Teacher Deserves Suspension for Calling Kids 'Black People'

classroomWhen Glenn Beck tried to say the word "colored" was socially acceptable, the world freaked. And rightly so. So you'd think the fact that a teacher referred to the African-American kids in his second grade classroom as "black people" would be a good thing. Instead it's earned Billy C. Miles a day's suspension, without pay, from his post in a Florida school district. And the administrators are exactly right.

The thing is, Miles is black. And not only did he refer to the children of African-American descent in his classroom as "his" black people, but he singled out the one white child in the classroom, called him "white boy," made jokes about white people, and told him to get his "white tail" over here. Simply put: a teacher used race to divide a classroom. Even using politically correct language doesn't erase his misdeeds.

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Even in 2011 -- especially in 2011 -- race remains a tough barrier for Americans to cross. Switch Miles' skin color to white. Have him refer to the one black child in a classroom as "black boy," and there's no question he should be suspended. Because he'd be wrong.

So why is Miles' punishment even in question? Why is he claiming that he wasn't being "racial" even as he referred specifically to skin color?

White people (yes, people like me) bear the yoke of a white privilege that we didn't ask for, but we certainly benefit from. Sure, I was bullied as a kid. But being raised a white kid in a predominantly white rural area, it wasn't for the color of my skin. In that arena, I'll admit my life was certainly easier than that of my childhood best friend. I won't say that because I had a black friend, I "got it." But I can say I saw what she went through. I saw racist white people who judged her for being black in a predominantly white community.

But two wrongs don't make a right.

The fact that white people have traditionally had advantages in America where many black people had to struggle for them does not allow for black people to treat a white child as badly as they or their ancestors were, to make him feel like he's done something wrong simply because he showed up to school as a white kid in a predominantly black area. Not only was Miles wrong to bring up the minority child's skin color in the first place, but in referring to the other children as "his" black people because they shared his skin tone, he created a system of preference. A child was told that he didn't quite measure up simply because his skin didn't match. Even saying "black people," even if he hadn't called the child out as a "white boy," was wrong in this case.

In order to eradicate racism, we have to kill it in all forms. We need to learn to celebrate culture and celebrate our heritage. Society can't be colorblind lest we lose the beauty of what makes us who we are -- skin color and all. Kids should be proud of who they are: black, white, Asian, gay, straight, bi, Christian, Jewish, Muslim.

And yet, we need to balance how we embrace our past with the need to unite. Our kids need to know that they're not "white boy" or "black boy," but kids with the same rights and same opportunities. Our past is part of who we are, but it doesn't define who we will be.

Do you think Miles deserves to be punished?

 

Image via Frank Juarez/Flickr

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