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.
<MARCH 21/2021 POST>
With the release of reports from two independent agencies citing the RCMP's discriminatory actions surrounding Colten Boushie's death, I decided to share the post I wrote the night of the verdict. It's just as true today: the comments under the articles this week are evidence of that - both predictable and perennial - despite the fact that the RCMP has accepted most of the findings, in stark contrast to an initial internal investigation that completely exonerated them of any wrongdoing.
Three years have passed and the cognitive dissonance and racism still run deep here in Saskatchewan. If we hope for any change to come, we have to continue to do our part, particularly in schools. As the ConnectR site states, "grow what you know, encourage a shared future, and generate change." If you're not sure what to do, they are a good place to start. www.beaconnectr.org
<APRIL 21/2018 POST>
I wrote this on February 9. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about starting a blog. I literally hadn’t written anything in years. And I truly didn’t anticipate the impact that the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Colten Boushie shooting that night would have on me.
I was gutted – I sat at the computer until 1am and wrote and wrote. Eventually, it turned into the piece below. I sent it to one friend and one stranger, then set it aside. In the moment, that was enough. It was written out of despair, not a place I like to dwell, let alone share with others. But this weekend, I had a change of heart.
Moving our daughter home from Calgary gave me the chance to pore through two books as we drove: Three Day Road and The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America. I can’t believe I hadn’t read Three Day Road yet, a gripping story about two Indigenous soldiers in WWI. The Inconvenient Indian was informative and insightful, while dismantling the legends we tell ourselves about First Nation people.
They both reminded me that my way of seeing the world is precisely just that. But it was a line in the latter book, written in 2012, that made me pull my original piece back out: “In spite of such impediments, Native people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have begun to find moments of success within the legal systems of North America. Perhaps, after all this time, the laws of the land will finally ride to the rescue and we will all live happily ever after.”
It doesn’t. We aren’t.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” (Fanon, 1952)
I know there’s a diverse group that reads this blog. For some of you, this will not be a comfortable read. But please do read it, question it, reflect on it, put perspective to it…but mostly shine a light onto what you believe and why you’ve come to believe it. “Perhaps it is unfair to judge the past by the present, but it is also necessary.” (Thomas King)
<FEBRUARY 9, 2018>
There’s a crisis moment in Lord of the Rings on the eve of battle, where defeat seems imminent. Elrond says, “I give hope to men” and Aragorn replies, “But I keep none for myself.” That sums up how I’m feeling tonight. That, and despondent. I work with youth, and I know that there are many times that I am the only hope in their difficult lives. Yet tonight, I keep none of that hope for myself. All the little steps we have taken toward treaty education, reconciliation, heck even just a little bit of patience and understanding and empathy, all seems for naught.
Like most white people over the age of 40, I never learned anything in school about Indigenous people; never even heard the term ‘residential school’ until I was in university circa 1990. I knew our own settler story and was proud of it. I still am. It’s quite a feat. But it wasn’t until I had two Metis babies that I learned there was another side to that story: one that included residential schools, abuse, and intergenerational trauma. Yep, neighbors, that’s a real thing. And only because of other family supports, it has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god ending.
So I’ve thought a lot about the youth I’ve encountered over twenty years, the majority of them white. In those years, how many local kids have gone drinking at bare-ass beach and then booze cruised the back roads? Dealt drugs, vandalized buildings, rummaged through cars in town? Ripped doughnuts in a freshly seeded field? Gotten stuck? Rolled a car? Needed help? If you’re not sure what the answer is, it’s lots. LOTS. Heck, every other week the Facebook discussion page for town has complaints of kids ripping around (*there was another one posted just today*) and vehicles being broken into. Are they yelled at, chased away, had the cops called on them? Absolutely. But I’ll guarantee that not once has any one of those white kids had a hammer smash their windshield, a gun pulled on them, warning shots fired ‘straight up in the air,’ or got a magical-JFK-style bullet in the back of their head.
I was in my twenties, driving to Lloydminster, in a blizzard. I had to come a long way, so to be fair, it wasn’t bad when I started out, but the black ice and visibility had the RCMP closing the road with me still out there on it. I was only 10kms from the city when I finally saw yard lights and pulled in. I grew up on a farm, and really wasn’t too worried. But when an older lady opened the door, I could see in her face that she wasn’t going to let me in. I don’t remember what I said, but she relented and I waited out the storm for several hours, looking at the quilts she was making and having a cup of coffee. I honestly wonder, twenty years later, if my brown-skinned, hazel-eyed daughter would have gotten the same courtesy?
I know that so many people in my community want to say it isn’t about race, but that’s what you feel and say, when you don’t know what ‘race’ actually feels like. Like one comment I read tonight, “This injustice is common for us.” I guess 150+ years of systematic starvation, pass and permit systems, and stolen children makes you well practiced for a decision like this. Me? I was naïve enough to be shocked.
Acclaimed educator Penny Kittle writes, “Nothing without joy.” And although her words are meant for students and reading, it’s a universal sentiment. I also believe "Nothing without hope." I won’t give up hope completely, and although I may have none for myself right now, I know that in the days ahead, I will draw strength from the First Nation leaders and others who speak of dialogue, partnership, and reconciliation. I can’t allow myself to despair. I know that I still need to hope, and to bring hope to others. I just have to find it again.
As my third year blog-o-versary lands on today, it’s a perfect time to re-post my very first one! Not sure anyone reading this will have been there since the beginning, so here’s the Coles notes version.
1. Still love my metaphors and analogies.
2. Still not as funny as I think I am. Just ask my children.
3. Still too much a private person. There’s probably been more soul-bearing that I anticipated, but not as much as I yearn to.
4. Still mostly written sans editing. And at times long-winded. (Is meandering verbosity a craft move??)
5. Still mostly for me. Still the best reflective practice I can do. But writers need audiences, and I’m always glad to know when my words have reached someone’s heart or mind. If you are reading this, thank you.
One more thing: when I decided to jump right in three years ago (full-send it, as the kids say) I decided to call my blog Rocks and Willows. I grew up in a small Finnish collection of farms called Rock Point, and my maiden name was Pajunen, which translates to little willow. Both words have shaped me.
But it also works as rock, sand, willows.
There is a Finnish construct called sisu. It’s a quiet determination (stubbornness?) and strength to keep going, despite adversity. The rock inside us.
Sometimes the self-doubts and imposters in our head make us feel like we are on shifting sand, trying to find our footing. Let the sand sift its way through to settle as a base: the journey may have struggle, but it will make us stronger.
There are few trees more pliable than a willow, bending but rarely breaking. It reminds us to be flexible - to lean in when needed but be malleable to others as well. Here in Saskatchewan, wild willows never grow in isolation, their root systems expansive and strong. That’s something for us to remember too: together, we are stronger.
Thanks for being part of the journey with me.
First one...Ensimmäinen. 3/7/2018
So technically, this isn't the first entry. It's not even the second, as I've been writing to myself in Word for a little bit. And although I'm an amazing audience, I decided to take a leap and publish some of my thoughts online. It might be an audience of one, plus two more. I have dedicated friends lol.
I'm a pretty private person, so there won't be a lot of soul-bearing here, but I think a lot. And I like to write. Actually, I'd forgotten how much I liked to write until very recently. I signed up for an Aspiring Leadership group through our Prairie Spirit School Division, and one of the things they had us do at our first meeting was to create an "I Am From" poem. To say it was cathartic doesn't do it justice. It was like a small stone starting an avalanche for me. (This site is called Rocks and Willows....there's going to be a lot of metaphors haha.) The second reason I started writing might have been before that even. I'll have to get the calendar out to check! But it's a story for another entry.
So I thought I'd share my "I Am From" poem with you, sans edits. If you think this sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written again, then blame the Superintendent running the session that day as he put us on a timer! Just kidding. There may be sarcasm at some points in this blog. If you think that sucks and you're never coming back to read anything I've written, then I'm okay with that too. This is for me. You can come along for the journey if you want to.
I am from Rock Point, right on the edge
many nights and mornings at the kitchen window
scanning miles and patterns of fields beyond the Coteau Hills.
I am from stoic Finlanders and Irish tempers
and a landed-in-Dunblane-where-the-tracks-ended-with-25cents-in-his-pocket
I am from childhood coffee time and the lilting
of words not understood
Of kahvia and kiitos and hauska syntymäpäivää!
I am from a two seater airplane, its pilot
with a grade 8 education, a product of time and circumstances
but of trust and exhilaration and
I am from farming and freedoms
Of middle child mixups and a family
of siblings with alliterations as names.
I am my mom, and that makes me proud. And happy.
I am from Miss Carney and Kindergarten
and dreams that came to fruition.
I am from detours through music, and full circle again.
I am partnered with contrast.
Of half-breed written on a birth certificate, residential schools,
abuse and abandonment.
But of resilience and hope and our
beautiful brown-eyed family which
makes his story forever also mine.
I am from peace
and good fortune.
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.