This post is part of a series for the National Association of Independent Schools and the People of Color Conference. Liza will be blogging throughout this week related to the conference.
This is a love letter to all the folks who are wondering why I need to go to PoCC.
Yes, I'm headed to PoCC for a few days. Yes, this means we had to find someone to cover my classes or take my recess duty. It means I couldn't go to the faculty meeting.
And, yes, I felt your frustrated look when you asked me where I was going. I said, "I'm going to the People of Color Conference." You smiled. Said you were happy for me. But, I saw that little tiny curl of your lip -- the one that, when it turned up slightly at the corner, almost made an inaudible sound. The sound of "urgh."
You were polite. You told me that now is a perfect time to go to California because "it's so sunny" and "you'll get to eat tons of great food." I smiled back and said, "Yes, I know. I'm looking forward to it."
But, as I walked away, I wanted to say other things -- things beyond my polite smile.
I wanted to tell you that I wasn't going on vacation. I wanted to tell you that I may never see that sunshine because I'll be inside of the convention center attending sessions from 8:00am until about 10:00pm, learning about how to make our schools more safe. I'll be learning about how to better support Black and Brown children. I'll be meeting other teachers, scholars, practitioners and facilitators who will help me grow as a teacher. And that great food? If I'm lucky, they'll have something just good enough for me to eat at a kiosk. Because, I plan on using my lunch breaks to talk with other Black and Brown folks from all over this great country.
I am not going on vacation.
I'm going to be taking notes -- fast and furious -- about teaching strategies. I'll be going through the bookstore to find books where the main character looks just like the one Black boy in my classroom. And, while it'll be extra special for that one child, I know that all of the children in my class will benefit from the book I bring back. And, yes, when I get back, because I love you, you can borrow them, too. You've said you wanted to "do more diversity stuff" in your classes right? Well, I'll come back with great resources for you, too.
You know why I'm also going? Well, nothing sums it up better than what happened to me at the airport on my way to PoCC. I was in the long security line, waiting patiently and smiling at everyone who walked by as we zigged and zagged with our roller luggage and our headphones. I was next in the security line and I had my driver's license and ticket ready for the TSA agent to see. Someone tapped me on the shoulder.
"You can go. Aren't you with them?" the person behind me motioned. He was being kind, I'm sure. Friendly, even. He thought maybe I didn't see the group of people in front of me get called by the TSA agent who simply shouted "Next!" from a few feet away.
"Oh," I answered somewhat bewildered. Then, I looked at the people in front of me. "Oh. I'm not with them," I answered.
I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to ask, "Do you think I'm with them because we are all Asian?" But, I didn't have to really ask.
Instead, I smiled. Held my ticket and ID a bit tighter. And, I waited for the next TSA agent.
My colleagues, you might not realize that this happens more often than not. You might not realize what it feels like to constantly stand out and to be seen as "just another one of those people." And, because I know you're good people, I'm sure you'll tell me how this was a microaggression. You'll tell me how shocked you are. You'll tell me that you're "so sorry this happened to me." And, I believe you. Completely. But, I wonder if you believe me that this happens every single day. At school. At the coffee shop. At the grocery store. And, even on the way to a conference.
It's not shocking to me, anymore.
I've been to a few PoCC's, and one of the most striking experiences happens within the first few minutes. In those first few minutes, I am surrounded by a sea of Black and Brown faces -- all different shades, shapes, ethnicities and languages. It's easy for someone to assume that I'm with the "other 2 Asian folks." But, in a room of thousands of people of color, the great irony is that I actually get to be an individual.
I get to be seen for me.
I'm asking you to believe, in this love letter, that being seen for who I am is not a common experience.
For my colleagues who still don't understand, these are the three days -- just three days -- when I feel understood. When I get to feel like family in a room full of strangers. I get to cheer and react in the middle of a keynote address (yes, all this thanks to my father-in-law who taught me to shout out at church and to respond with a hearty "Amen!") and not be "shushed" or looked at like I'm being rude.
For my colleagues, this is where I get to dive deep into the needs of my community of color. This is where I get to cry about the injustice of society and not have to worry about your own guilt or your own inaction. This is where I get to be fragile and not worry about taking care of your fragility at the same time. This is where I get to be held, tightly, for my humanity.
This is more than a vacation.
This is healing.
And, this is why I write this with love. I, and many of my colleagues of color, love working in independent schools. We choose to work in places that are predominantly and historically White. We choose to teach students who do not share the same cultural and ethnic backgrounds as we do, every day. We hope that they are learning from us, about us, and with us. And, we hope that, by being professionals of color in your department, in your division and in your school (our school), that you are learning, too. We often choose to sign the contract and work in the place where we are the only Black/Brown person in the hallway, in the building, and in the school.
This is my love letter to you. It's my love letter to express why this matters. Why going to PoCC matters so much to my craft, my skills, and my action.
I am grateful for your well-wishes as I travel. I look forward to bringing back a suitcase of knowledge and love for us all.