As part of my teacher education program, we frequently spoke about race and ethnicity and how they impact our teaching and our students’ access to a quality education. We were frequently asked to think about our own racial/ethnic lenses and the biases we carry with us. Much to my disappointment, my nearly all white, Midwestern, middle class fellow classwomen would insist that they carried with them no prejudices.
One peer in particular serves as a standout memory. In our first big class of the program, our professor asked us to think about how we see race. This young woman raised her hand and stated, “I do not see color when I look at my students, I just see my students; I am racially color blind.”
Nearly every single other student concurred with her. I did not. I raised my hand and explained that I, too, see my students when I look at them, and that is why I see their race—it is a part of them. We cannot control what our students bring to the classroom with them, but we must react to it in order to address our students as whole individuals. That includes their own self-perceptions as it relates to their race and ethnicity and the prejudices others place upon them.
I have never cared for it when people have told me that they do not see race (or acknowledge ethnicity whether visible or not), they just see people. I often interpret the statement as meaning, “I do not want to be seen as treating them differently, so I’ll just pretend they are white.” In my mind, it legitimizes the forced assimilation process of minority cultures into the majority culture rather than acknowledging what others have as being viable and valuable.
It is understandable that it is uncomfortable for white, “non-ethnic” individuals to acknowledge that others are different from them as throughout history differences have been misused, exaggerated, and even completely fabricated in order to make racial and ethnic superiority a credible creed to live our lives by. However, differences in race and ethnicity result in different experiences and different perspectives. If I mentally strip my students of these things, I devalue them as the individuals they are.