Thursday, July 16, 2009

Steppingstone Journal

I thought I would share an entry from Steppingstone Journal:

Entry #1
We were examining John Howard Griffin’s groundbreaking memoir, Black Like Me, when I became momentarily distracted by my skin. The Steppingstone students, nearly all Black or Latino, were telling me what they presumed I wanted to hear. I think Griffin’s story does a good job of telling the Black experience in the south. One young Black woman, clearly with the cynical gene common of all races, mumbled her disagreement with the speaker. I prodded her to elucidate—making sure to use that particular word because it was one from the vocabulary list.
“I don’t think he can tell us the Black experience in the south. He isn’t Black. He only looks Black.” She spoke timidly, and I think my over-the-top response shocked them all. Of course Griffin couldn’t really tell us the Black experience. He could tell us what happened to him; he could tell us how he felt about those experiences; but, he couldn’t tell us what a lifetime of Blackness could make one feel or see in the world. I went on to validate his attempt, a white man trying to help the cause of Civil Rights. The great white hope, I thought. And that’s when the irony of the whole thing hit me.
Here I am, a white teacher who grew up in the white suburbs and went to a white college, encouraging these Black and Latino students to distrust the motives of John Griffin, because after all, he did want to sell books. As it turns out, I didn’t convince many of them that Griffin had devious intentions. It speaks to the humanity and naivety of my students. They have yet to grow jaded.


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