Originally posted to my old platform on June 22, 2019. Reposting it here to set the stage for my next post.
Oh man…sweet summer time. I’m so proud of myself this year – my “to do” list is the shortest it’s ever been and my reading pile is the most realistic it’s ever been. Perhaps it’s because this is the first summer I won’t have daycare and it’s going to be “stay at home mommy” time with my almost 6 and 4 year old. It might also be that I recognize the need to chill the freak out a bit when I have a chance. This was the first official week of break but I had several meetings and professional development so next week it’s on.
Speaking of the PD, I had the opportunity to participate in FCPS’ Summer Literacy Symposium (SLS) aka THE BEST PD FAIRFAX HAS TO OFFER! I’ve been able to participate in three of the five that have been offered since 2014 and each opportunity exceeded every expectation and inspired me in new and unexpected ways. It was at SLS in 2016 that I first identified myself as a writer. This time around, we participated in a writing workshop as writers of nonfiction. We were able to choose a topic that was important to us and start writing a piece, experiencing all that a student might experience in the same setting. When I was listing my potential topics I know a lot about that I could and want to teach others, I included swimming, gel pens, Google Drive, and racism. Initially, I was going to go with the “safer” topic of Drive but we were challenged to think of something that means a lot to us. While I do love Google Drive, I knew that what I really wanted to write about was race. I was scared, though, about bringing something so serious into the room and my writing partner being like “wtf?” when we conferred with each other.
And that brings me to the topic of this blog post (and one on which I plan to focus for a while): white solidarity (for more: read this awesome post about one white male educator’s reflection: https://medium.com/@blogsbe/breaking-free-of-white-solidarity-43c887b57cf6 ). White solidarity is the phenomenon in which we prioritize white comfort over telling the truth, allowing racism to continue undisturbed. This is something I’ve been reflecting on since attending the Antiracist Book Festival in April. Why do I stay quiet, why do I get flustered, why I can’t seem to have a hard conversation with someone who hasn’t yet chosen (privilege alert) to accept what is true about systemic racism and the history of the United States? I’ve also been thinking about who my true audience for writing pieces like this is. One of our facilitators (shout out to Grace Choi!) was conferring with me and asked who my audience was for this “All about White Solidarity” book. This got me thinking about something DeRay McKesson talked about in his session – he shared with us that he’s often asked how he’s reaching across the aisle. His response is that he’s not trying to. Rather, he’s focused on “preaching to the choir” and that as “choir director” it’s his job to help the members of the choir use their voices in ways they didn’t know how. I’ve shared this analogy many times in the two months since the festival and it has been swimming around in my brain since.
Who am I trying to reach? I’m reaching out to the person who hears someone mention how they want to live in an area with “good schools” and cringe because they know what’s being said without actually saying it; the person who knows it’s not about simply working harder to get by in this country and the “personal choices” you make, but isn’t sure of the exact historical reasons why that won’t work for many people; the person who knows the name of the Washington DC football team is racist but isn’t sure how to navigate that; the person who recognizes they have nothing real to fear about a traffic stop in the same way that others do; the person who watched what happened in Charlottesville two years ago and had no idea that this could still happen in this country. I’m reaching out to the person who knows that things can be better and is ready to get over his/her own white fragility and move from asking “am I racist” to “how am I racist?” (Robin DiAngelo at the Antiracist Book Festival).
Fierce Conversations talks about how while many of us fear the awkward conversation, what we should really fear is the missed conversation. I’m working through how I enter the conversation and what I know how to say. I’ve thought about how I’ve been spending the past three years learning an entirely new language. As a new antiracist language learner, I might be able to prepare my own “opening remarks” but I really struggle with the follow up. How do I respond adequately and coherently to what I know to be the common fragile responses? I don’t know, yet, but I’m practicing, mostly to myself but also with others who I know are in a similar place as I am.
My All About book from SLS is entitled “For My White Friends: Having the conversations we need to be having so our country can be what it says it is…” Turns out the writing partner I was paired up with couldn’t have been better for this topic. She and I were only able to talk for maybe 20 minutes of the 1.5 days together but those 20 minutes were meaningful and deep. She shared with me this is something she’s trying to learn more about and we shared what we’ve both started doing to learn. When I told her I had a blog, she wanted to know how she could find it. She shared that White Fragility has been sitting in her room for a few months and she knows she needs to get to reading. These are the moments that I think can ultimately have a big impact. These moments when seeds can be planted in receptive minds to think about and come back to and seek out opportunities to learn more.
I don’t have specific answers YET for addressing the moments when we find ourselves prioritizing our own comfort and the comfort of our white peers, avoiding the potentially awkward conversation. I think what I’m trying more is asking someone to “tell me more about…” and “help me understand..”
When I finished Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy 28-day workbook, one of the commitments I made was to start sharing more of my public work in spaces like Instagram and Facebook, where most of the people I’m connected to are white and where I might be able to plant some more seeds and call more people in to this work.
Thank you for reading!