As a child, my mother moved my brother and me from Puerto Rico to the United States so that American doctors could diagnose and treat my brother’s failing health. Even though we moved into a Section 8 housing apartment with my grandmother and my uncle, the amenities were still better than those in Puerto Rico.
When I entered elementary school in the United States, I could not speak or understand English. My first year was a blur since no one in my classroom, including my teacher, spoke Spanish. But, I adapted quickly, and within two years I learned to read and speak English proficiently. I developed a love for the American way of life (even though we still lived in Section 8 housing).
During these early years, I learned about the powerful philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although he was assassinated twelve years before my birth, Dr. King’s legacy of Christian faith and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds still inspires me today. As a child, his vision of equality especially impacted me because my large Puerto Rican family was composed of an array of “colors.” My mother has light skin and thin, light brown hair. My father has very dark skin and thick, curly black hair. I have cousins with blond hair, blue eyes, and light skin, as well as cousins that have black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin. Like most Puerto Ricans, my family has African (black), Spanish (white), and Taino (Native American) heritages in our lineage. As a result, race was always a non-issue in my family.
While in high school, I read the “I Have a Dream.” speech where Dr. King so beautifully stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” As a young Latino male with a heavy Spanish accent, wearing hand-me-down clothing and $5 shoes that were either too big or too tight, I longed for those around me to judge me by my character and not my appearance.
Eventually, I met and married the love of my life; a beautiful, intelligent African-American woman. Our love bore us four wonderful children who have been raised to treat everyone equally and to love their multiracial lineages.
For the last twenty years, I have been teaching in public schools. As an educator and a believer in a Lord and Savior that has redeemed me by His grace and charged me to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13-14), of course, I desire to teach my students about the sin of racism. So, when my school district offered a staff-development training on “antiracism,” I was eager to attend. However, the ideologies presented in these training sessions left me feeling troubled.
During these training sessions, I heard a common message. We were told that “white people” need to “check” their “white privilege” when working with “children of color.” We were told to identify ourselves as “allies” and in doing so, accept the fact that “white people” can never really understand the oppression a “person of color” faces. We were encouraged to make “antiracism” presentations to our students. The instructor recommended that we read How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo. We were also encouraged to add “antiracist” books like these to our classroom libraries.
The echo chamber in these training sessions was also concerning as only a few of us were brave enough to try to add some alternative views. Despite these attempts to present different perspectives, any opposing view was immediately dismissed by the moderators.
Still trying to understand, I decided to take the next step and read the two books recommended during the training.
As I delved into the books, I discovered the connections between the curriculum being promoted in my school and Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT posits that racism is a combination of racial prejudice and institutionalized power. According to CRT, all “white people” are inherently oppressors, and all “people of color” are oppressed. Furthermore, since “white people” are the dominant group with political and financial power, they have the “privilege” in this system. This system was designed to keep “white people” in power and to oppress “people of color.” Ultimately, the only way for “people of color” to overcome this system is to overthrow and destroy it.
I had a hard time understanding and accepting all of this. I was left questioning how a theory that divides us into the categories of oppressors and the oppressed based on the color of our skin was supposed to foster unity, equality, and racial healing.
I couldn’t help but think that according to this theory, my family would be divided. My skin is lighter than my wife’s, and two of my children have darker skin, while my other two children have lighter skin like myself. My own family would be divided into the oppressors and the oppressed simply because of the amount of melanin in our skin.
In addition, I considered how this ideology might affect my children’s views of their futures. Would it encourage negative self-fulfilling prophecies? Would it create barriers in their future relationships? Would it foster a negative environment, crippling the dreams and self-images of both my lighter-skinned and darker-skinned children? Honestly, if I had been influenced by the tenets of CRT as a child, I’m not sure that I would have risen above my own challenges growing up or reached my full potential.
If this type of division could occur in a small family like mine, imagine the destruction that might occur in a classroom or school body, let alone entire communities or even our country. It breaks my heart to think of burdening my multiracial children with this narrative, and I simply cannot justify teaching it to my students.
As a Christian educator, I want to teach my students how to overcome and stop racism because racism is a sin (James 2: 1-13). However, I realize I must carefully consider the way I approach and address this issue. As believers in Christ, we are one in Christ and are tasked by Christ to treat each other as we want to be treated. In John 7:24, Jesus tells us not to judge superficially or arrogantly but to be fair and righteous in our judgment.
While biblical references can be difficult to interject in a secular setting, Dr. King’s vision of valuing the content of one’s character over the color of one’s skin can be easily discussed and is widely accepted.
I can encourage my students to see differences in culture and race as distinctions of beauty to be appreciated and not bricks that we should use to build walls between us. I can season every word I speak with God’s love, modeling forgiveness and grace, especially when I disagree with or look different than someone. And I can teach my students to look beyond physical appearances and instead focus on the character of others.
In this current educational climate, I sometimes feel as if I am watching the shore drain away as a tsunami of divisive ideologies is added to my curriculum. Many of you Christian educators may feel the same way. It might feel easier to turn around and run away. But, we have to remember that our God is sovereign. And He will make a way for His people doing His work in His schools.
Like Dr. King, I also have a dream. I dream that my four children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
CEAI’s Rise-Up Summit featured several sessions expanding on this topic. If you would like to explore these resources, you can purchase an All-Access Pass at riseupchristianeducators.com to watch 30+ in-depth sessions on various educational issues at your own pace. And, you can revisit your favorites anytime!
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