Reflections from Mrs. James on empowerment, racism, and change. Excerpts from an interview with Mrs. James on January 27, 2014, at the conclusion of the project.
“How do they become informed unless we teach them?”
I believe that there’s empowerment in knowing when, when people are being consoling racist, or attacketively racist, that they have structure in place to combat that. And that they shouldn’t have to tolerate that. But as far as people’s ignorance goes, if they’re ignorant, if they’re truly ignorant, how do they become informed unless we teach them?
I kind of, I believe in a passivist approach more than the aggressive approach. And so, you’re talking more about Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and all these people who were trying to raise awareness in a peaceful way. And, you know, my mom would always say, “You get way more flies with honey than with vinegar.” And so I think if we’re trying to, I think a lot of racist behavior in Atkinville, and I would assume that Atkinville is a microcosm of the world, and that a lot of people that act badly towards minorities act badly out of ignorance, more than genuine hatred. Yeah, and that’s the thing, is that, I feel like so, yes they’re acting out of ignorance then they need to be educated, and who better to educate them than, I mean, what do we do? Stomp our foot and say, “Educate yourselves!”?
And so I think, I think there’s a line. I think that, that the place for activism and militant whatever, or more putting the responsibility on the heads of those who are actively racist is those who are educated, or who are violent, or who are harmful, or those who are purposefully trying to subvert or put down or suppress. And we’ve talked about that as a class. That, yeah, there is personal empowerment, but there’s also a time when you have to call people on their crap. Or, you know. Prime example is when Wilfred’s math teacher just ripped him a new one in front of everybody else. The place to go then is the administration. And the administration backs Wilfred up and says, “You can’t do this racist behavior to these students.” And, you know, the administration is supportive. And if the administration isn’t supportive then we go to the superintendent, or the school board. And at that point it becomes the misbehaver’s responsibility to correct their behavior. It’s not my job to inform or educate someone who’s being malicious. But you know, you have to be the change you want to see. And there’s the ‘blame the victim’ mentality that, yeah, you can’t tell them that it’s their responsibility to take to everybody’s wrongs and everything, but on the other hand, if it’s not their job, whose is it?
I made a presentation to the Idaho Commission of Hispanic Affairs, and there was a Latina professor there, from one of the colleges in Idaho. And she addressed this with me too, and she said she was probing about at what point does it not become their responsibility? And she said, “Okay, I really appreciate what you say about empowerment, but I’m also glad to hear that there’s a point at which they’re no longer responsible to make everyone understand.” And I’ve thought about it too. And that’s how I feel, is that they’re here to educate those that want to be educated. They’re not here to educate the people who are malicious, or demeaning or damaging. Those people that don’t want to change aren’t gonna change.