Difference Makers

After watching NCTE’s conversation with Derrick Barnes (author) and Gordon C. James (illustrator) of I Am Every Good Thing, one topic that bubbled to the surface, like the carbonation of a just-poured limoncello La Croix, is the notion and act of being a difference maker.  As a teacher and human, to me, being a difference maker means adopting an abolitionist teaching stance by continuing to educate myself on Black joy, Black culture, and disrupting the systemic racism within my head and my teaching.  By taking action and thus, hopefully, enacting change.  By cultivating criticality as Gholdy Muhammad spoke about in a professional development session last week.  To me, difference makers educate themselves and approach the world with a hyper-aware sense and then choose to act.  As the school start date with students approaches like a dementor in my dreams, I was not sure exactly how I wanted to start my year until today; now, it is solidified.  I will start by empowering and celebrating my middle schoolers by reading I Am Every Good Thing.  And by guiding them to act on their own answer to the question, What is a difference maker to you? 

Am I an adult… yet?

what makes homeowning enjoyable?

wondering why your sense of smell didn’t previously detect that… aroma?

permanently placing trinkets collected over the years?

reconfiguring room layouts and furniture?

fixing toilets as a team?

hesitantly using appliances for the first time?

navigating hardware stores with wide-eyes and deep breaths? 

grasping not knowing how to identify warm undertones in paint swatches?

figuring out the origin of that interesting… scent?

acclimating to floorboard nuances?

postulating what the new dripping noise is with the “fixed” toilet? 

realizing it costs *that* much to fix one the freezer door handle?

learning how to become an urban landscaper? 

imagining past actions witnessed by these walls?

or envisioning memories soon to be observed?

what makes homeowning enjoyable?

I’m highly unqualified to conceptualize an answer, 

but I better go light a candle to mask that… odor.

Photo by Malte Luk on Pexels.com

Easing into ephemera

Mono no aware

the Japanese term for 

sensitivity to impermanence 

an awareness of transience

a bittersweet bite of 

realizing change is constant

the sweet suffering of taking reality for granted.

I am used to leisurely ingesting

each spoonful of change

allowing for wistful moments of melting

droplets of sticky sadness flavored with feigned indifference

but now, my room temperature puddle 

has morphed into a mountain

of ice cold commitment

new intentionality is required 

to ascend this adventure

mono no aware reminds me

commit to the path of change.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

To-do: better

Today
and every day
but especially today
I am angry
and am guilty
and continuously humbled by my ignorance.

Trigger moment,
learning that Eleanor and Park 
is a racist text, 
a text I read many moons ago
without an anti-racist lens
and have recommended to many students.
How many other times has my white privilege 
clouded my judgment and hurt my students?
How many students trusted me to recommend 
books to them which, in turn, hurt them? 
How could I be so ignorant?
My speculation
my guilt 
is not enough 
to repair the damage done. 

When you know better,
you do better, I am told. 
Today’s rage 
is another piece of kindling
in my commitment
to do better for 
my students and society.

*Resources, if you’re interested: Resource 1- Resource 2 - Resource 3
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

My favorite familiar stranger

My morning walks this week have differed from weeks past as I have ditched my headphones and instead taken to grasping an iced coffee which I am able to safely sip in the solitude of a sidewalk square when no one is around and my mask can be pulled down.  If you were to trace the route of my standard morning walk, it would resemble two circles with parallel lines connecting them, similar to the outline of a barbell.  I always walk partially around traffic circle # 1, take the straight path to the traffic circle #2, walk fully around circle #2, and then take the straight path back to finish out circle #1.  This walk takes about 20-25 minutes and has become part of my calming quarantine morning routine.  

Inevitably at circle #2, I have become accustomed to seeing a woman nearly every morning who always wears bright neon athletic clothing which delights my eyes as she is more colorful than any row house or flower amongst her.  Nestled in her elbow is what I presume to be a walking stick, which is held parallel to the ground.  Her gait always makes me smile because she walks around the circle as if she is fast-paced marching, and at times from afar I almost visualize her to be leading some sort of imaginary charge in her wake.  When I get close enough to circle #2 and I do see her, I always get a little bit excited, as this stranger is familiar enough to me now that I am comforted at the sight of her.  We have passed each other enough mornings that we are on a headnod-and-masked-muffled-hello basis. 

This morning, I saw my stranger across circle #2 sporting hot pink leggings, a beacon of brightness.  I made a snap decision to deviate off my normal path of finishing out circle #2 because I was craving a change of scenery, which meant I would not immediately pass my walking stranger but knowing that she typically paces the perimeter of this circle a few times, I figured I’d greet her once my path brought me back to circle #2.  As I finished out my diversion and walked back toward circle #2, the absence of brightness made me realize I had foregone my opportunity to say hello to my favorite familiar stranger, as she was nowhere to be found.  Traipsing along my normal path to finish out circle #1, I glanced across the families milling in the middle of the park and saw my beacon. I was surprised to see my stranger in circle #1, as I have only ever seen her in circle #2.  My mind raced, I didn’t even know she knew about about circle #1Of course she knows about circle #1, why wouldn’t she? I reasoned with myself but not for long as my caffeinated excitement accelerated my pace, which now guaranteed I would pass my stranger.  Behind my bandana, I smiled and briefly debated whether to share with her that she always brightens my mornings.  Instead, as we passed each other, we mustered our ritual head nods and hellos and finished out our morning walks.  It is moments like these I wish to remember, how two simple strangers’ salutations can soothe souls.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Save the lives of thousands of Black men

I am currently reading and processing Chokehold by Paul Butler. This found poem consists of excerpts from Chapter 4 “Black Male Violence: The Chokehold Within.” I highly recommend this book and think it is a great supplement to 13th on Netflix to more deeply understand how the criminal justice system targets Black men.

Save the lives of thousands of Black men 

limiting access to guns 

eliminate high-poverty segregated neighborhoods

entrenched poverty greatly constrains educational attainment, upward mobility, health

people don’t live in the most deprived neighborhoods because they choose to

white supremacy severely constrains choices

Save the lives of thousands of Black men.

Hope

Recently a town hall
among staff at my school
was held to process the recent travesties of systemic racism
and it closed with a reflection about hope
which made me think of the beginning of a beloved poem,

“‘Hope' is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -”

Until, it does.

It was so easy for my white colleagues
to wear hope on their shoulders
like a tactfully draped scarf.

But hope ends when my black colleagues and friends 
share stories of their
sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, family, friends

shot at stoplights

lynched at fast food restaurants

shuffled into incarceration

year after year, decade after decade, century after century

hope 
            h
                 a
                      l
                           t
                               s.
                   
Hope is the thing white people
dramatically tug at and adjust
to make themselves feel better
about their inaction.
Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

So You Want to Talk About Race?

I am not a huge writer of book reviews (if you could even call the slice below a review) but the importance of #amplifymelanatedvoices paired with “I cannot believe I didn’t know about this book until this past week” has inspired this week’s writing.  As I reflect on my own anti racist work, I realized to my horror that I had not yet read the work of a Black woman, so I wanted to be sure to amplify this book and encourage everyone to read it!  

As I continue my path to being an ally and committing to being anti racist, this past week I listened to the audiobook So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo (which I will be purchasing to read, reread, and annotate).  I have read a handful of books which have informed my anti racist journey already but, I found this book to be an especially raw, honest, concrete, accessible, actionable read for any want-to-be ally/anti racist commencing and continuing their journey. This book essentially takes the barrage of information that is all over social media and is very new to white folks, organizes it, and explicitly breaks everything down to help us (white people) understand the why behind the work.

Oluo urges us white people to dig deeper because our defensiveness and our fragility runs so, so deep. A quote which resonated with me, someone who perceived themselves to be a “good” white educator is, “to do better, we must be willing to hold our darkness to the light. We must be willing to shatter our own veneer of goodness…” I see myself in this quote as I continue to confront the white supremacy ideologies I was raised to internalize so I can do better for our country by empowering and protecting Black lives (paraphrased from activist Rachel Cargle).  As I confront my biases with every new IGTV video inhaled, every tweet swallowed, every book digested, I find the adage, the more I learn the less I know, holds true.  What I know for sure is, the more discomfort I feel, the closer I am to enacting changes an ally must make.  I highly recommend everyone of all races read this book, but especially those who have the most work to do, white people.  Please please please read this book and continue your self work because as Olou states, “people are dying in this unjust system. How many lives have been ground up by racial prejudice and hate?” 

Dear white friends

As the events of last week unfolded, I felt the slow gurgle of rage morph into a boil within me. As a white educator, I have been fortunate enough to engage in an online anti-racist staff book/movie club since the quarantine began and felt I needed to speak out and share resources with my white friends. My hope was to help my white friends identify their views by relating to my experience and then be prompted to examine their implicit biases as well as start educating themselves. I was nervous to post because of my white fragility and because I have been gaslit by family members in the past by posting about topics way less controversial but enough is enough, it’s not about me. Below is what I shared. Please feel free to comment and share other resources you find helpful!

Dear white friends,

Full disclosure- I once thought of myself as someone who was a nice, white girl who was not racist. I remember in my ONE “diversity” course in grad school, I actually said the words, “I don’t see color.” I thought because I love working with “diverse” students in “diverse” schools and because I enjoy hip-hop music that I wasn’t racist. Surprise surprise, we white people all hold racist ideologies and biases. Our overwhelmingly white patriarchal leaders and lawmakers want us to think we don’t (or perhaps not?) so they can continue to enforce systemic oppression and injustice right under our noses. It’s a gut punch to think about the many years of my life I ignorantly benefitted (and continue to benefit) from white privilege and supremacy. It’s also a gut punch to think about how I thought I was “helping” in some way because I am a white liberal. Actually, the white liberal who doesn’t do “the work” and cries their white woman tears is doing the most harm. So I am working on being anti-racist, which essentially is a commitment to being a moral human, to being an ally, to being someone who speaks up and takes action. Someone who works to unlearn and dismantle the oppressive, racist, patriarchal systems etched into us since birth. @andrearanaej defines it best, “anti-racism is not an identity or a checklist; it’s an ongoing decision to uproot the ways white supremacy resides within you, your relationships and the systems you navigate each day.”

I wanted to share some resources that I, as a “nice, white girl” who thought she knew it all, humbled the crap out of me and taught me so much and have made me angry and uncomfortable in this world we occupy. I am especially thankful to work at a school that holds space to have these tough conversations and I am thankful for my friends who are committed to anti-racist work so I continue to learn from, and unlearn with, them. We need to be doing this work so our friends/sons/daughters/family don’t turn into the white people we so easily judge and chastise on the news. We need to be doing this work so we can educate ourselves, be angry and uncomfortable, and act to make a better future for all. And no, I’m not claiming to be an expert of any sort, I am sharing some resources as a place to start if you are feeling overwhelmed but also are considering taking action.

Love,

me

Books I read and loved (pictured):

  • *Stamped, YA edition by Kendi and Reynolds
  • *How to Be an Antiracist by Kendi
  • *White Fragility by DiAngelo
  • *Just Mercy by Stevenson
  • *Between the World and Me by Coates
  • *Good Talk by Jacob
  • *Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Higginbotham

A few films I have watched, and a podcast I listen to and recommend (pictured):

  • *13th by DuVernay on Netflix
  • *I Am Not Your Negro on Netflix/Prime
  • *The Problem with Apu on Prime
  • *Code Switch podcast

What I plan to read (and discuss) in the future:

  • *Me and White Supremacy by Saad
  • *Chokehold by Butler
  • *Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race by Eddo-Lodge
  • *The Fire Next Time by Baldwin*The Fire This Time by Ward
  • *I’m Still Here by Brown
  • *Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Tatum
  • *So You Want to Talk About Race by Oluo
  • *When They Call You a Terrorist by Khan-Cullors & Bandele
  • *The New Jim Crow by Alexander

Who I plan to learn from:

  • *@theconsciouskid will always teach me and is incredible, especially for white parents
  • *@rachel.cargle’s @thegreatunlearn monthly self-paced course
  • *@austinchanning The Anti-Racist Pod Squad podcast
  • *@sheldoneakins Leading Equity podcast
  • *@imkc_podcast Intersectionality Matters with Kimberle Crenshaw
  • *Whoever you suggest!
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