A picture showed up in my Facebook feed in February. Two eggs: a brown egg and white egg cracked open on a plate, shells visible, the whites and yolks displayed. A “cute” analogy to show students that even though we are different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside, and that’s why we should all love each other.
As well-intentioned as this Facebook post is, it, and others like it, glosses over deep racial inequities and promotes, rather than reduces, colorblindness, thus further perpetuating the very racism it is supposed to curb.
The bottom line: we need to rethink the egg demonstration.
Comments like “I don’t see race, I only see kids” or “Let’s focus on what brings us together” or simply reducing the solution of racial inequity to ambiguous words like love or peace are examples of colorblindness or being color neutral. Colorblindness is a term that describes the assumption that racial differences don’t matter and that everyone is equal.
However, racial differences do matter, and things are not equal. One simply needs to read and listen to people of color to discover that being color neutral is not living without racism. In fact, being color neutral is itself a dangerous form of racism.
Before you tell me you are not a racist, hold on. White people, in general, think racism is an individualistic thing. However, it is much more than that. Over time, white people, like me, have insulated themselves and made race an individualist act. We skirt around issues of race and often minimize race because we think it doesn’t affect us and that we have done nothing to perpetuate it. In reality, racism is a structural system of which we are all a part. It is insidious, pervasive, collective, and, if you are white like me, you have a part in it. (If you want to read more about whiteness, Robin DiAngelo writes extensively about topics of whiteness and racism in her 2018 book White Fragility.)
In our predominantly white schools and classrooms, we rarely talk of racial differences. If we do, we have the tendency to address them during certain months of the year and then not bring them up again. Or we study only certain iconic figures in history, limiting our students’ knowledge of people of color to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. These choices to study when and who we want is due to our white privilege and its dominance in our society. We only discuss it or think about our whiteness when we want to. Hence, this is why our students are graduating from our Christian schools with a limited and problematic knowledge of racism.
For many years, as a novel study, my class read Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor. After completing a diagram about the inequities in education and bussing for the students of color versus the white students in the novel, I simply asked my students, “Does racism exist today?” and “If so, where?” Only four of twenty-four students admitted that yes, racism still occurs today. In response to the question about where racism occurs, one student responded with “schools, church.” As a class, we had a short conversation on the possible whys, dabbling in discussions of structural racism, and then we moved on. I have thought a lot about that brief conversation: how I wish I had lingered and said more; how I wish I had made time for more conversations like this one.
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Rebecca Witte is a former Christian educator. She is now a doctoral student at Michigan State University studying literacy and teacher education.