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!
Dear my chosen family,
I love you.
This work is hard, and the past three days at NAIS PoCC proves just how difficult this work can be. We have been able to come together; wipe away tears of joy and tears of frustration; and meet people who we now call chosen family.
But, this experience -- the experience of centering Blackness and Brownness; the experience of being in the majority; the experience of being able to pack away our concerns with white fragility and speak our truth; and the experience of being seen as beautiful and brilliant — is about to come to a slow end. I know, that sounds friggin’ depressing. Guess what? It’s not that it’s depressing, it’s that we know exactly what is on the other side of PoCC.
So, here it is: A Love Letter in Three Parts.
Part I: Love Letter to Black and Brown Brilliance
Part II: A Love Letter to White People (re-blogged from last year’s big hit “Re-Entry”)
Part III: What Black, Brown, and White Folks can Do Immediately
PART I: LOVE LETTER TO BLACK AND BROWN BRILLIANCE
These past few days, I know that you have experienced sessions, speakers, and people who have affirmed you. From the opening marching band, to the shout outs of “who we are”, to our call to action to end childhood poverty, to asking the right questions, and to the visible presence of leaders of color, you contributed to this community of brilliance. You were gifted with scholarship of people of color. You were in receivership of stories of color. You were a part of building a narrative of color.
When my children were younger, we developed a bed time routine of asking each other, “What do you love about being Brown?” (my children are multiracial Pilipinx and Puerto Rican). They could always answer however they wanted, but these ones came up most often: “I love that I’m smart. I love that my people are strong. I love that my skin is beautiful.” They are a bit more grown now, but every once in a while, I ask them real quick, “Hey! Hey! What do you love about being Brown?” It actually fills me that their answers are so quick and, sometimes, they are bored by it. But, their boredom, to me, signals that this knowledge of their Browness is routine. It is not new to them. They know that their Brownness is important. It is a part of who they are. It is what makes them a part of a community.
To the Black and Brown family here at PoCC. You are smart. You come from a people who are strong. And, your skin - and you - are beautiful. All the damn time. Even when they try to tell you that you are not.
PART II: A LOVE LETTER TO WHITE PEOPLE
First, here is a love letter you can share with white folks who did not come to PoCC — you know, the white folks who are going to ask you how “vacation” was or “whether you sat by the pool or actually went to sessions.” Yeah, drop this oldie but goodie to them from 2017.
To white folks who were at PoCC 2018: You have a job to do. You have to a) reflect on your experience. (I recommend the “head space, heart space, gut space” questions from this post here); b) isolate all of the recommendations that people gave you at the end of their sessions; and c) go Google a whole bunch of information (so that you don’t ask people of color to explain it to you).
I mean this part with all the love in my heart: You took up space here. Now, be accountable for it.
Another helpful way for you to build your action plan is to think about the “Stop, Start, Change’ model.
1) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to STOP doing?
2) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to START doing?
3) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to CHANGE how I do it?
Here are some of the most common ones I have heard at PoCC by people of color for white folks:
“I need/want white people to stop…
being silent when they clearly see, hear, or witness power and oppression being enacted
crying whenever something difficult comes up. Or, if you’re going to cry, then at least acknowledge you are having an emotional response with no expectation to be taken care of.
making me teach them things that I had to learn the hard way. Google it. It’s there.
coming to me and telling me every single thing they are doing related to diversity. It’s like they want me to congratulate them for just doing the things that honor my everyday life and my experience.
just hiring white people all the time; you do know there are talented people of color, right?
taking up so much space. stop taking credit for our work. stop being silent when others give you credit that you don’t deserve.
reinforcing a Black/White binary. If you are going to diversify your books, curriculum, programs, then include Latinx, Asian, Native, and Multiracial people, too (to be clear, this doesn’t mean to reduce the number of Black authors, books or programs — but it does mean reducing the number of white ones).
Get how this work? Yes, make your list. Check it twice. Because I’m gonna find out if you’re naughty or nice.
PART III: WHAT BLACK, BROWN, AND WHITE FOLKS CAN DO IMMEDIATELY
There are very few spaces where we can talk so openly about the role of whiteness and the perceived supremacy of whiteness. I’m guessing your experience at PoCC was unique in this way. Well, let’s make this not so unique in your professional development:
Immediately find other opportunities to engage in dialogue that short cuts white fragility and speaks directly to the roles of whiteness and perceived supremacy of whiteness. If you still have PD funds, check out the White Privilege Conference or Courageous Conversations on Race or the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity. These are not “education specific conferences” but, guess what, racism isn’t unique to education. If you don’t have PD funds, figure out 2 things you are going to do to enhance your learning in spaces that directly name whiteness. You can always check out my Events page which lists opportunities at no-or-low cost.
Get strategic. Whether it’s your own classroom, division, department, school, and especially your personal home life, begin drafting your strategic plan. What are your goals? How will you get there? How will you know that you have achieved those goals? What are the barriers to those goals? What are the springboards/opportunities to get proximate to those goals? Write them down. You can even co-opt formats like, “Commit 30” or the “Pomodoro technique” where instead of writing for 15 minutes a day, you commit to furthering your education about DE&I for 15 minutes a day. But, be darn intentional about your plan. Write that down and then evaluate how you did each week.
Surround yourself with critical voices. I love podcasts because I can listen to them, rewind them, and even “talk back” to them. Who’s on my heavy rotation? 1) Teaching White White; 2) Codeswitch; 3) Speak Out with Tim Wise; 4) Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History. The more you normalize critical voices, the less scary they will be to hear and to be. Find examples of people who speak out in your community, and learn from them. Sometimes they are in places you don’t expect. Want to know my absolute favorite right now? Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act on Netflix (it shows up on YouTube eventually). Each week, he takes on a new topic for 20 minutes. Brilliant. Watch that every week.
Perfect your elevator speech. This takes work, for real. When people ask, “Why do you do this work?” or “Why is this work important?” don’t fumble. Be clear for yourself and others. Figure this out and carry it with you.
Practice talking about race. Go through a conversation or a class and isolate your race. Like, start every sentence by naming your race. Mine would be, “As an Asian American woman …..” Practice naming that. Practice saying that. Make it so frequent that it becomes habit. Make it so frequent that you feel naked when you don’t say it (you know what I mean…!).
Identify your strategy for self-care. If you’ve heard me speak at PoCC this week, you know that I don’t believe that “a massage and some scented candles” is adequate self-care. We need real, concrete pathways for staying in this work without it killing us. I’ve said it before, “If you die doing this work, you have not died for the cause. You have died because white supremacy never intended for you to be successful.” Not today, white supremacy! Not today! I will not let white supremacy win by killing me.
So, what’s your real strategy? For me, it was getting a coach. Not a therapist (okay, I mean, I have one of those, too!). But, a real leadership coach who knew how to help me navigate the challenges of loving a work that could kill me, if I wasn’t intentional. As part of my practice, I am a Certified Professional Coach (i.e. training, practicum hours, exams, and hands-on requirements). And, my niche is working with leaders who are engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion work in their professional and personal lives. If you are interested in learning more about this, visit my coaching page here.
I am so grateful for the time we have had together here at PoCC. I know it’ll be 361 days before I am in the presence of this many Black and Brown people. That’s a long damn time, you know. But, we got this. And, when I see you again next year, you know I’m going to ask, “So, what was your strategy this year for #makingthingsbetter?
Thank you for reading! Thank you for stopping me in the hallways to say hello or to connect! Thank you for being engaged, fully, at PoCC!
(Now, don’t let me catch you falling back into your old routines — “once you know, you can’t un-know…!”)
Peace, love, and I wish you traveling safety,