After this week I’ve thought a lot about what to write today. I bounced back and forth between the dangers of multiple perspectives – what with Indigenous Peoples Day tomorrow – and all this mess with the newest Supreme Court member, and there’s a lot of mess packed into that whole mess. I decided to combine the two into one post. Really, when we look deeply at it, rape culture exists because we’ve allowed too much space for multiple perspectives. White supremacy exists because we allow for multiple perspectives. Our curricula is so white because we allow for multiple perspectives. “Wait,” you might be saying, “isn’t white supremacy just one perspective and we need to make space for others?”
Let me explain.
THE MYTH VS THE REALITY
The myth of multiple perspectives is that if we allow for diversity of thought and opinion, we will come to a better conclusion. In a perfect world where systems of oppression don’t exist, that may be true, but we live in a world of mansplainers and whitesplainers and straightsplainers and cissplainers and cisstraightwhitemansplaining. The reality is that cis, straight, white men hold the power in any conversation. When we open the space up to their perspectives, we are opening up the reality that they will own the perspective if we don’t set boundaries.
I’m in the middle of reading the book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker, and in the book she chastises the “chill host” saying that taking a laissez faire approach to hosting an event is selfish, and in the absence of leadership, a guest will take control of your event, inevitably steering it in a direction they see fit. She gives an example of a man taking over a dinner party when the host goes to tend to the meal in the kitchen. By the time the host has come back, the male guest has completely taken over and the host doesn’t try to stop him for fear of appearing impolite. Parker asserts we can value diversity as long as we know our purpose.
Priya’s book is about social gatherings, but aren’t all social interactions social gatherings? When we sit down to watch TV as a family, if there are no boundaries, who usually gets to control the remote? In our classroom, teachers know all too well that if they don’t have clear boundaries and routines, learning will be a challenge. Courtrooms have strict protocols for a reason. Without them, contentious hearings will be unmanageable. Now, here’s the kicker… all of those examples I just gave are founded on the idea of white supremacy; the patriarchal nuclear family, the teacher as the “sage on the stage,” and the entire legal system in the United States was created to uphold the white, cisgender, heteropatriarchy. In order to fight this and be aware of it all the time, we need to carefully consider whose perspectives have more weight than others in order to achieve our purpose. My purpose is liberation from oppression. What is yours?
MY ME, TOO
As we’ve seen these past couple of weeks, rape culture and misogyny are thriving. Something that stands out to me in so many of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories are the women who never reported because they weren’t sure if it was considered assault. This is my story, too. My rapist was my husband. My ex-husband was abusive on so many levels; mentally, emotionally, and sexually. Each layer of abuse was carefully crafted to uphold his primary form of abuse – sexual abuse. I think it’s important to note that I had to pause here and take a deep breath. I have only shared this story with one other person.
My ex-husband has an addiction to fetishes. The way he would commit his abuse was guilting me into performing acts I didn’t want to engage in. I would do it because he would threaten me with things like leaving me, finding a woman who would do it, and withholding affection. Once I performed the act, he would start fights with me because it was clear I wasn’t enjoying myself. He would then use the gaslight, “If you really loved me, you would enjoy pleasing me,” or “I work to provide for my family, and you owe this to me.” I worked, too, and went to school on top of maintaining our home and children – not that those things should matter. I just want to give context.
One evening, this fight went all night long. At around 4:00 a.m. I began crying out of sheer fatigue. I was tired physically and emotionally. I just wanted it to stop. He agreed to stop if I would have sex with him. You can imagine my shock. After all of that he thought sex was a good idea? I told him no and that I was too tired. He persisted and I just wanted the arguing to stop. I laid there, motionless, while he had sex. When it was over, guess what his complaint was? Yup. How dare I not enjoy it?
It’s taken me a long time to realize that was rape. I did not consent. It was survival for me, and sex and love should never be about that. The truly frightening part, and here’s the danger of multiple perspectives – to him it was just a fight. We had a lot of those. His perspective caused me to question mine. He is white, but this story isn’t about his racism. It’s about the expectations put on women by the Eurocentric, nuclear perspective of family led by the husband. I know I worked harder than he ever has, but because he is a “man” and was my husband, the expectation was for me to submit to him. He wasn’t the only person taught that. I was, too. That’s why it took me so long to be able to say, “My ex-husband raped me.”
Allowing this white supremacist perspective via my ex-husband has had long lasting consequences for me. I battle PTSD, and my most recent relationship – which was the most beautiful joy of my life – suffered because of my trust issues. We allow this to happen to women because we allow white men to control the perspectives we are taught. If we try to shut down these perspectives we are accused of censorship and not valuing multiple perspectives. Rape is wrong. Full. Stop. Eurocentric patriarchy is wrong. End of story. There are no other perspectives to hear. We must stop allowing harmful narratives from entering our lives for the purpose of protecting womxn. I wish someone had kept them out of mine.
PEOPLE VS COLUMBUS
Maybe I should have ended on the Me, Too story, because I’m feeling exposed, but this blog is about education, so I want to bring it back to that.
With the 2018/19 school year in full swing and Indigenous Peoples Day coming up, teachers all over are teaching about Christopher Columbus. Notice how that works? In Seattle it’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and we’re teaching about Columbus. Some might say, “Yes, but we’re teaching how bad he is.” But we’re still centering him in our lessons instead of centering the experiences of indigenous people past and present.
I was made aware of a lesson my own child was engaged in at their school, which happens to be the school I taught at. It’s a well respected lesson among social justice educators and is part of the Zinn Education Project published by Rethinking Schools. I work with two editors of Rethinking Schools and respect their perspectives. The problem is the lesson seems to take the angle of teaching from multiple perspectives. I don’t think that was the intent, but given how teacher preparation programs are so staunch about social studies teachers “remaining apolitical,” I can see how many would think it’s about multiple perspectives, especially non-Native educators.
The lesson, People vs Columbus, includes 5 perspective readings. Each “perspective” is accused of the genocide of the Taíno people – including the Taíno themselves! The other four accused are Christopher Columbus, his men, the king and queen of Spain, and Empire. I’ve been told by my Rethinking Schools colleagues that it’s written in such a way to corral discussion into siding with the Taíno. The Taíno reading, however, includes language like, “You failed to fight back against the Spaniards. This meant that you brought the fate of slavery and death upon yourselves,” and, “ . . . as a result of this Taíno failure, all the Native peoples of the Americas suffered.” Imagine being a Native student and reading that the genocide of your ancestors is their own fault!
This, in my opinion, is a multiple perspectives fail. It does not carefully consider who controls the perspective in the classroom. In the United States, the chances of it being a white person are 90%. The chances of it being a non-Native person is likely higher. When it comes to oppression of any kind – misogyny, racism, or insert “ism” here – the boundaries of perspectives allowed need to be clear. We don’t allow anyone to debate whether or not the Jews were responsible for their genocide, and we shouldn’t.
Teaching “multiple perspectives” cannot be a laissez faire free for all. There must be very clear delineation between right and wrong. Rape culture is wrong. Genocide is wrong. As educators we must check the perspectives that say otherwise! When some fool comes into the conversation saying shit like, “Boys will be boys,” we must say to them their perspective is not welcome. When people say, “The Jews would have lived if they didn’t give up their guns,” our response should be, “Get out of my house with that nonsense!” “Diversity of thought” and the unchecked space for “multiple perspectives” works to uphold white supremacy. Period.