A week or so ago, a fellow blogger talked about her classroom discussion with students on the topic of race. Interestingly, she started her reflection by talking through her feelings… of how she felt as a race-talk facilitator. She said…
“It is somewhat terrifying. Terrifying because I, a white American woman, often worry that I am going to say the wrong thing in conversations about race. Terrifying because for my students, a vast majority of them who are also white Americans, have rarely, if ever, been engaged in conversations about race that go beyond, “A person’s skin color doesn’t matter.” Terrifying because race is NOT something I am an expert on, far from it. Terrifying because I am always worried that the words I choose to use will be the wrong ones. That I will offend. That I will do more harm than good. Terrifying because I know these conversations will often be uncomfortable.”
I found this discussion of feelings, in fact the whole discussion, interesting for several reasons.
First, Jessica’s discussion about the conversation (especially after her admission of nervousness) showed bravery. It makes me wonder how many people refuse to do things that they know are right only because they are skeptical of their aptitude or skeptical of their support (or lack thereof) from others who aren’t willing to take on the challenge?
Second, her discussion showed integrity. Back this summer when I was first introduced to her blog, she had written about understanding the concerns of Black people through the lens of being a gay woman. Even though as a white woman she couldn’t relate to blackness, she was able to essentially connect by accessing experiences that resembled what she could only imagine that blacks were trying to get the world to understand in the black lives matter campaign. In that reflection she vowed…
“I am recommitting myself to listening. To seeking out the stories of those who have to think about race every day. To listening and honoring the experiences that others are willing to share with me.
I want to bring those stories to my students. I want them to begin to understand the things that no one ever helped me to understand because we were too busy spreading the message that skin color doesn’t matter… I want to help my students to see that race DOES matter and I want to help them to see all of the ways that they are sent messages on race that affect their perceptions of the people they encounter in this world.
And within a few months (maybe sooner), she followed through. In her post last week, “Using the Stories of Others to Begin Conversations on Race with My Students,” she talked about how she aimed to help her students understand the political and emotional conditions of race. To me, she did exactly what she said that she would do!
Finally, her willingness to be open about highly charged concepts and experiences and her willingness to publicly try them on for size show a rigorous commitment to lifelong learning. Brookfield, in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, says that teachers fail to go through the full learning curve in regards to issues such as diversity and justice because they are unwilling to do critical self-reflections out loud. In other words, they are unable to think deeply about themselves in terms of their role in the economy of power while in the presence of others. Through both reflections, June and October, Jessica shows herself as committed to learning about race as an agency of power and her relationship to this agency in and outside of the classroom. And, as discussed by Brookfield, she seems willing to share her lessons with the world even if she hasn’t completely figured it out.
A year ago, in the after math of Ferguson and in the dawn of a new wave of national discourse on race, I reasoned that our nation may not be ready to talk about race. Here is what I said…
“To (talk about race), we would need to understand and/or agree 1) that we live in different political spaces that create different political realities; 2) that multiple world views and alternate ways of knowing, seeing and being are of value; and 3) that critical thinking is a skill found at higher levels of cognition that goes beyond emotional outburst of anger, pain and confusion.“
Through it all, I was questioning if there was a readiness for people of different backgrounds to come together and understand together this thing called race that has been created for us.
Race in itself, as a concept, is a political act in how it is constructed and leveraged. And we, in how we are held hostage to it (whether or not we are its benefactors), find it difficult to face it head on, talk about it, and understand it.
This is what Jessica attempted to do. And maybe she did it successfully. But, that isn’t what her story is about…at least not for me. It’s about the attempt. It’s about the personal willingness and the public vulnerability. It is about being brave, having integrity, and committing oneself to lifelong learning.
What a powerful model of instruction she offers as a blogger. In regards to student empowerment, she seems to embody our mission for 3P Achievement, particularly in the “promotion of growth (for self and for others).” I trust that I will continue to be inspired by her journey.
Jessica, your post has been officially granted the #empowermentstartshere badge of honor! 🙂 Keep them coming!!