The news about the legalization of marriage for all hit me by surprise and with an overwhelming sense of relief. It’s about time that we extended the basic right to marry to all humans. How in the hell did we let it take so long?
More than 20 years ago as a teenager, I remember developing a social conscious and thinking about how ignorant we were going to seem as a society through the lens of time. I considered gay rights to be the most urgent civil rights issue of our time.
And then I started working at schools in low-income communities with primarily children of color and I realized that the work we have to do with regard to civil rights is actually much broader and deeper and impacts an even larger segment of our population.
In the United States, the zip code you’re born into is highly likely to determine your success (or lack thereof). Racism is built into nearly every institution,
Two weekends ago I was at a conference sponsored by Montessori for Social Justice. We were specifically talking about how to create anti-racist schools that work to dismantle the persistent existence of racism in the United States. And even at that conference, racism reared its ugly head. I don’t think it’s productive to call out those people in this forum, so instead I will share an anecdote of how I exemplified white privilege. Because here’s the thing about racism: it’s not about being a bigot with explicit prejudices; it’s about recognizing that our country affords certain people more power, more privilege, more opportunity, more respect, and even more safety (as it has become increasingly evident to white people lately) based on the color of their skin.
The first night I arrived at the conference, I found my people. The educators at City Garden Montessori public school are among the most thoughtful educators I have ever met when it comes to educating for social justice. I stayed up well past my bedtime in order to learn as much as possible from them and others and push myself as a white person to continue to understand my privilege and the persistent, systemic racism that still plagues our country.
The next day, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a session about anti-biased, anti-racist education, which I enjoyed immensely.
After the session, I was in the process of selecting my next session when one of my colleagues asked if I was going to go to the session about culturally responsive teaching. I said, “I’m getting tired of talking about this; I think I’m going to go to the session about classroom management.”
Later, one of my colleagues of color illuminated for me how that comment was, in fact, part of the problem. The fact that I could feel “tired” of talking about racism and step out of that space stems from the fact that I am white and the color of my skin affords me an incredible amount of privilege and immunity. My colleagues of color can never step out of that space because they face racism on A DAILY BASIS. For example, my colleagues of color have to teach their teenage sons two lessons about driving: 1) how to drive and 2) how to drive while being black. The latter lesson entails how to take extra measures not to give a white police officer any reason to shoot you. This involves asking for permission to even reach for your insurance card.
I will not have to teach my sons these same lessons because my sons are white males. If they are heterosexual, they will be at the top of the hierarchy. They will be at the pinnacle of power within the United States.
As a white person with a commitment to “liberty and justice for all”, I have so much work to do. I need to continue to understand my own biases, my own prejudices, my own upbringing.
I need to continue to analyze and unpack my white privilege and to research and learn about the ways in which racism continues to create an unjust world for people of color.
I need to listen more to people of color when they share about their experiences, and I need to partner with them to find my place in this work.
I need to have the courage to confront injustice and to be open to feedback when I am explicitly part of the problem.
I need to figure out how to teach my sons (and the children and families at the public Montessori schools we open) how to recognize and dismantle 400 years of racial injustice in the United States.
As much as I want to take a moment to celebrate our major step forward as a country when it comes to gay rights, I also want to stay focused on the struggle that continues for people of color and for white people who continue to live within a dominator-dominated structure that prevents all of us from living our fullest lives.
This struggle has been too long for too many people. The time to change it is now.
Join us for the First Annual Reflection & Rejuvenation Retreat in Austin, TX, July 10th to 12th!