Dear Julie – Thoughts on ‘real american’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Dear Julie,

I heard you speak. And then I went to buy your book. The line to have it signed was very long, so I decided I’d be okay without that part.

I read some before going to bed, a little more after waking up. I read during a good portion of my long haul flight back to Central Europe. After I got back to my apartment and caught up with my husband on the phone, I sat in my big chair in the living room and read until I finished the book.

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This is not my normal MO. I read a lot and I often read a couple of books at a time. real american made me change. real american compelled me to take it all in in the most concentrated form I could manage. And yes, you had me at the talk. “Killing me softly”.

I suppose because there are some parallels. We’re about the same age. I also have a couple of degrees from elite institutions. I know all about that OREO dynamic. I lived it throughout my school life and maybe even now, but no one calls it that among adults. Instead I’ve referred to myself as Sister Assimilation which captures my lived Blackness in predominately white spaces. I’m not biracial but my two sons are. I have experienced and enjoy quite a bit of privilege. I’m Black. I’m a heterosexual woman. I have a husband and an ex husband, both of whom are white. I work in education and no surprises here, I write.

I feel you.

When you describe getting ready for and attending the cotillion ball with your older brother –

“In the mirror I see that I’m playing a part in a play and am not sure I know my lines.”

I’m not used to feeling ugly but that night I feel not only ugly but downright homely… It’s like my hair is getting drunk and making a scene and I can’t do a damn thing about it.” p. 73

Of course I am reminded of all the ways I struggled with feminized beauty ideals that were not meant for me to fit anyway, where my hair was just the tip of the iceberg.

You talk about your work as Dean of Students at Stanford Law School and dealing with the parents of a student who committed suicide. You are very pregnant and sitting with 2 or 3 other administrators meeting with this grieving family. When your boss encourages you to consider going home as it is getting late, you tell us this:

“I learned that night that bearing witness to the suffering of another human being is the most sacred work we can do.” p.150

I can’t remember ever having set out this idea of bearing witness and what I want to do with my life. On the other hand, my online handle is edifiedlistener and listening is my calling. Even if I know I don’t do it well or generously all the time, I am aware of its power to heal, to offer respite, to harbor others. I try. again and again and again. In listening to your story, I dare to touch some of the rough parts of my own. Bearing witness can be catching.

Oh and these children – a brown boy and very light skinned girl – both yours. Who will they become? Who will they be allowed to be and in which contexts? Your questions, concerns and guilt speak to me in ways no other author or friend has done so far. My two brown boys and their distinct white daddies populate and punctuate my life with a host of thoughts and emotions. One son is of age and doing his thing in the world. The other is still at home, young and ambitious and athletic. They are 13 years apart these brothers who further identify as Austrians, as Bilinguals.

My blackness is clear to me and them. They see themselves as brown and grasp that there are disparities in experience based on skin color, not as obviously in Austria to our eyes so far, but certainly in the US. But as a parent we have to ask, how much knowledge is enough?

You describe giving our Black sons “The Talk” – listing all the details they need to keep straight when confronted by police.

How not to defend themselves even when they have done nothing wrong. How not to reach into their pockets for anything, not even to turn off their music. Please, baby, remember: do not reach into your pocket to turn off your music.

We teach them this while trying to also teach them to love themselves and not be ashamed of their beautiful black bodies. Of their selves.  p.210

I have so many questions.

Julie, I’m writing this and it feels so easy. Like, I’m fine, let me tell you how wonderful your book is. I am so happy to do it. And yet, there’s a whole other layer to our conversation that was palpable when you spoke to so many of us who were in our own hearts having our “killing me softly” moments because we felt so seen, so crisply articulated. I, as the Black girl who struggled to be Black enough and girl enough at the same time. I, as that fiercely intelligent and well spoken child who was a source of astonishment and dismay when I outpaced my white classmates – particularly in writing. I, as that perfect integrator, friend to all, so as not to be caught fully alone which felt like a constant unspoken social risk. I, as the convenient comfortable black colleague who is so affable, flexible I could never be identified as the Angry Black Woman.

I heard all of that in your voice – all the emotions you carried and laid bare for us. And in that large assembly of school folks of color, I was allowed to feel whole and understood and that I belonged.

There’s a manuscript that’s waiting to be finished. Your talk and your book will help me get it across the finish line. I hear you rooting for me. It’s time for me to share more of my stories. It is time.

Thank you for everything.

Sherri

 

 

Julie Lythcott-Haims, real american: a Memoir, St. Martin’s Griffin. NY, NY. 2017.

 

When My “Be Best” Means “Be Black”

When I wake up itching to write, that means something. My blogging can feel like the steam escaping a pressure cooker – forceful and insistent. In the process, the contents of the pot are transformed. When I write this way there is a distinct before and after. I change and am changed.

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Striving is a feature, not a bug.

Did you know I am Black? Once upon a time I tweeted that I don’t generally tell people this, I let them figure it out. I say that as someone who has spent the majority of of her school and professional life embedded in predominately white institutions (PWIs) which is to say I have always been aware of difference. Of my difference. But at the same time I have also developed a host of means and methods to negotiate the ways I demonstrate, downplay or highlight that particular difference. It’s a skill. It’s a necessity.

When I was a girl I tagged along with my mother to various meetings of civic and community organizations. I was great at stuffing envelopes and placing stamps. The women (it was almost always only women) talked and I listened, relieved to be busy rather than bored. My mother was an activist but I could not register her that way when I was growing up. She engaged in and also led organizations that advocated for all forms of social justice, many of those connected in one way or another to the Lutheran Church. At the time, I could not see these things as I see them now. I could not see her as I see her now.

In my 50’s I see my mother in myself more clearly than at any other time. It’s ironic. It was when she was in her 50’s that I was perhaps the most captive audience to her movements (in every sense of the word), aged 8 to 18.

I hardly remember her speaking directly about her Blackness or being Black in those very white Midwestern Lutheran spaces. But I remember how well loved she seemed, how warmly we were welcomed to the summer institutes in Valpraiso, Indiana. And I felt like I fit right in with all those justice-loving offspring of so many church families from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. I suppose that’s where I got my workshop start.

It’s funny to me that I would tell you about my mother when I thought I wanted to talk about something else. I’ve been struck in the last several days by Black folks writing about being Black in white spaces. This recent essay by in Harper’s speaks about the dilemma of the Black public intellectual under the influence of the white gaze.

The white audience does not seek out black public intellectuals to challenge their worldview; instead they are meant to serve as tour guides through a foreign experience that the white audience wishes to keep at a comfortable distance. White people desire a representative of the community who can provide them with a crash course.

While two recent tweets reiterate and amplify this idea as it plays out in the academy:

Although I make no claim to being a public intellectual, I am a Black woman who writes publicly and shares distinct opinions. I recently had an experience that was somehow an ironic twist on this whole conversation.

I am scheduled to offer a workshop of the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (#NAISPoCC) in Nashville this week. The title is “Be The Power And The Point – Why You Need To Present At Your Next Conference” and the goal is encourage more educators of color at all stages of their careers to consider presenting at education conferences or join organizations to help plan them. It’s a workshop because participants will be doing the work of examining their areas of expertise and developing an intention going forward. My role is that of facilitator. In order to prepare I opted to offer a test run of my session at my school and shared an invitation only a day in advance.

My international school has only very few faculty and staff of color. And my session is geared specifically to that demographic. Nevertheless I did my level best to deliver the session as intended and I had a remarkable turnout which included the Director, all 3 principals, the Director of Technology, IB Coordinator and 3 faculty members. Of those attending 3 identify as people of color. I was thrilled at the show of support and interest. I have never had that kind of attendance for past workshops. In the end, it was a good choice. I received some useful feedback and lots of praise. I counted it as a very big win.

There was a moment during the session, however, where a question came up about how the message would be different for an audience of color. On the spot, I struggled to generate a satisfactory response. I mentioned a bit about the dimensions of the conference itself and the emotional experience of, for once, being in the beautiful and varied majority. But I couldn’t get to the crux of my purpose. When I read Smith’s essay about Black intellectual labor under the white gaze, my frontal cortex was lighting up with all sorts of recognition. In a later conversation with my colleague I was able to articulate the differences more clearly explaining for instance that as white male with role authority he is accustomed to being given the floor. This is not the case for me as a Black woman. People will not naturally defer to me or my supposed expertise in a racially and/or gender mixed group. I think he got it but it also reminded me of how possible it is to go through the world white, male and clueless about the visible and invisible differences of experience that play out in our daily lives.

My ethical survival revolves on not begrudging my colleague his question. In respecting his curiosity while at the same time granting myself the possibility of offering incomplete and imperfect responses I rebuild my capacity to continue engaging. I am under no obligation to take on the role of ‘race whisperer’ in any context. Yet as a fellow human with a different experience and outlook I aim to listen in pursuit of insight. For both of us.

To resist all this ‘race talk’ would seem a comfortable antidote for me and those like me in similar contexts. The option to try to simply “blend in” is always there, as unrealistic and impossible as ever. Deciding that my version of “Be Best” means “Be Black” and vocal and unapologetic is a renewable after-effect of writing publicly. My journey has been a long and highly circuitous one. I did not follow my mother’s path immediately or fervently. All my recent ‘race talk’ is a late stage development at best. My readings keep bringing me back to history which I at once resent and grudgingly accept.

Near the end of his generous book on how to have race conversations in the classroom, Science Leadership Academy educator, Matt Kay, tells us

Colonialism and antebellum slavery were buoyed by the most intractable ignorance; it took centuries of disruptive conversations to destabilize racism’s most basic tenets. History remembers Douglass, but not the countless teachers, parents, and mentors, both enslaved and free, who kept the toughest conversations alive under the bleakest circumstances. These people had scant encouragement. They could more readily count on cynicism, apathy, or threats from power structures that benefited from their silence. (p. 261, Not Light But Fire, 2018)

Here we are and all of this sounds sounds so familiar, so immediate, so right now. You and I belong to those countless teachers, parents, mentors who in 2018 and beyond must keep those very tough conversations alive and present. I have a platform. If I am not using it to bring others into the spotlight, to draw attention to disparities in experience, to grow our collective understanding of ways forward, then what am I doing?

 

 

*(My 11 y-o came out of his room while I was writing this and I said “Guess what. I’m writing about being Black! Again.” To which he responded: “huh, that’s a surprise.” And yes, he has a firm understanding of sarcasm.)

 

Kay, Matthew R., Not Light, But Fire – How To Lead Meaningful Race Conversations In The Classroom. Stenhouse Publishers, Portsmouth, NH. 2018.

image ©Spelic

*Cough, cough* Is this mic on?

Once upon a time, I was a runner. I rose each morning filled with thoughts of what my workout commitment was and how everything else fit around that. Work, child care, housekeeping and all the rest were all set up to insure that my running time was secured. I was focused on achievement and I experienced, for my standards, reasonable success. When it came time to shed this blanket identity, I struggled to find a replacement. When I could no longer call myself a runner, I felt somewhat adrift. For a while I became a seeker without a title.

I discovered new interests. I invested in education, became a frequent-flyer at personality seminars and coaching workshops. Within a few years, I arrived a new identity: coach.

*Reached this point in the post, looking for a possible exit*

*Blah, blah, blah, coaching… passionate…blah, blah…*

Part of me hates telling these kinds of stories: I did this, learned that and became this. Introduction, build-up, (there’s rarely a climax), and resolution. The stories make a circuitous path seem like a neat and straight trajectory. Such stories are so incomplete and flattened that they undermine whatever truth remains in them.

*Decides to continue with flawed narrative format anyway.*

The reason I started all this was actually to make sense of where I am now: conflicted, overwhelmed, strung out on identity finding, making, affirming, doing. Without question this inner dialogue turned outward, made public for consumption by strangers, friends and loved ones has a lot to do with it. Since I have chosen a path in social media, in the blogosphere, that has consequences; benefits and costs which I continually weigh.

Sorting myself, my thoughts, my identities in public is a choice that is fraught, fraught, fraught. Knowing that feels like a win, though. So cognizant of this tension between being and performing, telling and dramatizing; seeking and shunning attention at the same time, I’m writing to say, I am tired and I’m still here.

Because while I arrived here (online) as an educator, coach and former runner, what I’ve become is a writer who sometimes struggles to live up to the all the other pieces of me that ultimately are on display. I go to sleep thinking about the read and unread, the writing completed and the writing ahead. I wake up with new ideas and old ones. I walk through my day immersed in composition of one kind or another, forming images that beg to be recorded but for which there are not enough hours in the day. My day is awash in words I want to use and bend to my will.

For now I have stopped denying myself the mantle of writer. Perhaps that will offer some relief. My privilege in this respect stretches far. I can do and be many things at once and few will contest my claims.

(Many, many thanks to @hypervisible for introducing me to my new favorite GIF which I plan to use as often as possible, even incorrectly.)

Me and #BlackPanther

Some topics feel too big, too complex, too unwieldy, just too dang difficult to write about. You may laugh but that’s how I feel when it comes to taking on Black Panther – not even as a movie or particular narrative but as a social phenomenon. More than ‘a thing‘,  Black Panther currently informs my jokes, several social interactions both online and off, my wild imagination and continues to impact my spending choices. (Yes, Disney, take my money!)

The evidence: Here’s what comes up on Twitter in a search for “@edifiedlistener + #BlackPanther”:

https://twitter.com/search?q=%40edifiedlistener%20%2B%20%23BlackPanther&src=typd

I’m writing this based on the assumption that you already know what I’m talking about when I say Black Panther. If that assumption is false, feel free to fix that.

 

I have seen the movie three times so far and I’m ready for the 4th, 5th and 6th times. I am smitten, charmed, enchanted, and awash in this peculiar pop cultural wave. I feel celebratory and buoyed, animated and emotional. Here’s some of what I think is going on:

The whole production is a giant shout-out to Black folks all over the world.

I not only feel addressed, I feel welcomed and embraced to claim that shared identity in a way I have never experienced previously. Before the film I don’t think this was on my radar as a distinct need or desire. My emotional involvement since tells me a different story.

The women in the film are phenomenal and I’m thinking maybe I could be that, too.

Identifying with characters is one of the reasons we can enjoy and participate in fiction at all. The women of Black Panther are exceptional because as one fan so aptly put it:

“I want to take a second to thank the Black women, too, because they were so strong on their own terms and answered to no one but themselves. They weren’t strong because they were angry, they weren’t strong because they were hurt, they were strong because they were strong. And that meant the world to me. Thank you.” (at 4:50 in video)

I could not describe it any better. I have watched this video a couple of times and hearing Black folks like me talk about what the movie has meant for them, I feel both understanding and also understood.

The other piece of relating to these strong women characters is seeing myself as also strong on my own terms. After opening night I was on my way home and had to stop for a moment and shed a few tears. I was shook. I had so much going on inside. It was heavy. We say, “representation matters,” but when it is still so rare and rarely so nuanced and complex, we just don’t realize what a difference it can and does make to individuals, to groups.

Watch this. It may help you see what I’m talking about:

For once, I am part of the in-group.

I’m not much of a movie goer so my range of popular character references tends to be limited. I am also celebrity-recognition challenged. I don’t retain the names of recent or past stars very well either. I did however follow the pre-release hype on Twitter and once I saw the movie I joined the club. I understood the jokes, I could echo the praise, gobble up all the extras.

Black Twitter has always been central to my social media involvement and diving into the #BlackPanther #WakandaForever stream, feels like a new rite of passage. I’m swimming in the stream and the water is just fine. I’m living my blackness a little differently and relating to blackness wherever I find it a little differently. Fiction can grow us if we let it.

I typically hate fight scenes. Seeing powerful women warriors in this movie changed my tune.

It’s not that I’ve become a new fan of cinematic violence. But after over 40 years of watching men fist fight, hold shootouts and the like, I understand why suddenly I could watch some of the battle scenes in Black Panther with protracted interest. It was those women warriors entering the fray with incredible finesse and savvy that caught my interest and held it. That and recognizing how this in no way diminished their femininity. And my favorite character has turned out to be Okoye, T’Challa’s general (it took me 3 viewings to decide). She is fierce, principled and of a distinct physical grace to which I can only aspire.

My 10 y-o and I have a whole new source of shared jokes, plus a wealth of conversation topics to explore.

I was not entirely prepared for the host of thoughts and questions seeing Black Panther with my 10 year old son would spark. But wow! it has been a revelation. We’ve been twice so far and his take-aways are so interesting. On our way home we debated the merits of identifying with Killmonger (his favorite character “Hey, Auntie”). He has also stepped up his humor game:

OK, there I’ve said it. I loved Black Panther and I’m excited to be living in this moment. Many thanks to so many friends and family members I’ve been able to share this ride with. Who knew?

I’m so glad I joined when I did.

#WakandaForever

A ‘What’ or A ‘Who’ Struggle?

Struggle.

I have used that word quite a bit as an educator, as a parent, as a committee member – most often to describe other people’s experiences. I’ve probably even written about what struggle can be good for, how it can shape and grow us. I believe all that. I don’t always enjoy it so much when it’s my turn, however.

Currently I’m struggling with focus – having it, maintaining it, holding it steady. Confidence is another area that’s feeling a little wobbly these days. Not yet crisis worthy, but also not A-OK. There’s more than one struggle going on.

While I was away on vacation last week I felt an expanse of the imagination. I got curious about the mountains I have always driven past, around and sometimes over. Once you travel an hour south or two hours west of Vienna, foothills show up. Add on another hour in either of those directions and you are in Sound-Of-Music style Alps. I have known this set-up for a very long time. But I’m not really a hiker or camper or skier, for that matter.

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Look at those spaces! Feast your eyes!

This trip I made it a priority to investigate the surrounding hills. To get up a few more hundred meters and see what I could see. I was amazed, delighted and humbled by the intricacies of the journey, the variety of the landscapes, the views from below and above. All of it was there all along but I had not yet felt the need, or the calling to find out what these spaces held for me.

Even if I have lived in this Alpine country for the majority of my adult years, I never forget that I’m that skinny black girl who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.  I speak the language here, at times well enough to be mistaken for a native (by a non-native, mostly) and yet …

When I walk in these familiar unfamiliar places it’s as if I’m walking beside myself – not just looking, but gawking shamelessly – with an expression that says: “How on earth did you get here?” And the question is really about How and even if I deserve to be here – under whose auspices do I deign to claim these spaces as part of my story, of my becoming?

But I hiked up the mountain and experienced the spectacular view. And I’ll do it again because I can and because it was a missing piece and I didn’t know.  The struggle was never about the ability to climb. It was instead about me deciding to become and be the hiker; she who hikes up and down the mountain. Not an ability question, an identity question. In fact, an identity doubt.

Those mountains calling, the lake singing, expanding my imagination. And for a moment I had a bubbling wealth of creative ideas. I had new projects I wanted to explore and consider. I put out feelers for help and got some great responses. The fire was hot! The engine was running!

I’m back home now and hunched at my laptop producing very meager results if any. I came down from the mountain, left the expanse of the open water behind me. My brilliant ideas began to shrink and acquire dust at an alarming rate. Focus has felt hard to muster. Any sense of flow seems wildly distant. Struggle. It’s clearly my turn.

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On our last day I also did this: Stand-up paddling. You have to really zoom in to find me. I didn’t just do it, I loved it! I learned it by watching others, most notably my extremely confident 9 y-o.

That’s what I need to remember: I succeeded by trying. I endeavored without knowing the exact outcome to follow. Seeing, trying, testing, going ahead, succeeding. Sounds like a process. Sounds like a learning process.

So back to my struggle; it’s mine to hack. I’ve got some strategies and a little slack to work with now. Hiker, paddler, doer – I am the learner from Cleveland, here to slay.

The Undercover Familiar

“Ich habe gedacht, Sie sind Oesterreicherin!”

Someone said this to me today (“I thought you were Austrian!”). Yes, they genuinely thought I was an Austrian, that I grew up here. And the reality is not so far from the truth. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio but Vienna is where I came of age. Surprising, though, even post 50 how muddled and mixed I portray my own identity in this special context – on Austrian soil, in my adopted homeland.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“I live in Vienna but grew up in the US.”

That was a new description. It felt a bit like flipping the script. Where I previously tended to confess the American citizenship first before adding up my decades of residence in this German speaking country, I decided on the spot that this description is far more accurate. Vienna is home, home, home.

Vienna is where I have lived in one district for 15 out of 25 years, where both of my sons were born, where I’ve worked at the same school for two decades – home. But I’ve never been Austrian. I neither have citizenship nor do I look the part (stereotypically speaking). I am an immigrant, not an expat. I am here by choice and this is my life.

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So while I’m out at my favorite mountain lake in a very different part of the country, enjoying the best speedskating conditions one could hope for, my unexpected presence as black woman traveling in the singular raises questions among fellow hotel guests and skaters. The attention I receive is friendly curiosity from the Dutch and German table neighbors. It’s funny to recognize that we belong to a common age range of well past 40 and maxing out probably under 65. Middle-agers mostly in couple formations, I probably fit right in – economically, socially.

Meanwhile, my language usage gives me away. I no longer sound very American when I speak German. Austrian service personnel usually need a moment to size me up and make that split second guess as to whether I will understand whatever query they might have in store for me:

“Sind Sie Frau Spelic?” (Are you Ms. Spelic?)

“Zum trinken, was moechten Sie?” (To drink, what would you like?)

“Haben Sie eine angenehme Anreise gehabt?” (Did you have a pleasant trip here?)

The relief when I respond without hesitation in a clear and comprehensible German is immediate  and visible. This often gives rise to another, different level of curiosity. Often people want to understand how this is possible: such clear German, so colloquial and familiar. That’s what throws people – the familiarity. How could she, how does she seem so comfortable, so at home here?

I left home without my passport as I usually do when I travel within the country. I’m driving my own car, I have an Austrian driver’s license and my residence permit with me. I also know where I’m going. I’ve been in this particular place often. Just yesterday I ran into the owner of another hotel down the road who greeted me warmly and we shared news of our respective children. Another reminder that my presence here is not incidental, it has a history and background. This place is familiar and so too am I.

I am a domestic foreigner. Outwardly, because of my skin color I am readily perceived as a foreigner, a non-native for sure. Once I speak and engage in easy conversation, then things change. I am that unexpected foreigner who defies the stereotype. I become a source of fascination. Internally however, I am working with a full deck of previous experience and local savvy. When I move about in this country I become the undercover familiar.

images ©Sherri Spelic / @edifiedlistener 2017

People of Color Conference 2016: Some Thoughts on Power

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Identity as the organizing premise.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference is over. I’m sad because I was having such a wonderful time in the company of so many thoughtful, engaged colleagues. I’m happy, however, that I had space and time to make connections that matter.

While I was in Atlanta at PoCC I observed the following:

  • The People of Color Conference places identity at the forefront of our conversations. This is uncommon among education conferences in my experience.
  • Because identity is the organizing premise, each individual attendee is called on to  engage on a personal level within this professionally oriented context.
  • As we talk about who we are, how we identify and where we find ourselves, we also come across intersections and overlap – no one is just one thing. Each of us is deliciously complex which can make for exchanges that can be confusing and clarifying for different parties, for different reasons, at different stages.
  • This is a conference where we learn to hold tension, work with and through discomfort, acknowledge judgment when we are unable to suspend it.
  • I witnessed thousands more smiles than frowns.
  • There are many more indy ed Twitter fans out there than I realized. The multiple real-time tweets are the gifts that keep on giving.
  • Hugging was prevalent.
  • The empathy lamp was switched on.
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Many more smiles than frowns. Honored to be with Caroline Blackwell of NAIS and Hazel Symonette of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To be on the other side of this experience is to have gained a shade more insight on who I am and strive to be. One thing I struggle with, however, is reporting. I’m not a very good reporter. To be able to succinctly describe how moved I was by keynote speakers Bryan Stevenson, Brittney Packnett, Zak Ebrahim, or Richard Blanco might take me a lifetime. To share how bowled over I was by the spoken word poetry of 15 yr old Royce Mann or simply star struck in the presence of Hank Aaron, Congressman John Lewis and Christine King Ferris on the same stage – seems beyond me.

What I know and feel is how these voices and their messages are working inside me daily. In this way, my PoCC experience will not let me rest. Yet. Rather, it is leading me in the direction of “good trouble, necessary trouble” in the words of Congressman Lewis. I’m spending time meditating on power and identity and where these intersect with education. The NAIS People of Color Conference felt like my own personal “Identity, Education and Power” Conference.

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Brittany Packnett was the closing speaker. A godsend.

Brittany Packnett, who is a product of independent schools, told our assembly: “In this room sits POWER. You are either developing leaders, or you are one.” I have been thinking about this ever since. Yes, we – who are the ones we’ve been waiting for- have power. Gathered together in intentional and supportive community, we have power. Sharing our expertise, claiming our seats at the table, unleashing our brilliance – we have power. I thought about titling this post “Power of Color Conference” – because of the power we find in coming together over and through our individual and collective identities.

And we are people working largely in elite spaces. Several independent schools cater to the 1% and even to the top 10%  and 20%- if we educators of color are there, we inevitably need to be aware of and thinking about power – our own and that of others. Knowing that the majority of community members who finance and govern our institutions rarely look like us, and that of those same institutions very few were built to (also) support the intellect and advancement of people of color – this is a necessary and real understanding we ought to have. It does not mean, however, that these schools and academies are not excellent places for us to work, to teach, to coach in or for us to lead. On the contrary, our schools can be extremely open and hopeful places, encouraging and strategically forward-thinking places. And they are, for the most part, predominately white institutions (PWIs).

Ultimately, the People of Color Conference seeks to bridge this divide between the reality of PWIs and the still somewhat tentative and/or limited supply of educators of color on their campuses. Many teachers and staff of color come to the conference as a sort of oasis of fellowship. It can be tiring to stay in the role of the “lonely only”* or to be just one of a handful of folks of color at a PWI. PoCC provides that unusual opportunity to ‘flip the script’ and find (in every sense of the word) ourselves in the majority; to experience power in numbers.

After the fact I feel both restored and stirred up. I spent valuable time in a “seat” of power and the act of “knowing my place” is irretrievably expanded.

As I rise, stride and direct my movement forward, I’m on the lookout for justice – the kind that extends beyond ‘just us.’ Attending PoCC provided that necessary affirmation – I’m not alone. I have supporters and co-collaborators. We have power.

Let’s do the good that needs doing and remember to “fight issues, not people.”

 

*I am grateful to my dear friends in the digital humanities,  Maha Bali and Anne-Marie Perez, author of the article “Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities” for the reference to this term  “lonely only.”

 “Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases.”

All images by @edifiedlistener.