Racism 101:

5 Jan

Racism 101: Are Hispanics: The New Race?

One day in class a young African American student raised his hand and asked a question.

“Mr. Picone, I just don’t understand it. Why are white people afraid of me?”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Wherever I go, whenever I see a white person or they see me, they always look scared and afraid. I don’t get it. What did I do?”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that we don’t always have the answers to questions that students ask, even though we want to have those answers. It’s been over 30 years now and I still don’t have the answer to that students question…and I still wish I did.

Teachers know that when it comes to life, there is always more to learn and perhaps one of the most confusing and complicated problems in the public schools involves learning what to do about the complicated problem of racial inequality and injustice that is still plaguing our society today…and yes, it still is a plague on our society.

And just when you think that the question of racism in the public schools couldn’t get more complicated a new race comes to town! Now the question is are Hispanics white or black?… and who cares? Are racists simply people who believe in races? After all what does the division of people into “races” really mean? Aren’t people just people after all? Your nose belongs where mine does, right in the middle of my face! Eyes, heart, liver, lungs, legs toes, you name it and we’ve all got one…same number of bones and muscles too and all in the same places on our bodies and all interchangeable! Even our blood! In fact the only thing that really separates us is our blood type and the only thing that can really identify us, one from the other, is our DNA. Isn’t everything else really all just about looks? What races would exist in a land where no one had eyes?

What we have learned in the public schools is that when young children first go to a school with a culturally diverse population they may first notice that there are different skin colors and different faces but as they interact they quickly understand that kids are kids. Pre school and kindergarten teachers know this also. There’s no “race” of children who know how to share or play fair or smile or make friends better than any other children. They all have to learn the basics of how to interact and get along with one another, just like everyone else.

So my question is: with all that children need to learn and with all that adults need to teach, then why do we still insist on teaching them about races and differences when we should be concentrating on our sameness and shared needs and shared interests? Over my 33 years in teaching I have had many Hispanic students tell me that they don’t consider themselves “white” because their white friends aren’t being profiled and asked for identification papers and threatened with deportation, and they don’t consider themselves “black” because their black friends aren’t being profiled ID’d and threatened with deportation and they don’t consider themselves Asians because (you can see where I’m going, right?)

So, do we have a new race?

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18 Responses to “Racism 101:”

  1. lasesana January 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Very interesting and thought-provoking article. Being Latina myself, I have always dealt with this question. My father is Italian, and in Colombia (where I grew up), most people would consider me “white,” however, here in the US, I am definitely not considered white… I would not consider myself “black” either… but as you said: does it really matter? I’m a person, and that should be enough! Great piece

  2. John January 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    For me this is a religious issue. God made us all the same. He sees not color but what is inside that matters. Little kids of any race all play together and it’s beautiful, I have seen this so many times. Then we ‘grow up’. Or do we… Humans can be so shallow…

  3. Seyi sandra January 6, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    Great and interesting article, red blood runs through our veins, either we’re white, black, yellow or green! So, we’re all the same!!

  4. NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE January 6, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    Great article. You’re right, that’s one of the toughest questions to answer, at any age. And, I have my own reasons, suspicions, etc. why people of all ages are that way…focusing on the differences instead of the similarities. However, on a day-to-day basis, I handle all this “race stuff” this way… God made all of us… black, brown, red, white, bronze, tall, short, mentally or physically handicapped, or whatever, regardless, if someone wants to try and degrade, run down, make fun of or demean something God made, well, go right ahead; I will not have anything to do with that, or be a part of it. I have enough to answer for as it is.

  5. Judith (Guion) Hardy January 6, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    Since we are all “blank slates” when we are born, when do children start to discriminate and who teaches them? It isn’t obvious so it must be very subtle. Is it through the mainstream media? Our textbooks? Our friends? Our parents? I pray for an answer before this divided house falls in on itself.

  6. alesiablogs January 6, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    My son has moderate to severe autism and has never shown signs of racism. He has two wonderful autistic friends. One is Asian and the other fella is African American. They are all mentally delayed. Am I suggesting a person should be autistic and mentally delayed to see people for what they are? Of course not. But I will say it is something to ponder as we grow what we are feeding in our heads that make us think the way we think. Is it a parent telling their child about race issues? Is it a teacher teaching a certain way? Is it one’s own peers that look for conformity to be a part of “their” group? It is a very complicated social issue. There is no one answer, but a multitude of thoughts that could be explored. For now, I say if folks would be more like my son and his friends, we would all be better off.

  7. aurorawatcherak January 6, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    It’s a great thought and I wish it were as easy as that. Before the election of Barack Obama, I thought it was that easy, but now I know better. Sadly, I think we still have a lot of work to do to put racism to bed. I think most Caucasians are not racist. There are still a minority who are, but most of them have learned to keep it to themselves, skinheads notwithstanding. I find racism is still very much alive in the perception of minorities toward whites, however. Is it possible this student is projecting his own perceptions on these people? Or is he scowling at people so that they think he means to do them harm? If he’s intimidating them, then the fault lies with him, not with them. Because whenever someone makes an “always” statement like that, I can’t help but think they’re the problem more than the people they’re meeting. If you expect racism, you’re going to see racism in everything even if the people around you are not actually being racist.

    For the United States to become a truly post-racial country, minorities are going to have to let go of racism just as much as whites have. And that has not happened … yet. I know it can. Forgive the past. Move forward into the future. Check your own preconceptions before you judge others and maybe you’ll find that you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

    I learned that worshipping in a multiethnic church for 30 years. There is no Jew nor Greek. God sees us as people, not black or white, just people. He holds us responsible individually. We’re not guilty of our grandparents’ sin. We’re guilty of our own. I don’t have to answer for the thoughts of some man across the country I never met. I can only answer for me and that’s all that God (and my fellow believers) require of me.

    • Susanna January 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      I completely agree with your post in that everyone, minorities and majority alike, have to learn to forgive and move on. However, I disagree with the idea that the minority is projecting this, and that these children should be expected to make some sense out of something that is nonsense. Children can’t understand this and they way they are treated shapes who they become.

      Minorities can indeed become somewhat “paranoid” about racism but it’s not because they are born feeling discriminated against. It’s because there is a constant barrage of hostility – whether subtle or overt- that is displayed . No ,it’s not “everyone” but if it’s pervasive enough your radar goes up. Majority people have often told me I’m imagining it but they haven’t experienced it and wouldn’t understand the subtleties.

      I spent many years feeling maybe it was my fault and the end result was it hugely undermined my confidence and I believed that I was not worthy of equal treatment and respect. I didn’t know what it felt like to be treated the same as everyone else. After I moved out of the area to where I was more in the large majority did I understand the true extent of the racism – it was even worse than I thought. No, I wasn’t imagining the subtle and overt racism. It was real, and the people who told me I was imagining it were contributing to the problem. It is, in essence, “blaming the victim”.

      “You can’t really know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes”

  8. motherhoodisanart January 6, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    This is an interesting post. My children are half Hispanic and with all the forms to fill out when they start school there are the boxes that have to be checked for race (white, black, asian) and then a separate box to check if they are Hispanic and what form of Hispanic (Mexican, Latin, etc)…I’ve never understood why this is so important to the school and what difference it makes. At home we have talked a lot to our children about how everyone is different and about the beauty in that. We also talk to them about their heritage and eat a lot of Spanish food explaining that these were the foods their Grandma made. So even though we want them to embrace everyone we also want them to know about their Hispanic background. I hope we aren’t sending mixed messages.

  9. shunpwrites January 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Great post… From a young age it has always been my contention that the concept of race is the dumbest creation ever concocted by man.

  10. momshieb January 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Great post, and very thought provoking.
    One of the most interesting projects that we do in our fifth grade classes is that we have the kids paint self portraits using acrylic paints. They spend quite a bit of time trying to match their skin tones before they start. I love the conversations as they realize that the “white kids” can’t use white paint and the “black kids” can’t use black paint. They all eventually come to the realization, as one child put it a few years ago, “We’re all basically different shades of tan and brown.” The same conversations happen with eye color, and its then that they see that the “white”, “Asian” and “black” kids (as well as the many middle eastern, south asian and few hispanic kids) have truly mix and match eye colors.

  11. jeangarrell January 6, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    As a few others have said, this article was very thought provoking. My first point is that there should be no distinction between any race except in medical situations. What I mean is that there are certain diseases or illnesses that are known in only certain races ie: only african american individuals can have sickle cell anemia. I come from a medical background and I have children and I live in the South. My children have questioned the color of someones skin many times because they were literally a different color.Asking things like, why is their skin brown momma? My only response was and always will be that they are a different color because God made them that way.That is the only reason that they needed and we all have many friends of different ethnicities. With that being said, there are some people out there who are completely ignorant and believe that the color of a persons skin defines who they are. Unfortunately, racism is taught and it is up to the teacher who in these cases should be the parent, to teach the right thing. That we are all people and that we are all essentially one big family. The Human Race!

  12. jeangarrell January 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Reblogged this on njgarrell and commented:
    Very thought provoking blog.

  13. dbpigtail January 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Indeed, as everyone has already stated, a very thought-provoking essay! I see the blank-slate in my son, who is not yet five and in Pre-K. All the kids just play together and it doesn’t matter what they look like. As he is my oldest, I’m curious, at what age do children learn to notice race? I try very hard in my household to teach that all people are equal, but there is a lot of negativity out there and I can’t shield my children from those views.

  14. cielotech January 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Hello ipledge. Fascinating post. I agree with you completely. I live in the south ( Tennessee ) and there still does exist a degree of racism–not only toward blacks but Hispanics. This is difficult to dispell eventhough we have made every effort to teach our three children and five grandchildren that racism must become a thing of the past. No exceptions. It must be very difficult as a teacher. Again, great post.

  15. Winston January 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    A post racial society isn’t about ignoring racial and cultural diversity, it’s about embracing it. Hispanics aren’t a new race, they are just the latest one to be targeted for profiling and other forms of discrimination.

    Being aware of a persons race isn’t the same as being racist. My friends have diverse ethnic backgrounds. Some are black, some white. Others are asian, hispanic, arabic, native american or what-have-you. They are all proud of their racial and cultural heritage.

    We don’t need to go around pretending everyone is the same. The key is simply to accept our differences and allow others to be who they are.

  16. inkspeare January 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Hello, thank you for stopping by Inkspeare. You have a very thought provoking blog. I never understood the concept of race; to me, species describes us better and puts us all in the same boat. I am of hispanic or spanish origin (depending on which side of the hemisfere I am talking about), with ancestors from Spain and Canary Islands but born in Puerto Rico (a USA territory). I am very fair with brown eyes, and most of my family is fair with either, brown, green, or blue eyes, however, according to standards, I may not be considered white. The whole concept of race is neandertal in my opinion, and very non-intelligent. When I am asked where I am from (mind that I have lived in the USA more years than what I lived in the country where I was born), I usually answer, what do you think? I have been told italian, polish, egyptian, french … and tons of other countries, which only tells me that the whole concept of you have to look like “your race” is totally silly and for lack of a better word, plain stupid.

  17. elroyjones January 11, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    I agree that we should concentrate on our commonalities but I hope that we will include our different traditions so that we don’t lose the creative aspects of our various cultural legacies.

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