Systemic racism: out of the mouths of babes

Systemic racism: out of the mouths of babes

When students teach the teacher

Recently I met with a former student of mine who is now an Elementary  school teacher.  She teaches a class of Grade 4 youngsters.

She was anxious to share an experience with me about her own class.  I was all ears. She told me that one of her students was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and was now in the hospital.
So, ever so often as she got news as to how the student was doing, she would pass on the information to an eager class.  This particular morning the report was that the cancer had spread  to some other organs of the body system, but the doctor assured the parents
that he would make  a complete recovery, but it will only take a longer period of time. It was bad news and good news.
Before returning to her subject teaching, there was one girl who had her hand up, wanting to ask a question.  She was given the opportunity to do so. “ Miss,” she asked, “ What is a
body system? “The teacher said she hesitated to respond and  turned the question back to the class. “ What do you think is the body system?”

The girl who asked the question volunteered her answer. She said  it is all the parts that make up the body and cause the body to function.  The teacher then asked what are some of those body parts and their functions? In unison they began to name the body parts and their functions, for  example, the brain for thinking and the heart for circulation. The teacher then said, when you put all the parts and all the functions together one gets the body system.
As these parts are connected, if one part is not functioning, or malfunctioning it may affect the other parts. When only one  body part is affected one  becomes sick.
It was at this point that one smart and curious girl asked, “ So does Paul, (not his real name ) have systemic cancer? “
Again the teacher  threw back the question: “Why do you say that?”
“Well Miss, if the cancer affects most of the individual body parts and functions, it is affecting the whole body system. “Quite right, but where did you hear the word , systemic.? “
The student  replied that she heard her  parents talking about systemic racism.
The teacher then asked, if she understood what they were saying and if so , could she explain it to the class.
The student then said: “ My parents said that the system is racist, which I don’t quite get, even though I understand the meaning of racism, which is to be mean to other kids who do not look like I do.”
“ Like whom?” the teacher asked.
One by one they pointed to the Chinese kids, Black kids, Pakistani kids, Muslim kids and First Nation, ( and one child called out, In-de-gi-nous.)

The teacher then said that was where she came in, but was not sure she was doing the right thing.
She said she commenced to draw an analogy between  the body system with all its parts, and the community  system with all its parts, namely, education, church and religion, police, work and employment, higher education, government and the health service and others.
If all these parts of the community, which is a system,  act  in a mean way to certain groups, then it is not an individual  thing, it is the whole community system which is affected.  So like systemic cancer we say systemic racism.
The teacher then said she spent half of the Math class time on this subject, and she felt it was well worth it. She also said  children listen and one would be surprised what they learn independently. It is like learning through osmosis.
I had to congratulate her for the way she handled the class.  A lot of learning took place there.  Learning about  life and for life.
I am sure  that after that class discussion most if not all the Grade 4 students in that particular class that morning  understood  what is Systemic Racism.
Out of the mouth of babes. Maybe we will teach the young and let the old die in their ignorance. This systemic racism is all over Canada, United States, China, South Africa, India, Australia and generally where there are  more than one group of people  living together or side by side.
Student Paul’s body system is affected, he is very sick. The healing of Paul’s body begins with the acknowledgement that the body system is sick and needs to be treated. It may take new medicine, a different diet and exercise to make the body system well again.

The body system remains sick if its illness is not recognized and treated. Similarly in systemic racism , there cannot be any healing until it is accepted that the Community System is unwell because of racism.
No recognition , no treatment. So the system continues to deteriorate.  The surprising thing, anyhow, is that the ill system has the resources to remedy itself.  All it needs is the will to do so. So healing begins with acceptance of the malady. The therapist will say that he/she can do nothing to help if the client continues to deny that he/she has a  problem.
Those who deny the existence of systemic racism may be compared to the one soldier  who is visibly out of step with the other 99, but claims they are wrong.
Some we win, some we lose.