Friday, May 10, 2013

The Blessings and the Burdens of Race: A Call to Change Course

 'Where I go, you go with me' 

Carrying the burden of my race on my back everyday-

John Edgar Wideman, one of our nation’s most prolific and gifted authors, wrote a book in 1987 entitled ‘Reuben’.  Reuben is a very complex novel in which Wideman defines through several very colorful characters and their interactions the ‘pains of being black’.  In the novel is the story of a young man who is a scholar athlete, attending a prestigious college on an athletic scholarship. Obviously, he has been recognized by his community, teachers in high school and family as being very smart. Smart enough that he is selected to go to college and school personnel help him to do this. It appears in this segment of the story that he is the first of his family and perhaps his neighborhood to ‘go off to college’. Like so many first generation college students in the past and even the present, he had mixed feelings. He was glad to be at what appeared to be an ‘ivy league’ school, with stone buildings, small hallways, classrooms that seemed to be out of a novel, not real-life to him.

The brief part of the novel indicates that was doing the best he could to settle in to his new home and begin his quest to becoming educated. He enjoyed the new environment, but no matter what he did he could not forget the people from his neighborhood. He felt responsible for them. In one scene in the novel, he shares a burdensome feeling of ‘carrying’ his neighbors from the community back home on his back as he walked around campus and each day it seemed that first one, then another would ride or he would pick them up..the author writes this story so clearly that eventually until a reader actually visualizes the young college student bent over from the weight of his neighbors riding on his back  from class to class. For without him going to college, he knew his family and neighbors would never get there. This scene is a clear, visual image of what ‘bearing the burdens of race’ looks like. For so many first generation college students, African American, Hispanic, low income, it becomes a huge responsibility in general society to ‘carry’ your family and friends along with you to experience something that they have not been fortunate enough to bear/witness/experience or may not have possessed the skills, gifts, talents that you have do and therefore, they will never have such an opportunity.

This metaphoric condition has been defined by many writers and historians over time as the burden of race. The race burdent takes different forms. Sometimes it is that an individual will feel responsible to do 'well' for the whole group, because in general the group is consistently maligned and denigrated. The individual may also feel a sense of obligation to help others, so much so that it becomes a 'burden' that is often too much to bear. 

Being a person of color, from an ethnically diverse group in this nation can be a horrendous burden to bear in the midst of a society that constantly perpetuates negativity and denigrates your people. Simultaneously, sometimes our neighborhoods are fearsome places to be and over time, our children begin to believe that their very existence is a burden to society.  We want to teach our children to be proud of their race, ethnic group, history, legacy, and want them to see being Black or Hispanic or from any other culturally diverse group as a blessing. And for most of us it is a blessing indeed. The blessings are real, but sadly, because of daily life conditions that students must suffer from, so are the burdens.  

Not me, I’m color blind-
In schools, ‘color blindness’ gives some educators a false sense of security regarding treatment of culturally diverse students, as they suggest that they treat all of their students the same. It’s not that I can read into the minds and hearts of every person who uses that term…but what I can say is that when someone looks at me, I don’t want them to be blind- I want them to see me for who I am -a woman of color with a strong, rich heritage and legacy of a family that originated from multiple continents whose people have a strong belief system and have courage, wisdom and fortitude to have been challenged generation to generation and yet, survived and in most cases, even thrived against the odds.  My race and ethnicity along with my other traits make me who I am. Color blindness is not the ideal state we have been led to believe it is.

Each child attending our schools has the right to have their legacy and their heritage respected and included in their learning experience. They have the right to learn about their history, they have the right to know that they come from people who were wise, creative, and intellectual ingenious. When schools can address students as the individuals they are then- being racially or ethnically different will no longer be a burden. It will be a blessing simply to be who they are. One who sees themselves as a blessing has a very different outlook on life and different functioning that one who sees themselves as a burden and their people as a burden. Along with the feeling of being blessed, is a higher self-esteem, higher level of confidence which are both linked to higher school achievement results.

I don’t have all the answers for this duplicitous condition that we perpetuate in society today. I do know that the most sensitive, most gifted, and most creative among our children are suffering day to day in a world where being black or brown is anything but a blessing. I wanted in this post, to introduce some and to help others be reminded that the burdens still exist and are far too much for young children and developing youth to continue to bear in our society. It's simply not fair. 

A call to change course-
Readers, please consider the positive outcomes if we all worked together to create conditions in schools where every child believed themselves to be a blessing and in communities where burdens of race would be something of the past. Please help me and my colleagues who are working tirelessly to create equitable and excellent conditions in schools and CHANGE THE COURSE OF EDUCATION IN AMERICA. We need school conditions that are culturally responsive, sensitive to all learners, and respectful of who they are and where they come from and stimulate thinking of students so that their gifts and talents will emerge and be more fully developed.

We need neighborhoods where children and youth can grow up and be their very best and count on being in environments where they will not living in fear. We need schools that recognize the individual gifts that children have and work to help each child to reach their full potential. Schools where children are blessings, not burdens to anyone is the ideal.  Working together we can create these ideal conditions that will be more effective, more compassionate, and achieve greater outcomes for all!

Recommended reading/viewing:

Blum, L. (2012). High Schools, Race, and America’s Future: What Students can Teach Us About Morality, Diversity, and Community. Harvard Education Press.

Davis, J.L. (2013). Transcending race in gifted programs: Are we there Yet ? SENGVine

Delpit, L.D. (1992). Education in a multicultural society: Our future’s greatest challenge. The Journal of Negro Education, 61, 237-249. Retrieved from:

27 things you had to deal with as the only Black Kid in your class

Ford, D.Y., & Moore III, J. L. (2004). Creating culturally responsive gifted education classrooms:  Understanding "culture" is the first step. Gifted Child Today, 27(4), 34-39.

Grantham, T.C. (2000). Rocky Jones: A case study of a high achieving Black males’ motivation to participate in gifted classes. Roeper Review, 26(4), 208-215.


  1. I believe so many children of various racial backgrounds have gifts and knowledge above and beyond what educational systems and society expect of them. As a result many of our children especially those of African American descent are expected to do just enough or nothing at all. These False perceptions continue to promote the lack of encouraging positive motivation and the setting of higher academic expectations. Furthermore this mindset has contributed into further demoralizing children's self-concepts of themselves. As stated so eloquently above,"Along with the feeling of being blessed, is a higher self-esteem, higher level of confidence which are both linked to higher school achievement results," It is my belief that parents want the best for their children and teachers want to see their students learn. The issue is, "expectations." How high should they be set for children to succeed? and what affect do parental expectations have on children's achievement? Educational systems have a critical responsibility to do all they can to understand how to reach of diverse students and their families. I believe much is needed to be done in these areas to, "Change the course of Education in America."

  2. Dear Dr.Cormier-Zenon,
    Thank you so very much for your compassionate and insightful feedback. We need more people like yourself in communities and schools everywhere to lead this effort. Thanks for your interest. Please keep reading and sharing this blog with others.
    my best,
    Dr. Davis

  3. Congratulation to you. I am happy after reading your post that you have posted in this blog. Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this.
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