Note: Sections of this post have been updated following conversations and feedback from people not inside my head. In a thread on Twitter, Jamie Gravell offered these wise words.
On March 31th, #Educolor was focused on women and girls of color and it was messy and provocative; just like any good Twitter chat should be. Melinda Anderson and Dahlia Constantine were purposeful moderators who elevated and encouraging participants throughout the entire chat. The full transcript is here.
To be clear, the ponderings below are based on my reflection and wonderings. I defer to #educolor and their goals and objectives about the chats and how they see them situated within the larger system. The group is clear about their mission: EduColor seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice.
My wonderings stem from the patterns I noticed, likely because of other patterns I’ve been attending to or thinking about such as women and leadership, the messages we send boys and girls, and who is seen as an expert.
As a participant in the chat, I got to ponder and learn and bonus! got to chat with and follow some cool people whose paths I hadn’t crossed before. All of the questions were compelling but two stood out from my perspective as they connect to the other writing and thinking I’ve been doing.
Q5: What is the responsibility of men to uplift women and girls of color? (Example: teachers, principals, dads)
Q6: How do we teach boys about their role in the patriarchy and the effects they have on girls?
I had no answer to either one. In fact, I had to borrow someone else’s tweet to even give an answer and then offered up my cats in exchange for an answer to Q6. The group, though, offered up a bunch of ideas. Because I am, at heart, a data nerd, I did a quick and dirty coding of participants’ responses to both questions and four themes emerged.
Listen – listen to women of color when they talk. This means stop talking.
Acknowledge power – men hold positions of power. See it. Use it.
Amplify – celebrate women and girls of color through words and actions.
Equality and Equity – Women and girls belong first to themselves.
These things seem like clear and explicit advice any person seeking to elevate the voices of women could take.
Shortly after Q6, someone RTed a response to an earlier question and it caught my eye:
— Alia McCants (@Alia_McC) March 31, 2016
Alia’s tweet gave me pause for two reasons. First, I’m reading Pushout, about the criminalization of Black girls in school and her tweet connected to a theme in the book. The author, Monique W. Morris, devotes several pages to the history of education for Black girls – a movement that was – and is – often lead by Black women. My take away was that even though Black women are doing everything in their power to ensure they and their daughters, sisters, and nieces receive a quality education, their efforts are often blocked by policy makers….
… policy makers who are more often than not, white men.
A Twitter exchange with Melinda, one of the chat’s moderators, helped me realize that the question I was mulling was less “where are the white guys?” and more “what does it look like to listen?” That is, how can one be an ally on social media while not re-centering the conversation?
Running parallel to the issue of listening without re-centering, is understanding what it looks like for white educators to do the work of learning about social justice and resolve their own issues without imposing upon people of color’s time, space, or shoulders?
Not long after, I started to notice that most of the avatars belonged to people of color or white women. (Every tweet is accompanied by an avatar – a small picture. In most cases in the eduTwitter-sphere, users provide a picture from which a viewer can infer race, gender, or sometimes religion. Not always and sometimes a viewer may infer incorrectly. I guessed at gender based on name and avatar and made hashmarks. An exact study this was not.)
#Educolor was a well-attended chat with lots of avatars representing a diverse set of educators and experiences. It remains, though, that there weren’t many avatars suggesting a white male at the keyboard.
(Edited to add: it was so inexact, that I missed five. I’m keeping the above section, as to me, it’s a clear example of confirmation bias on my part. I had a hypothesis -> I looked for data to confirm my hypothesis -> I rejected or overlooked the data that challenged my hypothesis -> Success! I was right!)
To which, I wonder:
What are the implications when the majority of educators who show up for a discussion about supporting people of color are themselves people of color?
What are the implications when the majority of educators who show up for a discussion about supporting girls and women are women?
How will things change if we cannot get those with the power to listen, to acknowledge their power, and amplify the voices of women? Are they unaware of that power? Unsure how to use it? Uncomfortable with the implications? In what ways does listening translate into amplification and support?
There are likely a hundred reasons for why there didn’t appear to be white men in this particular chat. Including the fact that many may have been lurking, seeking to learn and listen, rather than chime in. The reasons, though, seem simultaneously irrelevant and critically important in terms of making changes and supporting girls and women of color.
In addition to Pushout, I’m also reading a great book by Robin DiAngelo about developing white racial literacy and she speaks at length about changing systems and the dilemma in Audra Lorde’s quote about the “master’s tools.” As a part of laying the foundation for her anti-racism work, she says:
I believe the need for white [educators] to work toward raising their own and other whites’ consciousness is a necessary first step. I also understand and acknowledge that this focus reinforces many problematic aspects of racism. This dilemma may not make sense to readers who are new to the exploration, but it will later on.
The dilemma makes sense to me – which gives me hope. I know, though, I’ve still a long way to go in terms of unlearning messages I picked up along the way.
Many thanks to those who offered feedback on this post. Sharing thoughts publicly is always a frightening adventure. Doing it around issues related to race and gender borders on terrifying. Yet, I agree, in my bones, with Jamie. It’s awkward. We’re going to f it up. We have to make conscious decisions every day.