The past few
years days we have seen extensive struggle, hurt, pain and action in our communities. People have written to me, mostly from White allies, with their own reflections about feeling helpless and not sure where or how to start.
My role as an activist-educator/educator-activist is often complicated by my personal commitment to justice and my professional identity as a teacher. While there is usually great synergy between the two, these identities ARE sometimes different. Sometimes I want to respond as an activist; sometimes I am called to respond as an educator. I struggle with these nuances daily. And, I do believe that my fellow warrior-practitioners who work professionally in multicultural affairs experience this same type of discourse.
This post is a representation of my educator-lens and of my personal-identity lens. It is also a reflection, frankly, of my broken heart. Of a soul that has felt too much pain. Of energy that has simply been depleted. In my personal attempts at self-care, this specific post was written out of a deep need for healing.
I trust that, eventually, there will be posts written out of my deep need to get people off of their @$$es and into the streets.
If you have been struggling with how to personally engage in issues of justice and peace, these 10-steps may provide some guidance as to how to get started. For some, these are far too simplistic. For others, this is where we need to begin. Regardless of where we are in our identity development, let’s develop shared responsibility, shared humanity, and a commitment to walking this road together.
- LISTEN. If you have not experienced this type of systematic violence personally, then listen. Listen to those who have. Listen to those who are from communities who have. Listen to those who continue to wake up each day wondering what type of aggressive act will be committed onto them. Listen not just to the words they are saying but to their body language, their faces, their arms, their hands, their eyes. Listen with your entire heart.
- BELIEVE. Believe that these systems of oppression exist. Believe that people experience them. Believe that people live within them. If you are new to this conversation, then believe that what someone is telling you is truth. You may not agree with their position, but believe that this is truth for that person. To believe someone’s truth means to suspend judgment. Believe in their reality, even if it is not consistent with your own. Their humanity is intertwined with your belief system.
- FEEL. Many communities have been hurt over and over again. Acknowledge what this type of built up frustration and anger feels like. Acknowledge that there is pain when hope is taken away. Give people space to experience a range of emotions. People can be numb one moment, angry another moment, sad/frustrated/depressed another moment. Some feel like they want to give up and others feel they need to take action. Those are real feelings, and they do not always make sense in a neat and tidy way.
- LEARN. Situations of injustice are much more complex than simply just issues of race, or power, or privilege, or violence, or frustration, or rioting, or rebellion. They are intersections and combinations of all of these and more. In order to avoid the trap of saying it is just one thing, make sure you have at least an understanding of how we are all products of a very long, diverse, and divergent past. Avoid traps that simplify pain, hurt and violence.
- RECOGNIZE. In situations of injustice, it is difficult to delineate individual responsibilities with systematic responsibilities. Sometimes they are different; sometimes they are so deeply embedded we fail to see the relationships. Recognize when stereotypes are being used as weapons. Recognize when stereotypes are used to explain. A good practice is to question whether ALL of any one group is being talked about or if it is INDIVIDUALS. Sometimes they are related, sometimes they are not. This can be one of the most difficult tasks because our nature is to find someone or something to blame; therefore, be mindful – and challenge others – about stereotypes.
- PARTICIPATE. Are there social movements happening in your town, city, college or organization? Participate. Learn what they are about (see all of the points above). For some, your identity may privilege you in this conversation. Use your privilege. Use your voice where others have been made voiceless.
- DO. I often use the analogy that guilt is like hunger. When I feel hungry, I do something. I feed it. Hunger, while a physical state, is also a feeling (note: I realize the food and class privilege embedded in that statement). I can do something about feeling hungry. I approach feelings of guilt the same way. I feed it with education. I feed it with the voices of others. I feed it by developing my own opinions. I feed it with action. I feed it with responsibility. Guilt slows me down. Guilt stops me. Guilt is a feeling, not an action. Acknowledge any guilt you may feel, and then do something with it and about it.
- DEMONSTRATE PATIENCE. We need change now. We needed change yesterday. As an activist- educator, I often straddle two worlds of action and education. As an activist, I seek movements where I am called to respond based on my commitment and belief in justice. As an educator, I am called to engage individuals at the door where they knock. For some, I am called to stand in solidarity, engage in feelings of anger and frustration, and develop a call to action. For others, I must listen and develop compassion for their own stages of understanding. This often means serving as an educator, serving as a teacher, and serving as “that person” who has to really break it down. I fight both of these identities daily, but these are even more heightened when my own emotions are on fire. Yet, I, and we, must demonstrate patience with how we share humanity. If I am to share in the humanity of someone who is struggling to understand what is going on, I must not just meet someone halfway, I must meet them where they are. This seems impossible some days; and those are the days where patience is most important.
- PAY ATTENTION. When we are in identities of privilege, we have the luxury of not noticing those who are oppressed. We simply cannot afford to do this. So, notice. Pay attention. One of the activities I have people do who participate in workshops is to “notice race.” That’s it. That’s the assignment. Notice race. Notice race (or insert other identities) when you wake up, when you leave for work or school or go out. Notice race wherever you are. Notice race in meetings, on television, at your exercise class. Notice race on the street, in your car, on the radio. Notice race on your walk, on the train. Notice when you have stopped noticing. Notice when you are tired of noticing. Pay attention to who and what is around you. Pay attention to how people are around you and how people are when they are going about their own day. Notice how you feel when you are noticing race. Then, ….
- TALK. Talk about it. Do not wait for these moments to talk about race or other identities. Do not wait until big moments of injustice or unrest. Do not wait until the emotions become confusing or angry or frustrated. Talk about it now. Talk about why you don’t talk about it. When my children were little and still unable to walk, I always told them to “look both ways when you cross the street.” I did not wait for them to be mobile. I did not wait for them to nearly get hit by a car, or after they have been hit by a car, to talk about crossing the street. I talked about it long before they could even fathom the action. And, even once they were mobile, I held their hand. Tightly at first, and then more loosely. And now, they cross the street all by themselves, looking both ways. Begin building responsibility around race and dialogue.
There are many more blogs and lists and resources out there that will provide you with much more concrete steps; however, my philosophy has always been that we have to truly reflect on who we are and why we are as a way to identify and act upon our commitments.
If you have opportunities to dialogue with others, or even if you want to reflect on your own journey, I encourage you to ask yourself “What were my earliest messages about race? About authority? How did I learn those messages? What does that mean for me today? How am I communicating it to others?”
In other news, if you are looking for more of an @$$kicking response to getting involved, I’m happy to, eventually, write about that, too. But, for now, let’s figure out how to even just talk, learn, listen, and loosen the mind.
Peace and love,