HERE IS AN actual conversation:
Kid 1: Mrs. E! Mrs. E! Kid 2 is being mean.
Me (to kid 2): Can you come over here?
Kid 2: Yeah.
Me: I notice that Kid 1 is crying and seems really upset. Do you know anything about that?
Kid 2: No. I didn't do anything.
Kid 1: Yeah, you did. You said I was dumb, and that I read slow.
Kid 2: No, I didn't. I mean, I was just joking. It's not a big deal.
Me: Well, it seems like you hurt Kid 1's feelings.
Kid 2: No, I didn't.
Me: You didn't?
Kid 2: No.
Me: But his feelings are hurt. He's crying.
Kid 2: His feelings aren't hurt.
Me: Kid 1, are your feelings hurt?
Kid 1: Yes.
Me: See, his feelings are hurt. I know you weren't trying to hurt his feelings, but he is upset because of what you said.
Kid 2: His feelings aren't hurt. I was kidding. He isn't upset.
Me: You don't get to decide how other people feel.
Kid 2: What?
Me: His feelings are important. Even if you were just joking and didn't mean to make him cry, when he tells you he is hurt, you have to listen. You have to do something about it.
This is a fairly typical exchange in the classroom. Any time anyone gets their feelings hurt, or gets made fun of, or teased in any way -- the person doing the joking or teasing almost immediately denies the feelings of the injured. It is an immature reaction to pain and guilt. It is an attempt to step away from complicated or uncomfortable feelings.
I can remember teasing people when I was in elementary school. I can be very sarcastic and am able to tease relentlessly. It was horrible when the person I teased would burst into tears. I wouldn't know what to do. I would run away, and pretend like it hadn't happened. I would feel shame and embarrassment. When corrected, I would deny their feelings and explain, "I was just teasing."
In other words, I reacted like a child.
It can be difficult to be on social media these days. I've got a lot of diffent humans in my feed with a lot of different opinions. When one of my friends posted information about Terence Crutcher, her post was hit with a ton of people saying things like, "This is terrible, but things aren't that bad." "This is terrible, but we don't know all the facts." "Please don't post things like this. Can't we look for positives." Some of them immediately responded with pictures of police officers hugging black teenagers, or police officers delivering bikes to African American children.
We live in a complicated world, humans being the most complicated part of it. Could it be that the world is full of police officers who are devoted, kind-hearted, full of integrity and determination to make the world a better, safer place? Could it be that there are police officers who have a negative view of certain ethnic backgrounds? Could it be that BOTH of these views exist in the same world?
To share a story about a wonderful exchange between police officers and members of the black community does not explain or excuse the treatment of somone like Terence Crutcher. It does not change what has happened to him, or to any others who suffered injustice. It is not an either/or situation. Just as the world has teachers and administrators who are doing an excellent job, the world also has teachers and administrators who treat students in ways that are unfair and cruel. We accept this as fact. Yet, something we deem as fact in other occupations (you ever been to a hairstylist, dentist, or mechanic and afterwords told everyone you know to steer clear of them?), we refuse to accept of our police force. This attitude that police officers are infalable and beyond reproach seems a heavy burden, and unfair to those who struggle daily to do what is right. I do not appreciate being lumped in with teachers who mistreat students -- I want their to be a clear distinction between them and me. I do not deny their existence, but rather make efforts to support accountability to diminish the impact of damaging classroom experiences.
Talking about injustice - particularly racial injustice is uncomfortable. It pushes us to look inward, as well as outword. It causes us to reexamine attitudes and motives. However, it is necessary work. We cannot rest on the successes of the past -- the past just isn't that far back. Just three decades ago, my own marriage would be illegal in the United States of America. Illegal. The Husband and I: A Forbidden Love.
It isn't enough to click past those things that make us feel uncomfortable. "It isn't that big of deal," can no longer be an acceptable response to the pain and horror of racial injustice. Part of our own country is saying, "Look. Look right here. Do you see this wound? Do you see this pain?" We cannot say, "No, that doesn't exist. You don't feel it." That would be childish, and the time has come to put away childish things.