06 June 2013

Teaching Moments

Yesterday, my vitals were up. Tense muscles, fast pulse, furrowed brow, and a hurting heart.

This blog post by Teaching Underground popped up on my feed. I felt he wrote sensitively about this incident.

My mistake was to go on to the YouTube video.

What struck me first was the title that BTW21News used, “City Councilwoman Hodge stands behind comments that made local student cry … .” So far, viewing the clip, I did not see a student cry. While this may have happened afterward, it weights the posting and prompts an immediate emotional response.

No one wants to be responsible for making a child cry, but I could sense her frustration and hurt in the first part of the clip as she questioned the use of a “small black person” as the “before knowledge” symbol. The subsequent interview did not serve her well, and unfortunately, the station did not interview others in the community.

That said, the community responded with comments filled with hatred, insensitivity, harsh words and more. As Teaching Underground pointed out, there were few people in support of this councilwoman’s viewpoint. No one seemed willing to put themselves in this person’s shoes.

The comments pulled me quickly back to the community where I grew up. I remember the use of the words in my neighborhood as a child. When someone was mad at you, you were immediately called, “nigger.” When others wanted to put me down, I was called “Chinese” or when they became more informed of the news, “Cambodian swamp rat.”

This became the subject of conversation last night at the dinner table. The kids and I talked about “bad words” people use to disparage one’s race. I mentioned the words used in my childhood.  As soon as I said the word, “Chinese,” my son began to tear up.  Now, I had made him cry.

The mere mention of a seemingly innocuous word had brought back words used to describe him as a kindergartner in Virginia. While this word is an ethnicity and seems harmless, an inflection can change the meaning.

While the children in the video did not mean to offend, the history of race in the South, and this Councilwoman’s personal history in Martinsville, Virginia, should not be discounted.

A friend of mine has a great philosophy which I shared with my children last night. These are teaching moments. Unfortunately for this Councilwoman, she is trying to teach in a community where her subject is not accepted. But that shouldn’t stop us from the work at hand.

When presented with the word “Chinese” used in a hateful context, my children will know to say, hopefully without tears, “Actually, I am Korean. South Korean. It is a country in Asia, and a peninsula near China, but not China.”

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