Truth Be Told…

I remember when I was first introduced to the idea that everyone is a little bit racist. At first, I was indignant and appalled. But, once I stopped being defensive, I realized that some of the stereotypes that I had been exposed to had, in fact, seeped into my subconscious. I never spoke them aloud… but they were there nonetheless, allowing me to subtly identify people as “other” and guiding my perceptions of people and my subsequent interactions with them. Once I admitted that I had bought into some of these stereotypes, then I could work on dismissing them or dismantling them to get at the fear of difference that almost always drives stereotypes.

As a teacher, I have had to confront my own prejudice repeatedly, to see the ugliness that lurks around in the dark recesses of my mind. And while at times I am horrified at thoughts that will flit through my mind, I am mostly grateful that I am not afraid to let those prejudices go, once I have identified them. I am thankful to have a job where I can’t just allow my prejudices to quietly garner strength; they must be identified and destroyed. I have to constantly be willing to grow and to admit that I am not always as accepting as I would like to believe myself to be.

So, why the confessional? Because I have been guilty of ignoring my students’ use of the word “retard” as an insult in my classroom. Because I am guilty of throwing the word around in banter. And because I had convinced myself that it is harmless, that I meant nothing by it. But, truth be told, when someone is throwing around the word “dyke,” I bristle. Because, even if they say they mean nothing by it, I know there is a tinge of hate somewhere in there. And I know the same is true when I cavalierly use the word “retarded.” I am identifying someone as “other,” as lesser than me. I don’t want to be that person. I believe every life is valuable, that everyone deserves respect. It is time that my use of language reflect those beliefs.

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