Disruption’s Feedback

I feel like my life is at the vortex of one massive and monumental disruption. School was disrupted by COVID19. White privilege is being disrupted by the undeniable Anti Black and Anti Indigenous racism, governments are disrupting laws by making attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, and ejecting members of parliament for calling someone “racist”. Policing is being disrupted, institutions are being disrupted. And, if reports are to be believed, nature is restoring in places where we are not. This disruption is feedback if we listen and reflect.

I wonder if increasing rates of anxiety might be “the canary in the coal mine”. We all know that emotions are a form of feedback which, depending upon our response, can improve our performance. But I also wonder if we’ve been ignoring some of the most important messages. Maybe if we thought of the community body, we might be more concerned about the anxiety of others and probe a bit further rather than medicating or numbing it away.

I’ve been working on intentionally listening to myself and I find it interesting to consider the ways that  making a podcast has forced me to take in the sound of my own voice, to confront the expression of my own words, my own thoughts which evolve and change. I have to face the permanence of words found in the recording, even when the words connected to the thoughts have dislodged and changed in me. I also have to accept my errors, publicly. It is a humbling way to approach change, but it feels necessary.

Whenever Amanda and I record an episode of Just Conversations, I’m torn about publishing it, especially now, as I’m working to decentre the White voice in my classroom. My hesitations are sometimes about my own sense of public humiliation for screwing up, but I also know that there is a difference between fear of something tangible happening to me, and the discomfort of personal failure; the risk is only perceived and not real and the only thing my silence does is uphold the inequities that I am struggling to challenge. I keep reminding myself, “I am the White liberal voice of education that is so dangerous to BIPOC students” and I’m in a fight to disrupt myself.

Just the other day, we talked and recorded our voices and as we explained our long silence, our conversation helped us articulate our purpose. We’ve been on this vulnerable journey striving for equity, but we realize that our podcast is actually better suited to White educators who are also wrestling with this work. In conversations about justice and equity, we realize our privilege, recognize our role, and refined our purpose. This helped us find better words, better thoughts.

I’ve been feeling another tension with speaking and listening in this current model of distance learning. Each week I move about the house, trying to find a space that is, in that moment, quiet enough for a Google Meet, yet free from the backdrop of my bedroom bathroom or other distractions of my small house. This quiet location migrates depending on my family members, outdoor construction, the wind. On screen in a confined and curated space, I welcome students saying their names as they enter the virtual classroom, cameras off, microphones muted. This quiet space of my home is reflected in the quiet space online. I stare at a screen of letters speaking as warmly as I can in some feeble attempt to connect, asking questions which they respond to in text form, in the chat function, quietly avoiding drawing attention to their own voices. They avoid being heard and I feel like I’m acting rather than teaching, holding up some charade of synchronous teaching. I know their voices are missing from these conversations and every attempt on my part feels inadequate, but I ignore my own feelings .

During our weekly English department lunch meeting, my colleague cried about the silence of virtual classes and I nearly joined her in the acknowledgement of this struggle, this disruption to our connected lives in education. And though there were tears, our conversations helped us make decisions to change our predominantly White book list. We collectively talked about our roles in upholding a racist system and this disruption begins to feel important and meaningful. We also commit to talking and learning more about a blended learning model; we know we need to ask the students what worked and what didn’t. This disruption of the school year is creating real movement in our profession and forcing us to get feedback from the students.

I am now seeing comfort as a luxury that is the norm for the privileged, but growth, progress, equity, and justice can only be achieved if we listen and reflect so we can respond to disruption’s feedback.

 

 

 

 

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Inviting Discomfort

I am asking myself important questions and editing myself today.

Am I that White liberal so dangerous to the social justice movement required for equity?

I am digging deep to think about this and working on my willingness to take criticism from all corners. Just believing in equity while not standing for it, while not taking criticism for one’s representation is not enough. So, I am inviting discomfort in the process of learning.

Today, I was challenged by another White educator whom I respect and admire. And, going through the process of examining my representation, of recognizing her concerns and the intent of her advocacy, helped me acknowledge my need to edit, reflect, and keep what is core to my identity.

I should back up and explain what happened. I invited her through Instagram to a book club happening in my school district on Me and White Supremacy. I emailed her the plan for study and sharing, but she declined and then emailed me later in the week with concerns about my avatar, (she felt it was deceptive because she couldn’t tell that I am White) the name of this blog (she felt it offensive to a Black person reading it) and her concerns that White people should not be giving workshops on Black educator’s books. I knew she didn’t have the background about our district book study, which was not a workshop in any sense, but the emails continued back and forth between us as we struggled to understand one another, as we struggled to process our place in this work.

I thought about what she was reading in the representation of my social media and quickly changed my avatar to reflect my Whiteness. She was right and I need to fully disclose my White identity.

I then thought about the title of this blog which has gone from “reflecting on recreation” (re-creation as in creating my life over) to “thinking in a White room” and the reason that I changed it was specifically to acknowledge my White privilege. She contacted me again by email pointing out that my tagline was not evident. I had just recently changed the style of my blog and the tagline had disappeared so I changed it back to what it once was, thankful that she pointed this out, but I still felt discomfort.

I went for a run feeling a sense of uneasiness and resumed my current audiobook, Me and White Supremacy written and narrated by Layla F. Saad. I listened to “day 4: YOU AND WHITE SILENCE”.

“What is White silence? White silence is exactly what it sounds like. It is when people with white privilege stay complicitly silent when it comes to issues of race and white supremacy…White silence is also a defending of the status quo of white supremacy – a manifestation of holding on to white privilege…on the surface, white silence seems benign.”

Saad goes on to point out that “white silence is violence. It actively protects the system.”

I have spent the past four weeks listening intently to the words of Kike Ojo-Thompson and working to internalize her ideas – “disrupt, dismantle, and shift” in favour of racialized students and away from the privileged. Just as I needed to claim my identity in my avatar, my representation to the world, I am claiming my identity on my blog. I can never escape thinking from a White body and this blog is an acknowledgement of this – I am a work in progress and I make mistakes. But silence is worse.

I am also thankful that this educator who has nearly 48 thousand followers emailed me privately with her concerns rather than publically taking me to task on social media. I am working on “holding myself in healthy distrust” realizing my learning is never done and inviting the discomfort.

 

What’s a voice without a platform?

A Black student once wrote this line in a summative essay in the grade 11 English course, Indigenous Voices: “What’s a voice without a platform?”

This sentence has been with me for months and has guided many of my educational choices. Today, as part of my weekly commitment to blogging, I am using my platform because #BlackLivesMatter.

This is my platform and here are two voices of Black students responding to racism.

Dani wrote,

“Seeing everything unfold in the last couple of days have been crazy and disheartening; seeing the pain a lot of people are going through (not only Black people but White people as well… even they are tired of the injustice going on in that corrupt system). The craziest part about all this is my little brother being only 12 years old and it feels like he’s already used to the discrimination in our world. Just a few weeks ago it was #JusticeForAhmaudArbery now it’s #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd. With everything going on with the pandemic now I have to explain to my brother why being black is a blessing rather than something to hate. “

Dina wrote,

“The past couple of days have definitely been difficult and the Black community around the world is hurting and I am hurting with them. It has been a lot to take in. Hearing many ignorant comments like all lives matter or blue lives matter haven’t made any of it better. It is easy to look in from the outside and say the violence won’t solve anything. But as unfortunate as it is, it’s been proven to be needed. The Black Lives Matter Movement has been one of the most peaceful movements yet our brothers and sisters are being killed continuously. How long do you expect an oppressed group to stand by peacefully when they fear everyday that their children or brothers might be shot dead on the street on their way to school or work? This is years of intergenerational trauma, and peaceful protests haven’t stopped any of it. 

I think Andre, New York’s Governor, said it best. People are enraged. People are hurting. This is not a riot, it is an uprising; there needs to be clear changes in society. There can not be equality before you dismantle the systems that were never designed to protect you but create a continuous cycle of prejudice and racism against our people. This whole situation has been very eye opening, you get to really see who your allies are and who’s just posting just to say they posted or even those who love to talk, act, dress and be like Black people but are now mute when it comes to issues the Black people are facing. 

All of this just makes you wonder how much longer we have to live like this, is this going to my life forever? Is this how my children’s lives are going to be? We live in such hypocritical countries who flaunt their slogan of the land of the free, but this is not freedom; this is a way to live your life. Growing up having our parents telling us how to act if we any police encounters to not resist and do whatever they say even if it’s wrong, or when they told us to always be aware of your surroundings when you’re out because you never know when someone tries to frame you for a crime you didn’t commit. These things we didn’t understand but growing up you realize why they were telling us these things. You begin to feel numb, numb from the pain, the anger.”

And White students responded too.
Zoe and Ella wrote,

… I wanted to ask you whether there has been a message from the administration encouraging teachers to reach out to their black students and show their support surrounding the specific issue of racism and current events?

I can only imagine it is an extremely difficult and lonely time for them right now for many reasons, not only being students at a predominantly White school and in the midst of a pandemic but most poignantly seeing other Black people being murdered and weaponized. …

I am not sure if there has been discussion among other staff … on what is going on right now in the U.S and Canada, however if there hasn’t been I really hope you are able to encourage administration to share both resources for teachers to educate themselves on anti-racism actions so they can educate their students…It’s critical that teachers, who hold privilege and power, to lead by example at this moment. 

This is a call to action from the voices in our schools.