“All white people are racist” is a statement that James Coursey, a white teacher in a Norman North High School philosophy elective class in Oklahoma, made as he tackled the issue of racism in a classroom lecture. This stirred one of his students to record the remark on a cell phone and complain anonymously. She felt that the teacher’s stance would cause some to harass others for being white.
The student said she was shocked by what her teacher said and doesn’t believe that Coursey’s words were in line with the purpose of his lecture — how to “heal the racial divide,” according to News Channel KFOR 4. Due to this, she began recording on her phone.
Her teacher ended his lecture with another comment, “To be white is to be racist, period.”
When the student heard this, she was offended and took it personally because she is white, KFOR also added.
“Half of my family is Hispanic, so I just felt like, you know, him calling me racist just because I’m white… I mean, where’s your proof in that?”
The student’s father also questioned the reason the teacher made the controversial statements.
“Why is it okay to demonize one race to children that you are supposed to be teaching a curriculum to?”
Later in the recording, the teacher can be heard making another personal statement on his own struggles with racism.
“Am I racist? And, I say yeah. I don’t want to be. It’s not like I choose to be racist, but do I do things because of the way I was raised.”
Despite the student’s complaint, 100 demonstrators supported Coursey. Another student said that the portions of the lecture that were recorded were also taken out of context. Others walked out of school in support of the teacher.
Coursey’s effort to engage students in a dialogue on race could be viewed as commendable in light of national discussions on institutionalized racism in public schools, universities, and corporations. Other talks on racial inequality and police misconduct toward black men have also recently taken center stage. However, stating that “all white people are racist” can also be viewed as inflammatory.
Paul Ketchum, a professor of liberal studies at the University of Oklahoma, said that Coursey committed a “rookie error” in teaching on race, noted the Christian Science Monitor.
“You go for the big term when a less loaded term would be better to make it a teachable moment.”
According to KFOR, Dr. Joe Siano, the superintendent of Norman Public Schools addressed the controversy in a statement.
“Racism is an important topic that we discuss in our schools. While discussing a variety of philosophical perspectives on culture, race and ethics, a teacher was attempting to convey to students in an elective philosophy course a perspective that had been shared at a university lecture he had attended. We regret that the discussion was poorly handled. When the district was notified of this concern it was immediately addressed. We are committed to ensuring inclusiveness in our schools.”
It appears that Siano feels that although the lecturer didn’t use the correct words, racism must be addressed in classrooms. Coursey had attended a lecture on the subject and made an effort to share what he learned with his own students.
The student who brought Coursey’s statement to the attention of officials said that she would like him to apologize. She is concerned that other students will take what the teacher said as fact, and he should clarify that his statements are an opinion.
Perhaps the “all white people” statement wasn’t a good way to introduce the topic, and Siano made this clear. He also stated that the school is committed to inclusiveness.
[Featured image by Sean Rayford/Getty Images]