As mentioned in the previous post, there was a definite coincidence between the start of this blog and the start of my new job. While each new beginning is reflective of my interests and attitudes, I think the explicitness of the connection between the two is fading. A note before continuing: The student body of the school I work at is, approximately, 95% black and is located in a predominantly black neighborhood of West Philadelphia. I should have mentioned this obviously relevant information in the previous post about my job.
I had brainstormed about starting this blog for a few days before starting my job and actually created it a few days after my job began. Though I never expected that my job would afford starkly revelatory, emotionally gripping and neatly packaged racial anecdotes– the likes of which probably only exist in hackneyed cinematic dramas about tragically well-intentioned white mentors and ‘exceptional’ black students– I did expect that my experiences were bound to yield as much food for thought as my old office job at Philly’s natural science museum. Indeed my experiences do yield food for thought, but it is of a totally different kind. I almost always regarded the race-related issues at my old job with unease, anger and frustration. I was bothered that out of the 20 people I could think of on the building maintenance staff, 17 were black, and 3 weren’t, while there was not a single black scientist employed amongst a group of at least 75 scientists. I was bothered by the way some staff would refer to black people with language that implied a lack of comfort not evidenced when talking about white people. Most of all, I was bothered by the way some members of the museum’s staff tended to express excessively negative opinions of black school groups.
As previously mentioned, the student body at the school where I now work is probably 95% black. The teachers and administrative staff are almost all white (maybe 80%). Understandably, the practical (even quotidian) significance of race asserts itself; parents I’ve never met before ask me if I’m a teacher because I’m white like most of the teachers and unlike any of the parents; pre-schoolers sincerely ask me why my eyes are blue (just like young white kids sometimes ask why someone’s skin is brown). Frequently the implications of race are much more discrete and nuanced– so much so that I find myself incapable of effectively describing them here.
The salience of race is no less present in this setting than anywhere else. Why then does it feel like so much less of an issue? I have a few guesses to answer this question, but I don’t think any of them is a complete explanation. Perhaps my best guess is that in this new setting I no longer think of race as an unapproachable problem. Quite the opposite in fact; by working for the school, I am serving some of the people in my community who have been negatively affected by the prejudices I abhor. There is no frustrating separation between seeing the evidence of racism and being able to incrementally improve the situation.
The ramifications of racism and the issue of race in a more benign sense still populate my thoughts at work. The difference though, is that I no longer have the urge to blog out of frustration at the end of the day. Instead of fueling angst, my thoughts of race which originate at work motivate me to work harder. 🙂
I’m still gonna keep blogging tho!