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That I Can Do

chess 7

My daughter and I took a “Photo Walk” today. With camera and iPhone in hand we did our best to capture the world around us. Sometimes I see more when I am moving. Sometimes I see more when I am not. We were successful in capturing many of Nature’s majestic beauties. From butterflies to flowers to palm trees to the occasional lizard.

But one scene in particular grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. The thing is, I had walked past it many times before this day. And while it was always worthy of a glance, it had never gotten me to stop and stare as it did on this particular day.

I sat down beside it to get just the right shot. My daughter was forced to wait. Contrary to what the photo depicts, she survived.

The photo of the chess board above was what stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the size of the pieces that caught my attention. I had seen large boards before. It was the color of the pieces that provoked me (I am aware that they are almost always black and white. But this was different).

All black pieces opposite and opposing all white pieces.

It made me uncomfortable.

To me it represented much of what I see in the media. And believe me, I watch virtually zero television. But I do stay informed.

As a middle class white male I am aware of the fact that the world is very different for me than, say my black friend, who still gets stopped while driving, simply because he is black. I watched Jessie Williams’ speech the other day and was moved and awakened. I don’t have anything profound to say about the speech nor do I feel as if my interpretation of the speech would be appropriate.

Back to the chess board.

I don’t like looking at it.

I don’t like what it awakens in me.

Out of nowhere a voice hollers, “TOO BAD!!!”

I have friends that are racially profiled, I work with children that face discrimination daily and I live in a country in which citizens are subjected to unfair treatment, sometimes resulting in death, simply because of the color of their skin.

But then I read the quote below by acclaimed journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates and I become aware of the fact that I have much to learn.

What we want is a kind of colorblindness. We think that’s the answer. But colorblindness isn’t the answer. Color isn’t the problem. Racism is the problem. And being conscious of racism is the solution.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The last two schools in which I have worked serve predominantly black students.

I can’t afford not to know. What exactly I am not sure. But I know that I don’t.

So I look for answers by attending seminars, reading books, watching movies and listening to music. And I begin to feel as if I have a better understanding of what it means to be black. As I finished typing the previous sentence, I realized how absurd it sounded. Just because I can bob my head to the same music doesn’t mean that I hear the same song. And I might not ever. And that’s okay. But I should at least be willing to sit and listen.

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This past year I have gotten very good at shutting my mouth and listening. And learning. I do the best that I can to learn the stories that I know nothing of. I listen to my students when they are angry and I listen to my students when they are mad. I give an ear to parents when they want to vent and I give an ear to parents when they feel that something isn’t fair. I have gone to their homes and I have walked their streets to try and get a better understand of the setting in which my students’ stories take place.

And while I realize there is no way that I will ever know them all, I won’t stop trying. I will continue to listen and learn as many stories as I able.

That I can do.

One comment on “That I Can Do

  1. khall10909 says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jon. I agree with your assertion that we, as white people, do not have s true understanding of the black experience. I try to keep this in mind in my classroom. Being colorblind would make such a profound difference.

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