History videos and exposing trauma

Nandita Kumar, Staffer

I live in a complicated environment. I’m a person of color in Lake Oswego. So, from a young age, history classes have been a mixed bag. There are some years where I’ve learned more in an English class than in a whole year of history, and there are some history classes that have pushed me to think more critically than ever before. Now, after what every white person calls, “The Social Reckoning of 2020” I’ve noticed a shift in the history classes offered at LOHS. Teachers try more and more to include a diverse collection of communities. There’s been a real push for systematic understanding. 

But the system is not made for me. As a person of color who’s attended their fair share of history classes, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that white teachers are attempting to “prove” to white students that discrimination exists. So, when the words “civil rights unit” rang in my ears midway through spring of sophomore year, my stomach dropped. Anything surrounding race, even if it’s not my race, becomes a staring game. White kids looking at me and me looking straight ahead. My skin would turn red if it could. 

For me, being a person of color in a predominantly white school means being put on the spot all the time in these units, whether intentionally or not. It means people looking at me for a response when descriptions of aggression against my people are discussed. It means I can’t be “honest about my experiences with discrimination” on the Pear Deck because there’s not enough people of color in the class to maintain anonymity. It also means reliving trauma, particularly dispensed through one mode: videos. 

Specifically, videos of explicit brutality with explicit descriptions of murder, verbal and physical assault, and pure evil in the form of discrimination. It makes me sick to my stomach, it feels too overwhelming and personal, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the fear that already consumes my life. I understand the importance of these issues, and I’d enjoy learning more about them. But why videos? And, if they include trigger warnings, why can’t those aspects of the class be optional? 

I don’t really have a fix for this issue.The curriculum is important, but sometimes it can just be too much to handle. I know it’s not really for me, or if it is meant for people like me, it’s not very effective. I’d just like to feel more comfortable in my classes, and watching graphic depictions of the racial trauma I’m already familiar with has the opposite effect.