I turn on Twitter and see Don Cherry is trending.
Oh boy. I know what is there.
I joined a bookclub at the last minute this week, and I’m so glad that I did. It is being facilitated by Amanda Nelson, our amazing Sector Facilitator for Indigenous Perspectives, Partnerships and Outcomes. We are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram S. Kendi. There’s a part in the opening chapters that says:
Racist and antiracist are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Last week I had written that we need to shine a light on our own beliefs and question why we’ve come to believe it. Then I stole the words of my Director of Education, Lori Jeschke, and added: Let it propel you to act.
As educators, we have a duty to shine that light not only on ourselves and our implicit biases, but to help shine it on students to help them grow as well. We need to feel propelled to act. Every. Time.
“Call it out” seems like harsh wording, and I understand why we use that phrase. We cannot allow blatant racist, misogynistic, or homophobic words and actions in our classrooms. They need to be safe spaces for all students.
But they are also spaces where we want children to grow, and so although it is subtle, ‘shining a light’ is connotatively more useful wording as we help students to recognize, empathize, and hopefully change those words and actions.
Do I always know what to say? Am I always saying the right thing?
No. And no. I’m sure that I am not.
But I always say something.
My goal is not to convince.
My goal is to shine a light on their thinking.
Overheard in a span of one day:
“That’s so gay.”
Just when I think that maybe this has gone away, there it is. How do I shine a light on this? Kids know this one, so usually something short, like “There are 300,000 words in the English language. If you mean stupid, say it’s stupid. Saying it is gay is hurtful and mean.”
“If she beats me again (in a video game) I’m gonna…” I can’t even type what was said. It was not good.
And although only one in the group of boys was saying it, the misogyny needed to be pointed out for them all. “Are you mad because you lost or because you lost to a girl?”
Definitely because she was a girl. Okay, that narrowed it down.
“If we all have the capacity to be good at something, male or female, why does it matter that it’s a girl that you lose to? Or does it have something to do with being socially conditioned to think that men are just better at things than women? So that when you lose to a girl, you respond with shame and anger? How much of that anger do you think she gets online, just trying to do something that she’s good at?”
That one was a longer conversation, but also not long enough.
We were using jamboards (interactive sticky-notes you do together online) as conversation starters in ELA. It’s new. Kids play around a bit. Two kids keep throwing up memes.
Except that all the meme faces are black. Or women. Or black women. None of them witty or complimentary.
Before I get mad and completely pull the plug on the activity, I decide to shine the light.
This time I addressed the whole class. Yes, that’s for a laugh. But whose faces are you choosing? Why are you only choosing those faces? Do you realize it has only been black people or women or black women that you’ve chosen for a laugh? Do we consider that racism and misogyny are often ingrained in our worldview and we don’t always see it? My point wasn't to shut down gifs, but for them to hopefully consider what ones they always use and why.
(Coming from someone who was raised in a household that never used profanity or racial slurs but easily said the n-word when we chose who was “it” for tag using eeny meeny miny moe…there are layers of unconscious bias and racism in all of our actions.)
Before you worry that I am living in a glass house, let me assure you I am not.
Like students, there is a level of discomfort when someone shines a light on my own actions too. Sometimes it is something I already know I need to work on. Sometimes it is something I hadn’t even remotely considered that I was doing.
It never feels good. But it’s only in working through the dissonance that you can grow and try to be better.
I started with a quote from Ibram Kendi. Let me finish with one more.
"Racist” is not…the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.
Thanks for reading today.
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