Name: Chuck Dutchin
Occupation: Kindergarten teacher, Southern Bluffs Elementary School
Years in La Crosse area: Born and raised
Ethnicity: East Indian (mother’s ancestors from Holland and India; father’s from India)
Q: The La Crosse School District names you as the one black teacher among 640 teachers in the district. How do you identify racially and ethnically?
A: People make assumptions all the time that because you are black, you must be African American. I think sometimes people are afraid to ask because it doesn’t seem like the proper thing to do. I am more than happy to tell anyone that asks I am East Indian. My parents are from Guyana, South America.
Q: What is the value of having a minority standing at the head of a class?
A: Being a male kindergarten teacher is what I consider as being in the minority. Not so much being East Indian. When I started in the district 10 years ago, I was the only male kindergarten teacher. Now there are three male kindergarten teachers in the district. I can show that men can be the primary caregivers to children. I love wrestling and joking around with the children, but I am also nurturing. The biggest role I play is that I am a positive male role model for children. For some children, I might be their only role model.
Q: Do your students see race when looking at you or each other?
A: The first thing my students see is that they have a man for a teacher. The color of my skin is an afterthought to them. They are more interested in how I treat them. For most of these children, I am the first male teacher they have ever had. My students want someone they can trust and to feel safe around.
Q: Do you talk to your students about race? How do they react?
A: I do discuss race with my class. My students learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his role he played to provide racial equality. We spend time discussing how we are alike and how we are different. We learn that those differences make us special and unique. My class is taught that even though they are 5 or 6, they can stand up and say something if someone is being treated unfair.
Q: Growing up in the La Crosse area, did people ever treat you differently because you were a minority? How?
A: When my parents came to La Crosse 37 years ago, the community was 99 percent white. I did experience discrimination and prejudice because I was different. I dealt with name-calling and being excluded from activities. Once people took the time to ask questions and get to know me and embrace that being different is not scary, then things started to improve. I knew at an early age that I would not be accepted by everyone. To this day, I know some people will not like me because of the color of my skin. I am OK with that. I don’t need their validation. I can look in the mirror and know I am a good person. The lessons I learned from my parents about being proud of myself far outweighed any negatives thrown my way.
Q: Have people in La Crosse changed in their understanding of race since you were a child? How? What challenges still face the La Crosse area in terms of race?
A: I think La Crosse as a whole has changed their view. Our community is a lot more diverse than when I was a child. It is more commonplace for children to have minorities in the classroom or as neighbors in their community. La Crosse I feel is more accepting of different races. However, we need to get out of the habit of trying to label everyone we meet as being either black, tan or white.
Q: What is diversity and how does it change a community?
A: Diversity to me is differences. A community can either accept those differences and grow or they can stay the same and be stagnant.
Q: Can we ever talk about race too much? If so, how?
A: If we are trying to educate people, then we can never talk about race enough. However, if we are trying to force our ways and ideas on people, then race can be an issue if we are teaching about it for the wrong reasons.