Talking about race isn’t easy for anyone—and teaching about race can be a minefield. One of my own most difficult moments teaching about race happened when I encountered intentionally provocative behavior from one of my students, Dan, an Asian-American cis-gendered man.
Dan was in his last semester of law school, and this was his third course with me—it was a course on contemporary issues of race and law.
A major component of the course was a research paper and the students each took turns discussing their thoughts on their projects. When we came to Dan, he said, “I want to do a paper on the Rodney King beating.” His likely “thesis,” he announced, was that the beating King received at the hands of police “was deserved.”
Even as I write this now, I can feel a blip of reactivity. I can see the policemen in that grainy video that we’ve all seen, appearing to let loose with as much force as they could muster on Mr. King, raining strikes with their batons on the head and torso of a man already on the ground beneath them. And I can feel the empathetic pain, sadness, and anger coming up for me…