I want to share a story with y’all, a bit of what I alluded to at the beginning of this post and here. I spent quite a bit of time talking about the freedom movements of the 1950s and 1960s in my post-45 class. I heard by way of one student, that another older, white, male student liked my class, but since he’d “lived through all of that,” he’d really wanted to hear more about Sputnik and the space race than I’d offered. The student who relayed the story to me said that she asked him, “Did you look on the history site and see what her specialties are?”
I was glad for her little nudge, but this is something I’ve encountered repeatedly, albeit not always so nicely worded. In my first set of evaluations eons ago, I had a student say, “She’s a good teacher, but she talks too much about race.” I also “focus a lot” on gender. I get related comments often—if not in bulk (one or two a semester, at most).
Those comments used to get under my skin. I now take them as a compliment of sorts. Somewhere along the way, I had a moment of clarity. I won’t say that students can’t help determine what I teach—I love when they ask to hear more about a subject, for example. And I try to give examples that are relevant to where they are (Texas)—in my survey, when we talk about other ways PoC tried to better their conditions during the Depression (since they were so often left out of the New Deal), we spend a nice amount of time on the San Antonio pecan shellers’ strike and the revitalization of the NAACP in Texas during the 1930s.
But for students to think that they can demand that I, a black woman historian, teach in a way that excludes or doesn’t “focus a lot” on race or class or a number of other factors, when my syllabus lists as an objective “To enable you, as a participant, to… recognize the role factors such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability have played in shaping policy, institutions and relationships within the U.S.” is ridiculous.
In a sense, they are asking me to teach a history that disappears me.
I'm starting to think that my life in the academy will teach me as much about race and gender privilege as my life in a rural, southern town.