Recently I visited an Advanced Placement English Literature class in a predominantly black high school in south
I asked if the visit was an exchange. Did the black students have older members of
This need is not based on black teachers being necessary to teach black history and highlight the nuanced emotional struggle that our existence has been – although that would be nice. This need is based on the experience itself. White kids need the fundamental experience of being taught by black teachers. It is a component of their lives that is largely missing. They need the experience of sitting at the foot of a black person who serves as the conduit between themselves and some specific and valuable body of knowledge. The human experience of having someone guide your mind from a point of ignorance to understanding is tremendous. It evokes an extraordinary amount of humility, respect and admiration. For that very reason, the best teachers are iconic figures in the lives of so many people. Not only do these teachers command the utmost respect, they facilitate their students’ respect for themselves. That self-respect is based on their confidence in their ability to learn, to move from confusion to clarity. That is the missing experience for white kids. They do not experience what it is like to have a black person serving as a foundational component of their self-respect. The completeness of their identity and their confidence in their ability to learn and know has nothing to do with black people. Period. They have not been lead to some greater human understanding or cultural appreciation while holding a black hand and relying on a black mind.
The Jewish students’ visit highlighted this discrepancy. The black students came away from the experience feeling enlightened. They were left with a greater appreciation for Jewish history and more importantly, a deeper understanding of their own emotional capacity to contextualize human suffering and embrace it even if it is not their own. The Jewish students became a stone in the foundation of the black students’ growing awareness of their ability to learn and their self-respect. In contrast to that, the Jewish students left feeling good about themselves with a heightened sense of generosity that they had been able to share their history with others and help them understand their painful and inspirational past. The black students did not contribute to their sense of self-awareness or help them broaden their appreciation for the experiences of others. The Jewish kids were not forced by the story of the black students to engage in the humility required to contextualize Jewish history by considering someone else’s. The Jewish students missed the opportunity to learn from them and for the black students to become an element of their self-awareness.
The brother whispered, “they ain’ really interested in us.” I do not quite agree with that. I do think, that we are not really involved in them. We are not involved in the development of the emotional and intellectual mix that is their substance as human beings. In that respect white students are shortchanged. They generally lack the experience and value of having black people be components of their identity. Unfortunately, there is no test for them to pass that requires that experience.