Is it racist to call somebody white? For our first lesson in our revolutions unit, we wanted to make sure kids understood what the word means – not just the definition, but all its historical connotations. We passed out a bunch of images and had them discuss whether or not each one was “revolutionary.” Some images we showed them:
When they got to this one, I heard a lot of confused/uncomfortable murmuring:
What I kept hearing was, “it’s a bunch of white people,” followed by “you can’t write that, that’s racist.” Is it racist simply to point out that they are white? One kid said “writing down that it’s a bunch of white people is just like saying a bunch of black n-----s.”
The students’ confusion came from their surprise at seeing white people protesting for free speech – a freedom they did not realize was ever denied to white people. (This photo actually comes from the student Free Speech Movement in the early ‘60s.) But their discomfort came from being asked to write what they noticed about the photo, and not wanting to state the obvious.
I feel like if I want to understand how my kids think about race, it's important to understand why they were so uncomfortable with that, but I don't.