Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Overheard Words: Thoughts After Unintentional Eavesdropping

I can't be sure, but I do think that teaching improves one's hearing. Teachers have been known to pick up the faint vibrations of sub-decibel conversations from the very back corner of the room and assign detentions to culprits they didn't even have to turn around to see, because they knew the tones of culprit vocalizations so well.

I know I fall in the category of teachers-whose-ears-are-finely-attuned, because I hear the oddest and most puzzling things sometimes. Two incidents were especially puzzling to me, because I have been told on good authority by those high above me that hispanic students really don't care about skin color, and are proud of being the nice shade of golden brown that many of them are, and that black children feel much the same way.

So how can one explain the quiet bickering I heard in my classroom when the lights were down for the movie clip? Three of my prettiest little latino girls were nattering at each other...about skin color! And they were going at each other with some fervor, albeit at reduced volume due to the movie (the content of the clip will be on the test). The tiny one with the darkest skin ragged on the girl whose Spanish forbears were obvious in her pale skin. But it wasn't what you might think, an expression of envy. La petite Mexicana told the Spanish girl she wasn't "Mexican enough" because her skin was too pale.

Of course, I couldn't have heard that, because I have it on good authority that hispanic children really don't care about things as trivial as skin color.

But teachers can't help but hear, the students talk way too loudly.

I was handing out the school picture packages to my period 1 class not too long after the first incident of hearing too well for my own good. Well, if the first little outburst was a bit of a shock, this one just floored me. Two of my black students were comparing their photos, which to my untrained eye looked like school photos anywhere; taken by someone who used to want to be a photographer before they got that job! But Latrisha and Kenisha, who are of no relation to each other besides sharing the same race, were bemoaning Latrisha's photos, because they made her look "too dark", and "too dark" was not what one wanted to be. In fact, they both agreed that a "little bit of white blood" made for prettier skin tones, and both bemoaned Latrisha's pure African complection. After much intense consultation, the girls decided that the pictures were "really bad" and participating in picture retake day was a certainty.

But I couldn't have been hearing that, could I? Because the higher authorities have also told me that African-Americans are proud of their heritage and could care less about their skin tone.

Yet teachers' hearing seems to improve with practice, and I know what I heard.

Kids care about skin, and it ain't all about acne.


Scorebored said...

Very perceptive, my friend, and very well-written. You're highlighting something that sometimes gets overlooked when White people talk about race, skin color, etc. Not only are Whites inculcated to despise their own kind and their own appearance, but other races ALL have an ideal color/appearance and will viciously criticize one of their own if she falls outside of the ideal.

Your essay reminded me of something I witnessed about a decade back. I worked in an office with a handful of Negroes and one Nigerian. Though he was lazy and had the work ethic of a three-toed sloth, the blue-black Nigerian fellow was very pleasant and jovial in daily interactions. He displayed none of the sullen hostility to which I was so accustomed from the hyphenated simians that allegedly sprang from the same continent as he. Anyway, one day, the Nigerian got into some sort of work-related dispute with three of the American colored girls. They had a pretty good shouting match, and after it was all over, the Nigerian went down one hallway and the three Negresses went down the other hallway. As they passed my desk, they were talking with great heat, and one of them said, "Ol' black-ass African. Ain't no African gohn' tell ME whut's whut!" The contempt in her pronunciation of "African" was palpable, as was the hostility in the nods of agreement from the other sistuhs.

Laurel1861 said...

Thanks, Scorebored.

The longer I teach, the more I hear comments like these made by the kids. Everyone wants to achieve whatever ideal it is that is held by their friends, who typically are of their own race. Training the students to be diversity-accepting is like trying to fight the tide. The tide is natural and invincible, as are the tendencies of each ethnicity.

Zrazys said...

I teach mostly black students and, a number of them make their disgust for their darker skinned brethren very evident. This is especially true with girls opinions on very dark boys. I usually say "black is beautiful," but that gets no attention.