This Ain't New
I still remember it like it was yesterday. They were screaming, sweating, spitting. They spit on me. Called me a Nigger. Called me a Bitch. Told me no matter how smart I was those things would not change. I watched in horror. I screamed, I fought, and I watched. Some may have closed their eyes. I watched. I wanted to be able to identify them. I wanted to see their souls. I wanted to know what I was really dealing with, so I kept my eyes locked.
The next day, I identified all of them. I can still describe them 17 years later. But It wasn't good enough. These young men from upstanding, tuition paying families would never do such a thing. This genuine hate for me, in retrospect, was about my glitter. These men hated that I was sitting next to them in class asking questions they did not think to ask. They were disgusted that I stood up against policies that did not seem to have every student’s interest at heart. I was not afraid. I thought I was smart, confident, funny, open, and loving but the response to my hurt made me question that. The young men could hate my glitter* but I expected more from those that said they were present for my learning.
Thing is - my dad was only 12 years old the first time he was called a nigger. My mom was only 6. So, this was progress. I was 18. I hadn't experienced blatant racism like that until I was 18. Microaggressions sure. Implicit bias of course. But to not be told how dirty your skin is or how filthy your mouth is or how useless you are to society until you are 18 is progress right?!
Maybe, from some perspective, this is movement in the correct direction. But from my limited and tinted view, this is not enough progress to talk about. Now that we have watched the news of Charlottesville, VA; progress is far from the truth of our country. White people are marching because the removal of a famous and influential slave master’s statue was proposed. Marching with torches and chanting for removal of Black and Brown people from their land. Beating Black men and women for standing against the hate. Running over anti-hate push back with vehicles. I wasn't alive for the presidency of Hoover or Wilson, who are known for their racist governance, but I would offer we aren't doing much better under the leadership of our 45th President.
What I do believe is that we have more platforms than ever before to say something about it. I know that your friends, family, mentors, mentees, communities are looking at how YOU respond. Tweet about it. Facebook Live a testimony. Instastory your response to hatred. Say something in a staff meeting or classroom.
A classroom! How awesome it is that school is in session where youth spend time with those that in many cases they would not otherwise know? It's dope! Classrooms are gatherings of people that come from different blocks, backgrounds, familial structures and/or social classes. It is a prime opportunity to have dialogue and open up space for both youth and adults to talk about the world in which we live.
This is admittedly hard! I know from personal experience and from having the honor of training youth, teachers and youth development professionals around these open dialogues. Though I would love to do a training for anyone reading this blog, (feel free to connect with us on the contact page) I know it is not possible, so I want to offer tidbits - as well as spark some thoughts - about how these conversations can happen so that we can improve the times in which we live.
A few things to think about:
Designate a facilitator. Perhaps it is you or perhaps you need to be part of the dialogue. Either way someone needs to hold space for everyone to speak. This is a space where no one’s humanity should be debated. So, it may mean redirecting a question or paraphrasing a comment that removes bigotry and centers the voice of people of color in a world where that is not the norm. This can't come from a person invested in the dialogue as a participant. It must come from a lens that holds everyone in the room and is focused on respect and equity.
Counter Opinion with Fact.
Her - This wouldn't be happening if the government was not trying to please Black people. Me - You may be right, what do you mean, I don't understand. Her - Of course you don't get it. It’s hidden behind reverse racism. They make you think that these heroes were racist. They built this country. Me - Do you mean because they owned slaves and slaves built the country or are you talking about their wartime notoriety? Her - You are turning around the facts, this is what I'm talking about. This is why they had to protest the statue coming down.
A number of subjective conversations I have had this week are too numerous to count. Subjectivity is important. It is what makes us who we are and allows us to understand the power of perspective. But it is also necessary that facts are used to debate. Be the one to say “I am not sure that is true” in an effort to counter opinion with fact.
When there is a moment when you are not sure something is fact. Ask about how one might find the information or how you can read more about what is being shared. Offer to circle back to the group and follow through with that promise. Many of our issues are based on misinformation. The internalization of stories, history, and “fun facts” that simply are not true. Say something.
Plan for a Graceful Ending - Time is a very real and limited thing. Talk about the time limits of your conversation at the beginning. Doing this means that you are clear there will not be enough time to come to a resolution. When that time is coming to an end, give a warning, ask for silence so people can reflect and then ask for a certain number of final thoughts. Remember to center voices of color.
There are also spaces for continuous conversations. There is still a time limit, so plan for it. Plan for silence. Plan for stopping when it's going well. Plan for it all. Jumping into a conversation without thinking about how it may move is a setup for the facilitator to be unsuccessful. Plan for success.
These are just a few suggestions because there is so much to know and do around being able to support real time learning that involves current events, experience, and perspective. These are small but impactful suggestions regardless the subject you teach or your role in a space with other humans.
The last thing I offer is - acknowledge what is happening in your space. Do not let things slide because no one was talking to you and/or you are unsure to handle it. It is imperative that you hear it, acknowledge it, if it oppressive say so, offer a fact or counter solution. You are saying something to make sure everyone around you knows that they are seen. If you say something offensive I see you. If you are being attacked I see you. If you are uncomfortable I see you. In classroom settings, this could revolutionize the experience of a young person. It means that if they ever lock eyes with someone who hates them, they won't doubt their greatness so quickly.
We can build a nation of people who are confident in themselves and acknowledge the greatness of those sitting next to them. Having these dialogues is revolutionary and you have all the power to make them happen.
Let me know how this works for you! Send your stories of successes or challenges to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Glitter, Nikotris
*Glitter is the dusting of indescribable dopeness that meets the sweat equity that Black women offer in their work and/or presence.