feel attacked when they ask questions about race. Black teachers appear dismissive and frustrated. As a White teacher who teaches all Black students with mostly Black teachers, she feels like she’s walking on egg shells. She doesn’t want to “mess up” and say the wrong thing. I wonder how many other White teachers feel this way? Does this resonate with you?
I’m so glad that Chrissy reached out to me. I explained to her that there tends to be a large portion of White America that likes to take on the creative contributions that Black people bring to American society without sharing in the burden or helping to right the wrongs that have been inflicted upon Black people. I can’t lie — that tension that Chrissy feels from Black people exists. We are frustrated. We are overwhelmed. We are constantly schooling White people and after all these years, they still don’t get it! They still don’t get us!
My conversation with Chrissy evolved and we ended up speaking a lot about race relations in America and in American schools. We both agreed that the majority of White people in America don’t speak out against racist policies because they are fine with things the way they are. They just don’t care what happens to people of color. Their white privilege hinders their empathy.
What should White teachers, those who really care and want to make an impact, do in response? Many White teachers who fall into this category feel paralyzed. They don’t know what to do or say out of fear of saying the wrong thing or fear of jumping on a band wagon or fear of showing their Whiteness (yes, she’s been accused of that!). I don’t believe that Chrissy is the only White teacher feeling this way. I didn’t know exactly what to tell her beyond suggesting that she use her white privilege to help Black students and teachers address racial prejudice in schools, the same way White abolitionists used their elevated station in life to help eradicate slavery. How else can Chrissy and other white teachers help us to positively address racism?