I feel the danger of writing about this topic. but, as Amanda Potts so cleverly wrote in her blog, Persistence and Pedagogy,
“Just do it! Go out on the limb, take a guess, ask the question! Try the hard way, make a fool of yourself…Let it all hang out, be yourself, be human.”
So, I take the first step and look to mentors.
Pran Patel Tweeted,
“Allyship is first an act of vulnerability. It’s about reaching into a world you can never enter and taking the worst parts of it. Then it’s an act of reflection to recognise that you benefit from that worst. Finally it’s an act of surrender in giving up your power in support.”
I didn’t enter the teaching profession for the money or status or “summer’s off”. I certainly didn’t enter it for some myth achieving “success” through a professional label. I entered it following the birth of my disabled daughter, life’s literal slap across the face yelling at me, wake up and deal with this! In perhaps some small way, I know about reaching into a world I’ve never been before and having to take the worst parts of it.
Glancing back over my years in teaching, I wonder at this system of education which uses labels to sort out the vastness of humanity, to make sense of the individual uniquenesses. The system then categorizes the students “at risk” or students who need “Individual Education Plans”, but I haven’t met a child yet who wouldn’t benefit from an indivdualized plan for their education; they are just that, individuals. I wonder at these labels which set some students apart from their peers which is somewhat ironic since this act of creating difference is antithetical to the teen experience; they don’t want to be different. Yet, when we really look at who is “different”, who is considered “at risk”, then we should not be surprized that these students are also on the margins of ability, poverty, and race. Sometimes labels are the dividers which separate the systemic problems from reality.
So, I don’t want the label, “ally”.
Shifting the focus inward, I’m working with Pran’s plan, being vulnerable here, and elsewhere, making myself sit with the discomfort of ruffled fragile White feathers, refecting, and waiting for the opportunities to surrender power.
I don’t want the label, but will do the work of being an antiracist educator, an ally. And I know this means most of the work has to happen within before I can work on the systems without. I know this means I will remain a student (because I need to learn about racism and poverty in perpetuity) with an individual education plan (because I’m White and middle class) and work at equity, act for equity, and give over power to those marginalized by either poverty or race.
Last week, I posted this image on Twitter which generated a series of probing questions from Chris Cluff. These were interesting questions, and they had me back peddling and reflecting. Eventually he DM’d me and we spoke on the phone while I was walking the mostly empty streets of my neighbourhood in Ottawa, and he was walking up a hill in Newmarket petting cute dogs as they passed. It was a thoughtful conversation about education and what we want, our deep desires and the barriers which get in the way.
He is without doubt an incredibly creative thinker and I listened carefully – his work is on the margins. I’m still processing his words and reflecting. I told him that I don’t want my equity work to be about me. I am not here for attention. In fact, quite the opposite and I am content to sit on the sidelines in the shadows.
He said, “But at some point it has to be about you. Draw the attention to the issue and then turn it over to someone else. Surrender.”
So, I continue, until I can surrender.