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Back to reality

Its was so nice to have like 2 weeks + off for snow days / holidays, however I'm glad its back to routine! I missed my kiddies so much. I didn't realize how much until I walked in monday and got to see them all. Monday was also the longest day I have had in a while. First, getting back to work and then having our People of Color Caucus meeting was pretty exhausting. I always get exhausted when I have to think about all this

So our anti bias work in my center has started by having us all accept and agree on a definition of racism and work from there. The definition we use is that of Racism = Prejudice + Power. By this definition, in this country, only white folks can be racist. It doesn't mean that people of color (poc) cant be prejudiced, but it does mean they can't be racist. Our role as teachers then is to do some identity development, both the white and poc groups and work towards getting to a more comfortable place in our own skin. This is important because you can't bs kids. They see tight thorugh you and can tell when you are being genuine or not, and if you are going to be able to explain why it is not okay to be racist (although we do not say it quite like that) then we gotta be comfortable with the topic and believe in ourselves and our own beliefs.

As part of this identity development we are meeting once a month (trying to increase to twice a month) in a White Caucus group and a POC Caucus group. Here we discuss our feelings experiences and what we expect to achieve in regards to our roles as teachers. The first few meetings for our POC group were pretty emotional. Admitting and sharing the experiences of being discriminated against is not easy for everyone. Even worse, seeing these things happening in babes as young as 2 that are learning the ways of the world through their families and society around them can leave you feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Through sharing our stories I saw that we were all at different spots in our identity building. If anyone is interested in taking a closer look, here are the links to both the White and POC racial identity models. I am sort of in between Stage 2 and 3. I am very confused and although I am getting more immersed in my own roots, culture and race, I still harbor positive feelings towards the White group. I don't know if this is because I am still in denial or what, but everyone else seems to be a lot angrier than I am. Everyone else has also been in this process longer than I have.

Last month's meeting was really emotional for me. I was feeling like we were meeting and bitching a lot but not really doing anything productive or immediately relelvant to my direct work with children. I was tired of adding fire to the already evident anger towards the White people in general, and although I have experienced my fair share of racism, I do not feel outraged at it. Not in the way they do, which is like I want everyone to know I was wronged. No, I don't feel like I gotta shout it fromt he rooftops, I feel like I need to educate myself and get the tools I need so I can stop it from happening in my classroom and hopefully plant a seed in each of the children in my group that they can take with them throughout their lives.

So anyway back to the meeting. I was feeling resentful about all the anger and the White caucus group VS the POC caucus group and us not really meeting all together at all. I mean we met together when we decided as a center that our anti bias work needed to be more active, but we havent met together since (This was back in August).

The leading figure in our group (who also happens to be our supervisor) is a very strong lady, she has a way of making her agenda everyone's agenda and she is pretty intimidating. She is also the one that has the most experience with this anti bias work but it makes me cringe to be in a meeting with her sometimes. She is very angry and for me it is tough to tell how much of the stuff that makes me uncomfortable is because this kind of delving into the deepest corners of ourselves is supposed to be uncomfortable or if it is because I am feeling like the agenda we have is more of her own personal vendetta.

In each classroom the kids are divided into primary groups led by each teacher. I have 6 kids in my primary group and I am in charge of keeping a portfolio for each one and having conferences with their families. In the last meeting the topic she brought up was whether or not it would be a good idea to cluster our primary groups taking race into consideration, this way most poc families would be in a group with a teacher of color. Feeling the already existing lack of communication between our 2 caucus groups I literally had a "WTF are you thinking" outburst. The way I saw it we already seemed to be segregating things enough and not communicating, how are we supposed to help our White colleagues learn about issues POC have and how to handle them appropriately if we assign primary groups this way.

The more and more I think about it, the more I like the idea, but at that moment all I felt was anger at this separation that we had within our staff. After hearing a few stories of teachers telling of situations where having a kid of color in their primary group helped families be able to come forward about issues that are race sensitive I felt a little more at ease with the whole thing, but I still felt that something had to change and we had to have the center as a whole meet together to discuss things. Our supervisor said that the White group isn't ready to do this yet, that part of White identity development is accepting their Whiteness and learning how to deal with the guilt that comes with it. She said this would take time. I understand this, but I also feel that time is something we don;t have and there has to be a way that we can start discussing things that are relevant to our everyday work with the kids as a whole.

Our meeting yesterday was a follow up on what we had discussed before, and we came to the conclussion that we wanted to create a list of topics we want to explore first separately in the two caucus groups, then as a whole. This way, the outbursts, strong feelings, breakdowns, etc can happen in our groups where we feel safer and more comfortable speaking our minds, and then taking it to a center-wide level in a more successful way. The first topic is going to be the primary groups one. Even more important I think is that we talked about how we want to share our stories with the White group and also point out the things we see happening in our classrooms that worry us.

I think the intent and purpose of this work is amazing and necessary, yet the hows are so hard. There are so many feelings at stake, but so much to learn and so much we could change in the kids lives. One of my coworkers says that she doesn't think that it will make a difference, that once the kids get out into public schools the teachers they will find that care about this will be far and few and between and that it doesn;t matter how much we try to do now, it will all be lost later. I like to think that at the very least we will plant a seed that will maybe not change everything, but a little bit of what that child feels and thinks.

Anyway, like I said, this leaves my brain all shriveled up from thinking too much, but in a good way.

Today went a bit easier. We had a really good morning taking out some new racetracks we got froma  holiday wish list. In short it is a dinosaur racet track that you can arrange a whole bunch of different ways and set up all the cars to "launch" then press the go button which releases the first car. When that first car reaches its end it bumps a little thing that launches the next car, setting off a cool chain reaction. Well they sat there and played for almost a whole hour, each preparing a different part of the set (there were only 4) for launching and taking turns in pushing the go button. For 5 year olds, seeing them work together and be patient enough to set all four cars before releasing it was amazing! It was a beauty, they were so excited about their accomplishment that they were screaming and hugging each other after each round was done.

Anyways I thought to welcome back the kid days by posting our latest kid quotes (for confidentiality issues K = kid, T = teacher).

K: "I went to Texas, and Texas is next to Wal-mart"

K: "Who spilled all the paints"
Me: "I did, it was an accident"
K: "You are in BIG trouble, and probably fired too"

K singing: "You better watch out, you better watch out, you better not spank your daughter, Santa Claus is coming to town"

K1: "Is that a tattoo of Barack Obama on your arm?"
K2: "No actually that is Darth Vader, but I did vote for Obama"
(the part about correlating Darth Vader with Obama is fucked up and was followed by a conversation about it but when she said she voted for Obama it was hilarious"

K crying
T: "Did someone push you?"
K: "No, I pushed myself"

After riding the carousel
K: "That was almost TOO much fun!!"


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
By this definition, in this country, only white folks can be racist. It doesn't mean that people of color (poc) cant be prejudiced, but it does mean they can't be racist.

Hm, I don't think I agree on this definition of racism. I do think you can be racist without being in a position of cultural power. But I appreciate the point of view you've described, all the same.

Jan. 7th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, theres is a lot of different viewpoints and issues with this definition. To me its more like a difference in language. I don't know how to explain it, like if we are both eating apples but you decided to call them apples and I decided to call them bananas. When I say things like what you quoted above, it can always get tricky because of the definition being used.

Dictionary definitions for racism are more along the lines of "believing your race to be superior to others," but to me (and the center) its more like acting on prejudice and having the institutional power to make it matter on a more global (or in this case country wide) level.

Again, I am not well versed and don't know how to explain myself as I see it in my head, but to me it comes down to Whites being the dominant group in this country, not necessarily the majority, but dominant because of the institutional and financial power that group holds, so the acts of prejudice that come from that group have a more destructive effect on society as a whole than those acts that could come from an oppressed group. Now that said, I don't believe all White people are "racist."

I don't know if I am making any sense lol. It is interesting to hear well versed writers and teachers make their points on all the different views out there, but it is very frustrating for me to try to put what I feel and know into words.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )