Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Hope You Have: Reflections After Reading The Hate U Give

For just a moment...

Let's forget that I was raised by two married parents, who'd known each other since adolescence.

Let's forget that my parents owned a home by the time I was four.

Let's forget that both of my parents (eventually) went to college.

Let's forget that I went to private school.

Let's forget that both of my parents were always employed or in school.

Let's forget that I had my own car four months after I turned 16.

Let's forget that we always had food.

Let's forget that I attended a public ivy.

We can, for the moment, remember only the following:

We were not always financially secure and often bought clothes on layaway.

My dad worked 70+ hour weeks at a stressful, dangerous job.

The homes my parents owned were in neighborhoods where, with the exception of Halloween, we didn't go out at night.

For much of my early childhood, family arguments and violence, largely in my mother's parents' home, were a real and frequent threat.

My appearance, behavior, and the fact that I went to different elementary schools than my peers, meant that I often dealt with bullying, taunting, and cruelty.

And yet...

I have white skin. 

I just finished reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and I had to do some serious thinking about how I few my own struggles.  It almost doesn't matter how many struggles I put on that list, because the color of my skin grants me a privilege I cannot ignore.

Like Starr Carter, the main character in the novel, I had a vastly different background than most of my peers at my private high school (which was far from the elite school Starr attends but was still private).  But that's about where the similarities end, and I can't fit my story into hers.

Even living in less-than-savory neighborhoods (yes, we knew the streets to avoid wandering down because of gang presence), I never actually feared for my life...but I know people who did.  And, you guessed it, they didn't have white skin.

I'm still wrestling with what to do after reading this book. There's something about the story, about Ms. Thomas's writing, that drives home something I haven't been able to grasp in the news stories.

Bear with me.

My great uncles risked their lives for the French Resistance during World War II.  My grandfather fought in three wars, three. My dad served in the military police and went on to try to reform thousands of criminals. My mom always fought for the underdog.

What do I do?

I like to think that my power, my path to making a difference is in teaching.  I hope that's true...but...this year?  I've had some students who do not, shall we say, bring out the best in me.

I'm struggling.

I have this skin. I have these degrees.  I have this knowledge about what's right and wrong.

What do I do?

For now, I write this.

And then, I find ways to right what's wrong, to forge a new world.

I don't have answers, but I have hope...and I have a voice.

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