That title may seem a bit shamelessly provocative, but make no mistake, I’m asking seriously, begging in fact.
Please don’t shoot my African-American students.
Now understand, that’s not directed towards law enforcement only, but also towards “neighborhood watchmen”, gun fanatics itching for an opportunity to try out their new toy, those who feel baggy clothing somehow reflects a predisposition or propensity for deviant/criminal behavior, and hence indicates an immediate threat, those who feel rap/hip-hop conditions all those who listen to become sociopathic “thugs”, those who openly pine for an America resembling that which existed in the 1950s, those who generally speaking, devalue the lives of African Americans, (yes, including many African-American criminals/gang members) and broadly speaking, (and this obviously applies to all the aforementioned), those who hold, be it knowingly or unknowingly, prejudice towards African-American teenagers.
Allow me to employ a journalism “no no”, and provide this definition:
Prejudice: a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
So in other words, here’s the thing, prejudice does not equate to necessarily being “racist”, or a “bad person”. It simply means you’re ignorant to reality, and that your opinion, and consequently behavior, is based on those misguided assumptions and beliefs.
It means you may be more likely to not give someone the benefit of the doubt, that you may be more likely to be suspicious and fearful, which of course can and often does lead to irrational behavior, to violence.
To black teenagers being killed.
I’ve taught dozens and dozens of black teenagers, many of which come from poor, single parent homes. Many of which listen to rap music. Many of which wear baggy hoodies, or backwards hats. Many of which, it’s safe to bet, may have engaged in underage drinking or marijuana use at some point .
In other words, I teach dozens and dozens of black teenagers who upon first glance to many—far too many– would appear to be “thugs”, or “threats”.
Let me tell you more about these African-American students.
They’re intellectually curious, they ask questions on a daily basis which inspire and challenge me. They’re compassionate and considerate, they’re giving.
They volunteer in the community, they work part time jobs, they attend church, they help put food on the table at home, they help take care of younger siblings.
They have dreams and aspirations which extend beyond being “rappers and basketball players”. They dream of success, of love, of a family… of a chance.
They make my school better, and moreover make my life better.
They ask me for life advice, for help, but often unknowingly provide it to me, just as they unknowingly regularly encourage and comfort me in a way that only a teacher can understand. Their comments make me laugh, their work has made me cry with pride, and once they’ve graduated and gone on to college, their visits back ignite a feeling of happiness and gratification I cannot describe.
They’re ok. They’re making it.
They’re doing well.
And that is just what they’re doing.
Like one of my favorite students below, Brandon, who is now attending my alma mater Eastern Illinois University, and came back just recently to visit.
And ultimately, these students are going to go on to do big things in life, they’re going to graduate college, they’re going to be professionals, they’re going to have families, they’re going to make the world a better place, just as they’ve done to my world.
That is, if society allows them to.
Be good friends,