Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Minority Report

I'm back in the inner city schools this year.

Accordingly, things have changed.  Gone are the beginning-of-the-year swag bags from the PTA.  (Gone, for that matter, is the PTA.)  Gone are the disability advocates, the helicopter parents, the fully-functional technological equipment.  Instead, I'm back to the familiar business of...triage.  Children without shoes.  Families without electricity.  Disconnected phones.   My daddy's gonna shoot you.  Mommy's asleep.  We haven't had a working printer since February.

It should be shocking, but unfortunately it isn't: I spent the first three years of my SLP working life in an inner city system in another state, and poverty is poverty is poverty.  It actually -appallingly- feels comfortable: a return to business as usual.  It's amazing (amazingly horrible) what you can become inured to over time.

But one thing is different, this time around.  Inner city systems tend to serve students who are predominately African American.  In Indianapolis, smack in the middle of one of the whitest states in the country, a majority of the teachers and other school employees were white.  In Richmond, out of 160 preschool staff, I'm one of only 5 or 6 white members. 

It's been interesting, watching myself react to being one of a few.  I've become suddenly, acutely aware of all of the mostly white environments I've been inhabiting unthinkingly, without any sense of the privilege that attaches to being part of the majority.  Now, in the minority, I feel conspicuous, instantly recognizable, unable to blend in or fly under the radar.   Today, a woman who got a glancing look at me from 100 feet away during introductions was able to pick me out of a crowd, probably because I can be IDed with a simple three-word description: "that white girl."'

It's no wonder that the only folks who believe we live in a post-racial society are white. 

Certainly none of them teach in the inner city schools.  Segregation is alive and well, folks.  We just pretend it's not.

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