If you’re a white person trying to do anti racist work in your classroom, or your school, you better be willing to take criticism, confront your own failings, and humble yourself to the hard lived experiences of those you aim to champion. You better be prepared to interact with the marginalized with a level of humility and compassion that acknowledges their lived experiences and resist the urge to take things personally.
I felt it, and it was hard. It hurt and I was tempted to flee to the confines of comfort. I had to suck it up and realize that sometimes a response has nothing to do with me personally and everything to do with a larger social and historical context.
I called her and the conversation arranging her visit to speak to our students did not go well. She was coming to speak to my students about surviving the 60s Scoop, being involved with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She was bringing her son, the hoop dancer. We were both worried about students and their responses.
Our conversation chugged awkwardly with me trying to back up, explaining and reassuring while she advanced thrusting retorts. She said that she knows the policy of the school board and would take action if needed. I told her that I would make sure my students were respectful. She said, “I don’t need you to protect me.”
We agreed to a reduced schedule of visits, and I hung up the phone feeling guilty. I traversed the conversation over and over in the mind, that night, the next day, shared it with others whose outrage matched mine, until I finally reached an understanding within.
“I don’t need you to protect me.”
“You” isn’t really me. “You” is white people, settlers, the colonizers, the one’s who created the Indian Act of 1876. She has survived and now thrived because of her own strength and the strength of her Indigenous community. She wasn’t really speaking to me; she was responding viscerally to an ancient wound.
She spoke to the students with encouragement and dignity. We heard her story of separation, addiction, loss and the hard work of regaining her culture. Her son showed the students some hoop dance moves, involved them in the presentation and a window on a world was cracked open.
As an anti racist educator, I’ve realized that hard conversations are not enough. I must journey within and reframe my entire understanding of the world with humility and compassion. I have to do more than just have hard conversations.