My daughter responded to the three questions about her how race shaped, influenced and/or impacted her educational experience. Here’s what she said…
Where did you grow up? How did your childhood shape the person you are today?
I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and moved to Florida when I was before my first birthday. I consider myself a Florida girl, for good or bad. I spent most of my life growing up in Florida, Orlando specifically. I mostly attend schools that were predominantly white but growing up that never bothered me. Even though I attended predominantly white schools I still had friends of different races. My mother did her best to keep me safe. Maybe too safe because I sometimes think I lived a sheltered life. My mother grew up in Louisiana and I think she didn’t want me to grow up and experience the harm from racism and other forms of trauma that she did. I always attended great schools, lived in gated communities, and had access to many resources I am sure my mother did not have access to. I feel fortunate to have grown up in a loving, stable home where we took summer vacations and volunteered to help those less fortunate than we were.
How has your racial identity influenced your life?
My racial identity has influenced my life greatly. When people first see me they see a Black girl and make their judgment right then and there. As soon as I open my mouth people second guess my racial identity because of how I sound. All of my life I have been told I sound like a “white girl.” My first experience with this was in Shreveport, LA when I was in the third grade. One of my peers made fun of me for how I sounded. I was teased on the school bus and was called “Oreo” meaning I was Black on the outside but white on the inside. While this was harmful to me as a child, it has contributed to my resiliency. I have grown to learn that intercultural bias is alive and well. I am a product of my environment. I come from a loving, caring home where education is valued.
Further, as an adult, I have learned that colorism and racism are deeply embedded within American society. My goal is to continue to grow as an individual and to do the best that I can to represent myself in a positive way. Blackness should not be associated with speaking or behaving a certain way. We deserve to be honored for our uniqueness as humans and valued for what we bring to society.
Can you share an incident that happened to you, which you believe was based on race? What happened, how did it make you feel and what was the impact of the incident on your life?
The clearest example was my experience in middle school, 8th-grade to be exact. I was frequently singled out for “talking in class.” While I clearly recall all the other students laughing and giggling, I was the one the teacher would use as an example of disruptive behavior. Of course, I would say “it’s just not me talking,” but they never cared. One of the most harmful examples of this was when one of my teachers had the audacity to remove me from the rest of the class and had me sit at my desk right next to her. She quickly learned that other students were also talking. One day, we were taking a test and I was reading the question out loud to myself and she called me out in front of the entire class. She said “she can’t help herself, she will talk, even if it’s to herself.” Wow! That was rude, unprofessional and no way to treat, particularly because I was one of a few Black students in the class. Whenever my mother came to school for a school conference, she was always told that I talked too much. They made it sound like I had little self control and was doing something so egregious and offensive and disrupting the learning of other students. This undoubtedly affected my self-confidence and my willingness to participate in classroom activities.
It wasn’t until I took a college course on race that I began to understand how complex and widespread this problem is. The experience of Black girls in academic classrooms can be traumatizing and can affect their entire academic experience. Black students should be educated in classrooms by professionals who care about them and know how to teach across a broad range of social identities.
Camryn N. Littleton
There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label
The word “race” has been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics.
As professor Evelynn Hammonds states in the film Race: The Power of an Illusion: “Race is a human invention. We created it, and we have used it in ways that have been in many, many respects quite negative and quite harmful.”
People from every demographic have wrongly applied the term race and it needs to stop. Regardless of your political, religious or cultural ideologies, to use the term “systemic racism” only serves to prove that you have no idea as to how the term “race” originated; and worse, you are actually perpetuating a lie that continues to divide us as a people. Even the Bible never refers to any group of people as belonging to a specific race. Yes, the word race appears four times in Scripture, but it is used to describe an event (…they which run in a race run all…) not a group of people. So how did we get to where we are today as this false descriptor continues to be used?
During the Age of Enlightenment, scientific and intellectual ideals exposed a basic contradiction between principle and practice: the enslavement of human beings. Despite the fact that Enlightenment ideals of human freedom and equality inspired revolutions in the United States and France, the practice of slavery persisted throughout the United States and European empires. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, American and European scientists tried to explain this contradiction through the study of “race science,” which advanced the idea that humankind is divided into separate and unequal races. If it could be scientifically proven that Europeans were biologically superior to those from other places, then persons of European ancestry could justify slavery and other imperialistic practices.
Prominent scientists from many countries, including Sweden, the Netherlands, England, Germany and the United States, used “race science” to give legitimacy to the race-based divisions in their societies. Journalists, teachers and religious leaders popularized the errant science. Racial distinctions continue to shape our politics, our neighborhoods and our sense of self.
Before the discovery of DNA, scientists had no idea how traits were passed on. Researchers who have since studied people at the genetic level now understand that the whole categorization of races was misconceived. When scientists set out to assemble the first complete human genome, which was a composite of different individuals, they deliberately gathered samples from people who self-identified as members of different races. In June 2000, when the results were announced at a White House ceremony, Craig Venter, a pioneer of DNA sequencing, observed, “The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.” In reality, it has no ethical, moral or logical basis either.
Over the past few decades, genetic research has revealed two deep truths about people. The first is that all humans are closely related; more closely related than all other living things. Everyone has the same collection of genes and everyone has slightly different versions of some of them. Studies of this genetic diversity have allowed scientists to reconstruct a family tree of human populations. That has revealed the second deep truth: In a very real sense, all people alive today are Africans. So, if you are exhibiting some form of prejudice towards another person, simply because the amount of melanin in their composite genetic makeup, you are, in essence, also biased towards yourself.
When people speak about race, usually they are referring to skin color and, at the same time, to something more than skin color. This is the legacy of wrongheaded scientists who lacked DNA testing and developed the “science” of race to suit their own prejudices. Science today tells us that the visible differences between peoples are merely a reflection of how our ancestors dealt with sun exposure.
Because racial categories are a man made creation, we can always make new categories that function better…and…we should do so.
Honestly, if we would all simply follow the examples of Jesus Christ…then much of indifference and prejudice that has spawned violence and hatred would cease to exist.
The Scriptures clearly remind us: For there is no respect of persons with God.
God does not care about the color of your skin, how much money you have, where you were born, your native language or your level of education. Why? Because he loves all of us equally…as we should also love each other.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. While I agree that race is a social construct, the reality for those of us who have been racialized and minoritized is that race (and racism as a byproduct thereof) has very real social and political consequences. Even you acknowledge that “…IF we would all simply follow the examples of Jesus Christ…then much of indifference and prejudice that has spawned violence and hatred would cease to exist.”
WELL…the reality is that we (many in our society) don’t and there are real consequences for people who look like me as well as my daughter.