WHAT TO DO: A LOVE LETTER IN THREE PARTS

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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…!).

  6. 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,

Liza

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#NAISPoCC: GUIDED REFLECTION QUESTIONS

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!

It’s the end of Day 1 at The People of Color Conference!

I was in the elevator at the end of Day 1 and noticed that the person riding with me had on a PoCC badge. So, you know me, I was all up in their business. #ElevatorSpeech4Real

“I see it’s your first year at PoCC. So, how are you doing?”

The person’s face summed it all up. “Amazing. Exhausted. Not really sure what happened today. But, I know it was a incredible.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

Elevator door opens.

“See you tomorrow. You got this!” I said as she left.

PoCC can be all of these emotions: overwhelming, outstanding, exhausting, exciting, affirming, alienating. For many of us, it is totally out of our comfort zone to be around so many people of color; and, at the same time, being surrounded by so many people of color also feels like the most important and natural thing ever. These feelings can be confusing and conflicting at times.

For some, it is the first time they are in a group of people where Black and Brownness is centered. Where whiteness is named. Where stating that “we live in a white supremacist society” is as common as “what time is the next session.” It’s the first time where we, as people of color, do not have to play small to make others comfortable. It’s the first time, for some, where your entire self is loved.

At the end of each day, or perhaps the next morning I encourage you to reflect on a few aspects of your experience at PoCC. If you are here with a group, take some time to go around and offer up your reflections. If you are by yourself or prefer to reflect in your own space, be intentional about this experience.

I offer this advice because, pretty soon, you’re going to have to read about this thing called “Re-Entry". And, it’s not easy. Engaging in some of these reflection questions, though, might help you both be in the moment and prepare for what’s to come.

I often think about these experiences in terms of head space, heart space, and gut space:

  1. What did you experience in your head space (your thinking space)? What kind of knowledge, data, information, and/or facts did you learn today? What information or experiences caused you to stop and think?

  2. What did you experience in your heart space (your feeling space)? What emotions did you experience today? What were some moments that impacted you emotionally? What moved you today?

  3. What did you experience in your gut space (your reaction space)? What kind of feelings, experiences, reactions or thoughts surprised you? What were some moments where you felt something “in your gut” — like, you couldn’t quite explain it but it just stuck with you?

Time moves very quickly here at PoCC and this type of reflection does require some intentionality.

Head, heart, gut.

Peace and love,

Liza

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DEAR WHITE FOLKS AT POCC

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 White Folks at PoCC,

First, I’m glad you are here. I really am. As an Asian American woman who is nearly always the only person of color in white spaces, I know that it is not my job to dismantle racism. It’s yours. So, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you are here learning about race and racism, exploring systemic and personal impact, and connecting with people of color.

But, there are some things I need you to know about being here. Pardon my directness, but it’s PoCC - that’s what we do here. For four days. No BS or tiptoeing or centering white fragility. We keep it real. We keep it on us.

I’m writing this to you to be proactive about some of the harm you might unintentionally cause while at PoCC. I’m writing this because I love my community. I’m writing this because I only get FOUR DAYS where my brownness, my ethnicity, and my unapologetic belief in Black Lives Mattering doesn’t have to be presented in the context of whether or not this will upset you.

So, here we go. Here’s what I’m hoping you consider while you are here:

  • First, if you are already pissed off reading this, please don’t start with, “Wow, I wonder why Liza’s so angry this morning.” Please start with, “What is my own reaction saying about me? How are these words, written by a person of color at a People of Color Conference, pushing up against who I believe myself to be?” You’re at the People of Color Conference - this is going to happen more often than you might be expecting.

  • Know that this is a time for people of color to come together, to fellowship, to exhale, to be centered, to be in a space where we matter, too. Also know that when you are in the room — simply because of your whiteness — people might feel the need to change their behaviors. Simply because of your whiteness. Whiteness has power, even if you don’t want it or identify with it. Know that this happens to us, though.

  • Because your whiteness has power, even at a place like PoCC, be incredibly mindful of how you are taking up space in workshops, meetings, and discussions. What would it mean if you weren’t the first to speak? What would it mean if you heard something in a meeting and then took time to reflect upon it instead of using up the workshop time having someone explain it to you? You are here to learn new things — just don’t always expect people of color to be your teachers.

  • If you are a first timer to PoCC, go to the First Timer Orientation. Here’s what happened this morning: I was thrilled to finally get to PoCC after getting in at nearly 2:00am. And, at breakfast, I overheard some white participants saying, “No, I’m totally not going to that first timer orientation. I mean, what are we actually going to learn.” Okay, that’s a problem, folks. First, you have a lot to learn. Second, I hate that I had to overhear that from white folks. Why are you here if you legit aren’t seeing every single opportunity as a learning opportunity? This isn’t a vacation — and if it is, what does that say about your own commitment to this work. Third, microaggressions can still occur even if not aimed directly at you.

  • We see you. If you are a white person sitting in a session but you are on your computer checking email, you are signaling to others in the room that this isn’t important. Step out. Check your email there. Or, if you find that you are checking email during a session about how people of color feeling, know that you are sending a particular message (even if unintentional).

  • Make eye contact. Say hello. You’ll likely notice that people of color at PoCC walk by and say hello to each other. This isn’t just a polite thing - this is an “I see you” thing. There are times when I’ll walk by white folks (wearing PoCC name badges) who won’t even glance my way or acknowledge we are the only two people in a hallway. Know what? If I wanted that experience, I would have just stayed in my community back home. I come to PoCC to be seen, validated, and be visible. Notice and listen - people of color are greeting each other. Be sure to be a part of that, too. You are also signaling when you don’t do it.

  • This is not Black and Brown people tourism. Again, I’m glad you are here. Please know that there is discourse at PoCC as to whether everyone wants your whiteness here. (upset by that comment? Ask “What is my reaction saying about me?”). It’s not that we don’t want white people to be a part of dismantling racism, it’s that we don’t want to be your spectacles. Like, are you out taking selfies and posting on Instagram because you want folks to see how woke you are? Are you posting about PoCC because you want to signal boost that you are an ally? Or are you here to do the work on yourself? Believe me…. we know the difference.

I write this to you as a love letter, for real. I want you to be successful at PoCC. And, I want my fellow chosen family to be safe and live in their truths this week.

Welcome to PoCC. I’m happy you are here.

Peace and Love,

Liza

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#PoCC2018: T'was the Night Before PoCC

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!


T’was the night before PoCC and all through the house

Throwing shoes in my suitcase, a sweater, a blouse

Packing dresses and heels, pants and some shirts

Political street wear, so much shade that it hurts


Awaiting rooms full of people, so Black and so Brown

Never have this affinity in my school or my town

Finally exhale from all that tension and stress

Letting loose at Club PoCC, leaving that dance floor a mess


Surrounded by young people ready to learn

Full of excitement and fierceness, so hot that it burns

In spaces that challenge my mind and my soul

“Too tired to code switch”, it’s taking its toll


Can’t wait to see people who fill up my heart

I’ve never felt so alive, today is a new start

PoCC lasts but only four days

But keep this feeling alive in all the right ways


See you in Nashville, we’ll come together once more

Where this work is focused on joy, not just chore

Let’s come together; turn that “I” into “We”

We are all in this together, here at PoCC.


Peace and love. Travel safely!

Liza


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