Beginning Courageous Conversations about Race, from Everyday Antiracism

At POCC, I picked up two books: White Like Me, by Tim Wise,
which I read cover to cover in the week following the conference,
and Everyday Antiracism, a collection of essays specifically for
teachers, edited by Mica Pollock. I’ve begun reading through the
essays and came to this one, Beginning Courageous Conversations
about Race. It has prompted me to finally write some of my
reflections about my experience at POCC. The four principles are
this: 1) Stay engaged. I think POCC more than any conference has
made me more reflective about who I am and who others are. I find
myself very aware of race and behaviors, constantly searching for
microaggressions and bringing it up in conversations with people,
almost probing to see if others are willing to talk about it. I
find myself seeking out people who have a more developed racial
identity so that I can listen to how they speak and what they
think. 2) Expect to experience discomfort. Oh yes. Falling silent
because you’re not sure how not to say the wrong thing? Yep.
Worrying that you’ve already said the wrong thing? Yep. I live in a
world where people mostly agree. And when we don’t, everyone is
very nice about it. When you begin to see terrible inequities and
racism in the fabric of your reality and it feels like you are the
only one seeing it, yes, you could say it’s uncomfortable, though
that’s a bit of an understatement. But even in my shifted world
view, I’m expected to carry on as though nothing’s changed, have
polite and thoughtful conversations, be nice about it, even when I
want everyone to be jumping up and down with urgency for the change
needed. At POCC, one of the best sessions I went to was about how
white children are racially socialized. I forget the prompting
statement, but a black man stood up and said something to the
effect of, “I’m tired of our kids having to suffer just so you
[white people] can keep figuring out how to cope with race!” This
really made an impression on me. It IS my responsibility NOW to be
racially competent. 3) Speak your truth. I have two thoughts on
this. I am grateful for the many people I have around me who are
always willing to engage with me. Second, I think I don’t always
recognize who is and who isn’t ready and able to. I tend to drop
small bombs in informal conversations with statements about how
uninclusive something is or the lack of diversity in children’s
books, for example. It might catch the other person off guard,
which is maybe why I do it, but I need to find more constructive
ways of engaging with others on this topic. 4) Expect and accept a
lack of closure. One of my beliefs that was shattered (in a good
way, though tough at the time) at POCC, is that the sheltered
environment of an independent school, where people are nice and
teachers are thoughtful and the harsh reality of the world is kept
away, is a good thing. Actually, it’s just a magnification of white
privilege. Yikes. I love the school I grew up at and the two
institutions at which I have taught, and never would I have thought
that what we were doing was actually worse than the real world!
Unpacking white privilege as it relates to independent schools is
an essential next step in my commitment to education and to who I
am as a person. I worry about sharing these thoughts publicly. In a
time when everything written can come back to haunt, I fear these
words will get taken out of context or that when I’ve gone further
down this journey, I’ll look back and judge my naïveté. But I will
be courageous and speak my truth and be gentle with myself, as I
would with others and hope they would with me. Thank you for
reading and being on this journey with me.

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