Thursday, January 19, 2006

What's My Motivation?

In one of my recent posts concerning matters of race, I received a comment from fellow blogger Miroslav who was curious about my background in such things. He wrote,
I am curious to know more about your upbringing and experience with the black community beyond your role as a teacher. Also, what is your economic background?

Keep lovin' on these kids. They need it just as much as any of us.
To which I say, gladly. I grew up as a middle-class kid (Dad was a cop, Mom was a teacher) in a little mountain town in northern California in the 1980s. This town had not one black person living in it. In fact, there wasn't a black person around in any direction that I knew of for at least 70 to 100 miles. All I really knew about black people at that time, I probably gleaned from Eddie Murphy movies and the Cosby Show. The only ethnic group in my town were Indians; Karuk to be exact. The funny thing is that a disproportionate number of Karuk kids with whom I went to school, exhibited a lot of the same anti-intellectual, oppositional behavior that I see in so many black students I now teach. I think that might be where I gained such an interest in this phenomenon.

I had some exposure to blacks when I went to college, but they tended to be cocky football players and track sprinters who swaggered around wearing do-rags. It wasn't until I went in the Army that my eyes to the world were finally opened. During my 12 years in the Army, I met some of the finest people - of all colors - that you could ever think of meeting. Some of the toughest, most squared away, attention-to-detail soldiers I met in the Army were black soldiers; especially black NCOs (Sergeants). When I was stationed in Schweinfurt for a while, the guy I hung out with the most was black, and that's the funny thing - race was never a subject that we talked about. It wasn't even on our radar screen. We just talked about home, high school, life; we shot the breeze. Were all black soldiers that way? Of course not. Even in the Army, there was that militant, Whitey-is-the-devil contingent, just like there was also the white redneck, darkies-should-know-their-place contingent. Being stuck together in close quarters, we all figured out how to get along, no matter what we thought of each other.

It wasn't until I got into teaching that I saw some of the issues concerning black children on which I have expounded. Couple this with the fact that around the same time, I became a political junkie who devoured the readings of black conservative commentators such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, Ken Hamblin, John McWhorter, and Shelby Steele. These guys have been writing about these issues for years. When I read what they had to say, the things that I had seen all began to make sense.

So, Miroslav, I hope that answers your question. I welcome any comments, even from the anonymous person who questioned whether I would even welcome a black person into my home. I don't think I need to dignify that remark with any further response.

Good Day to You, Sir


Miroslav said...


That was exactly what I was looking for! Thanks!

How difficult is it for you to understand these rough-around-the-edges black kids that you teach and see every day? By that, I mean to ask, ... do you get why they walk, dress, talk, and act the way that they do?

Remember that old movie Stand and Deliver? Seen it lately?

I seem to remember that one of the main reasons that Jaime A. Escalante (the teacher played by Edward James Olmos) was so effective was that the kids knew that he understood their situation. It made him drastically more effective in his relationships with them.

Your brief background that you've shared certainly speaks to your willingness to embrace people of all races as friends. A good thing to be sure. But to understand the poor... to understand the uneducated... to understand the minority... these are entirely different things, ya?

Please share more!

George said...

Nice post Chanman!

As a fellow teacher I find that my students of all races have more culture in common if they come from a similar economic background. That's where I start first.

Then I consider their assumptions about education, race,etc.

Chanman said...

You couldn't be more correct. I know plenty of white people who I wouldn't want within a mile of me.

It is always about the culture. The problem is when people of a certain race (and this applies to all races) think they need to act a certain way just because their skin is a certain color.

I have posted about this in detail before, but read the book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Dr. Thomas Sowell. Dr. Sowell talks about the ultimate irony: that what people consider the "authentic" black culture (the one that is hobbling them in school and in life) actually comes from jolly old England, Scotland, and certain parts of Ireland.

Cheerio my Brotha!