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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Professors should not teach race from the white man’s perspective

‘Eventually, I just sat down and stayed silent the whole class. That’s what they wanted; they wanted me to be angry and silent.’
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Wren Johnson
(Illustration)

I remember the first time I felt the whole world’s eyes on me. It was in middle school and the teacher said the word “slavery.” When that word left his mouth, everyone turned to look at me because they knew what was coming next, and so did the instructor. He continued to explain slavery in what we thought was the most “censored” way that he could. As the years moved on, I was still hearing the exact same words leave every professor’s mouth: “Slaves were sold for profit and forced to work in fields.” That was it. That was the extent of it.

Every year, I hear the same thing about slavery. I hear the same racist rhetoric about China and the same thoughts about fortifying the border in Mexico. Every single year. The only thing that ever changed was the name of the speaker, not the race, not the history. I wished that I could’ve heard the word from a teacher who looked like me and explained the topic with nuance and empathy. It would be much easier to hear, and maybe they wouldn’t let me be stared at.

It felt disrespectful that I had to learn most of what I know about slavery from a movie called “12 Years a Slave,” which is based on a slave memoir from 1853, written by Solomon Northup. I was shocked when I saw the truth of what slaves went through. I was also angry; I had been lied to, and I had been fed the censored version and continued to hear it even after I had watched the movie.

I am in college, and I’ve learned that there’s studies relating to all I hadn’t been taught before: Black studies or Africana studies. When I learned about this, I let out a sigh of relief. My relief was short lived when I found out that a class about African Americans at WSU was also taught by a white man.

A part of me feels like I can’t be upset because most college professors don’t have a choice in what they teach. They also might not have the funds to decline teaching a class. And, of course, Wichita, according to the United States Census Bureau, is largely made up of white people: around 70%. Not to mention, while Wichita State’s student population is diverse, its faculty representation is lacking; as of 2021, 71% of WSU faculty are white.

Having white men, or even people, teaching classes about race does not do justice to the topic because these individuals have never had to experience the hardships that come with race, namely being a Black person in America. When they talk about the hardship of other races, I can always tell that it’s being told from “The White Man’s” perspective. For them, it’s water under the bridge, it’s not happening anymore so why should anyone care? Well, people of color still face racial discrimination to this day; it hasn’t changed for us.

My freshman year of high school, my English class read a book called “Of Mice and Men.” Due to the themes of racism my teacher wanted us to have an “n-word” discussion, where we debated if the slur should be said.

I was the only Black person in the class, so it was basically the whole class against me. A few people asked me why they can’t say the word and why do Black people get so offended. They told me that they pinky promised to never say it again if I let them say it once. It was horrible. I felt so small; it was my word against the whole class. Even my English teacher told the class that her “Black friend” let her say the word in high school, so everyone just has to get permission. To say I was furious is an understatement.

I have no problem educating others, but I refuse to give a spotlight to ignorance. I was angry, but everyone thought that I was overreacting, and I was quickly reminded of the angry Black woman stereotype. Eventually, I just sat down and stayed silent the whole class. That’s what they wanted; they wanted me to be angry and silent.

Although this incident was reported, the teacher remained working at the high school for two more years until she quit. I refuse to let a white person tell me about my culture because it makes me feel small; it makes me feel unseen. I don’t even feel safe enough to express my feelings without being made out to be an angry problem-child in the palm of the white man’s hand.

According to Janice Asare, an author who focuses on diversity and inclusion, one of the reasons for a lack of Black professors is “tokenism,” which essentially means only making a performative effort to care about people of color. Tokenism in collges can lead to faculty not being included or seen as individuals. It’s not enough to just have a diverse faculty if there isn’t anything being done that makes them feel included, wanted, or even just seen.

I can understand why a white person might teach a class about a race that they are not a part of or have been properly educated on due to a lack of racial diversity among the professors. But the only Black girl in the back of the class, who only received a look when a white man talked about the lowest point of her bloodline, will never understand.

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About the Contributors
Mel Bright, Former reporter
Mel Bright was a reporter and photographer for The Sunflower. When Bright is not in school, they loves to dance, act and they do photography on the side for fun. Bright uses they/them pronouns.
Wren Johnson, Illustrator/Designer
Wren Johnson is an illustrator for The Sunflower. Johnson is a third-year communications major that loves chickens. In her free time she likes to read, draw, and hang out with friends. Johnson uses she/her pronouns.

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    Shaylee Jacobs-WilsonNov 7, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    Great article with very valid points. I’d like to note, and encourage you to look into Associate Teaching Educator Shirlene Small’s ‘Race and Ethnicity’ class. She teaches the class from an appropriate perspective, I had the opportunity to attend two lectures of hers this semester and loved it.

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