Friday Before MLKDAY

What did that student ask me? 

When substitute teaching, often the room becomes so loud and rambunctious I start to feel flustered. And in the midst of the chaos of the last hour of school…what in God’s name did that Black teen just ask me? 

Something about 

is the racial tension between Black and white peoples more important than other issues more broadly? 

How did he phrase it? It was like an idiom…

He said it twice but it didn’t stick in my head cause of all the chaos. But the way this teen asked this question about race had me full stop. Pull the chair from the empty desk next to me and Sit down to think. For a moment I forgot about the noise, forgot to pay attention to what all the other students were doing. I thought thru my answer in front of the loud middle schoolers.

“Well, I’ve spoken to at least one cop who said the media reports on police brutality when it’s a black person being hurt but they rarely report on it when it’s a white person, but it’s happening to both. What I understood from that conversation is that police brutality is the main issue however the media is exacerbating the racial tension within the issue.” 

The questioning student sits on the desk near me, sitting somewhat above me, patiently. Everyone’s standing around, preparing to go home, playing, joking, laughing around the room. Sitting low, in this forest of growing students, I think his question thru aloud, “The “media” is how we have large group conversations. The media, social media, these algorithms, the internet, they’re tools of communication that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. In that space we often communicate more freely than we might in person and for whatever reasons, for many reasons, the conversations are continually being driven towards race and racial issues. So it’s worth honoring that inclination. I think if we ever want to be “post-racial” or whatever our collective goal is we have to center it as a conversation and address it head on. A lot of people, groups, institutions, etc are doing this work, have been doing this work.” 

I asked the teen what they thought

And they told me. I hope they write it down. It was profound and seemed like they’d been thinking about the topic for a while. I don’t want to give away their ideas so, in short, they’re glad it’s at least better than it was and have hope that it’s something that can continue to get better. 

“We’ve a lot of hope for your generation,” I told the teen, the young royalty who sat before me on a throne of desks. “You grew up in better conditions, not so segregated, not so scared of “the other” and that’s a deep advantage many people didn’t have, that are still healing from. We must be gentle around the conversation and yet if we have the advantage of living in a time when we can have these conversations openly than we must. We are obligated.”

The bell rang and I wish it had not. 
A teen’s perspective of race in the Americas 
is an essay book I would buy and pay a tax on. 

This is one of the rare moments in life that afterward, I wish someone had taken a picture of this group of students and I philosophizing about race and coming out of the room optimistic.

Amidst the chaos of the last bell, What did that brilliant teen ask me? 

Is the racial tension between Black and White peoples more important than social issues more broadly? Police brutality, climate change, poverty? 

Yes and no. These are interconnected issues. We can’t address one without addressing the other. Can we solve climate change by talking about race? Not entirely, however, we can’t solve it without talking about it.  

Our social conversations are being driven towards racial tension and we must question that thrend. We must honor the inclination to talk about racial issues like it’s a tingling in our chest. We gotta talk about it. We must talk about it openly in person too, like this teen did. 

“That you (the teen) approached me (a flustered white lady) with this topic with such a curiosity and such a sense of ease gives me so much hope. I’m so grateful you opened up that conversation. Your question gave me a lot to think about, thank you.” 

And you dear reader, what do you think? Thanks for reading with your eyes, ears, and hands. 
Raise [the youth] peacefully,
Anne Arkhane 


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