Taking the Color Blinders Off

I thought when I said, “I don’t see color,” I was making everything equal and fair. I never stopped to consider that some of my students didn’t have the luxury of being color blind.

An educator approached me about writing this guest blog as the start to a courageous conversation. Talking publicly about race and education can be challenging. The author has asked to remain anonymous. I assured her that the CTQ Collaboratory is a great place to shed light on these topics without fear. As always, let’s engage.

“As an elementary school teacher I do everything I can to ensure every student in my classroom has access to an excellent reading program. Why? Well, because I want them to be able to communicate with others. I want them to be able to extract information and learn something about the world around them. I want them to lose themselves in books and dream about possibilities. I want them to function later in life and be able to provide for their families. Researchers found that if a student isn’t reading at third grade they are four times less likely to graduate by the age of 19. As an elementary school teacher I know this to be the cardinal rule: they have to leave elementary school reading or else.

Never during all of my planning and analyzing, though, did I stop to consider issues that were counteracting the work that I was doing. It never crossed my mind that no amount of guided reading strategies or high-interest text would do anything for some of my students; unless other aspects of their experiences were addressed too.

I realize now that I had never considered the messages that many of my students had received throughout their schooling: the messages that they aren’t as smart, aren’t as good, aren’t talented in reading. These are messages that some of my students have felt every day. However, I have had no personal experience with these messages because I am not a minority. I am a white, middle-class woman.

If you think racial inequality isn’t going on in the state you live in, in the town you teach in, at the school you currently work in; you may have grown up in a place similar to where I call home, in a place where everyone looks like you and where your background is similar to the majority of people in the surrounding areas. In addition:

  • You may have never been the only person of your racial background in your classroom.
  • You may not feel the need to dress better than everyone around you in order to simply be considered for something that you are equally, if not more, qualified for.
  • You most likely don’t have to think twice about leaving work early for a doctor’s appointment and reconsider because your co-workers could consider these actions lazy and typical.

These are all real examples from the past few years that have been shared with me. The examples are also eerily similar to Peggy McIntosh’s piece, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack written 25 years ago, and are similar to the examples Nicholas Kristof writes about in a series of columns, titled “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” in the New York Times.

These realizations sadden me. I thought I had it right. I thought when I said, “I don’t see color,” I was making everything equal and fair. I never stopped to consider that some of my students didn’t have the luxury of being color blind. I didn’t take into account that not acknowledging the differences in experiences only helped me.

I am taking the blinders off. As an educator I am going to do everything I can to make sure every child has access to an excellent reading program in an environment that acknowledges equity does not mean same. There are differences that as educators we need to address and discuss just as much and as often as we discuss the latest assessment results.”