Getting personal first

I was recently asked to share my personal racial narrative in an interracial space. Everyone was given five minutes to write and two minutes to share.

Young female is writing notes and planning her schedule.

As a white woman who wasn’t aware until about a dozen years ago that being a white woman meant something, I have come to understand my racial narrative is one of learning, mess-ups, and grace. It has been about finding a truer, freer version of myself and about reclaiming lost humanity. I knew that authentically sharing my racial narrative would mean leaning into imperfection, letting go of the need to prove myself as a “good person”, and speaking honestly.

I decided on a story of when I first was forced to examine my own race and racism after hurting a friend of color with an “upsetting comment” (aka racist comment) that I made. I decided to share it for two reasons. One, because it was the story that made me most uncomfortable and I believed this was the space to be vulnerable and push myself. Two, because it illuminates for me the importance of white people doing work to figure out what it means to be white.

It came time to share. The stories that people shared were raw, authentic, and real. I am was humbled by the humanity in the space. When it came to me, I started and explained what I do—I’m a racial equity coach­—and why I chose to share my story­—I feel like this is a space I can be vulnerable. At work, I ask teachers to share and I need to go to the discomfort… –and I shared the context of my story – after my first semester of college…

And then my two minutes were up.

It moved on to the next person and all I did was talk about my job and why I picked my story but I didn’t share my story.

At the end, we had ten minutes to reflect and discuss what the process was like. A mentor of mine, who was a part of our group, spoke to the power of starting with the personal before the professional. It struck me. That was the exact opposite of what I had done. I had gotten in my own way. Why? It is not because I don’t believe this work matters at a deeply personal level. It was because there was safety, identity in the professional that I wanted to claim. I wanted to make sure my innocence was established before I shared.

Innocence by association is not new to the history of white people in this work. Statements that start with “my best friend is black,” “I have a Latino neighbor,” “we talk about racial equity at school,” stop us from going to the personal of our own actions, our own beliefs. Joan Olsson speaks specifically to this pattern and how it “wrongly equates personal interactions with people of color, no matter how intimate they may be, with anti-racism.” It assumes our associations—professions, friends, other relationships—free us magically from our racist conditioning. This is not to say jobs or relationships with people of color are wrong (CLEARLY). But when I rely on other things– not my own actions, my own work, my personal–I lose my true self. I can get a title of “anti-racist” and then stop doing any of the work.

Also, trying to claim titles of innocence plays into the faulty idea that there is a good/bad binary for people and racism. The more understanding I gain into the social construction of race in the United States, the more deeply embedded I see racism in our history, our institutions, and our worldview. I have lived in the U.S. for all the years of my life and so the effects of such certainly must show up in me, even without my intent, awareness, or agreement. Robin DiAngelo offers “entering the conversation with this understanding is incredibly liberating because it allows us to focus on how ­­–rather than ­­if—our racism is manifesting.”

In my narrative sharing experience, I went to the professional before the personal as means to establish myself free of any current racism before I told them about my past racism. Dr. DiAngelo’s alternative to this pattern of denying the inevitability of racist patterns, is where we actually are eager to identify racist patterns and thank people for identifying them. With such a perspective, “stopping our racist patterns becomes more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them.”

To me, embracing this alternative offers freedom and growth. A day later I had an opportunity to share my narrative again with a new group. This time, I stripped the disclaimers and qualifications. In my two minutes I recounted the facts and the pain. I finished knowing this vulnerability gave me freedom. It allowed me to stand with compassion, empathy, and conviction–not only with others in racial equity work, but also with myself.

Reflection: // When might you have been tempted to claim innocence by association? What stopped you from going personal instead? If you were to embrace DiAngelo’s alternative and talk about racist patterns instead of denying them, what might show up for you? // Have a racial equity journal? Take 5 minutes to write your response.

 

– JE

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White Like That

My friend shared a short film of an awkward first date on her Facebook wall this past week with the lines “Short and sweet but powerful point.” In it, a white man and white woman start making casual and flirtatious jokes as they get to know each other. After they finish dinner, the man makes a racist joke. The woman calls him out on it and… you can imagine how that goes. As I watched it I was reminded of a first date I went on a couple years back that quickly ended after a comment along the lines of “Don’t you just think those kids…” Thanks, no thanks. Don’t use the fake question “don’t you think” to tell me what to think. Do you know the derogatory use of the word “those” in a racial context? Can we get the check please?

Of course I say all this not to be self-righteous SO here comes the fall. In the film, as the couple walks outside, the woman in the video is caught in her own racial assumptions and is made to look like a fool. The end. The point of the whole thing is that yes it is important to have conversations about race, AND it is also important that we look inward at our own bias and bring that to the conversation. That is the protocol (CCAR Conditions 1 & 2: Engage through our personal racial experiences, beliefs and perspectives while understanding historical as well as contemporary, local, and immediate contexts). In all the painful events of the summer and ensuing articles and responses, I read somewhere a call to white people talking to other white friends.

White people: talk to your friends about racism. But don’t talk to them about THEIR racism, talk to them about YOURS.

To do this would mean that we I look internal and model reflection. To do this would mean we I show vulnerability and a growth mindset. To do this would mean we I approach others with curiosity and not judgment. To this would mean that I go back through what I just wrote and write with I statements.

In a world where rhetoric of building walls, banning religions, and dehumanizing people of color is prevalent, it is tempting for me to think, yes I’m white, but I’m not white like that. This is dangerous for several reasons; the least of not is that it lets me limit racism to confirmed bigots and intentional hateful actions. Racism does not require malice or intent. I can and do participate without trying. So such dichotomous thinking creates several dangerous traps.

It allows me to continue acting without personal reflection. I am passionate about racial equity work, AND I have plenty of growth to do in this work. When I as a white woman embrace personal reflection I get to embody the characteristics of who I want to be—a lifelong learner and a believer that we can grow from our mistakes. It also allows me to reject the “Good” vs. “Bad” binary and see myself as human, not as someone who needs to be perfect.

It allows me to ignore taking responsibility and reconciliation for hurtful impact because “I didn’t mean it”. When I hit a car and ignore it, it’s illegal even if I didn’t mean it. Can you imagine if it wasn’t? Last time someone hit me, I don’t think I would have been comforted much by “Oops, didn’t mean to. Have a great day!” Racism works the same way.

It allows me to stay silent letting the moving walkway keep on cruising towards racism and racial disparities without working against it. Beverly Daniel Tatum talks about this in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafteria? Until systemic racism is interrupted, it will keep happening. Sitting on the moving walkway, seeing it move, but not walking the other way for me often takes the form of silence. Silence leads to distrust amongst white people and people of color because I am not willing to place myself in the work as a white woman and only further contributes to fracturing our community. Additionally, it exhibits the belief that it’s other people’s responsibility to stop racism, not mine.

So my reminder is yes, I am white like that. Not to make myself feel bad or to sit stuck in guilt or in helplessness, but to own up to my work and reclaim my own humanity. As Joan Olson puts it in her article Detour-Spotting for White Anti-Racists “There are no ‘exceptional white people.’” Yes, I attend anti-racism trainings and work to have courageous conversations about race with people in my life. Yes, I interrupt racist jokes and attend vigils for lost black lives. And I still experience privilege because I am white. When I can hold both—I am about this work and benefit from my skin color—I place myself in the picture. I get in the boat and start to row with people of color and white anti-racists rather than cheering them on from the side. I break down walls with potential allies and embrace my own learning.

This year, my goal is to continue to model reflection. Growing up in a home that didn’t talk about race, over the years I acquired quite the skill set for avoiding conversations about race. It is my continued work to build on new skills, courageous skills, that allows me to pursue change in a new way. I desire for this blog to be one such place of that. Not because I have answers or have it figured out, but because I believe we are in this together. To use Gloria Ladson-Billing’s words, as a nation we have accrued an enormous educational debt owed to our students of color and native students. I am passionate about changing that and need to start with and continually examine myself. Will you join me?

 

Links:

Date Video

Joan Olson Article

Beverly Daniel Tatum Book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? 

Gloria Ladson-Billings: From The Achievement Gap to the Education Debt

CCAR Protocol

 

-JE

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From the voices of our leaders

 

I recently was a part of a presentation to parents from the district around what St. Louis Park racial equity work is and why it matters. The group of equity coaches introduced some tools for talking about race and walked participants through personalizing racial equity. My colleagues are amazing and shared powerful testimonies of their work and learning. However, I wanted to share out some of what I heard our leaders say. Towards the beginning of the evening, each principal and our superintendent shared briefly on what racial equity work looks like to them and in their buildings. Here are some of the highlights. (Please note, that while I look careful notes, these are not direct quotes.)

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This work is about making mistakes and leaning in to hear other perspectives. We’ve done work around racial autobiographies, and it’s been emotional at times, ask our building equity coach—I’ve gotten emotional, but it’s been powerful.

 

I’ve come to terms with the privileges I’ve been afforded and how I’ve been looked at as a white male and the positive assumptions made about my capabilities based purely on that.

 

Racial equity is about humanizing ourselves and others—let’s find out who you are, and who I am. We owe this to our children, especially as we work in education and we’re forming futures.

 

The overwhelming majority of our white students are on their way to colleges, ninety percent. But only a quarter of our black students are. I’ve been reading more and more about what’s going on that contributes to this and learning from our building equity coach. This is life and death for our students. We need to dedicate ourselves to this until it’s 90-90.

 

I’ve learned that it’s okay to question things, and that we must continually ask questions. To look at policies and ask–who is it benefiting? Why are we doing this? This is about our parents of color expressing that they realized they have a voice in the race conversation and our white students having healthy racial identities.

 

This work is about valuing process over outcomes. In creating a space and protocol to talk about race, before there is an issue, there is a dedicated space to have the conversation.

 

We owe our students the best. This is work that needs to happen.

 

I’m new at this. As a leader, my focus has been being the leading learner. To model to my teachers, what it looks like to engage in this work. I’ve always loved x’s and o’s, but this is work about beliefs. And no x’s or o’s matter until there is that belief that ALL kids can learn.

 

This work has become personal to me. I started with a belief that we did equity work for our students of color, but it has become personal to me. My humanity is involved.

 

As a white person, in the past when I went home I was able to walk away from the conversations around equity. But recently, I have learned what it means to work against the norm of white privilege and to walk against the flow of racism. I look at conversations where previously I would have stopped because of fears and ask myself, why am I being silent?

 

I question how does my race affect the learning? We have 90% white employees and 45% students of color – what’s the impact? This work is blending best practices and racial equity reflection for the best for all our of students. We need to examine questioned elements of the institution and build racial consciousness. This if for our white students too. That they might be equipped to navigate the world and have healthy racial identities.

 

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I am so grateful for the leadership and support our district is committed to in this work. We are truly in this together. – JE

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Why is it hard to have courageous conversations about race?

Why is it so hard to have conversations about race?

 

This was one of the questions posed to students in the Black History Month presentation video by Chris Weaver. Students shared different responses from fear of offending someone, to not being black or white enough, to not having space or language for the conversation. Depending on whom you ask and when you ask there would probably be a million different answers. So let’s make it personal. What makes it hard for YOU to have conversations about race today in your class? Tonight at your dinner table? Tomorrow in your curriculum? Next weekend at your religious community?

 

As a white woman, the challenges I face vary by setting, but most of them are pretty familiar to me and most of them, sadly, have to do primarily with me. Debby Irving (author of Waking Up White) offers several common challenges:

I don’t like to rock the boat
I don’t want my mistakes or ignorance exposed
I tend to disengage when I get uncomfortable
I feel a sense of urgency and a need to fix

Not surprisingly, these are reflective of values found in dominant White Culture such as emotional registrant, perfectionism, politeness/compliancy, and product or outcome driven. While none of these are bad in and of themselves, there is danger when they are centered as the correct way, or the only way. When that happens space for alternatives such as emotional honesty, learning from mistakes, and process orientation don’t exist.

 

Ok…so what does this mean when talking about race? Let me illustrate with a story from my life.

Last Thursday I was with a group of educators talking about race. I was in an inter-racial small group reviewing the protocol. After several people shared, I confidentially added some thoughts. After I finished speaking, the white male in my group politely but firmly disagreed offering a different perspective. My instinctive perfectionist centered self-talk response was embarrassing.

I’m wrong. Am I wrong?
How can I be wrong?
I JUST studied this. And… I messed it up.
I’m wrong.
I didn’t say it right. I should have gone with the shorter description.
I hope Ann didn’t think I was disagreeing with her. Did it come off that way?
What if she did and she thinks I’m unconscious?
Why am I here? I can’t even explain the Protocol right.
Pretend like you’re still listening to the conversation.
Play it cool. Calm down. Get out of the emotional quadrant. Be rational about this!
Maybe you’ll say something smart next time.

My perfectionism shut me down. I am thankful it was momentary, (the following prompt allowed me share where I was on the compass and that whole whirlwind), but it was also very familiar. Debby Irving reflects on a similar experience of what she calls “getting over herself”. She writes, “how silly, really, that when confronting a four-hundred-year-old problem that includes millions of people of color, that I should put my own self-image front and center.” That is exactly what I had done.

Later in reflection, my partner and I we were able to go deeper into how perfectionism shows up and shuts me down and the patterns surrounding that. That is the courageous reflection I need to engage in, not the cowardly “I wasn’t perfect so I’m going to take my ball and go home” response that came so natural. All that perfection did was weaken my ability to talk courageously about race and in turn strengthen the role racism has in my life.

Maybe your struggle isn’t perfectionism, but if you’re human it’s probably something. So what is it? Why is it so hard to have courageous conversations about race? The question is not for guilt, but for engagement. By looking at what’s stopping us we can create space to strengthen our muscles for the alternative.

-JE

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Fully Human

A couple weeks ago Trevor Noah covered Obama’s speech on new gun control measures in a way that brought me back to my investment in racial equity as a white woman. Noah, the host of the Daily Show, responded to right wing critique of Obama’s emotional delivery. He flips between clips of Obama and jokes characteristic of the show, even comparing the situation to a raccoon with cotton candy. But Noah also delivered one line, with a sobering reminder to my daily work.

 

Noah plays the clip of Obama pausing to regain his composure whipping away tears as he speaks of the first grade victims in Newtown, Conn. The screen cuts back to Noah who also pauses and responds,

 

“See that thing you’re feeling right now, that pain in your chest, that comes from watching someone weep on national television that society can do better than to file the shooting of children under S*** happens, that’s how you know you’re human.”

 

Noah goes on to say despite one’s policy beliefs, in our humanity, we must “acknowledge and respect the raw authenticity of emotion” in response to pain. He quickly goes back to humor, but I was left in that moment. Frozen in that pain and sense of injustice.

 

As a white woman in racial equity work, I desperately need moments like this around race. I need moments where I viscerally am reminded of what I know. Racism is a horrible, dehumanizing, painful thing. The systemic inequalities, racial predictability of academic, wealth, criminal justice, and physical health outcomes is depressing and infuriating. I could go on and on. But left to my own conditioning and tendencies I don’t stay present to that. I run to individualized effort focused solutions. “I tried”. I run to intellectual theories. “The roots of this come from a list of factors…” I run to beliefs of helplessness. “This is too big…”

 

That’s why I need these moments. They pull be back to my humanity. These are not moments where I feel bad for “them”, whatever group that might be that I am inclined to otherize. These are moments where I FEEL human for US. That part of me I have been conditioned to minimize or trivialize emerges.

 

I need these moments because they are where my whiteness breaks down. The lies that I have constructed about others and about myself falter and I see my best-self as it is tied up in the well being of others. They are moments where I again find my purpose and why I care about this work at the deepest level of me. I am reminded of what I know.

As Robert Jensen puts it,

“Somewhere down in our guts we understand that in an oppressive system such as white supremacy, the unearned privileges with which we live are based on the suffering of others. We know that we have things because others don’t. We may not want to give voice to that feeling, but it is impossible to ignore completely. And it doesn’t feel good, in part because to be fully human is to seek communion with others, not separation from them, and one cannot find that connection under conditions in which unjust power brings unearned privilege. To be fully human is to reject a system that conditions your pleasure on someone else’s pain.”

 

It is my work to slow down and feel that pain in my chest around the truth of racism and the dehumanization of whiteness. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, if I try to experience it and manage it on my own it can be paralyzing. But I am also convinced my humanity depends on it.

 

This isn’t about sitting in white guilt. When did guilt become white people’s go-to emotion around race anyway? Guilt can act much like denial in shutting down personal investment or one’s ability to hear multiple perspectives. In the moments I have surrendered to white guilt I ran from courageous racial conversations, rather than to them. But what I am talking about is about being a witness to the continued atrocity of racism around us and amongst us. It is only from that space of honesty and painful truth can I hope for healing to begin. As James Baldwin put it, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I need to face the real emotions that my whiteness has tried to hide from me. I need to feel that pain to be reminded that I am human, and to see our well-being on the line.

 

-JE

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Highlights

I have been trying to write something inspiring for a good hour now. (I would follow-up with a comment about not being amazing, but that’s a narrative I’m trying to interrupt for myself).  Through several sacred conversations with many of you this past week, I know a lot of us have a lot we’re processing right now. Supreme Court and Gun Control Facebook articles in themselves are enough, but frustration with how things are going in the classroom, personal challenges, and carrying feelings of loss heading into the holidays don’t make the list any shorter.

So in reflection and validation of that, I don’t have any perfect saying that will take that all away. But as I was reflecting on this past week I also kept coming back to the point that I had the privilege of seeing some AMAZING education this week. We have INCREDIBLE teachers–even when people are feeling burnt out and holding their breath for break. I want to briefly highlight just some of those things. See or hear of something you want to highlight? Leave it in the comments section or send me an email.

 

– Business students laughing at the “metaphor video of the day” on balance used as a brain break and key way to connect the concept of balancing equations to something memorable (want to laugh yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO_BnsrWMnI)

– A counselor standing passionately in their commitment to increasing connection to SLPHS for students of color

– The Special Ed department in full flexibility mode in the face of the unexpected with calm, caring, community

– A veteran teacher on FIRE about new learning and dedicated to increasing racial equity within our system and challenging the status quo

– An English teacher utilizing students as sources of knowledge and introducing different curriculum to be more culturally relevant

– 100% engagement and students (politely) arguing over who was going to read next in an English class

– A teacher seamlessly rephrasing, probing, and delving deeper with questioning in a supportive way after a student initially responded “I don’t know” (Want some quick open- ended questions?  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/five-powerful-questions-teachers-ask-students-rebecca-alber)

– A social-studies teacher co-constructing knowledge with students when asked a question, increasing engagement

– A paraprofessional providing individual, learning-based attention and assistance equitably and from a growth mindset

– A language teacher rocking gestures, key words, visual clues, repetition, and so much more that allowed students to follow-along and lower frustration levels

– A specialist correcting behavior in a calm, courteous manner for all students

– Colleagues stepping up in love and care to surround one another in support as they face a challenging time

 

I am so honored to work with such talented, caring, colleagues. Thank you for your passion, persistence, and love for our children.

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photo source: http://favim.com/image/224312/

-JE

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my least favorite holiday.

I wish I could say it was because I couldn’t stomach the one-dimensional story told about the foundation of our nation, but in truth, the reasons for my hating Thanksgiving as a child however, could not be more selfish. It boiled down to two things for me. One: the fact that the day that in my mind the day centered around waiting for food. We weren’t allowed to eat when we were hungry because a big meal was coming later, and to be honest, I get less excited about food than most people I’ve realized. And two: it meant a lot of awkward social interactions with strangers. My family always invited over neighbors and community members who didn’t have family in the area and being an introvert this meant playing in my room alone wasn’t an option. Like I said, pretty selfish.

Many years have passed since then, but my selfishness did not evaporate around the holiday and what I recognized it as.  As a white, non-native girl, growing up the stories I learned around Thanksgiving were centered on forged community, cross-cultural relationships, “Indians and Pilgrims”. Through time the narrative was expanded a bit for me, but I never sought specific details. Even when I learned some of the horrors of Indian Boarding Schools, the Trail of Tears, and countless broken treaties, I didn’t revisit Thanksgiving and the implications of a single narrative of celebration for that day.

We all have things to be thankful for and that’s what the day is really about, I thought. So why complicate it? It’s not hurting anyone. To me, this seemed like a reasonable, logical, stance for years. But instead of “why complicate it?” consider a different perspective.

Why take an encounter and history that is complicated, painful, and dehumanizing and present it as a celebration?

To some, next Thursday is known as a the National Day of Mourning.

A few years after the first harvest feast of 1621, the alleged “first thanksgiving”, “the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians.” (Source: Oyate)

I am not arguing for the complete disavowing of a day of giving thanks. Indigenous communities like Europeans have long histories of giving thanks and days to celebrate this. However, when I get real about my question of “why complicate it?” I see my selfishness for my own comfort, for my own narrative. I believed as long as I recognized inequity and stood for justice in general, I could dismiss the pain of a day I see as nothing more than giving thanks. But by ignoring the truth of the Indigenous perspective in Thanksgiving, I was communicating to my Native students, friends, and extended family members that acknowledging their pain and their loss, that their truth in this situation was an inconvenience. This was a choice I was making by ignoring the truth of Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t have consciously admitted it, but by only acknowledging my above the line narrative I was choosing to perpetuate the belief that the voices, perspectives, and truth of indigenous people was not valid.

In my life I have found humankind to be complicated, amazing, individuals. We have the capacity to hold multiple things at once. We can hold thankfulness and truth. We can hold celebration of time with family and reconciliation. For me, as a white woman I know that I have traditions, institutions, and a culture surrounding and supporting me in one of these areas. So my work becomes, what will I continue to do to learn into the other? How will I continue to hold the below the line narrative?

Want to learn more or want lesson plan ideas? Some good places to start:

Have a different perspective? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.
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-JE

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Staying Engaged

For those familiar with PEG’s Courageous Conversations About Race Protocol, this first agreement might seem hackneyed and overdone. Personally, I have rattled it off mindlessly more times than I know. In self-evaluation, however, I would check that hypothetical box next to it extra-bold style. “That’s an easy one,” I think. My job is designed to make sure that happens.

There is some truth to that. Working as an Equity Coach, it is my job to show up every day and engage around racial equity. I could give plenty of justification and evidence of how that is true. Yet, in honest reflection, as a white woman socialized to disengage on race, I have plenty of growth still in that category.

Recently, I had to list my triggers and my fears in relation to doing racial equity work. The activity was another way of asking, what gets in the way of me staying engaged? Writing my list was painful. It contained memories of when I have failed, times I have been hurt, and emotional spaces that I sometimes try to avoid at all costs. Yet, it was also powerful because it created space for me to reflect on how do I respond to these fears? What do I do when confronted with triggers?

That is where the growth of engaging fully lies. Allow me to digress slightly. A couple years ago, I experienced a pretty traumatic event. Since then, I have done (and continue to do) intensive work on navigating my triggers and fears. I have realized, living fully is not about how I avoid triggers and fears, but rather, how do I respond? What tools do I have? How do I endure? How do I grow?

Our work in racial equity needs to mirror the same journey. The list of triggers and fears is powerful because it forced me to be honest about what throws me off my purpose of creating a school that fosters the full humanity of all our students and staff, including our students and staff of color. Some days my fear show up as burn-out a long list of “urgent” that needs to get done. Other times it’s particular phrases or mindsets entering conversations that minimize the truth and lived experiences of people of color. Sometimes, painfully, it’s my selfish perfectionism and self-protection. But I know this. Knowing my fears and triggers around disengagement has allowed me to set up personal check-ins around them. I have sought accountability friends. I work to dig into them from a space of compassion and change, rather than judgement and shame.

Over the last few months, I had the beautiful opportunity to chat with several of you about how you wish students and colleagues would see you. Your responses embodied love, humanity, connection, compassion, and fullness. They spoke to the sanctity of our commitment to our students and to our purposes. I was inspired. So, leaning into that, striving, and seeking that, what gets the in way of that for you? What stops you from fully engaging in racial equity work, our work? And how do you respond? 

In solidarity, for our children,
– JE

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Uncovering My Beliefs

Recently our superintendent Mr. Metz referenced Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White (2014) and the role of examining who we are as we enter the conversation on race. In a district with an overwhelming majority of white educators, this practice of examination needs supports to become intentional. I need supports for it to be intentional for me. Without them, I slip into the patterns in which I have been socialized of portraying my white experience, my values, my beliefs as normal. The more work I do in this area, the more I realize I have to do.

One example of that was reading Waking Up White myself this summer. Historical facts such as the atrocities committed against our Native peoples, racial discrimination in the G.I. bill, and the War on Drugs while powerful, were not new to me. But I have so many more layers to examine beyond that. One of the early chapters that struck me and the factors that influence me as I enter the conversation on race were in regards to my family values.

Irving examines how she constructed her belief system and what was deemed good and consequently, although often unspoken, what was bad.  She writes, “A ‘good attitude’ was highly valued and rewarded. I learned to stuff down my negative feelings and to buck up with expected chipperness. Each cultural norm motivated me to fit in while judging others who didn’t. I learned to become deeply uncomfortable around people who exhibited any of the disapproved emotions” (p. 10).

While I cannot identify with her upperclass childhood environment, the similarities of her family values and mine were astounding. As she reflects throughout on the book on the impact of this, I couldn’t help but engage in my own reflection as well. Not only how had this impacted me, but how did it impact the students, families, and community members with whom I work? How did my whiteness as normal influence what I thought merited complaint? How did and does my inability to see the impact of my values come across as judgement or paternalistic “support”? Where did and do they cloud my view and understanding of other perspectives?

Irving ends with a prompt that I would invite you to consider. As you reflect on it, think about what is the impact on our students and how they need to show up when they enter our rooms? What values do we hold as absolutely right and who is empowered by them? Who is disempowered? Isolate race as you reflect.

“What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Siblings and cousins can be good resources for thinking about this. Now consider what conclusions you drew about people [students] who [do] not appear to follow your family’s belief system.” (p. 12)WUWcoverFINAL-200x300

– J.E.

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Day One

If given enough time and left to my own devices, I can create a classroom that meets all my needs. Setting up my classroom the first time, I made sure I had clear “hand-in” and “return” shelves. This was important for my organization aka my sanity. I had long, straight rows of desks ensuring that I could see all students and they could all be facing forward. I had classroom rules laminated, and key phrases in Spanish for easy referencing on the walls. I could point to things when students wanted help with a general word that I had to tell them over (and over again). My room worked great for me.

It doesn’t take much to guess where this is going. It worked great for ME, but ME is the key word there. I was worried about making it work for myself and thus creating a wonderful environment for anyone who was an exact replica of me, but disregarding any other perspectives or needs. I believed I was there for the kids, but the unstated follow up to that was … as long as I was comfortable. As an individual, I’d like to think seeking comfort is natural human nature when that opportunity is afforded. However, if I want to really be there for kids, what would it look like to design my classroom, procedures, and strategies from that lens? If my natural inclination is my own comfort, to interrupt that I intentionally ask myself, “at what cost?” as I make decisions. I am making my room comfortable for me, at what cost? What does feel and look like to walk into my room from my students’ perspective? Designed by me, a white woman, what does it look and feel like to walk into my room from my students of color’s perspective? Where do they see themselves, their individuality, their personality, and their values recognized?

Having the privilege of being a part of several equity walks over the years, I have learned from classrooms that are community classrooms and broken free of the “all-about teacher needs” pattern that I fell into at first. I’ve learned from colleagues how to co-create classroom expectations with students and fill the walls and content with student faces and experiences. I recognized how implementing routines helps create order for students who experience transiency or unstable outside environments.

As you roll out procedures and implement community building activities here are couple reminders for creating safe, inclusive, and welcoming spaces:

  • Ensure areas of the classroom are accessible to students
  • Learn how to pronounce students names’ correctly
  • Communicate high expectations for all your students
  • Co-create classroom expectations & have students create reminder posters
  • Include photos of yourself and family
  • Consider grouping desks for community
  • Post student work, consider having students create about me for community building
  • Include photos representative of student body (with depth, avoiding tokenism)
  • Connect your content to students’ lives
  • Consider creating traditions with your students
  • Incorporate music into your classroom routines
  • Post daily objectives
  • Ask your students what works for them
  • Listen

 

-JE

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