Friday, May 29, 2020

My goal is to be anti-racist and anti-bias.

Growing up in the 80’s in a primarily white, northern Chicago suburb, my Latinx identity learned to stay quiet and not speak unless spoken to.

Then, without any warning, the We Need Diverse Books campaign took center stage and wasn’t just speaking to me, it was holding a hand out, inviting me up, and giving me a microphone. I had no idea what to do. I was shaken and shaking. I opened my mouth to speak but was silenced by shock. It’s hard to use a voice that’s never been asked to speak.

Writing helped me. When I couldn’t get the words out, I could get the words onto paper. I told my story, bit by bit. I shared parts of my life I had never paid much attention to before. But the more I wrote, the more emotions I felt, the more tears I cried, the more clarity I gained. And the more I wrote, the more I realized how much racism I had internalized without even knowing it.

Since then, I have continued to work on accepting and loving my Latinx heritage. Years later, I still have moments when I don’t feel Latinx enough and other times when I feel too Latinx. Years later, I’m still making sense of my experiences and learning how my story compares to others. Years later, I’m still doing the work, still nurturing my voice to speak up and speak out.

After seven years of working in district level positions, I returned to teaching for the 2019-2020 school year. To say the world has changed since I taught before is both an understatement and a gross misrepresentation.

The world hasn’t changed. We are who we have always been. There is inequity and injustice. There is so much work to do.
And yet, technology has shifted my ability to see more clearly. See who we have always been. See the inequity and the injustice. See the work that needs to be done. There is no denying it despite the many people who choose to look away, feign denial, or flat out argue it even exists.

Inequity and injustice exists.
Racism exists.
Colonialism exists.
Ableism exists.
Sexism exists.
Anti-Semitism exists.
Homophobia exists.
Islamophobia exists.
Xenophobia exists.

The intersection of these exists.

Inequity and injustice exists.
I didn’t see it before the way I see it now. Technology has given me access to experiences that don’t match mine as much as it has given me access to experiences that do match mine. I’ve explored and claimed my Latinx identity as I’ve expanded my understanding of what it means to be Latinx while also learning about identities others experience and how they experience the world because of those identities. I’m learning as I go but it started with acknowledging, being willing to see, and stepping into the work.

My goal is to be anti-racist and anti-bias.
I started with myself. I freed myself first by telling, valuing, and owning my stories. I learned to love and care for myself and I am still learning what it means to be me and live my most authentic, truest self. Learning how to use my voice.

As a teacher this year, I relied heavily on Teaching Tolerance and Facing History as resources. I used the Social Justice standards alongside my Common Core State Standards. I learn from educators like Britt Hawthorne and Tiffany M. Jewell. I worked really hard to create a safe space for students and to invite them to engage in discussions about identity, diversity, race and racism, bias, power, and activism. I was intentional about the texts we read and watched, the guests who visited us, hoping students would recognize themselves but also have opportunities to learn about others. It was not always easy but it was necessary.

At one point, I asked them, “Have you talked about race and racism much in school before?”
I heard murmuring and then a voice said, “Not really.”
“We learned about slavery,” another student shared.
Right away, yet another voice countered. “But that’s not the same.”

It is not the same.
I’ll never forget our back-to-school institute day in 2016. A consultant was hired to talk to all district staff about working with our bilingual population. She talked about culture and asked us to label circles with our different cultural identities. On the screen, she displayed her sample and talked about herself and told stories about her different identities and then invited us to do the same.

We serve a large Latinx population in our school district but this was the first time I had engaged in professional development that was openly addressing identity work I had previously done on my own.

Just as the We Need Diverse Books campaign emboldened a piece of me, this professional development stirred something in me. I had no idea I so desperately needed discussions of identity and equity and social justice to be center stage.

Relief and a sense of finally washed over me and tears filled my eyes. I had been craving this. I didn’t feel as alone. I felt empowered. This professional development was not the same and it mattered. It wasn’t enough. This work is continuous. This work is ongoing. This work is work. But it was a start.

Being anti-racist and anti-bias matters.

Inequity and injustice exists.

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd deserve better.

Black lives matter.

Educators must make it a priority to continually work to be anti-racist and anti-bias. It is our business to do the work - to understand ourselves better, to understand others better and with an open heart, and to actively be anti-racist and anti-bias. We need to demand that our schools and districts are talking about the reality of the world we are living in and taking action to address inequities and injustice everyday.

I’m on my own journey and you must be on yours. You have to find your own way. Start somewhere. No one else can do this work for you. If I could point you in one direction, it would be to Rachel.Cargle. You've got it from there.

I'm putting out my hand, calling you up onto the stage, handing you a mic. We all have a voice. It may not be strong at first but I promise you, it works. You just have to do the work.

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