“You asked me here to help see your racism, but by god, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.”-Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism
Those of you who work in Fairfax County Public Schools may be aware that the wonderful Assistant Superintendent for Region 3 recently moved to Rochester, NY. Terry Dade is an inspirational and passionate leader and those who know him recognize how insanely lucky Rochester is to have him leading their district.
Fortunately, I had the chance to see Mr. Dade one more time before he made his move official. He spoke to the Region 3 Equity Leads at our final meeting of the year in June. He didn’t have much time to speak to us but in the minutes he had, he charged us with ways to measure our effectiveness as Equity Leads using two questions.
First, how many people are we bringing along in this work? Most schools only have one official Equity Lead and I believe high schools have two. This cannot be the work of just one or two people in a building, though. We must be constantly inviting others to join in the learning and conversations that are going to disrupt the inequities present in our district. I had the privilege of hearing DeRay McKesson speak at the first annual Antiracist Book Festival at American University in April. During that session, he reminded us that there are many ways to enter this work; that the way I entered this work isn’t going to be the same way someone else enters. We must keep opening as many doors as we can to get as many people committed and into the work as possible. I think the way I do this is very natural to me – I’m constantly searching for ways to learn about and understand what I don’t know. The more I learn about a topic, the more I realize there is to learn about said topic. I also love to learn alongside others and will always invite partners in learning and reflecting. This summer, that’s been through an online book club discussing Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race.
The greatest challenge I have with this question is I want the answer to be EVERYONE – I’m bringing EVERYONE along in this work. I am pretty confident it’s always been the case with my personality type that I learn about something important, tell someone else about that something important, expect they’ll also think it’s something important, and am blown when they don’t immediately have the same level of passion and urgency about that something important as I do. As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve learned to chill a bit on this front and recognize and seize every opportunity I have to plant a seed of importance and urgency, understanding that the seed may take a bit of time to germinate but it’ll never grow if it’s not planted.
The second question Mr. Dade gave us to consider was “What conversations are others leading when you’re not around?” As a white person, this one is KEY for me. So often, I and others will remain silent when faced with potentially awkward conversations about race and equity. Robin DiAngelo describes this phenomenon as White Solidarity. DiAngelo defines white solidarity as maintaining the comfort of other people, even in the face of racist behavior. In prioritizing white comfort over truth-telling, we allow racism to go undisturbed. (Ruben Brose discusses more about it here.) It is one of my goals as Equity Lead to build the capacity of others to not let people off the hook when they say or do something problematic. I have to get better at this and I plan to help others gain tools to combat white supremacy in all its forms while I gain more of my own.
Thank you, Terry, for your incredible leadership in FCPS and for planting such important seeds in this educator’s brain. We have so much work to do and so far to go but I’m hopeful we’ve at least “left the front porch.”
I’ve already shared a great deal of my learning to this point on my previous blog platform found here and will continue to do so on my new site.
Thanks for reading!