After much deep reflection over the last series of days and today, #blackouttuesday, I am ready to speak up, but I’ll admit that these words are difficult to type out. Difficult for many reasons. I write with a heavy heart due to devastation that the life of yet another person of color, George Floyd, has been taken unjustly at the hands of police (just to name the most recent); and because of the systemic racism that continues to remain in and impact our leaders, cities, communities, and homes. But it’s also difficult to reflect and share here and now because of my white privilege. Sometimes silence is just easier to avoid confronting or offending others. Silence on race isn’t necessarily ill-intentioned; but the negative impact of not speaking up ultimately outweighs the neutral intentions of silence.
To be totally transparent, speaking up on race is something I have been and am still learning; and in the face of this continued injustice, I’m now seeing that silence is not enough. Recent events show that we are currently not doing enough to fix this overwhelming problem, and with racism being modeled and taught in our communities (whether intentional or not), it will continue to take even more hard work and united efforts to undo and re-teach.
I am a person who prioritizes being in harmony with others and being on good terms in all my relationships; and in the past, being neutral about race has at times been an easier way to keep the peace in conversation. I realize that that innate tendency to be neutral is white privilege. But now in acknowledgement of that, I know that I need to use my voice and speak up even when it’s uncomfortable, because I’m seeing a greater need for harmony and justice in our world than harmony in my own conversations. I wish it hadn’t taken me until now to be more vocal about racial injustice. I also do acknowledge that speaking up looks different for different people. This space, Learning with the Littles, is simply where I reflect and document my journey of teaching Kinders/learning alongside them, so it’s where I felt led to share.
There are multiple ways to look at anything – perspective. Our perspectives can always be sharpened, widened, and improved. When thinking about difficult and complex topics like race, we first must believe we are capable of learning and growing in perspective.
If you’ve ever argued with someone who is raising their voice at you, how do you choose to listen to their angry words or passionate yells? I’ve noticed 2 general perspectives people usually have when responding to a passionate argument or attack: either 1) they are overwhelmed by the angry, yelling, assumed to be “crazy” person and simply correct, judge, or critique their “abrasive” and loud argument style, or 2) they listen to the words being spoken and reflect both inwardly and outwardly on how they may have been at fault or could at least help the situation. Personally in a heated argument or situation like this, I choose to listen carefully to the words the other person is saying and the feelings they’re expressing, and seek to get to the root cause even if I somehow play some fault in their anger. But I have encountered many people who, when conflict arises, can only hear the noise and see the destruction. They aren’t hearing the real words being spoken or real stories being shared; they aren’t seeing why the person is actually upset, how they could’ve played a role in someone else’s problems, or how they could’ve even helped be a part of a solution.
So thinking more broadly, how do you choose to “listen” to the riots, what MLK Jr. deemed as the “language of the unheard”? The perspective you take is a choice, and perspectives can always be improved. It can be easy to get caught up in the destruction and violence, and those things are not the solution. But before we point out the devastation on our cities – the more outwardly visible effects that happen to impact all people this time – we must carefully examine the causes. And we must always be willing to acknowledge that the root causes of these protests and riots and the systemic racism they represent could relate to the ways that we either hurt or did not more effectively help along the way. Many of the protests taking place are not violent. But remembering the reasons for the protests, both peaceful and not, along with looking closely at ourselves and how we can help, is the most important place that we can focus our time and energy during this time.
For those of us who are white, acknowledging and believing that we have white privilege is a way we can further unite with people of color. Until white people can each recognize white privilege, it will be difficult to adapt the empathetic perspective needed to create change. And without that transformed perspective, white people will see black people as fighting their own battles, when we need to be actively joining them.
There are so many awesome resources circulating for ways anyone can help right now. Here’s a quick list of some of the more everyday/long-term things I plan to do or continue so that I can be part of the solution:
- Read texts/listen to podcasts that further deepen my perspective about and understanding of race. Reflect individually and with others.
- Listen to black people and to anyone who can help me learn more.
- Be friends with people of different backgrounds, races, beliefs, etc., including both those who challenge my thinking and those who I may end up challenging too.
- Have courageous conversations about race in my own home and in my community. Speaking up to peers can be difficult. My friend and co-worker Claire recently reminded me of this resource, a guide that gives educators (and non-educators) specific strategies for responding to biased or prejudiced comments.
- Increase racial representation in the literature I read in my classroom and, as possible, in staffing at my school.
- Use my voice in relevant ways that arise to help actively fight racism and support racial justice.
We have come a long way over the decades and we also have a long way to go. I stand beside my friends, colleagues, and students of color, along with people of color who I do not know. I want to be more than a person who isn’t racist. I want to be actively anti-racist and do my part as an ally. Black lives matter. Period.