I have been told that certain cultures like those of African-Americans and Latinos “do not value education.” I have been told that the only reason I was accepted into Duke, Harvard, and Stanford was because of the color of my skin. Lastly, I have been told that becoming a teacher is a waste of my Stanford degrees.
Whether from distant acquaintances and past teachers to close relatives and colleagues, this type of commentary imprisons a subpopulation that has been historically flushed down the rank school-to-prison pipeline. As an African-American male, I have been the one black drop in a room, which people then deem “diverse” or “integrated” due to my mere existence. My belonging to an underrepresented and underserved group such as men of color provided me the cultural backdrop, character-building experiences, and perspective to diagnose the cognitive dissonance that results from America’s lack of alignment between the purpose of schooling and the practice of schooling. In other words, it is not that African-Americans and Latinos do not care about education, but rather it is the institutional discrimination and cultural standardization that leaves these groups excluded, endangered, and embattled. After witnessing my African American and Mexican friends “leave” school, I became attuned to the victim-blaming ideologies that continue to push students out of our school system.
While my personal experiences equipped me with a particular social consciousness, my Bachelor’s degree in African and African-American Studies gave me the social and cultural literacy to discern the basis for the disservice done to ethnic minorities. Simply having brown skin was not enough to figure out who I was and who I wanted to become, especially as the first person in my family to attend college; it was also the academic immersion that put my life experiences in relations to those of my predecessors and contemporaries. Considering my life experiences and my academic focus, I saw education as a professional domain where I could break this school-to-prison pipeline and fight for social justice. Teaching enables me to put theory and knowledge into practice and action. Regardless of the underrepresentation of black males in the teaching profession, I recognized my racialized experiences as inspiration to make just as much use of my ears as my voice. For me, teaching is where I can speak up for those who are silenced and stand up for those who have been put down and shackled.
Scholarship: Ethnic Minority SCTA Scholarship
Prompt: How has your ethnicity affected your pursuit of a career in education?
Date Written: 2011-12 [throwback]
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