A few years ago I was talking to my students and one comment from a student really hit me, our community is largely white, as we discussed our school culture the soul First Nations student in the class said that they felt invisible. I didn’t know who to address that but followed up. The student shared how tough it is to be one of the only First Nations students in the school, to not have their culture celebrated and to generally feel unseen. I decided in that moment that I wanted to learn more and be better for not only my First Nations students but all my students.
I have been looking at the work of many BIPOC educators in an effort to learn to be a better educator, this past year I have been working to learn to be Antiracist in my instruction, I have been looking deeply at my curriculum and actions. Who am I centring in my work, who’s voices are being amplified in stories? What stories am I sharing, Am I only telling one story and thus contributing the the erasure of certain groups as whole complex people? I have been grappling with this and the idea of Curriculum Violence that was shared by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia on Twitter and can be found here written by Stephanie P. Jones.
This week I had the experience of attending the first of two virtual conference on Racial Equity in Literacy. IREL has been an interesting experience. Learning, reading, reflecting. The course material has been outstanding as we looked at systemic racism in our schools and the impact whiteness has on our systems. I am decidedly not a fan of the online learning environment when it comes to navigating life and scheduled meetings. That has been difficult. Another piece of difficulty that I am grappling with is a lot of “this is hard” statements in regards to doing the work of Antiracism in our schools. It has come up fairly consistently and I am really struggling having empathy from my fellow white teachers who have just now decided that fighting systemic racism is worth their time but in the same breath seem to be asking permission to work at a slower pace than BIPOC educators who are constantly having to fight. I understand that pushing against a system meant to benefit you and oppress others is hard but numerous times during the week the phrase, “What are you willing to give up, what are you willing to lose doing this work?” has come up. As I reflect on things said by fellow white educators lately, a few months removed from the outrage over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the protests for Black Lives Matter (that are still happening despite the news) I can’t help but wonder if folks are stepping back, I can’t help but see the energy is fading and folks are looking for permission to rest. But I ask if we (white allies/co-conspirators) decide to rest who is left holding the weight? The work won’t stop, the oppression won’t end we are just shifting it back on to the shoulders of BIPOC educators.
This week has been both a powerful reflective experience and a frustrating one. I am on a journey to better myself as an educator and feel that I have been moving at a great pace down this road but I have now hit a fork. As I am trying to push my colleagues to keep join, to see that this work is essential for us to do because our BIPOC colleagues, students and families have had to do it solo for too long, I am staring at this folk in the road. One path is to keep pushing and the other is to just go alone because being honest, my energy is limited and I need to use it where it is best spent.
The question after this week, these last few months, this year. Which way do I go next.
Another week of IREL is coming. I am excited to get it going. Learning more, perhaps solo perhaps not.