Educators and community members spoke candidly about race in America and the public-school system at a book discussion moderated by an Arizona State University professor.
Dr. Mildred Boveda, assistant professor of special education and cultural and linguistic diversity at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, led the discussion on Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.
She talked about the various social and cultural markers that define each person, but also point out the “different ways people are.”
The discussion was co-sponsored by Parents for Equity in Education, an organization that works to educate parents about systematic racism in schools and what the solutions are.
“I think the biggest thing that people don’t know is…what it (racism in schools) exactly looks like,” said Meg Astudillo, one of the organization’s members. “It’s like, which kid are you giving the benefit of the doubt to and which kid are you harsher with?”
“All of our kids benefit when we start to address these things,” Astudillo said. “It’s not just about other kids who have issues, but it’s about every single one of our kids getting a well-rounded education in a more inclusive environment where they’re all being seen and heard.”
Boveda emphasized the importance of a diverse curriculum to engage students in classrooms with content related to their history and experience.
When she was a student at Harvard, Boveda said she received a syllabus that featured works exclusively written by white people.
“The whole syllabus was about urban communities and people of color in the United States and children of color,” Boveda said. “That’s an issue.”
Boveda, who talked extensively about her upbringing in South Miami to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, said, “I tell people about all the markers that make me different in a society where the word ‘different’ is often viewed as ‘inferior’.”
She said many other markers, be it wealth, education or poverty, are all entangled with race, though many people brush race issues off as other issues.
Boveda struggled with her own identity and what made her different, especially in terms of race. Though she was born in the U.S., she claimed her Dominican heritage because her background was a diverse mix of nationalities, languages and cultures.
“Somehow, someway you’ve been in a place that’s supposed to be a safer place for people of color, people from different backgrounds,” Boveda said. “I have somehow internalized this idea that I was not American, right? I spoke Spanish and I was black and then my parents were from the islands.”
Boveda said the next generation is reshaping the dialogue about race, with young people being more open to the different markers each person carries.
“I do see that in certain categories of diversity and equity issues, our students, our children, our next generation, they are pushing the conversation in a direction that is more humanizing to all types of experiences,” Boveda said.
The book focuses on how to start conversations about race, which Boveda joked about, saying, “that’s the one that people start sweating about.”
“We need to really start feeling comfortable talking about differences, our differences, destigmatizing our difference,” Boveda said. “Difference is just a fact of life.”
“The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve wanted to become involved,” said Beth Ellison, a former educator.
“We all have our privileges,” Ellison said. “We all have our struggles. I have white privilege that does not make me privileged per se. It means that I have the privilege of being white, which means I don’t fear for my life when I get pulled over. It’s okay to acknowledge our privilege and to use it to leverage a better impact.”