I must admit that when I received For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too from my new job as the required teacher read for the summer, my feelings were those of ambivalent indignation.
Why? Do I not respect the cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of my students? I absolutely do, in both words and actions.
Yet, as I alluded to in “I Just Finished Reading” when I hear “white folks,” I hear it in as a pejorative phrase, which it is. Emdin supports his use of it as an allusion to Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks, “stories that revolve around interactions between white and black people that can only be described as unfortunate cultural clashes…Hughes constructs a context where the societally sanctioned power that white people have over black people results in…overall outcomes that are largely unfavorable for the black characters” (15). And I can wrap my head around that, but still why the need to set up an us v. them, or an either/or paradigm? How can one bridge cultural and ethnic divides by setting up a confrontation before one even opens up the book?
In my head, I bristled, Why does this have to be an exclusively-white-person problem? I’m not this type of educator. Other white educators I know aren’t either. Weren’t there also educators from minority backgrounds who failed to connect with “neoindiginous” students? Why did the narrative have to make me feel like the oppressor who for generations has deprived students of color the basic opportunity of a quality education?
Then, I had my Aha! moment. Well, actually the first of a few.