By Pam Faro

Story Summary:

Pam Faro grew up in very white central Wisconsin. Decades later, over a glass of wine with family, she learned that something she’d always done innocently was racially hurtful. How could a class taken way back in high school be of any help?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Raising My Glass to My Teachers

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever had a class in school that really made a difference in your life? What was the class, and what was the difference it made for you? Have you had a teacher who really made a difference in your life? Who was he or she, and what did they do that was so impactful for you?
  2. Is the phrase white privilege familiar to you? What do you think it means? Some people reject the notion of white privilege – why, do you think they do so? What do you think about it?
  3. What do you think of the notion that “One definition of ‘white privilege’ is that ‘white history’ is part of the core curriculum while ‘others’ history is an elective” (if available at all)?
  4. Outside of school or any other formal kind of class, think of someone from whom you have learned something important – a family member, friend, clergy person, coach, or even maybe a stranger. What did you learn, and how? Did they tell you something, or did you learn from observing them?
  5. When you offend someone, what is the best way to recover the relationship? Has anyone ever offended you? What did they do that helped or didn’t help?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Pam Farrow and I remember, when I was a little girl, I knew that I was half Norwegian and half German. It was something my family knew and celebrated.

And I remember when I got to high school in US history class, one of our first assignments was to go and ask our parents about our family’s immigrant history. Well I knew mine and I was fascinated when I heard my classmates have smaller fractions from lots of different countries. A quarter Irish, a sixteenth Hungarian and maybe an eighth French. Nobody was Chippewa or Menominee some of the native peoples in the area there in Wisconsin. No, we were all descended from European immigrants. We were a very white high school in a very white central Wisconsin town.

Have you ever heard one definition of white privilege is that white history is core curriculum and other’s histories are elective, if available at all?

Well one such elective was available in my high school and I took it. It was called racial minority. It was team taught by a husband and wife – History and English teacher and there were four units; There were Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Latinos. We read fiction and nonfiction books and articles wrote papers… lots of discussion and I began learning about the Trail of Tears and the genocide of the original peoples of this land. And some of the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow and the imprisonment of US citizens of Japanese descent.

And I remember learning about Cesar Chavez and the horrible conditions of the people who, who picked the fruits and vegetables we ate. And Mr. and Mrs. Drown, the teachers gave us some real information and tools and critical thinking skills that set us on a path to be able to learn the full history of our country. To not deny other’s experiences.

But… oh, I better never feel that I’m so educated. That I’m so woke that I don’t need to be open to more learning and to being called out.

Not all that long ago, I was having dinner with my younger son and his wife. They’re from out of town. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough. We were so happy to be together. I remember the wine was poured. We raised our glasses and I did something that it seems… in my family we’d always done. You know especially at a large family gathering when you can’t even reach across the table to clink your glasses with everybody. Well what we would do is extend our arms with our glasses and we use to… we thought fun onomatopoeia and that’s what I did. I raised my glass and I went “chink!” [motions as if clanking a glass in celebration]…my daughter-in-law Carolyn’s eyes went wide and she gave an unmistakable, oh-no-you-didn’t laugh. I was all… “What? What?”

She said, “Oh, nooo.”

I’m “What? What? That’s the sound. That’s what we do,” and it hit me my little innocent Norwegian, German self had just uttered an offensive racial slur right in the face of my beloved half Chinese daughter-in-law.

“Oh, no. Oh, no. No I didn’t, I didn’t even think.”

“No,” she said.

You know it doesn’t matter that that’s the way we’ve always done it. It doesn’t matter that I was innocent I wasn’t even thinking… I didn’t, because whatever my intentions were her experience was what it was and I had to learn from her.

Thank God both she and I are strong and loving and trusting enough that she could call me on that and didn’t just cringe inside.

In another context journalist Connie Schultz writes about the anguish of awareness. I’m so grateful for many reasons to my daughter-in-law Carolyn. And I will forever be grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Drown who gave a bunch of Midwestern white teenagers a toehold on the journey of learning the full history of our country. And of being open to learning about our white privilege. And to teach me that I must and can keep learning and that’s something worth raising a glass to.

Salud. [motions as if clanking a glass in celebration.]

Raising a Glass to My Teachers