Let’s Talk Race for a Second

Dear friends,

  1. A chino is a cheap dollar general store that sells a little bit of everything.
  2. My co-teacher sprung an article on the students about shootings in Baltimore.
  3. A student said the n word in class.

As I sit here thinking back through this week, I realize there’s been a common theme tying together events that have happened to me and what I am learning.  I’m not sure what the theme is exactly, but I do know it’s related to race and racial tensions. I didn’t go looking for it; it just happened to surface, beginning on Monday.

A student calls me over, Teacher, what does this word mean? It’s in a n*gger song.

I stop in my tracks. 

The Fulbright Orientation had warned me that students throw this word around, having learned it from lyrics and not knowing what it means or the weight the word carries in the United States. So I took the opportunity to talk to the student about the word, to be careful about using it and why, for a good five minutes. I think he got severity of the word’s meaning. 

La ofendí, no? Se nota que la he ofendido/I offended her, didn’t I? You can tell I offended her, I overhear him tell his friend.

But the point is not that he offended me. I fear more that he will offend someone else. I fear more that he doesn’t know the history, the pain, behind the word. I fear more how he might use the word, knowing or unknowingly. It’s complicated. 

A few days later, just before another class. My co-teacher hands me an article about shootings in Baltimore, Maryland. I scan the article and see words like black, police, and arms

I had the students read the article and we talked about it. Maybe you can do a presentation about police shootings and racism in the United States, she suggests. 

We’ll blast it, I wish I’d been there for the initial reading and discussion. Students are already nervous about US police brutality reports and shootings related to race, not to mention the elections. My teacher says she’ll give me a copy of the article and time to talk about in the upcoming weeks.  My thanks goes out to Teaching Tolerance for the resources to help me prepare to do this. 

Then, right before leaving school on Thursday, I ask my co-teacher where I can buy items for our school Halloween party next week.

Oh, you can just go to the chino. 

The chino?

Yes, it’s a store where you can buy things. It’s inexpensive. Do you know where it is?

A chino? Why do they call the local dollar general stores chinos? There wasn’t anything remotely Chinese about it. No decorations other than the sign. No employees who were from China. She didn’t know either. 

It is a puzzlement. 

I don’t think it’s bad that these things have come up. On the contrary, it gives me the opportunity to think, ask questions, do research on my own culture even. In my opinion, these are topics worth talking about, which is why I’m sharing them with you. I’m not sure about answers, and it’s not always easy to talk about, but definitely worth it. 

Thanks for reading.

We’ll keep you posted,