A few months ago I was browsing my Facebook newsfeed when I came across a post from a colleague of color. The post gave me a jolt like none other in recent memory. The article was titled Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People. One passage of the article states:
Merely inviting more people of color into a space does not in and of itself make that space inclusive. Patterns of white dominance suffuse the space just like other spaces we occupy, only this time, we’re calling it “inclusive.” That’s more painful and frustrating than being in spaces that are [color] blind.
After reading the article, my White fragility kicked into full gear. A flood of thoughts and questions rushed through my head. Was everything in the article reflective of all POC? Have I lived blindly in White spaces expecting my loved ones, colleagues, and students of color to withstand the trauma of participating in the White spaces I maintained? The quick answer to all of my questions was/is…yes.
Before you read any more of my blog post, please read the article.
A few days after reading the article, and talking with friends and loved ones of color about the content, I began to gain what I currently see as a constructive perspective of White space and White supremacy. As I moved throughout my day I was more conscious of all the White space I surrounded myself in and reinforced under the disguise of “inclusion.” I deconstructed the concept of racial space in my college classes as well as the classrooms I taught in for twelve years. I ended with the final conclusion of: They have all been, not only White spaces but also cisgender men spaces. So what’s next?
First is working to decenter whiteness from the classrooms I work in, and democratizing the curriculum by shifting the power from myself to my adult students. As the article stated, and another article I recently read talked about, the curriculum is not something I can put myself in the center of if I want to truly be inclusive. I must allow my students to create, or at least co-create the space and expectations. My mere presence as a White person in the front of the class can trigger emotions that immediate derail the learning of students’ of color. In my case, the same could be said about students who are non-cisgender men…which, tends to be my entire class.
Thinking back to the classroom I taught in, and my recommendations to current classroom teachers; it’s not only about decentering whiteness with the young children, but also with colleagues and families. When I was sitting and talking with families, what type of space where families in? When I was designing the classroom environment whose space was I reinforcing? I told myself it was child and family-centered, but was it really? Yes, if the child and family were White.
Before you dismiss what I am suggesting as non-sense, if that is what you are doing, please read all seven articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) I have provided as hyperlinks within the body of this blog post. If you have any sense of denial, defensiveness or guilt, chances are that you are teaching in a White space that is not as inclusive as you previously thought.
If you want to decenter whiteness, there is much work to be done. #OurChildrenAreListening and White spaces send a lot of implicit negative indignifying messages about what it means to be a person of color in our society.