Know Better, Do Better

Eddie, Charlie, and Alice,

By the time you are old enough to read these posts, you will already be fully aware of this: The school you attend where we live is very different than the school I commute to each morning to teach. At least at the time of my writing this they are very different.

Daddy and I grew up in your same school district. Back then it was even whiter than it is now, and I would argue that it is even more affluent now than it was then, although we weren’t doing so badly for ourselves then either. Living and going to school in such a district comes with lots of privilege.  Because the majority of you and your classmates come from homes with two parents, post-secondary education, and good careers (notice I didn’t say “jobs”), you all have the fortune of having resources like being read to, an adult home with you, a meal without thinking about where it comes from, a steady place to live, and so much more.

This is how I grew up too.

Grandpa and Grandma were not super wealthy by any means, just like your dad and I are not wealthy or part of the 1%. Your uncles and I were not the kids with the latest brands or the latest technology, but we definitely didn’t want for much. Just like you three.

In school we learned about slavery and segregation and how it was all over. We learned that it was done. In our super white community, in our school where I could count the number of kids of color on my hands, we were taught that segregation and racism were a thing of the past, thank Martin Luther King, Jr and Jesus. We were told “don’t say the “N” word,” and “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is.”

This is what we were taught at home too. Grandpa and Grandma grew up during segregation. They grew up with people who were overtly racist, but they learned better and they did better by teaching your uncles and me about it.

They knew better, so they did better.

Fast forward to me as a high school kid in my 98% lilly white affluent school. If someone from a different school that had more minority students than we had told me that some of our traditions or school spirit was racist, I would have told them to quit being so sensitive. We weren’t racist. We weren’t calling any teams the “n” word or burning crosses or using hateful language. We were just having fun.

I was the student who thought that “others” were trying to find racism and hate in innocent things. That because my intentions weren’t to hurt, then they were wrong to feel hurt.

I’ve lived a lot of life in the twenty years since I graduated from that school, and guess what. I know better now. I know better than to point at a person and say their feelings are wrong.

I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and my mind and ears open when others are saying that something makes them uncomfortable or fearful.

I’ve learned not to brush off someone else’s experience because it is not mine.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be quiet now that my eyes have been opened. Now that I know better, I have to also do better. I have to help others know better so they can do better.

Our extended family is filled with people of color. My students and their families and the staff I work with are filled with people of color. As someone who loves them I simply cannot stand silent if I see people continue with the same mindset I once had. I know better, I need to say something so they can too.

My dear children, it will be easy for you to shelter yourself in your privilege. To remain silent when a comments or actions don’t seem intentionally racist, but are. To shut your eyes to what is happening “out there” and let yourself believe it’s not right here too.

But your dad and I can’t let that happen. Racism in all it’s forms need to not just make you uncomfortable, but make you furious. If you hear someone put down a school district, like the one I teach in, you need to say something. If you witness a tradition in your school that seems like it might make your cousins uncomfortable, you need to say something. If you notice yourself having a judgment about someone and you realize it’s because of the way they look, you need to stop and readjust your thoughts.

You need to do better.

Because now you know better too.

Sluiter Cousins at Justice's Baptism

Sluiter Cousins at Justice’s Baptism

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. I love this Katie. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Thank you, Katie. I also needed to adjust my mentality because I grew up with a racially-mixed family, had open-minded parents, have spent the last 20 years in a church that’s as mixed as can be, and have lived overseas with people of different race and color. It’s been hard to face that racism is still an issue, but when we know better we can do better. Like you said.
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  3. You’re such a good example. And mother. Thank you for putting this out there and for standing up for the kids you teach AND for what is right.