(cover photo credit: Matthew Weidenbach, Illuminated Shadows Photography)
This past weekend gave me the privilege to be a part of history: marching alongside thousands of others at the Black Lives Matter/Stop Killing Us Protest Rally in Rochester, NY. People of all races and ages met in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, listened to speeches, meditated and sang together, and then marched to the police station. After the murder of George Floyd, the most recent horror inflicted on the black community, I–like so many others–wanted to stand with our black brothers and sisters in outrage and to try to make this a human issue, not only a racial one.
The protest march was cathartic for me, but it was symbolic only. I hope it helps to shine light on the problem of systemic racism, but in and of itself, it doesn’t change anything. The harder work is what each of us needs to do inside ourselves, in a brutal examination of the role of racism and privilege in our own lives and actions. If I want to honor the lives and protest the brutal deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, that is what I must do, not just march.
Before I can become a part of the solution, I must stop being a part of the problem. I live in a small town in a rural area with no racial diversity and without a police force. I do not have investments to divest. What can someone in my situation do? I’ve determined that this is not a sufficient excuse. I am vowing to myself–and publicly in this blog–to do one thing each day to end racism in my life, in my work, in my community, and in my world. Most days it will have to be something small like reading an article, watching a TED talk, or even just listening. (Something that white men like me are exceptionally bad at.) But I hope that other days it can be something great.
Despite my setting and circumstances, I have a powerful opportunity for change that many do not. I am a teacher, and not just that, but a teacher of teachers. I have always striven to help prepare these students to be inclusive and celebrate diversity, but I now have a renewed vision and catalyst to go further than that. My teacher candidates will each encounter @3000 students during their careers. Education in America has always been our best engine for social change and has succeeded where government policy makers have failed. How can the dialogue and interactions we have in my classes help–even on a small level–move future generations beyond racism? A what do I need to learn from my students in the process?
I would ask my friends, colleagues, relatives, current and former students, my precious friends from the Long Civil Rights Movement Seminar at Yale, anyone reading this to help me in this quest. Of course it is not your job to educate me: that I must do for myself, and I pledge to do so. But I do need help with my blind spots. My students and my own children have been great at that over the years. Ever since graduate school I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Johari window (below) As we self disclose and gain input from others, we expand the arena of what is known while reducing the other confining and limiting areas. This process occurs only through free dialogue with, and feedback from, others.
Please do not be afraid to give me input, to educate me about my blind spots and to tell me hard truths that I need to hear. I am only one small person–and an old one at that–is it even possible for me to make a difference? The problem of systemic racism and four centuries of oppression can seem so great, tragic, and deeply entrenched that we are tempted to throw up our hands and decide that change is impossible, or expect someone else, such as future generations, to solve it for us. But we must fight every day, until every one of us can truly breathe free. The change that is so desperately needed happens in each human heart, one at a time. I’m doing everything I can to change mine, I pledge that to myself, and to all of you. Join me.