I have privileges. I am a woman of color, and I have privileges. Part of doing racial justice work is being able to reflect on your positionality and how you show up in different spaces. It’s also important to reflect on how that has changed over time.
For example – I have been very poor. I’m not anymore, and now I have middle-class privilege. I’m also more educated than I used to be, which gives me more privilege. While I want to believe that I can relate to poor people, I have to ask myself why I’m trying to relate. I’m not in that position anymore. My new experiences have reshaped my perceptions. That’s not saying I can’t relate, it’s just to say that I have to reflect more when trying to relate.
Reflecting on my privileges is the easy part. The hard part is acting because of them. We teach people to use their privilege to defend the less privileged. This is true in racial justice work, especially in places like Seattle, home of the “passive progressive.” I feel like if we’re not constantly pushing progressive Seattleites to do better and be less racist, they’ll fall right back into their false sense of racial justice Nirvana. Becky in her Uggs and North Face jacket with her pumpkin spice latte will put up her Black Lives Matter yard sign and be done with racism.
Pulling Back the Veil
I see my job as a privileged person working in a racist institution to be the one pulling back the veil. I see and experience things I had only heard about before as a classroom teacher. Teachers experience microaggressions and hostile work environments, for sure. As a district leader, I get that and then some. I have heard second hand about racial equity leaders being bullied out, or being set up for failure to the point it affects their physiological and mental health. Now I know why.
I am the ethnic studies program manager. I have my job because of my experiences and understanding of racial justice. The thing is, until now, I’ve only ever talked about “the system” without understanding how the individuals made the parts of the sum. It’s not “the system” that doesn’t want to change. It’s the individuals who enjoy the system and attack anyone who challenges it.
We are currently in a situation in which the superintendent meets with and receives counsel from a group of all white leaders with the exception of Dr. Brent Jones, a Black man. Guess which role Dr. Jones plays? Yup, racial equity. He’s technically the chief of community engagement and partnerships, but the director of the Department for Racial Equity Advancement reports to him. That’s his “department.” Sounds a lot like tokenizing to me. And many of the white leaders in the superintendent’s cabinet have been in the district long enough to legitimately blame for the existing racial disparities.
As I am apt to do, and because I believe my privilege comes with certain responsibilities, I call racism out when I see it. This has earned me titles like “divisive,” “trouble-maker,” and my favorite, “not a good fit” for my position, ethnic studies program manager. I want to take a moment to claim credit – which I rarely do, because I recognize my work is supported by the labor of many – but I created this program and made it what it is today. In a racist system with racist people in power, that’s not enough.
A dear friend and sister of the heart told me she respects me because I’m willing to take the hits. This is true, again because of the privilege thing, but how many hits can I take? My job has been threatened. My integrity has been questioned and my social media stalked. I have been reprimanded and told I cannot directly contact the superintendent or board of directors over “contentious” issues. I have been accused by leadership of trying to sabotage the work I created because I have called out principals for obstruction (which I have evidence of). My social media is followed and reported to the superintendent. She had a stack of my Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts in hand the last time she called me into her office.
I can take the hits. It’s not martyrdom, it’s necessity. If I’m not doing it, who will? I suppose there are a handful of leaders of color in the district who are taking the slow but steady route, but I don’t have time for that. Our students don’t have time for that. I’m tired of sitting around and having meetings about plans that we never implement. I’m tired of talking about racial equity with people who have never experienced racism and who can’t even define equity. These are the people driving our district. These are the people advising the superintendent. These people are the system I’m taking the hits from.
I can take the hits for now, and I believe my work speaks for itself. I have the respect of the people who matter the most and the people I believe have the answers and can actualize change. But I’m at a point where I’m questioning how much more I can take before I have to exit, too. That’s if they don’t get rid of me first.