She came up to me after class last Friday and the moment stayed with me all weekend and is with me even now. She suggested a pervasive feeling of being on the outside, not a part of the student body, not acknowledged whenever she challenges ideas, or brings up the idea of race.
She feels like no one understands, but what we watched in class, what we talked about afterwards resonated, made her feel validated, made her ideas seem valued, and she needed to let me know.
I should explain. The course is Native Studies English at the grade 11 University level. We watched the Aboriginal People’s Television Network show “First Contact” Season 2, episode 1. Six white Canadians go for 28 days to live on reserves with Indigenous people. We watched them espouse the dominant racist narratives that surround Indigeneity and then we watched those views crumble amidst the stark reality of reserve life and the deep experience of living the cultural practices. Upon exiting a sweat lodge, each and every participant looked transformed, deeply moved to tears. One day later in Winnipeg, the old narratives reappear and my students were puzzled.
One said, “How can they be so changed in one moment, then wake up the next with the old racist views?”
Without forethought, words tumbled from my mouth. “Minds are hard to change but hearts are harder.” They asked me to repeat what I had just said. And I did. And, I’m not sure where that came from, but it stuck with me.
And now I’m stuck.
I know that I have to act, but I need some guidance or maybe some direction from someone experienced. Sometimes the worst thing we can do is act on our first impulse and speak out against injustice. But doing nothing feels worse. It is stuck in my gut.
Racism is subtle and sneaky and sticky; it takes time to plant its roots in the mind and slowly disperse its tentacles into the heart. Once there, it sticks like glue. Transparent glue that binds on contact and resists simple detergents and simple laundering.
I’ve decided not to hesitate and to resist the safety of sticking with what has always been done. I’ve decided to become unstuck, to make mistakes and take this journey with my diverse collaborators who know that the most meaningful work is not simple.