Teaching #BlackLivesMatter in an all-white school

I teach in a small, rural, almost all-white community. So maybe you're wondering why I would be teaching #BlackLivesMatter.  The answer? This is where it's needed the most.

Whenever I teach Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I make sure to cover stereotyping, racism, and use of the N-word before we even open the book. But in the past few years, I've found it harder and harder. Honestly, I thought after President Obama was elected things would change for the better.

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Yes, I believed life very well could be rainbows and sunshine. Anti-Obama supporters would see the light and embrace the historic moment. Instead, I saw people who I thought were upstanding citizens posting the most hateful, racist comments and memes on social media. And it only got worse. It didn't take long for students to pick up on what they heard at home and for the hateful language to slip into usage at school. Which made my job even more important.

If you think a white teacher shouldn't be teaching #BlackLivesMatter to white students, think again. This is the audience that needs to hear the message the most.

The biggest problem is the lack of understanding of WHY a movement like #BlackLivesMatter is necessary and important. I hear many people say, "Well, don't ALL lives matter?" Yes, they do. But, in reality, it is a mythical notion unsupported by facts. 

History tells us that our country was founded on the principle that white men matter. It would take many, many years for the populace to agree that perhaps black men, and perhaps white women, and then maybe black women matter, too. But...not as much as white men. 

Members of our judicial branch, law enforcement, and lawmakers make decisions every single day that impact each and every one of us. Their actions speak clearly: white men matter more. 

Teaching #BlackLivesMatterDon't believe me? Then explain this:

• Eighty-eight percent of law enforcement officers are white. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

• Black drivers are pulled over by law enforcement three times more than white drivers, DESPITE the fact that police are less likely to find contraband in a black driver's vehicle. (Source: NYTimes)

• Even though whites use and sell drugs at the same (or even higher) rate as blacks and Latinos, minorities are more likely to be arrested for it. (Source: NYDailyNews)

• Despite the fact that numerous people and businesses are to blame, only one Wall Street executive was convicted for the 2007 mortgage/housing crisis that launched our country/world into the Great Recession (estimated losses globally=$4 trillion). That executive is a minority. (Source: NYTimes)

• Blacks and Latinos have suffered the most as a result of the mortgage/housing crisis. (Source: CBSNews)

• Prosecutors are 95% white. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

• Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be incarcerated for a crime than a white person. (Source: ACLU)

• One in three black men will be incarcerated in his lifetime. (Source: ACLU)

• Though only making up 6% of the population, black men comprise 35% of the prison population. (Source: ACLU)

• Corey Batey and Brock Turner were both found guilty of raping an unconscious victim. Both were 19-years-old, both were college students, and in both cases, there was ample evidence for thier convictions. One man was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 15 to 25 years for rape. One was sentenced to six months in the local jail, with early release in three months for good behavior. The only difference between the men? One is black, the other is white. Can you guess who received the harsher punishment? (Source: NYDailyNews)

• The sentence for a crime committed by a black male is 20% longer than the sentence given to a white male. (Source: ACLU) In Batey's case, it was 3000% longer.

• Sixty-five percent of prisoners serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent crimes are black. It jumps to over 70% in federal prisons. (Source: ACLU)

• Across the nation, prosecutors are more likely to strike a potential juror if he/she is black in death penalty cases. (Source: NYTimes)

• In the South, black jurors are stricken at a much higher rate (80%) than whites. (Source: NPR

• Eighty-seven percent of members in Congress are white. (Source: Scholastic)

• Seventy-six percent of all millionaires are white. (Source: Statista & CBSNews)

• In 2012, many states tried to pass voter-ID laws that required voters to show a driver's license or personal ID issued by the government. A majority of the voters these laws would affect were minorities. (Source: TheAtlantic)

• The amount of new voting laws passed by states in 2012 was the most since the Jim-Crow era. (Source: NYTimes)

Teaching #BlackLivesMatter: Notice a Trend?• Thirty-four of the 50 states take away voting rights of citizens who have been incarcerated. (Source: BrennanCenterForJustice)

• In 2014, elected officials blocked a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hr.; 60% of minimum-wage workers are minorities. (Source: AmericanProgress

• Elected officials also blocked the Paycheck Fairness Bill in 2014; it would have issued harsher penalties for discrimination pay gaps between men and women. (Source: DailySignal)

• Twenty million black workers would have benefitted with higher paychecks if the American Jobs Act had been passed in 2011. (Source: WhiteHouse)

• Congress has only allowed 42% of President Obama's judicial nominations to pass, compared to 86% of Bush II's and 84% of Clinton's. (Source: WashingtonPost)

• Most toxic waste sites are created in minority-populated neighborhoods. (Source: Newsweek)

• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)--a branch of the government--denied 95% of all civil rights claims against polluters in minority communities. (Source: Newsweek)

• The principle cause of the Flint, MI water crisis was "...the state government’s blatant disregard for the lives and health of poor and black residents of a distressed city." (Source: NYTimes)

• Even though white men make up 31% of the population, they hold 65% of ALL elected positions in the U.S. (Source: WashingtonPost)

Do you happen to see a trend? Do these actions represent a society that believes ALL lives matter? 

Time and time again, the people who are supposed to be representing ALL Americans seem to act as though only the white upper class matters. Our society of mass-incarcerations of our minorities causes a ripple effect that disenfranchises minority voters, thus producing a majority of white leadership, thus continuing the endless cycle of racism, discrimination, and the need for movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. 

As long as white men hold the majority of power in our nation, it is up to them to do the right thing and make decisions that are NOT based on race or income or social status. They need to make selfless decisions: sacrificing their elite statuses for the benefit of society as a whole. And while I believe there are many white men who are more than willing to make these sacrifices (I live with two of them), I am sure there are still many who are frightened by the prospect of giving up such power. (Which is probably why so many are against the idea of a female president.)

Therefore, educating our young white students on these matters is essential. They are the ones that can effect change and help make a difference. They can ensure a future where #AllLivesMatter is, in fact, a reality.

Teaching #BlackLivesMatters

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I teach high school English in Illinois; enjoy family time, baseball, collecting PEZ dispensers, and talking about anything related to my favorite books. They include The Hunger Games trilogy, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Chaos Walking trilogy, and anything written by Amy Tan.

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