Who is Kathy Baker?
Kathy Baker, a front end member of the Baby Boomer generation, along with a younger brother (4.5 years) were born in Jackson, Michigan, and moved to Battle Creek when her father, a Battle Creek native, accepted a job with the Carton & Container division of Post Cereals. Her father was extremely talented - and while college was not part of his parents' expectations, developed life skills and abilities that were used until his death at 96; Kathy’s mother graduated from high school (two years early) to attend Central State Teacher's College and had an amazing ability to connect in a genuine, unique way with students, fellow educators, church members and any person that she met. Kathy received degrees from Lakeview HS, Kellogg Community College, Central MIchigan University (BA) and Western Michigan University (MA). She had a successful 35.5 years in elementary education for Battle Creek Public Schools. Retirement allowed her to volunteer in her inner-city school, local non-profits and her church. She appreciates research done by her mother on her French & French Canadian family along with a genealogy book on her father's Biblical and English/Scottish connections and the avenues they have opened for her. The decision to participate in the Facing Whiteness project forced her to explore in depth issues and topics that stretched and challenged her in personal beliefs, relationships to others of different races and society in general. Through this, she's come to realize that seeing things from the perspective of another race is an ongoing challenge.
Excerpt from interview with Kathy Baker by Whitney Dow, 2017
Baker: [17:31:05] Okay. I lived in Jackson, Michigan originally. My mother was an educator in the high school. My dad worked for an optical company, and he was hired after he got out of the service, and worked there. Lived two blocks from the school, [laughs] so I couldn’t really skip school. I don’t remember too much about the neighborhood except that our house was two blocks from school. We had some good friends that we met through church. Basically, I’m assuming a white neighborhood. I don’t have any way to really know, but based on the friends we had. We moved to Battle Creek when I was second grade, moved to the Lakeview area, and within walking distance of elementary school. Neighborhood was white; there was no question about that. I did discover, though, when my dad died in 2010 and I had the deed to the house, that at one time the area had been restricted and no blacks could buy houses there, which I found very interesting, and kind of like, whoa. I can’t remember the timeframe on it, but when the subdivision was—or when that area was established, it was coming out of World War II, and so they were building a lot of homes. That was part of it. And I don’t know where that came from, but Lakeview was a pull-away from Battle Creek, people that didn’t want to live in the city because the population makeup, which was blacks, moved to Lakeview. And so, Lakeview was very much a white suburb; there was no question about that. So, you know, white neighbors, white school. In the high school I went to, which was Lakeview High School, maybe—I can remember one black student when I was in high school there for the four years. So pretty much that whole area, township, was pretty much white, and a lot of pull-aways from the city itself.
Q: And as a young woman, girl and young woman growing up, when did you—do you remember a time when you started to become conscious of your race?
Baker: [17:33:12] No. [laughs] Interestingly enough, I worked—I got hired—I went to Central Michigan University, was hired to teach at a black school. And so, the elementary school that I taught at, and stayed with until it closed in ’99, was ninety-five percent black. And no, so I really don’t know that I could ever say that I was cognizant that I was white, versus black.
Q: So, take me through that. Even though you taught a school that was ninety-five percent black, you didn’t think of yourself as a white teacher in a black school?
Baker: [17:33:52] Not really. I mean, not really. I had students that would—[laughs] I hadn’t thought about this story in a long time—I had a student that came to me. The teacher next to me was absent. She had a sub. And the sub was white. And this student [laughs] came over and said, “Miss Baker, Miss Baker, guess what! We’ve got a sub, and she’s white.” And it didn’t dawn on me that—and I just remember my reaction was that’s kind of interesting that this child would come and tell me that, because I obviously am not black. So, no, I just—I guess I just never thought myself as—of—in that way.