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Reflections on Stowe’s “Strange, what brings these past things so vividly back to us, sometimes!”

Over the next month, teachers will be taking part in a social justice roundtable discussion in the CTQ Collaboratory and on Twitter with #CTQCollab.

It's been a few weeks since the scarred over wounds of past police actions were ripped open again by public killings of people of color. It was horribly all too familiar; death of young people of color, happening over minor or no infractions, answered by a floodgate of silence on social media, followed by a floodgate of sympathy for police lives. I knew it was going to be one of those moments where there was going to be a line drawn in the sand, and I was going to be on the opposite side of many of my friends. I lost half of my Facebook friends during the Michael Brown murder and the Darren Wilson no-indictment, and truthfully, I don't miss one of them.  You can read how the whole thing unfolded for me here (The Crusade, 1/28/2015.)

In thinking about police brutality, it's important to state that I embrace a nonviolent lifestyle, have never had an altercation with the police, and have friends and family on the force. I must also state that my anger these days is anything but passive. I'm disgusted and pissed off, have often felt like lashing out, and I have written more over these last few weeks, mostly to try to clear my head and organize my emotions. I have had to force myself to conjure every word.

I'm appalled that support of black lives somehow labels me as against the po po. To that I say, one is an occupation, the other is completely uncontrollable as to how one is born. I’m upset that there is a lack of empathy for dead people of color, a lack of sensitivity, and I am reminded of a passage in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when Harriet Beecher Stowe so succinctly addresses her audience with, “Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.” It’s like that when POC die at the hands of the police. Strange support pops up from unexpected places, just as cloaked biases are publicly unveiled. Donald Trump has made it okay to lift up the hood and show your white supremacy. The whole thing is shocking, because first, you have to swallow the pill that it happened AGAIN, then you strain to hear the peeps of the silent majority, then you witness a sea of blue, complete with Go-fund-mes popping up for folks I see as murderers, then retaliation feeds the fire and ignorance does its dance again. I told you so… thugs… animals… they deserved it….

I’ve been troubled to the point of seeking silence within my own outlets. And the guilt that comes has been thick, like smoke that chokes us into focusing on just breathing. I have started a million posts, essays, jotted down lines I know need to land on the page, but it's just festering in my heart, like a leech, sucking on the blood that is my social justice work. I swear Stowe is speaking to me through dreams or something; her words enter my mind like the cracking sound of thawing ice on a lake, after a long brutal winter. I hear her say, “...the heart has no tears to give,--it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence.” I decide, this Aztec, with the blood of a warrior people, refuses to be quiet. Thawing heart slowly drips, and I begin my lists of things we, as social justice warriors, can do RIGHT NOW, to counteract the craziness of our times:

We can: speak out against racism when we hear it and see it. I have a rule in my classroom that says "no one is allowed to talk smack about themselves or others." I uphold it concerning talk of racism, sexism, micro-messaging and the like.

We can: never give up on a person. Just like I believe every student can learn and grow, I believe any person can as well. I have deliberately kept those with opposing viewpoints in my network circles. I have found surrounding ourselves with only like-minded people clouds the big picture.

We can: promote positive, everyday wonderful things that people of color are doing. The media has painted people of color as criminals and thugs. As social justice warriors, we can show the world the stories of wonderfulness that far outweigh how people of color are portrayed in movies, television, news networks and the like.

We can: support the amazing work that people of color are doing on a daily basis. There is a real need to break down the ideas that all people of color are gang members, or do drugs, or deal drugs,or are on welfare, etc. We are small business owners and CEOs and lawyers and doctors and teachers and professors and authors and artists...

We can: actively seek out new friendships and relationships that are different from our norm. Some of my best experiences are with people who, at first glance, I might not have given a second chance to know- it is really true that we cannot judge a book by its cover. I enjoy bantering with people who have very different mindsets from me ,specifically because it allows us both the opportunity to grow.

We can: have the courage to push back when somebody is spouting ignorance. It can be perfectly respectful to let someone know that we push back on what they said and ask for further clarification. A great deal of racism,bias and prejudice has to do with misinformation. Holding people accountable for their words and utilizing these times as teachable moments is something that we, as people of color, can do.

We can: do the research. When propaganda, lies, and dogma surface, we can take the lead by debunking the fallacies, finding the facts, offering a different perspective, and giving the masses a POC view on the matter. There is always more than meets the eye.

We can: be angry and upset about the injustices of the world without having to be labeled "reverse racists." I promise you there is not one person of color who thinks that racism is going to somehow obliterate racism. Fighting fire with fire is a moot point. I can be angry, and a great deal of growth can come from that anger. A complacent nation is an enslaved nation. My freedom holds the same value as any other person's freedom in this country. I just know that I have to fight for it harder.

What else can you do? You can be part of a growing movement to become a true social justice warrior. You will be introduced to several of my friends and colleagues who are committed to speaking up and speaking out.  Over the next month, you will be introduced to a group of amazing teacher leaders throughout the country who are in the process of working through these challenging times concerning social justice. I urge you to read every word, comment away, even if you agree to disagree, but our true purpose is to keep the conversations lit… let the fire begin!

Excerpts from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

 

17 Comments

Sherrill Knezel commented on July 26, 2016 at 1:52pm:

Courage and clarity

JoZi, thank you for beginning this round table discussion with your courage and passion. 

Jozette Martinez Jozette Martinez commented on July 26, 2016 at 5:21pm:

Thank you...

as an art teacher, I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives about how expression through mixed media can transform our conversations and discussions necessary when school starts. Your skill set around visual notes could be a true tool in do is justice work- thoughts?

Marcia Powell commented on July 29, 2016 at 12:57pm:

The Color of US

We have always talked openly about differences and similarities in people in my family.   One book that was so beautifully done and opened up this discussion for all was The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.  Especially for younger people, we need to talk way beyond the old misnomer "I am colorblind" that I often hear from the "All Lives Matter" contingent.  There are real disparities in this country that need to be dealt with.  One of those includes seeing our differences, our diversity, as a strengths.

Sherrill Knezel commented on July 30, 2016 at 9:17am:

I have been thinking about

I have been thinking about starting out the year with my older students using a "we can" prompt or maybe even an "I am" prompt to get them thinking and talking. I think it would be powerful to make visuals of where we all overlap no matter our heritages or race. Students will often draw what they have no words for and this can "hear them into speech" as Parker Palmer says. I have gained some amazing insights into my students by simply asking "tell me more about this..."  As for visual notes, I think having students Sketchnote a Tedtalk or TedEd video on social justice or race would be a fabulous start. Any suggestions? I am teaching one more PD before school starts and will certainly be suggesting this to teachers!  

Renee Moore commented on July 30, 2016 at 7:05pm:

Video Suggestions

Sherrill,

Several options come to mind for your idea (which is a great one).

One that we use with teachers that may work for your students is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED-talk "The Danger of a Single Story." 

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

More biting, and very short, is Clint Smith's , How to Raise a Black Son in America 

https://www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_how_to_raise_a_black_son_in_america#

Though not a TED talk, this short video works well with students as the listen to Black and Hispanic students at one of America's premiere high schools talk about their struggles.

"I, Too, Am B-CC"  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KpKEFEpHms

(it's on YouTube, if you have network blocking issues at school or just want a version without the ads and trailers, use safeshare.tv to make a clipped copy you can use at school.)

 

Sherrill Knezel commented on August 10, 2016 at 1:24pm:

Great Suggestions!

Renee,

Thank you so much for the suggestions!  All three videos are powerful and I think I will use a portion of the I Am B-CC video with my 5th graders to start off the discussion and drawing prompt.  I will continue to search for some elementary level videos as well and share.  I appreciated your willingness to add to the conversation. 

Sherrill Knezel commented on August 10, 2016 at 1:25pm:

Great Suggestions!

Renee,

Thank you so much for the suggestions!  All three videos are powerful and I think I will use a portion of the I Am B-CC video with my 5th graders to start off the discussion and drawing prompt.  I will continue to search for some elementary level videos as well and share.  I appreciated your willingness to add to the conversation. 

Joseph Bolz commented on July 26, 2016 at 2:17pm:

Powerful words! I love the

Powerful words! I love the quote... "but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.” Words to reflect upon. What odd things do I say and do? How can I be the man I want to be?

Jozette Martinez Jozette Martinez commented on July 26, 2016 at 5:25pm:

It struck a cord in me...

When I think about the reactions of our nation concerning these injustices. It has been astonishingly difficult to hear outrageous things said about dead black kids. I think about my own students; all of our students. We are going to be ready to talk about the events of the summer with courage respect and empathetic action. 

Noah Klein commented on July 26, 2016 at 10:02pm:

Your "We Can" Statements

I applaud you for saying that it is okay to be angry and it is okay to speak up and to bring others into the fold WHILE being educated.  Unfortunately, the press that the SJ movement receives, frequently, is they are loud and uneducated.  Kudos, JoZi.

Lori Nazareno commented on July 27, 2016 at 3:51pm:

Shifting to solutions

Jozette,

Thank you so very much for the candor with which you wrote this piece. So much of what you say resonates with me, as I am sure it does with many others.  I especially appreciate the way that you can, while sharing such raw emotions, shift to providing actionable steps for the us. I have been somewhat paralyzed about what to do and your "We Can" suggestions are SUPER powerful.

With much admiration, Lori

Jozette Martinez Jozette Martinez commented on July 27, 2016 at 11:28pm:

You know me well friend...

...and you know that it's been a struggle for me to collect my words. I'm confident through this round table discussion, with the insight, compassion, questions raised and epiphanies made, we will all grow together in our actions. The Beatles said it best; take a sad song and make it better..." That's what I'm trying to do through this process.

Nick Tutolo commented on July 31, 2016 at 7:59pm:

Thank You! This is the work we must all be doing.

"A complacent nation is an enslaved nation. My freedom holds the same value as any other person's freedom in this country. I just know that I have to fight for it harder."  We have heard it time and again, but people too often slip back into their normal routines and their comfort zones.  In order to create a meaningful change, we must no longer ignore the issues, but open the conversation and do the work-- even if it's uncomfortable.  

Carrie Eicher commented on August 4, 2016 at 3:44pm:

Teachers are talking-they want to be prepared

That you for posting such an emotional account of what all of us are thinking and feeling. Your bravery to open up and bring the words forward despite the struggle to give words to the nonsense and inhumanity is encouraging and inspiring. For the first time in my educational career, I had teachers contact me over the summer asking how we are planning to be prepared for our students' return and acknowledgement and processing of what has occurred over the summer with BLM and police violence. Teachers are scared, but they want to do justice to this incredibly difficult topic. I really appreciate your list of what we CAN do. This is a great starting point for my conversations with teachers, leading into supporting them as they develop the conversations they will have with our students. 

I am looking forward to this conversation growing and evolving-keep it going please! We appreciate YOU!

 

Linda Kennedy commented on August 7, 2016 at 1:15pm:

Timing

I am thinking that the timing for me to choose a capstone which addresses social justice could not have been better.  I have been working so hard to be a positive and supportive human being for populations at risk.  All summer long there have been opportunities to put my back and my effort into what my words have said.

Today I did a song about social justice and freedom at church.  I dedicated it to the refugee team at the summer Olympic Games.  I have also donated school supplies for the children without them and am helping with a fresh produce distribution in an economically challenged neighborhood.

My minister gave us t-shirts that read, "I Believe That Black Lives Matter" and he challenged us to wear them sometime this month and to share the input and feedback the final Sunday in August.  I am wearing mine at the staff meeting before school starts.  Waiting to see what happens.

Emily Vickery commented on August 15, 2016 at 8:23pm:

T-Shirt

Linda - Please let us know how faculty react to the T-Shirt! Curious, Emily

Emily Vickery commented on August 15, 2016 at 8:39pm:

Give a Second Glance a Chance

Jozi - Thanks so much for the We Can theme in this blog post. Often, as teachers, we forget how we not only model but provide a way for students to realize their voices in peaceful action.

Further, your modeling of teachers as social justice advocates is exemplary - while politely chastising those of us who do too little (or nothing) to help our students magnify their voice for social justice. Your words extend the urgency for all, teachers included, to provide a calm, peaceful refrain to elevate social justice ideals.

While loving the We Can theme, I treasure your idea of Give a Second Glance a Chance. Harvard Implicit Bias Tests (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html) are a way to do just that by taking stock of our hidden bias and how we react to others unconsciously. 

Again, thank you for your diligence!

Onward,
Emily

Posted from my iPad

 

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