Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!
On social media, no lie, people start counting down to the next People of Color Conference the day after the current People of Color Conference. For about a week, there’s lots of hype about how grateful folks are for being in this space; how much they felt loved and seen; and how they have to get ready to transition back (peep this “ReEntry blog” here from last year if you need to get ready earlier!).
So here we are today, on the eve of the 2018 conference. And, instead of reflection on how powerful the conference is, I find myself already yearning to be in the space already. NOTE: This feeling is amplified, no doubt, by the fact that I’m going on HOUR 7 of sitting in this airport due to multiple flight delays…. While my bottom side is numb from these airport chairs, I’m already scrolling through social media to see my timeline filled with reunion photos and all the emojis about how psyched people are. #FOMO4REAL
Now, if you’ve been to PoCC, you can just read this blog with lots of affirmation and be reminded of what’s in store for you.
If you are new to PoCC or, by chance, don’t or can’t go, you might be wondering what all this talk is of “being seen” and “surrounded by love” and “unapologetically fierce.” This is, then, for you.
I grew up in a white, Irish/Italian, Catholic suburb of Boston. My parents, after working years of midnight shifts and moonlighting, saved up enough money to move our family of 5 from a small apartment in Boston to the “idyllic” suburbs (that’s a blog post for another time). You can also read into some of that coded language, yes? We moved to an (nearly) all white community which had no reflection of our racial identities in our schools, curriculum, teachers, coaches, neighbors, or even strangers. I remember the day our town hired its first Asian male police officer. I was there when they hired their first Asian male guidance counselor in our high school.
Truth is, I’ve spent almost my whole life in and surrounded by whiteness — it has become my “norm.” There is a saying that “You don’t ask a fish to describe water”; well, it was difficult for me to describe my experiences with racial diversity growing up because that water, well, that water was always whiteness.
Going to PoCC, for me, was the first time I realized I was in water. It was the first time I had realized just how much whiteness was in everything, every part, and every nook of my life. At Pocc, I remember experiencing tension between discomfort and total comfort. I remember the first time I went to the airport headed to PoCC and nearly the entire airplane was headed to PoCC. How do I know that? Well, because nearly the entire plane was filled with Black and Brown people. “But Liza, that’s so weird that you noticed that.” Yeah? Well, next time you get on a plane or a bus, I want you to notice race. I had never noticed race before because I was just so used to white and whiteness always being the normal. The water. But, this time, legit. I had never, ever, been on a plane with so many Black and Brown folks. (NOTE 2: There are no Black or Brown folks on this delayed flight. I am bitter.)
But, when it wasn’t — when it wasn’t all white — something different happened. I got curious. I felt strange. I felt both totally invisible and totally seen. I know it’s a difficult concept to imagine, right? Being invisible and being totally seen? Well, if you’ve been in spaces of whiteness for most of your life, you’ll know what that feeling is the second you step into a PoCC space.
As you get ready to experience PoCC, I hope you embrace some of these reflection questions in the context of this invisible/visible feeling. Find a way to debrief with someone - especially if you are at PoCC alone. Typically, I go with a group of colleagues and we spend a bit of time each evening chatting about our experiences. I hope you find these useful for your group:
Notice what you are feeling as you enter into spaces where PoCC attendees are in. What do you see? What do you see differently? What do you notice?
When you are in the keynote speakers sessions (the big rooms!), what do you hear? What is the energy that you feel? How is the same or different from what you have experienced back home?
In what ways do you feel invisible? In what ways do you notice your racial identity no longer being salient? In what ways are you no longer hyper-visible in a room? In a group? In a public space?
In what ways do you feel very visible? In what ways do you notice your racial identity being amplified? In what ways are you hyper-visible?
What do you wish others would experience? What words would you use to describe your experience?
What would people who are not at PoCC not understand about your experience? What makes that important?
And, if you see me wandering around PoCC, stop me and say “hi!” Introduce yourself. Experience what it feels like to be joyously seen!
Peace and love,