Old, white, but beginning to understand

Ray Alonzo,
St. Louis, MO

I am 70, white, and a retired educator of college and high school-age students. During my years in the classroom, (1982-2014), I watched amazing fluidity in attitudes, beliefs and actions with my students. They taught me so very much.

When I first approached my college podium, “Shaft” “Blackula” and other black exploitation films were all the rage. Afros had pretty much been abandoned for dreadlocks and “fades” with my black students, my white students had begun accepting any length of hair for anyone, and for a long time, I didn’t have Latino or Chinese students. I mean, they were in my classroom but I saw them as “white”, just a part of the two cultures I recognized at the time. What a dope.

So now, I understand some things. All people are different. People that look the same may have different cultures. Some cultures have had great trouble even being recognized.
And most chilling of all, I realize that if I were a black high school student today, I would be angry ~ ALL the time. Over the years I made many well-intentioned but misguided attempts to demonstrate my inclusiveness. I’m sorry. I don’t believe understanding is ever something you “get”. It’s a life long process and you’re only as good as your last interaction with anyone who isn’t you.
My students knew I cared for each of them as individuals. There were many I couldn’t reach, but I tried. I wish I knew then what I know now. I’m still learning everyday and sometimes I can see both sides of a confrontation. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you try not to judge, but when you must, do so slowly.
Thanks for listening.



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