The story of Jonah is an interesting one that I heard retold in a sermon today. Jonah was a prophet of the Old Testament given the charge by God to preach to people in a town called Nineveh to help save them from destruction. Instead of accepting the mission from God, Jonah decides to head to a different town onboard a ship. God placed a wicked storm in the path of the ship that Jonah was aboard because of his disobedience. Weirdly, in the midst of this storm, Jonah fell into a deep sleep below deck on the ship. Now I’ve been on a few boats in my life and even a little wind or rough seas makes me uneasy. Jonah had to be awakened by the ship’s captain who begged him to pray and pled for their lives because he was fearful they were going to perish. Hearing this part of the story today gave me tremendous pause as a result of so many newly “woke” individuals in our country. Jonah seemingly oblivious to the turmoil and tribulation going on around him comfortably slept below deck in a ship and slept soundly. How you might ask? Easily, when you are only concerned with yourself and selfish it becomes rather easy to ignore, block out, or silence the noise around you. When you have a privilege, one of the many perks of privilege is the comfortable insulation it provides. Like the fiberglass insulation people use to keep their homes a comfortable temperature, or extra layers we might wear to protect us and keep us comfortable in cold weather, privilege comfortable provides a sturdy and often exclusive buffer from the plight, suffering, and turmoil of those who are marginalized. Many folx maintain this comfortable buffer, protect their self-interest, and keep these privileged boundaries up for years.
In my 39 years, it has become pretty clear everything as it relates to education and usually in life always, always, always seems to go back to self. What is your intent? What is your motivation? How does this benefit me? To me, the work of education as a means for oppression and not liberation is always rooted in protection or insulation of one’s self-interest. When people humble themselves, check their ego, and actively exercise empathy they become true accomplices fighting oppression and injustice in its many forms. It is equally interesting to me that current buzzwords like diversity, inclusion, privilege, intersectionality, implicit bias, etc. that have been around for awhile are finally making their way to the minds and mouths of those people who actually can fix things (those who maintain power in some form or fashion). I’m interested to see what changes in behavior and actions those in power and with privilege make in their day to day lives with this new-found realization or “awakening.” Even Leslie Mac, one of the co-founders of Safety Pin Box, so perfectly addressed in a wonderful thread what actual change in behavior and positively using your privilege in spaces should look like. Here are my suggestions for things educators should do once you are like Jonah, newly “woke” to the storms of inequity and injustice that are pervasive in society and our schools:
- Do your homework. I stand on the shoulders of many folx who did and continue to do this work before me. I humbly recognize and honor that regularly. I’ve noticed many people new to this work don’t necessarily do that. Part of this work is researching, reading, and learning more about who has come before and showing respect for their work by elevating it. By doing this, you help solidify your genuine intent to engage in this work and show you are not in it for self-gain or praise. Don’t use your new awareness of issues of inequity and injustice in education to immediately grab a microphone. Instead turn up the volume on someone else’s microphone first and repeat this often.
- Check yourself. Next big step to this work involves examining your personal life or like Ice Cube rapped “betta check yo self before ya wreck yo self.” How are you daily exercising your privilege in a manner to lift up and/or stand in the margins for others? When involved in conversations or situations where you have privilege, do you regularly decenter yourself? How are you unlearning your biases and bigotry in your personal life? What habits or behaviors do you have that to promote anti-blackness, bigotry, and/or negative -isms? Understand becoming an ally, accomplice, or woke is not a “ta-da” moment or one-time event. It is a long and continual process that few people ever obtain. You also don’t get to self-assign being woke, an ally, or an accomplice, because that comes across very disingenuous and again centers you which is not what this work is about. “Make sure your daily decisions align with ideals you so adamantly advocate for on social media. Online outrage without tangible implementation does nothing to dismantle oppressive constructs.”
- Examine your relationships with others. Social media has been wonderful for people to use their platforms to vocally express their beliefs and/or express their thoughts to others as it relates to situations or a cause. But honestly, I worry that not enough of educators are actually doing the work or heavy lifting outside the graphic quotes, platitudes, and buzzword filled tweets I see on my TL. How are you contributing to or helping to maintain oppressive school environments? What sincere effort on your part has been made to make your friend and colleague circles more diverse and inclusive? How are you personally disrupting inequity at your school site? Have you directly addressed and admonished the colleague, family member, or friend who co-signs with those who spew hate?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of suggestions, but these are key ones for those wishing to enter in the arduous task of combating systemic racism, bigotry, inequality, and oppression that plague our schools. As a fellow colleague in this work, I implore you to not enter it lightly, it is way too serious for folx who aren’t really committed or diligent. This work isn’t easy, it is not glamorous, it is sometimes lonely, it is definitely uncomfortable most of the time. For those educators who have been recently awakened from a deep slumber like Jonah, and now realizing and grasping the rampant injustice and inequity in our schools, welcome to the work, it’s a heck of a storm.