Friday, May 8, 2015

Student Voices on Race and Poverty in America

Sometimes people's very close minded, usually conservative views, really annoy and upset me. Most of those posts are insulting to a friend, a student, or a family I know. Social media really seems to bring out the attacks from liberals and conservatives alike. With the recent events of Ferguson and Baltimore, being that I am from Missouri and a former resident of Baltimore City, my newsfeed is a minefield lately of political attacks.

I also recently had a conversation with someone this past week that even though she meant it in a very innocent, non hurtful way, I thought about how she probably wasn't very different from some of those that just have no idea. I had said something about going into Baltimore next week, and she went on about how the city always terrified her. Then remembering that we lived in the city for almost seven years and have taught mostly immigrant and minority students she said something about how the city must not intimidate us in the same way. I imagine us and the majority of our friends out here, which are pretty much all Baltimore area teachers, perceive things differently. We get labeled as liberals and told we're the ones that are going to ruin American society (yes, I'm referring again to that awful claim I heard a few weeks ago).

So I am going to attempt to play mediator here. The first thing is I am all for self accountability. Remember some people in society are treated the way they are treated not because of their race but because of how they act. Even with everything going on in our society right now people have to remember that people do need to be held accountable for their actions no matter which side of this issue they stand on. The youth torching Baltimore should be held accountable in some way, but others need to realize that's a small representation of Baltimore's youth even though society will want to label them all as thugs.

There unfortunately, will also always be people in power, who abuse that power, and again for the officers doing that they should be held accountable. However, it needs to be remembered that the majority of officers put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect all American citizens. We cannot strip our officers of their power as an answer to this problem because as much as I try to shed light on the misunderstanding of today's youth part of the problem is as a society we have given them too much power without limits and boundaries as it is. If we excuse what the youth did to Baltimore as an acceptable reaction to years of frustration and oppression, we are feeding to a larger problem in which we give our youth power and make adults powerless.

All that being said my students have written multiple times in reaction to Ferguson and now Baltimore as we've read about slavery with Frederick Douglass and the time between the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement with the Harlem Renaissance. What I want to share with you are some lines from some of their work. Remember next time you post something about race (including white cops) , immigrants, poor people that you're talking about somebody I know personally.

Here's the thing they see. They see a society in trouble because we still have a level of "separate of equal" in our society, they see in their peers a youth that is out of control and misguided in desperate need of direction and mentors, they see the division that is becoming ever increasingly clear in America between the political differences on wanting to move forward with equality and opportunity and those that want to continue years of oppression.

Excerpts from my students' recent poetry writing assignment from their Harlem Renaissance unit which we were completing at the same time as the Baltimore situation.. They may not be the greatest poets and maybe didn't quite follow the guidelines of the assignment, but I think their messages are worth hearing.  In every class you have those that want to complain about things but they're the same ones that act out and want to know why they are treated the way they are treated. These are students though that are good hard working well behaved kids, and their voice does deserve to be heard:

Voice 1
"Sides are chosen, and allegiances are bred
Emotions run high, face flushed, all is red
All look at me, hatred clear in each eye
here I find myself, my intentions misread"

Voice 2
"Poverty holds much more of her people
And those on top kill those in need
A burning fire of lies take minds
causing discrimination of a certain people"

Voice 3
"I found a new life
at seven years of age
we came to America

what I saw was greatness
and the joy felt nice
but what we had come to
all came at a price

For we weren't so free
for once I was called a 'terrorist'
it seemed all the joy had left
and I all always remember this"

Voice 4
"The whole of the rainforest, such a connected environment
Communities tattered, yet no connection of people
The function of the forest reliant on every link
Communities struggling, yet reluctant to connect
In the rainforest peace can't be broken
In America's techno interconnected first world society
can't some togetherness be taken and healing be spoken?"

Voice 5
"Did one dream to be labeled inferior?
Did they dream to be racially profiled by the one that feels superior?
Welcome to the land of hope
But will everyone get their dream...nope"

Voice 6
"The boy across from me
Proceeded to tell me the truth
about the skin I was in

He didn't mean to hurt me or see me cry
But I began to ask why
Why was I so dark, and they were so light
That's when I learned about this thing called race"

Voice 7
"I just wanted to fit in
But I was just the poor girl
They mocked and laughed
I wish I could go back now
and stand up for that girl"

Voice 8
"People make their snide comments
like we can't hear
But we don't care
Us mix children walk along
we know that we are different but we carry on"

Voice 9
"As long as things are good we believe it
She tricks us because she is ashamed
that after everything
parts of her haven't changed
songs of poverty and injustice still we sing
land of the free; home of the brave
she saved so many others but herself she is struggling to save"

Voice 10
"White and black we all cool
why discriminate I don't know
grab a hand and lets go
we need to integrate and learn
that love is kind and doesn't burn
whether white or black you don't need a card
just take them out on the boulevard"

                                 With Ferguson and Frederick Douglass we wrote Letters to the Editor and then students used the sticky notes to engage in "conversation" with their peers writings about race in regards to the recent events.

Recent Posts

How do Moms Cry

May is Here


No comments:

Post a Comment