Friday, January 12, 2018

Privilege and Raising Our Voices

Monday my students and I will enjoy a day off from school. While they do celebrate their time without me, I took the time to remind them today why we were off. To them Martin Luther King Jr. is akin to a president from the past, someone that was famous for doing something important. If pressed they can murmur phrases like Civil Rights Movement or that 'I Have a Dream' speech. They haven't given much thought beyond that.

This quarter my class has a nonfiction genre requirement. While my seventh graders read multiple books a quarter, there is one book required in a certain genre each marking period. This allows them to explore genres they might be unfamiliar with, but still allow for choice reading the majority of the time. For the first two weeks in the quarter I book talk books from that genre daily. Today I shared these two books with the holiday approaching on Monday in mind:

I've lost track of how many times I've recommended the March graphic novel series to people since I first read it. It should be required reading. I've book talked it before to my students, but shared it again today. 

I hadn't book talked Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer before, but knew this picture book biography in poetry format would be appealing to many of my students. I shared with my fabulous kids that one of the poems stopped me in my tracks. I know history, it was my major in college. I love learning about our past. I truly believe that a knowledge of where we went wrong can help us to improve the future. Yet when I reached the poem Motherhood, I slammed the book shut. It seems that while Hamer was having a small tumor removed (in 1961), a doctor went ahead and performed a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent. Mississippi law at the time allowed poor women to be sterilized without their knowledge. In reading this, my breath disappeared, my heart ached, and my mind spun. How was this was only thirteen years before I was born? Only fifty-six years ago? And we wonder why people are angry.

This afternoon while home for lunch I read, and shared, the following article on Facebook. (HERE) Immediately I had some friends who I love ask me why I had to keep reading these things that upset me so. They reminded me to ignore the news. That I don't need to pay attention to our government to the degree that I do, that I can just focus on all of the positive in my life. I thanked them for their concern as tears welled in my eyes.

Friends, they said that from a point of privilege. To be specific, white privilege.

I could ignore the news. My social media feeds could be filled with photos of my boys, my dogs, my husband, books, Starbucks, and sunsets. And it is, at times. 

But I am angry. I cannot be silent. I don't speak up all the time because, to be honest, it is exhausting. And I know that is me using a privilege that I have no right to use. Others don't have a choice, they can't remain silent. These actions are impacting them. Every. Single. Day. So I try. I truly do. I try each and every day to be kind. To be compassionate. To show my love for everyone I meet. 

And I raise my voice. When the President of my country uses the word 'shithole' to describe the countries that some of my students used to call home, I speak up. That is not ok. 

Politics will always be about debates. One side will never agree with the other and that's ok. But there should be a level of decency. When we fall below that level, it is my belief that both parties should rise up, should speak up, should shut that down. In my dreams we do. Lin-Manuel Miranda said it in one of my favorite songs from Hamilton, History Has Its Eyes On You. As a teacher, I'm reminded every single day that not only does history have its eye on us, but our children do too. And while I don't share my political leanings, or beliefs, in the classroom; my students know what kind of person I am. They know I would never allow name calling to happen in front of me. They know that I would never allow racist remarks to fly by unchecked. I won't for them, and I won't on social media. 

Remaining silent, ignoring the hate, is a form of privilege. I have friends that don't have that privilege available to them. I have students that don't either. And these horrible remarks in the news are directed at them. For them, for these kids I love, I will raise my voice. I can't do anything else.