It has been a while. 2020 is certainly not what most people expected. I can definitely say it is not the year I had in mind when I made my list of resolutions. The Corona Virus has changed the way all of us live and experience our every day lives. However, I am taking some time to write this post today to share my experiences with different topics, but topics that are impacting our lives just as heavily. Race and Privilege. I wanted to take the time to share some of my own experiences, things I have learned, and ways I have changed and grown when it comes to the topics of Race and Privilege. I believe it is important, now more than ever, to take an opportunity to speak up and speak out and be part of the movement for serious change in our country. And since I have a personal blog, this seems to be an appropriate platform for me to talk about this topic from my perspective.
First, I would like (for any possible new readers) to recognize, I began this blog as a place for me to ‘ann-swer’ some of life’s questions. I discuss fitness, home ownership, food, relationships, and more. My posts typically begin with a question i.e. What Is On Your Dinner Menu? Are You Seeing Anyone? What Is Your Fitness Routine? etc. It is important for me to point out this post is not a question. Black Lives Matter is a statement. And if this statement is something you are not in agreement with I want to challenge you to keep reading and push yourself to open your mind and listen and grow. If you do agree with this statement, I hope there is something in this blog post for you to gain and I simply thank you for taking the time to read about my own growth with the topics of Race and Privilege. Also important to state up front, up until this post, I have mostly discussed topics that are far lighter in weight than those I plan to discuss here today. I want to recognize first my privilege in being able to discuss these topics as an individual who has never been negatively treated because of the color of her skin. However, I know I have come a long way since graduating college in 2011 and beginning my career as an educator, and what I hope for with this post is an opportunity for other’s to reflect on their own beliefs and actions and maybe see an area they can grown and learn.
These are my own thoughts and experiences, and as a person who is vowing to keep her foot on the gas in this movement for racial justice and equality in America, putting some of my thoughts into printed words is just a small move forward in my own growth, awareness, and contribution. Therefore, thank you for the grace and time you are taking to read this.
I think the most effective way for me to organize this post will be to share a list of things I have learned along my professional and personal path up to this point. I grew up in the Suburbs of Pennsylvania. I went to public school in a very large school district in North East PA. I have always said I attended schools that were ‘diverse.’ I still do believe when compared to a dozen or more school districts in my county, I went to one of the most ‘diverse’. However, looking back now I often reflect on this fact: in my 6th grade class of 110 students, 3 were black. 3. When I was 6 years old my family moved from our town home to a single home around the corner. To this day there is 1 house on my parents street of 20+ houses with black owners. 1. These are things I have always been aware of in my mind, but it is alarming how little they are talked about out loud amoungst people in our communities. And only now, when our country is in the middle of a social justice revolution are these topics being discussed more frequently. I will fully acknowledge, I have the privledge of working in Philadelphia and seeing firsthand every day how hundreds of years of oppression has impacted the literal framework of our society. I fear there are so many individuals who do not see these injustices daily, weekly, or ever and will go on thinking ‘we have come a long way’ when in fact we really have not.
I say all of this because I personally feel like I have learned many things as an educator in an urban public charter school, but I am nowhere even close to the ballpark of having the knowledge I need to be a truly effective ally in this fight. But here is how ‘far I have come’
-Black Lives Matter. Before beginning my work at a public charter school in Philadelphia 7 years I absolutely was a person who would hear this statement and think in my subconcious mind ‘actually all lives matter.’ This is hard for me to even type because I know how deterimental this type of thinking can be. Now, after 7 years of culturally responsive conversations, listening to my colleagues and students and student’s families, witnessing for myself things that are happening on street corners, sides of highways, storefronts, and everywhere, I know for certain Black Lives Matter is not AT ALL coming from a place that excludes other lives, but rather a Global Network seeking justice, healing, and freedom for black people because unlike myself, black people do not experience those things! I now know, and I am able to clearly articulate, I had those thoughts in my subconscious mind because I am white and I am privledged. I can never actually thank my school network, colleagues and students enough, but I hope my growth and strong desire to keep pushing forward will show my deep appreciation. And I encourage individuals who are not aware of why this movement HAS to exist, to metaphorically speaking, leave their front porches of sameness, and venture further into the fabric of our country that has literally been stitched together with the racism and unjust treatment of brown and black people.
-White Privledge. This leads me to my next experience that causes me to feel shame, but is necessary to share because the movement is more important than my shame. White Privledge. Ten years ago when I would hear this I would almost immediately become defensive. White privledge, not me! My parents came from working class families and my dad grew up burning his toys for heat in the winter! But now I hear White Privledge and I scream: YES! That is me! I have that! Not to say my family does not work hard or my parents and grandparents didn’t struggle. That is NOT what this means! White Privledge is me never fearing a police officer is going to pull me over for no reason, having a store clerk walk my purchase around the counter and see that same clerk hand it over the counter to a black customer who has also just made a purchase, jogging in my neighborhood and feeling totally safe, and many other experiences that do not result in me being treated differently simply because of the color of my skin. White Privledge. I have it. My white parents have it. My white sister has it. My white friends, we all have it.
-Having a black friend, dating a black person, or having a black niece, nephew, etc. does not make you not racist. You will never hear my say this. But it does not make you a terrible person, who is incapable of change, if you have said it. It just means you have work to do. Do the work. In this current climate it is not enough to be a person who is not racist. We must push ourselves and use our voices to be individuals who are anti-racist. Read books, visit neighborhoods, study the history, fill your home with black/brown artwork, black/brown children’s toys, and knowledge! And if you do have black friends, romantic partners, co workers, family members, do not rely on those individuals to educate you. Do the work yourself. Use what is out there. We can do better. We should do better. We will do better.
-Do not be the white teacher who wants to save the black students. Early on during my time in college at Temple University I was told more than once, if you plan to ‘save the children’ do not go into this work. I did my best to never go into my teaching career with this mindset. I never believed these students needed to be ‘saved’ from anything. Every child is different and has a different life at home, family dynamic, and lived experiences. I have always known this. However, the more years I spend in Philadelphia the more I recognize it is not enough to say these things, I have to consciously and continuously educate myself and be a person who can advocate for my students and be aware that my experiences are very different from theirs, but I am here and I am listening. Luckily, one of the many wonderful things about children is they watch you. So if you show up and show an interest and show them an open mind and an open heart, I have learned firsthand over the last 7 years, that will seal the deal. I am so privledged to do what I do and I am not saving anyone. As a matter of fact, the students are saving me every single day.
I have a long way to go. And I will keep going. Read. Watch. Listen. Grow. I will happily bring anyone along this journey with me. But please get started. Our students and children deserve better. We can do better.
Black Lives Matter.