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Fourth R in Education

Black Lives Matter demonstrators continue the long battle against racism in this country. | Instagram

Racism. A belief that some races are by nature superior to others, in which discrimination can be practiced, based on this belief (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, copyright 2019). This cruel practice of acting out hatred feelings towards groups of people who are of a darker hue (especially black and brown), is ripping this country into shreds.

This practice has drawn attention from all sectors of society. Starting with the Proud Boys, Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. These groups have absolutely no fear of reprisal for the horribly malicious crimes they commit against Black people and other people of color. In the midst of one of the worst and horrific times in U.S. history, one has to wonder, where do they find the time, energy, or even the desire to practice this evil deed?

Racism is accepted, practiced, and embraced all over the world. From the many countries in Africa, South America, to the South Asian Pacific islands, in which the indigenous populations must endure undeserved and severe punishment for misdemeanor crimes (many times crimes being committed to alleviate hunger). Racism is a systematic practice. Many times a Black child encounters racist practices heaped upon them in grocery stores, malls, and the classroom. As young as 3 or 4 years old, they might even experience it in nursery school. I myself can never forget going to nursery school each morning, where I had to sit through having a teacher (a fiftyish white woman) who slapped me on my face and shook my body (almost on a daily basis). The stinging slaps across my cheek as her fingers left their mark, and my eyes burning as they welled up with tears, left me feeling not only helpless, but angry.

The stinging slaps across my cheek as her fingers left their mark, and my eyes burning as they welled up with tears, left me feeling not only helpless, but angry.

I can remember riding to school, grabbing the back of the front seat, as I tried to make the car turn around and go back home. Going to this big house everyday was so painful. The building was a huge, sprawling two story house. It seemed so spooky, almost like a witch’s castle. Each day as I climbed the steps, fear would build up to the point that I wanted to turn around and run down the steps back to my mother. As I entered the house, any smiles I had, instantly disappeared into a scowl, as I tried to fight back my tears. I didn’t want to cry, because it would make this teacher very angry. I never could understand, how my mother, as well as the other Black mothers, could send us to this dreadful hell hole, called a nursery school.

When I was no longer attending this school, my mother, brother and I rode by this woman’s house while we were on the bus. She pointed out to me that it was my old nursery school teacher’s house. After all that time, I still felt a pang of fear and a twinge of anger. Later on that same year, while I was having lunch with Mom and my brother, she told me that my nursery school teacher had died. I yelled out “yippee!” I was so happy! Then my mother looked at me with a disappointed look, and said that that wasn’t nice to say. I didn’t care, I was still very happy. I went to bed that evening never feeling better than I had felt in all of my seven years of life.

One evening, my father and I were looking through some photographs when I was about 12 or 13 years old. We came across an image of me with my nursery school class, and I couldn’t believe it was me when my father pointed me out in the photograph. I looked very mad and depressed, then I shared with him how this teacher would slap me. He told me that he had no idea this teacher was doing this, because by time he came home from work, I had had my nap, and my mother had me all cleaned up and I had eaten lunch, etc. He said that if he had known, they would have to mop this woman off the floor. I think my mother may have told me not to tell my father, because she knew how much he would protect me, and what he might do to her.

This teacher put me into a room full of other young black children who were sitting in a circle and most of them were crying. There was one little black boy who was crying so hard, that he was unable to stop. I wanted to run up and hug him, and try to reassure him that everything was going to be ok. I knew that the teacher would get to him eventually and shake him. I did not want to see that happen. I felt so sorry for him. He was just a little boy. But she did get to him, and one could only guess - yes - shook him.

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I would look forward to meeting with a little white boy (who was my friend) each morning, and he was always so happy to see me; and it was a day of laughter and giggles between us. We loved playing with the toys, and he would show me his matchbox car collection.

The teacher would not tolerate me having fun with this little white boy. She would therefore, throw me into a room full of little black children who would cry throughout the day (they were being slapped and shaken as well), and I did not want to go into that room. I did not want to go, because everyone was so sad and seemed so hopeless. The white children however, would be in another room, sitting on the floor around this white teacher playing, laughing, and hugging one another. I felt so envious of them having such a fun and relaxed time.

I started this story with my very young childhood, in order to emphasize the cruel effects of racism, how painful it is, and how the memories will never go away. For something like this to happen to such a young child, and how these vicious memories have never dissipated, should give all adult teachers (both Black and white), the knowledge of how their treatment towards young students will continue to affect them throughout their lives. As a side note, I, as well as my younger brother, were subjected to periodic times of overt, and non-overt racism and prejudice at school, at public swimming pools, and in various white neighborhoods close to our home.

Today, as I write this, young black and brown people are still having to deal with hideous racism, but on a modern level, and unfortunately, the modern level has become extremely lethal. Activists, marchers, and ordinary citizens are forced to confront the police as they shoot live ammunition into the crowds. “Say their names”: George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, etc. (Brittany Wong, Huff Post, April 27, 2021). When will this stop? Or does it ever stop? When Black people have to put themselves on guard, either around a large white population, or just the police in general, only contributes to more pain, and more anger.

As police violence rages on, some reactionary publications insist that if all black people in this country are not complaining about racism, then racism cannot exist (True American Liberty, Internet, 2021). This faulty conclusion only adds to the basic destruction of the human psyche. For one group in this society to have the basic power of shaping young minds, influencing their behavior and telling Black people that racism doesn’t exist is, frightening. It’s like an open door to the racist entities in this country and worldwide to go on practicing their dreadful deeds.

However, I can remember white teachers in grade school, jr. high, high school, and college, who were not only good at teaching but also good at giving us the opportunity to express our creativity, opportunities to be in class plays, and chances at expressing our oratorical talents. One could say that these teachers were just plain good and caring people. And I thank whatever higher power exists, for them being there.

Jo Allen-Eure
The fourth R in education: Reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic and racism

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Jo Allen-Eure writes from Los Angeles.