As educators, we have dedicated hundreds of hours to developing materials, holding workshops, conducting programs and forming committees with the stated aim of addressing racial equity. This has been important work and we have learned probably more than we have done, if we are honest. Here are four lessons I believe we have learned along the way:
We’ve learned that we often wield coded language to remain in a place of comfortability
I’m talking about how we have sometimes used words like diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion to stay safe. While these terms can be powerful, they can also become counter-productive when we use them to sanitize the challenges of oppression and marginalization. Sometimes, they don’t allow us to really unpack the reality of the harm and shame caused by racism and bias
We’ve learned that the race issue is not the poverty issue in brown skin.
These amazing words come from my good friend Khalif Williams, a heavy-duty, brilliant Black male educator. Khalif is saying is that, while we can conclude that intersectionality exists between poverty and racism, they are not synonymous. A Racial Equity lens helps us understand why my own son, with two parents with their doctorates, living in a stable, somewhat functional house and privileged to more resources than most of his white, black and brown peers, was adamant about being the first in our family to attend an HBCU. While he did not experience poverty in his youth, like his father, he did experience alienation based on his status as a young black scholar, like his father. Clearly, the race issue is not the poverty issue in brown skin.
We’ve learned that heritage events help awareness but are rarely rooted in confronting systemic issues of inequity and justice.
In other words, most of us have come to have a healthy appreciation for the celebrations of Black, Hispanic or Latino and Native American cultures during designated months. However, we’ve learned that these are adjunctive, not substitutes for the much harder work of confronting the mindsets and actions that made these months necessary in the first place.
We’ve learned that data is not enough to move us
In our decades long love affair with data, we have documented, disaggregated, sorted, filtered, presented, power pointed, pie-graphed, labeled, researched, argued, denied, validated, re-validated, cross-referenced, scrubbed and deep-dived into the data. Although we have built data rooms in our schools, data doesn’t seem to provide the emotional energy to motivate us to dig deep inside of us, which is what this work requires, to fight for racial equity and justice. Data is critically important because it tells us how fast we are going, maybe what direction we are moving, but it is often depersonalized and uninspiring. If data moved people, then the scale would be our best tool in the obesity problem in America. The fact is that this struggle, like most, is going to take other human beings – their stories and energy.
So, to recap, here is what we have learned:
- We often use coded language to remain comfortable
- The race issue is not the poverty issue in brown skin
- Heritage events promote awareness but usually don’t challenge us to confront ourselves
- Data is often not enough to move people
In a keynote at the ROCRestorative Racial Equity Conference in January 2019, I discussed these lessons above as well as why the work for racial equity is so hard from a restorative perspective and some insight into moving forward. We’ll share more of these thoughts in upcoming blogs.
Frank Mata says
Thank you for highlighting this point:
“…we have sometimes used words like diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion to stay safe. While these terms can be powerful, they can also become counter-productive when we use them to sanitize the challenges of oppression and marginalization.”
When brought up in certain circles, it sometimes disrupts the comfortable (and socially profitable) fad of being “down” for the cause. Some reactions to your point feel eerily similar to privileged-guilt.
Nefertari Nkenge says
You’ve made excellent points, thank you for sharing!