Our country is in a movement and we are all working towards making a brighter future for our children and their children and their children. Not everyday feels good but this isn’t that type of movement. This is based on centuries of oppression, exclusion, intimidation, anger, pain, sorrow, and hope. I won’t lie and say I know a lot of history or have had a lot of experiences but I will be honest and say that I am learning as quickly as I can. Through immense reflection, I’ve made a realization about myself.
For some this is old news: I am biracial and was adopted from Texas. My biological mother had blonde hair, blue eyes, and was white. My biological father is “unknown” but does not match those descriptors. My biological mother was the only parent present so my birth certificate says I’m Caucasian... and that, my friends is where the journey begins. This story of my conception, birth, adoption, and upbringing have propelled me in some ways and held me back in others. This story has kept me from not feeling “white enough” or “black enough”. This narrative held me back from joining the diversity groups in college, actively seeking friendships with people who looked like me, and feeling hurt when people labeled me as Black—not because I didn’t want to be but because I didn’t want to be told I was. I felt like I didn’t belong because I didn’t share experiences that seemed similar. I also didn’t want to be labeled by anyone else. See, I was the elementary student that colored all of the race/ethnicity circles on standardized tests because it angered me. How was this one label (wrongly misplaced in the first second of my life) going to help anyone define my achievement level when they didn’t even know me!?
This narrative also pushed me to prove people wrong. I didn’t just want a Masters degree, I wanted a 4.0. I didn’t want to be a professional, I wanted to be the professional with tattoos. I didn’t just want to be a musician (often confused as a saxophonist... right? Because someone who looks like me clearly only plays jazz) I wanted to be a traditional fiddler and dream to play baroque music... I wanted to prove to the world that my labels were not ME. What I do, what I love, what brings me joy is who I am.
But I’ve been hit with a plot twist in my narrative. Six years ago, I met the man that I would be blessed enough to marry. Amde has his own story of being Brown in America but I will not share it as it is not my story to write. I will tell you that through my experiences with Amde I have learned more about the world, lives of others, and myself and, without that, I can’t imagine how today would feel. There’s another part that didn’t strike me until recently. My identity has shifted.
When my family adopted me, they became a family of color (as explained by the adoption agency) and in some ways I saw myself as being sheltered in a family of white privilege. I would go shopping with my mom and people automatically knew I was the sweet, adopted child, of the woman going through the store so I should be treated with utmost respect. But as I grew up, got taller, and became an adult... I would subconsciously, but purposefully, and loudly say “Hey mom! Look at this!” This was only to make it known to the clerk on the side waiting for me to shoplift that I wasn’t there for that. Nothing has changed about me, I am just an adult now and implicit bias has an ugly face.
Then Amde and lived together, got married, and started to travel. I’ll never forget the feeling when we tried to buy wine at the NH Liquor Store. The clerk asked for ID. We gave our licenses. And she looked at them. She studied them. She looked at us. We asked if something was wrong. She didn’t give us an answer. She took out the “how to look at a license book.” We asked what was going on. She said, “I can’t find the birth date. It’s not in the correct place.” We showed her the birth date. She insisted that was wrong. It was obvious that wasn’t the issue. We spoke to the manager. They said they’d take care of it.
A year ago, I started to notice how my throat tightens up when we drive by a police officer. No, not every officer is bad but why are we continuing to support a system that allows for “bad apples” as if our lives depend on it? Fear. That’s why. Because systemic racism in our country educates children in a biased way, gives opportunity to some, holds it from others, plays on fear, builds hatred and bam... another BIPOC is harmed.
Most recently, our family has had racist remarks made towards us though they were jokes. Comments about not being able to breathe but not getting shot. Saying things about being brought back to slave days all because we have helped to start our own garden.
I watched the horrible murder of George Floyd, I read about Breonna Taylor, I read about Elijah McClain, I have thought often about Ahmaud Arbery. It was in these moments, I realized that just because of how I appear, how my husband appears, how my child appears things can happen to us. People can make reckless, violent, incomprehensible decisions that can directly affect our lives... at any moment, for no clear reason other than misplaced hate or unnecessary fear and worse yet, justice may not be found. It has been through deep reflection that I find myself realizing that I am now a “Black family” no longer sheltered by my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
So, making that realization, I parent differently. I participate in the world differently. I realize that I have a lot of work to do because our amazing daughter is going to grow up with a different experience from my own. I hope it is positive but I know in some ways it will be hard. I work to educate other educators so that my daughter and other children who are BIPOC can have an education that meets their needs... which, if you think about it, really is for everyone.
Thanks to Christine D’Ercole, I have adopted a mantra “I am, I can, I will, I do.” I have written it on a sticky note and added it to my mirror to reflect on each day. Today I write this:
We all have educators that made a lasting impact on our lives. I remember the teachers that celebrated me, celebrated my contributions to the classroom, and pushed me to do more and be my best. (They still do that now... that's how you know they have the secret sauce).
Today I want to encourage you to take time for self-reflection.
As an educator, what messages do you send to your students through your actions, words, groupings, curriculum, or teaching practices?
Reflect on your workplace, your child's classroom, the teachers you know and interact with--what part of the population do they represent?
Take time to think about the 3 Types of Diversity Training (Conservative; Liberal; and Critical). Where do you fall? What has your experience been?
Multicultural Critical Reflective Practice: Teachers are asked to confront their preconceived notions that guide their interactions with their students because "When you feel it, you can identify it, you have something to hold on to, something you can change."
"When you feel it, you can identify it, you have something to hold on to, something you can change."
Take a moment to really let that settle. Reread the quote. Think about a student or a class you taught. After taking the time to reflect and begin to identify these feelings, what might you change about your interactions with that person?
I may be perseverating but it’s summer, and what do teachers do over the summer? They think about the next school year—obviously. I’m taking the time to reflect on this school year and think about what I would like to do differently, better, and more of next year. I read this from The Atlantic this morning and it got me thinking about how I could look at student data more objectively. Now, this is an article that seems geared towards my middle/high school level teacher friends, but it provides an interesting opportunity for all of my educator friends to reflect on their teaching practices, partnership with families, and ways to not only listen to student's voice but act on their ideas… because that will not only benefit students of color but ALL students.
“To fight against systemic racism means to buck norms. Educators at every level must be willing to be uncomfortable in their struggle for black students, recognizing students’ power and feeding it by honoring their many contributions to our schools. Teachers need to insist on using their own power to consistently reveal and examine their practice, and seek input from black stakeholders; they must invite black parents to the table, listen to their concerns and ideas, and act on them.”
Yesterday, we discussed how to talk about race with children (and adults because let’s be honest, we all have work to do). Today, Teaching Tolerance sent me my regular subscription of amazing resources and they have some similar thoughts percolating.
In various discussions, I hear people say "what if..."
Here are two quotes from this article that eased my mind:
"So if you feel that the conversation is too heavy or that the weight of having to end racism is in your lesson plan, humble yourself and relax. It isn’t. Your students need you to allow them space, not to fix the world."
"And when you don’t have the words and can’t plan the lessons, don’t just say nothing; say exactly what you are feeling. That will mean more to your students than you may ever know."
I just finished an engaging conversation with a cohort of educators (I'm lucky enough to work with) after reading this article. We were discussing education of young children and how we can talk to children about racism. I am so hoping the conversation continues.
Here's a quote for you to nibble on: "Ultimately, words and books should not be the end of your child’s education about race and racism. 'The best advice I can give parents is to be models for the attitudes, behavior and values that they wish to see in their children,' said Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago."
Here are three questions from our discussion.
I invite you to explore these questions and reflect on them.
About the blog
Facebook became my blog. A space where I shared the resources, experiences, and reflections with those around me. I hope that the same discussions can happen here and I hope you will share your reflections, experiences, and resources as you feel comfortable.