There’s been a lot going on in the media around race lately. And I’m still trying to process what it means for me personally and what it means for me as an educator of urban students. This post might seem a little belated, but better late than never, right? Last fall, I started thinking more deeply about race, gender, and education, particularly as I am an Asian-American female science teacher. I found it interesting that this past year, none of my students brought up Laquon McDonald, the Pulse Nightclub shootings, or any of the other incidents that were in the media in my classes (or at least, in my hearing). I wonder if any of them would have talked about Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Dallas shooting, or the Baton Rouge shooting. I wonder how to better create a space where students can both do science and talk about how they’re being affected by current events. I wonder how to help students see that science and current events are not mutually exclusive, that science and their identities are not mutually exclusive. I wonder how to acknowledge the ways that, historically, their identities might have been devalued in science classrooms and science as a field of study.
How do I talk about any of these all-too-common current events in my classroom when we’re usually just focused on particle pictures and stoichiometric calculations? How do I get myself out of the mindset of “but there’s so much stuff we have to cover!”? I feel like silence is consent, and I do not consent to a world where the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is necessary, where there has to be constant explanation for why it’s #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter. I do not consent to a world where recent violence events are not only possible but happen regularly. But I also don’t know how to speak out in an authentic way and I am so used to being silent.
How can I be respectful of my students and their identities (which run the entire gamut in terms of race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and political views- and not necessarily in the intersections you might expect)? I find this even more challenging because of my own identity as an Asian American who is only just learning about the racial history of Asians in America, who is only just learning about the nuances of the relationships between Asians, Black, and White (and I don’t quite know where to start with the relationships between Asian and Latin@). I found the paper by Claire Jean Kim on “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans” to be particularly helpful in aligning my personal experience within the broader context of the racial history of Asians in America, but I still don’t know how to talk about it with others, let alone with high school students who are also still figuring themselves out. I struggle with getting past the “don’t rock the boat” mentality that my parents implicitly passed down to me. I struggle with articulating where Asians fit into the American context without trivializing my experience or the experiences of other peoples of color. I struggle with contextualizing my experiences compared to other Asian American groups or sub-groups, because just because we’re all Asian Americans does not mean we have had similar experiences.
How do I help students see past the stereotypes of each other and also of me? I recognize that as an Asian person teaching chemistry and physics, I may be implicitly reinforcing “model minority” stereotypes. In a diverse classroom full of students labeled “high achieving”, it is so much easier to “just focus on the content”, but a part of me feels like this is a cop-out. Even saying “I don’t know what to do” feels like a cop-out. But really- where do I start?
The question that I seem to keep coming back to is this: Just because things are mostly ok for me, does that mean that the status quo is acceptable? And I’m not saying that I’ve never experienced racism- if I think about it deeply, I can identify instances of subtle racism specific to Asian Americans (“Where are you from? No really, where are you from?”) But I’m starting to recognize how silence is complicity with broader racist structures, even if I myself do not want to be considered a racist. How do I push back against the status quo- in my life, in my classroom?
I’m doing a lot of reading this summer. A friend pointed me toward a crowd-sourced Google Doc on Resources for non-Black Asians on Anti-Blackness and I’ve only dented the surface of those links (the paper by Kim I linked above is from this resource doc). I’m reading Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood. I’m listening to (reading? following?) #educolor posts on Facebook and Twitter to learn from those who are doing good work with actual students. And I’m spending a lot of time just thinking, processing. Trying to find ways to authentically acknowledge students in my classroom, not just copy-paste someone else’s methods. And, in the fall, I hope to listen to my students as well. I hope to make it clear to them that I’m still learning, but that I want to learn from them and with them.