Category Archives: STARS

Fighting Slut-Shaming and Cyber-Bullying: 7 Things Teachers Can Do

These last few weeks, the topics of slut-shaming and sexual extortion have been weighing on my mind. These are huge problems facing girls in schools and I’ve been thinking a lot about how they tie into digital citizenship and the formation of a digital identity. Through watching videos, reading articles, and reflecting, I’ve come up what I think some of my responsibilities are – as a teacher and as a young woman – to support my students in the face of these issues.

Your Body = Your Worth

About two weeks ago, I went to a film screen put on by The UnSlut Project, a project working to undo the dangerous slut shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media and culture. Here is the trailer for the documentary film:

Emily Lindin started the UnSlut Project in response to hearing stories about suicides of girls like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and Audrie Pott. She was reminded of how she felt when she was labelled as the school “slut” in her middle school and decided to share her story by posting her diary entries from ages 11-14 online. The Project has become a collaborative space for sharing stories and creating awareness of sexual bullying and slut-shaming.

While watching the film, it stuck out to me that girls are told over and over again that their worth is based on how their bodies look to other people. The media constantly imposes impossible standards of beauty on girls and diet/beauty industries fuel body dissatisfaction to make profit.

It starts scary young. Media Smarts reports that three-year-olds already prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones, while by age seven girls are able to identify something they would like to change about their appearance.

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Image from Media Smarts

“The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” girls that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected” (Media Smarts). And not only are girls told that their bodies are objects to be perfected – they are also told that until they can perfect their bodies and become thin, beautiful, and sexy, their worth is compromised. If they want to be worth something, they need to eat less, workout more, show more skin… The list goes on.

Sexy = Valuable But Sex = Shameful

So this idea that girls must have a perfect body and be sexually attractive in order to be worth something sounds awful when you say it outright; however, these are the messages that the media is sending to young girls, who often receive and internalize them.

And perhaps the most sickening part is that when girls learn the rules of our culture – that their sexual desirability is what makes them valuable – and try to portray themselves as sexy, they are labeled, shamed, and bullied for it. It’s a vicious, grueling cycle and one that many girls, including Amanda Todd, have fallen victim to.

This paradox doesn’t disappear as girls grow up, either. It manifests in double standards that put women down for doing the same things as men (ie. she’s a slut, he’s a stud). Jarune Uwujaren from Everyday Feminism puts it this way: “Ironically, our society simultaneously values women for their sexual desirability and shames them for having sexual desires.”

What’s the point? There should not be worth tied to a woman’s or a girl’s sexiness or how much sex they choose to have. Slut-shaming is extremely harmful to a person’s self-concept and internalizing those negative messages results in tragic outcomes for girls and women.

Constant Pressure, Little Control

Girls are constantly pressured into portraying their bodies in ways that will please others, whether it’s posting pictures to social media, sexting, or revealing themselves to a camera online. But once they share, they have little control over how the images will be perceived or what the viewer might do with the image. The pictures are easily circulated and become part of a digital footprint that remains with them forever.

The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, a documentary by the Fifth Estate, shows the extensive blackmail that the seventh grade girl received after flashing the camera in an online chat with a man she had been messaging with. He was a ‘capper’ – a cyber-predator who stalks websites looking to flatter girls into performing sexual acts and then capture and distribute their images. When Amanda was put under pressure, she made one mistake and the damage was done.

Although the RCMP was notified about blackmail attempts on at least five occasions in the two years leading up to Amanda’s death, they simply told the family: “If Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we as the police can do.”

This (lack of) response horrifies me. It’s victim blaming and it places all the responsibility for Amanda’s protection on her and her parents’ shoulders. I think it would have been pretty obvious that it was the RCMP’s job to protect Amanda had her harasser been physically stalking and harassing her. Why should it be any less their business when it’s online?

Digital Dualism

I don’t think it’s realistic for us to tell young people to just stay offline when their lives are so intertwined with online spaces. They have grown up in a world of digital dualism, where they interact in two different worlds that are fully, inextricably weaved together. We can no longer separate our digital lives from our offline lives, nor can we expect young people to do this. And avoiding the problem wouldn’t have solved anything, anyway. She couldn’t have stayed offline forever.

Amanda needed someone to teach her how to protect herself and be safe online. She needed someone to show her that she could start to build a trail of positive artefacts (which I think she was trying to do in the famous video where she shares her story) that would someday outweigh the picture that destroyed her reputation. She needed support in rebuilding her self-concept and strategies to deal with her online and offline bullies.

As educators, what are our responsibilities? What can we do about all of this?

  1. Speak out about slut shaming and sexual bullying.

We must start with a ground up approach by speaking out within our personal spheres. One strategy suggested by the Unslut Project is to ask the person to define “slut” or to explain what they mean by their problematic comment. The conversation might go something like this:  “What do you mean by ‘slut’? “Well.. a promiscuous woman.” “What’s promiscuous?” “Well.. she has too many sex partners.” “So how many is too many? Who gets to decide?” It quickly becomes apparent that no one has any business judging anyone else based on their sex life.

It’s also important to note that women can simultaneously be victims and perpetrators of slut-shaming. This means we need to be critical of our own thoughts and careless comments and catch ourselves when we slut-shame. Through speaking out and listening to one another’s stories, we can humanize each other and begin to work together against this shaming.

2. Help students deconstruct media messages and develop critical thinking skills.

I tried to do this in my internship through a health unit on body image. I had my students examine a variety of advertisements and critique them in groups using a questionnaire. We discussed influences on body image, such as the media, family, friends, culture, place through videos like this and talked extensively about stereotypes related to body image. In fact, this unit turned my students into the Stereotype Police. They became really passionate about reporting stereotypes they heard at home, around the school, and from one another. We also examined photoshop mistakes and saw how photoshop is used to create a problematic “ideal” body type. These are just a few ways we can get students thinking critically about the messages the media sends.

3. Educate students about their worth.

It’s our job to make our students feel loved, respected, valued, and affirmed for who they are and what they do. When we constantly remind students how irrationally crazy about them we are, we help them understand and believe that they are worth so much more than what their bodies look like.

“And when you start to drown in these petty expectations you better re-examine the miracle of your existence because you’re worth so much more than your waistline.”

“…Standards don’t define you. You don’t live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You’re a goddamn treasure whether you wanna believe it or not.”

I also recently came across this beautiful poem by Rupi Kaur and I think it would be great to share with students:

i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful

before i’ve called them intelligent or brave

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is all you have to be proud of

when you have broken mountains with your wit

from now on i will say things like

you are resilient, or you are extraordinary

not because i don’t think you’re beautiful

but because i need you to know

you are more than that”

Rupi Kaur

These are the kinds of traits we need to recognize in our students and help them recognize in each other. We can model these types of compliments: You are resilient. You are passionate. You are extraordinary. You have such great vision. You are working so hard. I love how you support your group members. Through our words and through the resources we bring in, we can show our students how deeply valuable they are and remind them of their endless potential.

(My focus in this post is on girls, but I recognize that boys also need to be educated about their worth, as they are also affected by the problematic way that masculinity is defined and portrayed by the media. I also recognize that transgender students, probably the most of anyone, need to see positive representations of their identity in the classroom. So although I’m focusing on girls in this post, I truly believe in instilling a positive self-concept in ALL students.

4.  Educate students about digital identity and digital citizenship.

Teaching students the how and why behind constructing a positive digital identity is an extremely important responsibility, as professional digital profiles have huge effects on future employability and might even start to replace resumes.  The digital footprint students leave will impact them short-term and long-term.

This tweet, from Katia Hildebrandt, is a response to this article, which makes it clear that as a society, we are willing to consider the context and timing of mistakes like DUIs, but unwilling to consider the context and timing of mistakes in the form of hateful social media comments.

Because their digital actions will continue to affect them throughout their lives and because of the harm we have seen in Amanda’s story, it is imperative that we teach our students to ask themselves questions before they put anything on the Internet. When posting about themselves, we might teach them to ask: Would I want my grandma or future employer to read this? Does this represent me in a positive way? And when posting about others, we might teach them to ask: How would I feel if this was shared about me? Do I have this person’s permission to share about them?

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Photo Credit: MO3-2005 via Compfight cc

We can also teach them about online predators and the risks of exposing themselves online. We can show them examples of how our digital footprints can easily slip out of our control. Rather than asking students to simply avoid the internet or installing ineffective filters, we need to give them the tools to make responsible decisions for themselves.

5. Educate parents about digital footprints and their child’s digital identity.

Along with educating students about digital identity, we need to educate their parents. Research from the University of Washington finds that while children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried.  Another study finds that ‘sharenting’ – parents who share details of their family life online – can be detrimental in cases where parents put their online popularity ahead of spending time with their child. We need to model the process of asking students for permission before sharing about them online. We can offer support in helping parents find a middle ground, where they can share about their children online in a way that doesn’t compromise the child’s privacy or dignity.

Throughout the documentary, Amanda’s parents went from supporting her use of YouTube as a tool to share her singing talents to being highly concerned about her online behaviour when her photo went viral and she began to receive blackmail from the capper. Although they documented everything and continually informed the RCMP about the blackmail, they seemed ill-prepared to give Amanda any advice on how to defend herself online or how to start to repair her digital identity.

6. Educate ourselves about the online tools, apps, and websites students are using.

We need to keep up with the online tools are students are using and bring those into our classrooms and schools. For example, young people love Snapchat and there are many ways we can use Snapchat in our schools and classrooms for teaching, communicating, and sharing. We also need to educate ourselves on specific issues related to the tools, apps, or websites being used. For example, I recently became aware of the huge issue of cyber self-harm, a phenomenon in which young people create fake online identities to attack themselves and invite others to do the same. They might do this to pre-empt criticism from others, to bring their pain out into the open, or to get compliments from peers. We need to make ourselves aware of these issues so we can better understand what our students are going through and can support them in the best ways possible.

7. Educate everyone about moving toward a more forgiving digital world

Finally, because we are living in a world that no longer forgets, we need to work towards greater empathy and forgiveness towards others when they make mistakes online. We need to learn to make informed judgments rather than snap decisions and teach our students to do the same.

This means a few things, which Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt outline in their joint blog post. It means thinking about the context, timing, and intent of digital artefacts when we evaluate them. It means considering whether the artefact is a one-time thing or a pattern of behaviour. And it means holding ourselves accountable to the hypocrite test – asking ourselves whether we have ever said or posted something similar and thinking about whether we would want that held against us.

Burden or Opportunity?

My heart breaks for Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, and so many other girls who have taken their lives due to experiences like this. As educators, we have a ton of responsibilities for educating ourselves, our students, and others on these issues. These responsibilities may seem burdensome, but they also place us in a unique and critical position to support students and families as we all learn about digital identity formation and online safety together.

So what do you think? What other responsibilities would you add to this list? What steps can we take to prevent tragedies related to slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, sexual extortion? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Why we cannot stay silent: performing online to build networks of solidarity

Digital Sleuthing and Context Collapse

In my ECMP 355 class, we recently engaged in a digital sleuthing activity, where we were put into groups and challenged to find out and record as much information as we could about an individual in about 7 minutes. This activity launched discussion around the importance of having a strong, positive digital identity in today’s world. This article even suggests that digital profiles, including professional Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts, will soon replace the paper resumé.

Naturally, after digital sleuthing Alan Levine, I felt compelled to Google myself and check out my digital identity these days. When I did, I was pleasantly surprised (and slightly uncomfortable) with the results. Everything that came up on Google’s first page was actually about me. It came up with my portfolio, my Twitter account, pictures of me, my profile on the Regina Cougars Athletics site, my Storify account, an article about Katia and I presenting at an education conference in London, my YouTube channel, and my Pinterest account.

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What freaked me out a little more was looking through the images associated with my name: 6 pictures of my face; a bowl of the delicious honey lemon chicken I pinned on Pinterest last week; pictures from #TreatyEdCamp; STARS Regina logos; and pictures of my friends, classmates, and profs.

Google knows me very well… (and therefore, anyone with Internet access potentially knows me that well). It creates an interesting and strange dynamic. I can no longer control who knows what about me (context collapse); I can only control what is out there for people to know about me.  

Performing Online (and IRL)

I like to refer to “what is out there for people to know about me” as how I perform online. To me, ‘performance’ means mean the way I choose to portray myself in certain online spaces (ie. the topics I deem important enough to tweet/write about, how I choose to respond or not respond to controversial articles, whether or not I share that picture of the super healthy salmon, quinoa, and broccoli dinner I had last night, etc).   

I like to use the word ‘perform’ for a couple of reasons:

  1. It felt a bit like acting when I first started sharing on social media. I was unsure of myself, I was overthinking my hashtag use, and I was constantly wondering what others would think about what I was sharing. However, I sneakily pretended I knew what I was doing over and over again until I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. 
  2. I’m taken to the Butler/Foucault idea of performativity – that everything is performance, that we are constantly enacting particular discourses, and that identity is fluid rather than fixed.
  3. I think performance is a constructive starting point (and sometimes the only possible starting point), as I describe in this blog post and Arthur Chu describes in this critique of #NotYourShield.

Performing as Anti-Oppressive Educator

I perform the role of anti-oppressive educator online in many ways:

I include #starsregina, #socialjustice, #treatyed in my Twitter bio, and I identify my location as Treaty 4 Land.

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I tweet about social justice issues.

I write (not often enough) about privilege, racism, sexism, and mental health.

Why engage with these difficult topics in online spaces?

  1. Because they are important. Plain and simple.

It can be terrifying to share about these topics, as Kendra describes in her beautiful post, The Untold Story; however, silence often means complicity in the dominant narrative.

Audre Lorde challenged others on their silence in an incredible speech she gave way back in 1977:

“What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

She also warned against staying silent due to fear:

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

And finally, she emphasizes that speaking out bridges differences:

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

You should probably just go read the whole thing. It’s amazing.

  1.  Because sharing and bridging differences in this way builds powerful networks.

We talk all the time about the importance of building a PLN and how these connections provide us with invaluable resources and relationships, but it’s even more than that. Our networks help sustain us when we feel we are falling short, when we lose ourselves in fear and drift back toward silence.

As Sherri Spelic eloquently describes in this post:

Pooled with other folks’ resources, the radical can grow, the imagination nurtured, a collective power set free. Precisely when I am feeling small, deflated or unheard, when I am asking myself that critical question: “Who am I to do this work?”, this is when I have to see that I do not and need not walk alone.”

So I will continue to perform in real life and online, aiming to maintain and strengthen my positive digital identity. When sharing, I aspire to overcome my fears, reject my silences, and respect my need for language, definition, and discussion around important, sometimes discomforting topics. In doing this, I hope to build a network that will support, encourage, and challenge me, but most of all, remind me that I’m not alone.

Has your PLN ever helped you through challenging times or times when you felt isolated? Has your network ever encouraged you to break your silence on an important issue?  Comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts on this!

Battling Stigma with Stories

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This tweet from my friend Kendra hit me right in the guts.  

It came from a Twitter chat on how teachers can support students and colleagues alongside mental health. I am one of the Executive Directors of a group called S.T.A.R.S. Regina, and we decided to host this Twitter chat on #BellLetsTalk Day to open up the conversation about mental health while also raising money for mental health initiatives in Canada.

12417685_1514987248802228_4508505647200605803_nIf you missed the chat, you can catch up by checking out the Storify here.

Anyway, Kendra’s tweet hit me right in the guts because I can relate to getting emotional when it comes to the topic of mental health. I think we all can. Most of us have either experienced mental illness ourselves or have a friend, sister, uncle, cousin, grandparent, or other loved one who immediately comes to mind when we hear the phrase.

For me, that person is my mom. My mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006.  Throughout my schooling, she was in and out of hospitals in Weyburn and Regina and also spent time in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Tatagwa View in Weyburn. For certain periods, my sister and I lived with my aunt, uncle, and cousins while my brother lived with our other aunt, uncle, and cousins. We were able to visit her from time to time but to be honest, I hated going.

The memories swirl in my head… The pungent smell of disinfectant. Long hallways with stupid street signs. A pale pink sweatshirt, her long-ago favourite. Bathrooms with no doors; no privacy for those who might hurt themselves. The stranger in my mom’s body. The empty conversation. Feeling guilty, feeling weak, feeling helpless. Hating the flowers and the “get well soon” cards for putting pressure on her. Staring at the falling leaves out the van window, refusing to let the tears fall.

 

 

It was tough for a long time. I used to talk about it more. In eighth grade, I did a research project on bipolar disorder for health, and I remember saying to my classmates: “I chose to research bipolar disorder because my mom lives with it.” I was so brave. As I got older, I started to keep it to myself more and more. I didn’t want anyone to see my mom as less than the way I saw her: strong, beautiful, confident, resilient, independent, selfless, and passionate. I didn’t want anyone to question her love for us or for others’ perceptions of her to be tainted because of her mental illness.

And so the story goes. The terrible stigma keeps many of us quiet. Afraid to speak out for fear of being seen as less competent as a parent, less able to do your job, or less desirable as a friend or partner. A few people voiced these fears during the chat.

It can be so hard to speak out when your reputation, your competence, and your selfhood are on the line. I have a few dear friends who have faced these fears and put themselves at risk by sharing their stories.

In this post, Meagan embraces vulnerability, writing about how she has come to accept her struggle with anxiety.  

“I am proud of the fact that I able to share my story. If anything, I believe that my anxiety has not been a hinderance; rather, I am now able to see it as an asset – because of my anxiety, I am strong. Although the journey has not been easy, I am now able to say that I accept the fact that I struggle with my mental health – every, single, day.” –Meagan Dobson

In this post, Katia shares about her experience with depression, acknowledging that silence is a form of complicity in the stigma.

“So instead of struggling in silence, I am speaking out. I am using my own privilege to try to break down some of that ugly stigma. It’s okay to be depressed. It does not make me weak, or unreliable, or a burden.” –Katia Hildebrandt

In this post, Dave shares his journey with ADHD and depression and urges others to share as well.

“Speak as if your life, or the life of your loved ones, counts upon it, because it probably does.  Let us raise our voices and break the stigma of mental illness.  Those who have fought this battle or are fighting this battle, you are stronger for it.  You are not sub-human, but super-human, because you have made the choice to live and made the choice that your story matters.” –David Brown

Along with these brave friends of mine is, of course, my mom. When I texted her to ask if it was okay for me to blog about our experience with bipolar, she replied, “Of course! It’s awesome!” I’ve always admired her openness and honesty in sharing her experiences.

I am so incredibly proud of and grateful to these people for telling their stories. It lets me know I’m not alone in the pain that mental illness brings and reminds me that we can find strength in these difficult experiences.  

So let’s keep talking – not just today, but every day.

It may be painful. It may be terrifying. It may put you at risk and make you deeply vulnerable, but there is power in that vulnerability – in the grace, support, understanding, and healing that come through it. Let’s continue to share our stories and encourage others to share theirs. We can find power in our collective voice as we battle the stigma with our stories.

Can we pretend our way to becoming anti-oppressive educators?

Lately, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the ideas of performance and authenticity. As a chronic people pleaser, I often feel myself “performing” or taking on certain roles to suit the social situation I find myself in. Watch this unreal spoken word piece describing performance to understand what I mean.

I am also constantly performing my gender. I don’t do this intentionally, but I do think of it as performing because I’ve learned to act, walk, speak, and even take up space in “feminine ways” through regulated discourses of what it means to be female since before I was even born. This might also have something to do with why I’m a people pleaser..  Food for thought.

Likewise, my journey to becoming an anti-oppressive educator began as a performance. I was performing “good student” in ECS 110 and ECS 210, which both focused on the “isms,” dominant discourses or common sense, and oppression in schools and society. To perform good student, I read about racism, gender performance, national identity, white privilege, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and social class; I critiqued popular culture for problematic representations of self/other; I started thinking and talking about race; I reflected on my positionality and privilege; I engaged on Twitter and on my blog to start to build my PLN; I learned about treaty education. The list goes on… And all of those things started because I was determined to perform good student.

When I first realized that I cringed at the idea. Why did this journey have to start as a performance? Can’t I be authentic in anything I do? (Possibly not, because I’m not sure that authenticity is a real thing.) I thought that since anti-oppressive work is important to me, it should have been “real” from the start.

Now I’m realizing that maybe it had to start as a performance because these are uncomfortable issues to engage with. Maybe performing helped me ease into the role of attempting to be an anti-oppressive educator because I was able to “try it on” first. This gets even more complex when I think about the different social media platforms I engage on, because I perform anti-oppressive educator on Twitter but not on Facebook (but that’s a blog post for another day).

Anyway, at some point in my performing, I found real value in and passion for this new role.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when I shifted from performing anti-oppressive educator to truly believing in and trying to live out this role, but I don’t think it really matters.  I’d like to say that I no longer perform it at all, but that isn’t true either.  Performance is ongoing, but I believe this kind of performance is constructive.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and I’d love to hear thoughts, feedback, or more questions in return!

How are performing online and performing face-to-face similar and different?  Do you agree that performance can be constructive or do you think it makes anti-oppressive work less authentic/less valuable?

Moving Past the Good White People Narrative

This post is a response to “I Don’t Know What to Do with Good White People” by Bennett and Chapter 3: “The Eye of the Beholder” of Revealing the Invisible by Sherry Marx.  I happened to read this article and this book chapter in the same day and couldn’t believe how many parallels there were between the two!  Both discuss the good white people narrative and the ways White people distance themselves from the construct of racism.

In her article, Bennett describes “good white people” as those who responded to the Darren Wilson non-indictment with empathy or outrage, joined protests, deleted racist Facebook friends, or performed small acts of kindness to Black people.  She emphasizes the way the good white people congratulated themselves for these acts, concerned with “seeming good,” and sometimes expecting to be rewarded for their decency. This description instantly made me feel defensive of my own actions in response to the non-indictment, but as I read through Marx’s discussions with the preservice teachers I was able to better understand what Bennett meant.

Marx writes, “When I asked Elizabeth if she could be racist, she reeled back in horror, gasped, and exclaimed, ‘No. Absolutely not. I think racism is a bad thing… It’s not like I’m a bad person. I know I’m not a bad person. I know I have a good heart” (p. 85). Marx also explains how the young women easily shared stories about the racism of others, which seemed intended to highlight their own contrasting, nonracist qualities. The good white people narrative allows us to focus on our small acts of decency and our good intentions, making our own racism invisible.

Now, I want to make it clear that critiquing the good white people narrative does not mean it’s a bad thing to try to be a good white person (using your white privilege for good). The problem with the narrative is that when we see ourselves as good white people we obscure the ways that we are implicit in racism.

As Bennett puts it, “We all want to believe in progress, in history that marches forward in a neat line, in transcended differences and growing acceptance, in how good the good white people have become. So we expect racism to appear, cartoonishly evil like a Disney villain.” However, if we understand racism “as a system that advantages Whites and disadvantages people of colour,” then we must recognize that “all members of society contribute to this reproduction of inequality simply by going about ‘business as usual’” (Marx, p. 91). This means that racism is not only evil acts done by evil people; rather, it is “an inevitable consequence of living in a racist society (Marx, p. 89).”

The good white people narrative allows us to equate racism with evil and hatred and to think of it as something that others do, rather than recognizing it in our own everyday thoughts and actions.

So how do we move past this problematic good white people narrative? These are just a few ways I have gathered from my readings. Please comment your thoughts and additional suggestions!!

  1. Accept your Whiteness.

We don’t have to feel guilty about being White. Marx writes about negative White identity, which many of her preservice teachers possessed because they associated Whiteness with shame and guilt for all the crimes of oppression Whites have committed against people of colour.  In order to move past this guilt/negative White identity, we must accept our Whiteness and define a view of Self as a racial being that does not depend on the perceived superiority of one racial group over another (Helms quoted by Marx, p. 90).

  1. Acknowledge your own racism.

To move to a positive White identity, we must acknowledge our own racism as an inevitable consequence of living in a racist society. You can’t work to be actively anti-racist unless you acknowledge and address your own racist tendencies.

  1. Stop focusing on your good intentions.

The problematic thing about the good white people narrative is that it excuses white people for racist thoughts/actions because they didn’t mean to do any harm, because it wasn’t their intention to hurt or offend anyone. As Bennett powerfully states, “What good are your good intentions if they kill us?” We need to examine our own actions and how they contribute to both equity and inequity – turning the gaze back to Self – despite the good intentions behind those actions.

To sum it all up:  If we can reject and move past the good white people narrative, we can acknowledge our own implicitness in racism, which is the first step in the direction of antiracist work.

Illuminating the Invisible: How Privilege Has Shaped My Experiences

At the lovely Katia Hildebrandt’s suggestion, I have started reading Revealing the Invisible:  Confronting Passive Racism in Teacher Education by Sherry Marx, a book discusses the “damaging effects of unaddressed racism and white privilege on the capacity of white teachers to effectively teach students of colour.”  Chapter 2:  “Illuminating the Invisible” explored the ways that Whites make sense of Whiteness and colour as well as the common role model and saviour constructs developed by preservice teachers. This chapter connected to an assignment (curriculum-as-place.docx) I did last year for ECS 210, in which I wrote an autobiography to represent my identity and to identify significant moments in my journey that shaped my life, beliefs, and values as a future teacher.  After I handed it in, I was asked to reflect on whether I included the ways in which my gender, race, class, sexuality and other parts of my identity affected my life experiences.  I reflected that I was able to leave those parts of my identity out because I occupy positions of privilege in those areas, but I did not reflect on the specific ways my experiences were affected by my privilege. To be honest, the reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because it’s not comfortable to recognize the ways my privilege has affected my life experiences.  It means I have to own up to the fact that the experiences I’ve had and the things I have accomplished are not all due to my own hard work.  After reading Chapter 2, I knew it was time to go back to this assignment and compare what I wrote to the patterns of dialogue between Marx and the pre-service teachers she engages with. The first thing I noticed when reading over my autobiography was the pattern of writing about myself as a role model/”self-aggrandizing helper” in my volunteer work, just as many of the young women in the book do.  When I discussed my first three experiences, I wrote in a very self-centred way, focusing on the ways I was able to help the youth I worked with.  For example, I wrote about how I helped a child come out of his shell, how my support was so encouraging to students in the Functionally Integrated Program, and how I could provide new and exciting experiences for my mentee.  My language consistently focused on myself and what I was doing to help the underprivileged youth I worked with. Marx explains that “while those acting as benevolent role models and saviours are often lauded as self-sacrificing, well intentioned, and in possession of hearts of gold, this construct of the helper necessitates that the person helped is constructed as needy, dependent, and incapable of achieving on her or his own” (pg. 72).  Looking back, I think I had a deficit perception of some of the youth I worked with, which in turn allowed me to construct an idealistic version of myself as a role model. In the next part of my autobiography, I discussed my experience on a humanitarian trip to Pachuca, Mexico, with the U of R Cougar Women’s Soccer Team without acknowledging that it was my privilege as a middle class female and member of a university soccer team that enabled me to go on this trip.  Additionally, I did not once refer to how my whiteness affected this experience.  This connects with when Becky, one of the preservice teachers, stated regarding children of colour, “They are people.  I’m a person.  And… I just like kids.  So, I just talked to them.  You know, I don’t really think about [racial and cultural differences.] (pg. 48).  Similarly, when I wrote about my experience in Mexico, I tried to cling to my sense of racial neutrality, using colour-blind language and avoiding discussion of experiences that emphasized my Whiteness.  For example, at one of the elementary schools we visited, my teammates and I signed autographs for children at the school for almost an hour straight.  They treated us like celebrities because of our Whiteness; however, I preferred to think that they were just excited to have visitors painting murals at their school. Another example of ignoring my Whiteness is from a blog post I wrote on our trip blog.  Describing the tour of Technológico de Monterrey, I wrote, “We received many curious stares, for a few possible reasons: because we were all wearing matching grey Cougars t-shirts, because we were all in shorts while most students were wearing jeans and sweaters, or (most likely) because we’re a group of 21 incredibly good-looking girls (plus Bob!).”  I am quite sure that the real reason we were stared at was that the majority of my team was White. Marx explains that this desire to shrug off the marker of race is a common feeling among Whites because we are so used to our race being neutral/invisible/normal.  She goes on to contrast this with the markedness of colour, explaining that Whites often perceive the White racial group as being extremely complex and ambiguous, while perceiving cultures of colour as homogenous, tight-knit identities.  Looking back, I think I also perceived Mexican culture in that way at times.  I remember making comments about not wanting to leave because there was such a strong sense of culture and shared history.  Through these comments, I was implying that “Whites are so diverse they don’t share any of those markers of culture.”  There are definitely the same elements of diversity within Mexican culture as within White culture, however it is harder (for me) to see because of the stereotypes/single stories I have absorbed. My privilege shaped the first three experiences I discussed by making it possible for me to view myself as an idealized role model while holding deficit views of the youth I worked with.  My privilege as an able-bodied middle class female made it possible for me to go on the humanitarian trip to Pachuca.  While in Pachuca, my White privilege made it possible for me to ignore my Whiteness completely and to think about Mexican culture as homogenous. This reflection forced me to make sense of my experiences in an uncomfortable way, which was necessary because I knew that the ways I had made sense of my experiences in my autobiography were not only inaccurate but complicit with oppression. Now my challenge is to continue reflecting on how my privilege shapes my experiences.  Even though it is a really difficult, uncomfortable process, I know it is worth it.

Carmichael Outreach Reflection

Last week, for my Health Education class, we broke into two groups and toured Carmichael Outreach, a community based organization in Regina that “serves the marginalized of Regina by advocating on their behalf and by providing a range of programming that includes preventative measures and harm reduction.”  They emphasize a non-judgmental environment and a person to person approach, rather than a medical approach.

Carmichael Outreach offers a huge variety of programs, including a coffee room, community garden, food security and nutrition, a housing coordinator, an immunization program, a needle exchange program, used clothing and small household item depot, and more.  I had no idea that all of these programs were available in Regina, let alone all these programs being offered from one organization.

As I walked into the doors of Carmichael, soup cans in hand, I immediately felt very out of place.  First impression:  we are all white and they are all brown.  Clear divisions.  Us and them.  I tried to listen to the woman guiding the tour, telling us about the amazing, necessary work they do at Carmichael, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how privileged I am.

Usually privilege is obscure and very easy to ignore.  I can get through most days believing I have earned the things I have and that my life is the way it is because of my own hard work and the hard work of my parents.  That day at Carmichael, several of my positions of privilege (being white, middle class, able-bodied, not having a mental illness), were blatantly apparent.  It was obvious that my life is the way it is because of this privilege, and that made me feel uncomfortable and awkward and guilty.

I know that I don’t have to feel guilty about my privilege because I can’t help it, but I couldn’t stop feeling guilty throughout the tour.  I kept thinking about the combined value of just the clothing that my classmates and I were wearing and how much money that could bring to an organization like this.

Back to the tour.  I was really surprised at the number of containers of food they give out every day at Carmichael – up to 250 of the tall yogurt containers (which they are always in need of)!  The need for this food security program has gone up in the last five years, she told us.  I was also impressed with the used clothing and small household item depot, where anyone in need can come take them, free of charge.  This is something I could easily help out with by donating old clothes and winter attire that I don’t use anymore.  That’s one small way I could help make a difference, but I still feel guilty.

I am aware of a few other supports in Regina to assist families, including the Food Bank and Regina Women’s Transition House.  Other than those, I’m pretty ignorant about the supports available and I definitely need to do some research to change that.

This experience made me think about how I will support students who live in poverty situations in my future classroom.  First of all, I need to become more educated on the supports available for families in Regina so that I am able to refer families to these supports or make suggestions that might help them.  In my classroom, I want to have breakfast and snacks available for all my students, so as not to single anyone out but to make sure they have all eaten.  I also want to try to do classroom fundraisers for field trips or other experiences so that students aren’t left out if they cannot afford the trip.  I want to teach for equity – not equality – which means doing my best to level the playing field so everyone can learn to their full potential.

Also, I will need to examine the stereotypes I bring and be careful not to deficit theorize about students’ families.  For example, if parents don’t come to a parent-teacher interview, I hope to be invested in the relationship enough to know that it’s not that they don’t care about their child’s schooling, but that they might have other priorities that are taking over.  I want to be open, caring, and easy to talk to, not judgmental.  I also want to have high expectations for all my students and make sure I label them as at-promise rather than at-risk, because I know the expectations (high or low) I place on students are likely to be fulfilled.

Finally, I think it’s really important to talk about poverty in the classroom.  If I make it a taboo topic, I am placing shame on my students who live out that reality.  Without singling anyone out, we can talk and learn about it together.  I want to help my students break down stereotypes they might have about people who live in poverty and find ways our class can make a difference.  One resource I have been exposed to for doing this is the Ladybug Foundation.

So I have some ideas for what I need to do in my future classroom to support students who live in poverty.  But after my experience at Carmichael Outreach, I’m wondering:  What do I do with my feelings of guilt and awkwardness?  How do I close the gap between self and other that I felt?  How can I use my privilege to make a difference?

Any suggestions would be much appreciated!