Thursday, August 5, 2021

I Am Not ‘Woke,’ But Neither Am I Asleep

I didn’t want to write this post. I told myself I would not engage; that I could focus on instructional reform; that these issues could remain separate. But the continued misrepresentation of Dr. King’s words and life, the brazen shouting of unlearned and unread fools entering the space to criticize and delegitimize a line of academic inquiry with tweets of “CRT killed my cat” and the continued refusal to do any inch of reading has pushed me over the edge.  

The twitter-left with the Kendification of DEI is misguided, but my fellow reformers, so are you.

It is not lost on me that the reform movement sees me as understanding, a breath of fresh air, and whatever else which is code for bothsidesism. I must be very clear: I am not that girl. The twitter-left with the Kendification of DEI is misguided, but my fellow reformers, so are you. I’m not “woke,” but neither am I asleep. I am very much aware and you can not put me into a rigid whitewashed box. 

A colleague of mine recently said that the stories we tell are never innocent. With every story we tell, whatever slant or interpretation we give, everyone has a narrative they want to put forward. We look at narratives, interpretations, and see: what else might be happening here? Critical race theory, much like any number of critical frameworks, simply put, asks us to consider the other side of the story and pushes us to dig deeper. It is not a curriculum, a set of lesson plans, a list of bullet points to commit to heart with a Marxist beret on our heads.

Critical race theory, much like any number of critical frameworks, simply put, asks us to consider the other side of the story and pushes us to dig deeper.

What would you rather say when we look at history and literature? 

“Yeah, these were really racist times, but America is amazing and we’ve learned from our mistakes”

We integrated schools to a success!

Boston Bus Riots and “crisis” 1974 – 1988

We are even a stronger nation than before when we don’t focus on the “divisive” things, like history.

Sure, Jan.  

Or would you rather we continue in a style of the quiet racism of someone like Lorraine Hansbery’s Mr. Lindner, so with his clear understanding that “a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have a neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way?” Just institute a few legal documents, a few racially restrictive covenants, enforced through mob rule and intimidation and bombings.  

I mean concerned neighbors. Oops. 

From “How White Housing Riots Shaped Chicago”

But of course, there’s something that’s just wrong with black culture right? We’re inclined to violence, we have fatherless families, we don’t care about education even though we literally founded our own universities because we weren’t allowed to study at yours. Right?

You are wrong. We are not deficient. Tell the story AND the other story. 

You are wrong. We are not deficient. Tell the story AND the other story. 

  • The story America tells is “liberty and justice for all.” The other story is that my ancestors were enslaved and in chains. 
  • The story America tells is “we, the people.” The other story is genocide and land theft. 
  • The story America tells is that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and sweeping social reforms. The other story is a majority of African-Americans were unable to partake in many of these programs. 
  • The story America tells is “equal opportunity for all.” The other story is the system being less than accepting of anyone on the margins and yet us succeeding in spite of what the system was designed to do.

Codes of power are often subtly used to communicate that non-mainstream culture is less attuned to excellence or success, that in order to be successful we must forget our roots because there is something inherently wrong with, especially Black culture. As someone whose family is not “of the mainstream,” and who had to learn the codes of power embedded in it, I now teach my students how these codes work. However, there is a significant caveat in my decision to do so.

Racism is real and it has significant consequences that are designed to keep certain groups of people out.

I have lived my entire life battling the problem of the color line, living in and between the margins attempting to defy what my ZIP code and background were supposed to conclude about me. I now teach my students how the system works. I do so not because I think middle-classness is better, or because I want more of us to enter the bourgeoisie, but because racism is real and it has significant consequences that are designed to keep certain groups of people out.

Racism is deeply embedded in society and I want my kids to have the best chance they can to change the course. In order to do this, I must confront the reality that there have always been two Americas, and I can choose to pretend the mainstream does not exist, but I thus ensure my students do not pass into it.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Jasmine’s Blog.
Jasmine Lane
Jasmine Lane is an early-career High School English teacher in Minnesota. She has a master’s degree in education, is licensed to teach 5-12 English Language Arts, and is an advocate phonics, knowledge, and evidence-informed teaching practices. She blogs at jasmineteaches.wordpress.com

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