'I didn't know...'

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

To say I am white is an understatement. There are so many privileges afforded to me because of that, but one thing that I don’t see as a privilege is the ignorance we have been given regarding our history.


“I didn’t know.” While true, this doesn’t excuse me from knowing the truth about the past. It is unfortunate that we have that privilege, because it prevents us from understanding the impacts of the privileges we have that are advantageous to me because of the color of my skin.


I wonder if as a white teacher, do you know any of the following events or facts:


The Tulsa Massacre - For me, I didn’t learn that this event had happened until the spring of 2020. I didn’t know.


Chester, Pa Race Riot - For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. I wasn’t surprised (disappointed, yes) to know that these sort of antiblack violent acts happened in Philly, but to learn that they also happened in the next town over from me? I didn’t know.


I was speaking to the black man who is one of few people of color (POC) at my predominantly white institute (PWI) who shared with me that the learning some of us white teachers are doing has caused us to say, “I didn’t know, and I am so sad, why didn’t I know?” His gut response was, “I have known this for my whole life, how come you didn’t know?”


BUT


I didn’t know.


I recently read the book Waking up White, and Debbie Irving shares the history of the GI Bill, where Vietnam Veterans were given loans for education and housing, which allowed white people to acquire property far easier than POC were. I knew there was discrimination regarding how POC were not sold homes in redlined areas, but I didn’t know that there were government policies and programs also aiding this segregation as well.


I didn't know.


I also listened to the audiobook of The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, which describes how the Drug War was created specifically to mass incarcerate POC over white citizens. There are different penalties for crack and cocaine. The same drug, but one is/was considered the white man’s choice and the other was what predominantly POC were using. I didn’t know.


These are just a few of the things I didn’t know (along with what PWI meant). I can no longer sit back and just say, “Gosh, I didn’t know - they didn’t teach me that in school.” NOW I know I don’t know, and it is my responsibility to learn about what I don’t know. I am an educator, and if I am educating others, I NEED to know.


I encourage you to make a similar goal. We’ve NOT known too long, and we are not allowed to just be the nice white teacher anymore, we need to see our students of color, really SEE them.


NOW you know!


Here is my list of some really great resources - I have started working on some of these myself, and I hope you decide to open one or two for yourself.


Resources - email me if you have any ones I should add!

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