We need to stop telling young people what they shouldn’t say or do and start teaching them — and ourselves — the social and emotional literacies they need to challenge the way they see themselves and each other. (…) Only then can we hope to turn homophobia from an easy insult to a powerful analytic tool for mining our own fears, insecurities, and discomforts with difference. – Mary L. Gray (“Stop Blaming Dharun Ravi: Why We Need to Share Responsibility for the Loss of Tyler Clementi”)
The good news: Teachers can play a critical role in the move towards racial consciousness and, yes, harmony. – José Vilson (“Trayvon Martin and the Implications for Teacher Perceptions of Students”)
As my son pulled out of the parking space in the center of Amherst, my wife and I waved goodbye. I knew it was not his first time driving alone, but it was the first time I’d seen him do so. I had spent many hours sitting next to him, silently communicating my faith in his driving – and in the Commonwealth’s judgment in recently granting him his license – by periodically reading articles and blogs on my iPhone. I trusted that he was well prepared and knew he used good judgment. Nonetheless, I had a totally unexpected moment of panic as I watched him go. I struggled to keep my facial expression undisturbed and continued waving; he turned and very briefly waved back before refocusing on traffic.
Soon after, I was off on a run. I grew up in Amherst, and once a year or so visit the neighborhood where I used to live, circling back to my parent-in-law’s house via my old elementary school and UMass. On the way, I decided to check out the next neighborhood over and see what new streets and houses had been put in. A short ways up the road, I came upon a father carrying an iced coffee walking with his young daughter who was pedaling along on a bike with tassels that nearly dragged on the pavement. I smiled at them; the father looked straight through me and kept walking.
I thought about how much more than just a street or two and several dozen houses had changed through the years, and not always for the better. And not just in my hometown. The gender wage gap has been increasing for the past decade, and over a thousand pieces of legislation have been filed in the past 18 months to seize control over women’s bodies. Racism is more out in the open than it has been in years, whether the blatant profiling in the Trayvon Martin case or the more subtle colonial attitude of the Kony2012 video. The latest findings that merit pay (one of the centerpieces of the so-called “reform movement”) favors white men disproportionally just add to the impression that those of us working for equity and a society truly respectful of all are losing ground.
As these thoughts and others swirled through my mind, I passed the house where one night I hid in the bushes while a bunch of us neighborhood kids attempted to scare one of our friends who was babysitting. I knew it was wrong, but preferred to quietly opt out rather than confront the others. That house is nearly opposite the house where the principal of the Junior High School used to live. When I was a senior in high school, and working after school for credit as an aide to a Junior High French teacher, I was early one afternoon when a younger kid set off a cherry bomb up the corridor. Another teacher emerged from her classroom, grabbed me by the shoulder, and marched me down to the principal’s office. I will always remember how the principal took one look at me, trembling and on the verge of tears, accepted my version of what happened without question, and told me to go on up to the French classroom.
I continued my run; as I passed my childhood home, a young woman out with her child smiled at me and we exchanged a greeting. Maybe – well, certainly – I had been reading too much into that first encounter. Assumptions can be dangerous.
To get from my old house to my old elementary school by the shortest route, you cut through another neighborhood and then walk next to a field for a while. As I approached the end of the road, I hesitated. It’s one thing for a ten-year-old to cut through someone’s yard to access the path, it’s another thing for a grown adult. In my uncertainty, I simply kept running. At the end of the road was an unfamiliar but well-worn path leading over to the field.
Sometimes, if you just keep going, the way becomes clear.