“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
I’m slowly regaining my energy after the eventful weekend. Although it was probably one of the most inspiring weekends of my life, it was exhausting. It started on Friday afternoon and lasted until about 1:00 on Sunday, and nearly every minute was full of something educational. Still, it was amazing and inspiring, and I was at peace among fellow compassionate teachers.
I attended these sessions called “Radical Publishing and Empowered Voices.” It was all about how we can publish our students’ work while giving them a voice. We learned about ‘zines (mini magazines that are very visual and usually collaborative), chapbooks (similar to ‘zines but include more writing than art and are individual works), blogs, and more. The facilitator, a professor from a teaching credential program at St. Mary’s College, showed us a video of a Black Lives Matter speech. The woman in the video, Melina Abdullah, talked greatly about the pain and struggle black people in our country are going through, and it was certainly an empowering yet intense video. She also spoke of resistance and how people of color need to resist any form of oppression and assimilation. Naturally, it sparked some discussion. I’ll skip over the less interesting bits of this discussion and head straight towards the reason I’m writing this today.
A fellow teacher, who I’m sure really meant well, didn’t quite understand the meaning behind the video. She stated that it was divisive and separated everyone rather than bring them together. She stated that there was no solution offered and that’s what she wants to see. She stated that people of color are victimizing themselves. She stated that it’s supposed to be “All Lives Matter” and not just “Black Lives Matter.” While I agree it didn’t offer a solution, I don’t think it was supposed to. It seemed to me that the woman in the video was just sharing what her people go through, for obvious reasons of course. Several people shared their thoughts in response to the woman, and I finally got the courage to speak up. Without sounding too preachy, I basically stated that we need to stand with people who are oppressed, and that we cannot question what they go through because we have not gone through it ourselves, and that we must act in solidarity always. I also understand the whole “All Lives Matter” issue. All lives do matter, but black lives are being targeted and diminished at an alarming rate right now. The BLM movement draws attention to this issue and is in desperate need of solidarity from everyone in our country. This, to me, is the purpose behind the video.
I’m a white woman who at least has some privilege in our society, but I couldn’t help but think about my own students in that moment. What if one of my students was present in the room? Nearly all of my students are of color. I have one black student who – I know this because he’s told us – takes great offense to police brutality. I realized then that our most important role as teachers is to be an ally. That is our job. We may educate the young minds of today. We may answer 20 emails a day and call home to parents whenever their children need a little extra support. We may attend meeting after meeting. All of that is integral in our profession, but what matters most is how our students feel about themselves.
Our students will not remember everything we taught them. I can guarantee it. Our students will not remember all the calls home we made, or how many meetings we attended, or how many emails we answered. What they will remember, however, is how we made them feel. We must be an ally, first and foremost.
If they are Middle Eastern, stand with them. If they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist, Atheist, Catholic, Hindu, stand with them. If they are black, stand with them. If they are Latino, Chicano, Hispanic, stand with them. If they are Asian, stand with them. If they are Native American, stand with them. If they are gay, lesbian, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, trans, non-binary, stand with them. If they are socio-economically disadvantaged, stand with them. If they are mentally and/or physically disabled, stand with them. If they are suffering from mental illness, stand with them. I’m sure I missed others in this list, but please know I mean to include anyone who feels oppressed in some way. It doesn’t matter if you cannot relate or you came from a privileged background; use that privilege and stand with them.
I hope you noticed my choice of words. I don’t say “stand by them” for a reason. To stand by is to simply sympathize with them. To “stand with them” is to empathize with them, and that’s what they need.
If you don’t have a Safe Zone sign in your room yet, I highly recommend it. I have two in the window of my classroom – one in English and one in Spanish – and I make it very clear that I don’t tolerate any kind of hate speech in my classroom.