Black culture is a wonderfully sophisticated culture. They have studied and
know their own culture from the stereotype (that you see on television talk
shows) to the rich culture of voudun, to the famous people in their history.
It's presumptuous of me to try to teach them about their own culture, but we
are expected to do that. I can make flags, quilts, and collage, a la Romare
Beardon. I can teach the accepted role models such as Jacob Lawrence, the
history painter. I think that girls who like to braid hair will like wheat
weaving. I can teach them any kind of art out of the textbook for that
They don't hesitate to vocalize when someone does something they don't like,
or to scream when a boy or girl touches them who they don't want to touch
them. The Asian-American kids could learn a lot from them about protecting
themselves from harassment. They know their rights. Also, where I live,
sports is very very important.
Looking to one side instead of right at you might signify "looking the other
way, at something you are doing that isn't right up to par with their
conservative culture." One little girl gave me a big hug and then pointed
to my mouth and said, what's on your mouth?" I stopped wearing lipstick at
that point, because many black Muslims frown on lipstick. . Perhaps they are
saying that they are going to look the other way at your mistakes, while you
find your way as a new teacher, so that's good. But don't count on it.
They refer to almost everyone as a relative or an auntie. Speaking to
someone else with a message for you, in your hearing is called a cultural
communication. The delight is that the African Americans are great
communicators and never stop talking. Nothing escapes their notice. They
will tell you about yourself with body language and in other ways. They are
usually more physically active than the other ethnic groups. It is a
conservative church-going culture, however, make no mistake about that. In
the south they have a tradition of caring for white people as nannies and
maids. Your classes are more integrated than the classes here in the Bay
Area. I don't like to make generalizations about a cultural group, but there
I think you can use your positive behavior techniques with this group. For
example, say "walking" instead of "stop running in the hallway." Recognize
them with praise.