The academic achievement gap doesn’t just weigh on families. Teachers who are committed to more than just proving the numbers wrong also want to transform the lives and opportunities of students of color. They enter the profession of teaching with energy and enthusiasm but some become disillusioned, jaded, or frustrated often with school administration or the racialized disparities rather than students and families. Some have even wondered if their contributions have been insignificant as they seem to see no real, lasting change for the majority of their students and in closing the academic achievement gap in their schools.
I’ve worked alongside well-meaning white colleagues whose love for students and families has been extremely evident. And although unconscious, learned racism and privilege are found within the cracks of their best intentions; nevertheless, I have seen much kindness and selflessness from them as teachers and colleagues. There were times when they would learn new antiracist practices to implement in the class and would begin to see the fruit of those practices. However, their attempts never equated to the elimination of racial disparities nor gender disparities in their schools. For those who noticed and deeply cared, I saw how it took a toll on them year after year.
Many gifted teachers have departed from teaching in the urban community or teaching all together to focus on their families or other professional pursuits. I think they might admit that they were disillusioned from the beginning of their teaching profession and now have learned much wisdom after the fact. In my private conversations with them, I gathered that they were beginning to see the institutionalized problems that many students of color are experiencing. Humbled and baffled, many well-meaning white teachers and administrators cannot formulate, implement, or commit to solutions for their current students of color today that could have benefited my former black elementary body years ago left to gasp for air in a sea of white social norms, education, and ways of being called “school.”
I believe that until we acknowledge how racism and privilege are in the cracks of every relationship we have with students, friends, families, churches, and even our overly white and European perspective of how we ought to relate to and interpret God, the blinders will remain just where they are. Until white teachers and administrators educate themselves about the meaning and significance of their whiteness and its relationship with students and families of color in a way that transforms them, they will not be able to fully see, acknowledge, or interrupt the harm they unconsciously allow to enter in to their relationships, classrooms, and other spaces.
White people were never meant to think it was their job to serve, heal, and fix communities of color. It is all of our jobs to notice disparities caused by the yolk of inequitable rules and policies, and fix those unfair rules and policies instead – not the people. If the roots of systemic injustice and privilege are fixed, then all people can move, and grow, and create in the fullness of their Humanity, both white and black. For when white people don’t fight their friends, their families, their churches, their leaders and delegates to change inequitable policies but instead try to live among the ruins of racial trauma and poverty in an attempt to engage in some short-sighted missionary work of rebuilding the walls that those policies have broken, a hierarchy of race prevails and racism continues to hold up the pillars of our schools, neighborhoods, healthcare, immigration, and all areas of society.
We look back on our work only to find that we are still where we started and the disparities have not and will not be moved. If those rules and policies remain intact, and well-meaning white people continue to try to bring God’s healing and repair to communities of color, then what is left is the false idea of meritocracy and an overemphasis for black and brown students to embody resilience, grit, and a character that overcomes and perseveres as the exception in the face of inhumane policies, culturally illiterate schools, and the abuse of racism that students and families inherit from white bodies.
To believe that black bodies are mutually responsible for the harm of racism in their lives, is similar to the cruel, misogynistic idea that the victim of sexual abuse is mutually responsible for what has been done and for what is being done to them. It is the cause of a deficit mindset not within the victim but within the white gazes of indifferent bystanders.
White folks are not meant to save black and brown neighborhoods. But while they continue to try, the rest of us black and brown folks will wait to see who will save white communities, churches, and institutions from themselves.