I just read a student essay about David Guterson’s novel, Snow Falling on Cedars and I am enthralled by her close reading of the novel, her insight into his purpose as she states, “that time and memory are part of the same nebulous, all-encompassing fog that is anchored in geography and is as palpable as snow.” I wrote about this idea of memory and place in my post, “Mapping” and iterates with Chris Cluff’s gorgeous poem, “Maps”.
Later on, I read Debby Irving’s book, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race after I was reflecting on a heated discussion with students from the Diverse Student Union, thinking about the work white teachers need to do to create the necessary sense of belonging at the school. One chapter arrested me: “Everyone is Different; Everyone Belongs”. Irving explains the thinking of inclusive principal, Joe Petner, whose vision extended to every child with every ability. He proposed a fundamental understanding that there is no “normal” and the article that I had read with students about Unilever removing the product label “normal” from it’s products merged with the audiobook version which was being narrated to me. And yet a third iteration of “normal” came to me while reading the remarkable new book, The Black Friend; On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph.
I need to do another post on this book because his use of auditory conventions (fast forward, rewind, pause, stop) within the print text is innovative, engaging, and overall just brilliant.
But, back to where this all comes together; after listening to the our students, another teacher challenged me on the fact that I did research and came to the conclusion that we might lack the cultural competency to understand the situation. It’s still rather raw and fresh and nebulous in my memory so rather than map out any details that I am have brought from that past to the now, I’m going to fuse the threads of this situation and braid the temporal thoughts with belonging and normalcy. In Joseph’s book he writes about white people saying, “That’s Black, or that’s Asian, – that’s not normal.” (Joseph 91) He goes on to explain the importance and value of difference. “Over the years, my favorite things about people become the ways in which they are nothing like me…I’m asking you to protect one another and learn from one another. I’m asking you to turn ‘different’ into the new normal, and tell others to do the same.” I read these lines to my students.
Thinking sometimes needs other sparks from the universe; we begin with an idea which gets added to by others, and then we hold the concept coalescing in our head, pulling in little atoms of thought and language from out there, as if we are in communion. There is no map, no normal, only disparate threads of difference which coalesce in something unified and wholly full, fully whole.