In world history, I am currently covering topics such as the colonization of the Americas and the trade in African captives, and so naturally race comes up a lot.

I teach a very predominantly white population. People who study these matters note that many white students are uncomfortable discussing questions of race in class.* And at first in my discussion, it was a back and forth between the visibly-Asian-American student (who also happens to be Jewish in some way) and the clearly-Latino-in-my-view-but-maybe-not-my-students-eyes? student, which was unfortunate, and I was very close to calling the class out on letting the students of color carry the burden of the discussion.

Anyhow, if I remember correctly, the student who looks quite white (to my eyes, I assume to my students) but in fact I just discovered via some official data is classified as Native American, was the third person to leap in. I don’t know whether he broke the seal or not, but after that several more of my white students—about half the class—entered the discussion and it was much better.

(Thank god, because I was really not feeling for having the discussion that would have been necessary if I called the class out. I didn’t have time for it, for one thing—already this discussion had been leftover from the previous class.)

* In college, I had a white friend with light brown skin who was very visibly racially ambiguous, which she quite enjoyed (actually, eventually her family found a black ancestor). Anyhow, we used to have a lot of fun in class imagining the internal dialogue of other classmates: “Is she black?” “Well, she could be.” “Oh, she spoke up to say something about Audre Lorde. She must be black.”

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