Tag Archives: privilege

Moving Towards Reconciliation: Why Planting Trees Is Not Enough

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson 

Originally posted via UR S.T.A.R.S.

What does ‘reconciliation’ actually mean?

Like many, we entered our post-secondary education with limited information about Treaties and the ways in which the two of us are positioned in society as a result of our privilege. We have spent the past three years learning and unlearning alongside mentors (professors) and like-minded peers – all of which has contributed to our personal and professional growth during our time in the Faculty of Education. We established S.T.A.R.S. (Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society) Regina in 2014 as an outlet for our exploration as socially just, anti-oppressive educators.

Despite progression towards change in our hearts and minds, we continue to struggle with the disconnect between thought and action. Yes, we are our own toughest critics; however, it is important to be critical of ourselves because that’s how we will continue working through our privilege/push ourselves to keep doing this work.

We know reconciliation is important, but how can our inner changes translate into outer action?

False Facade

In the work we have done, one thing we have struggled with is our ability to switch off or walk away from the work, especially when it becomes most discomforting. We can do this because of our privilege.

Although performance (meaning the ability to “try on” an identity as an anti-oppressive educator) can be a positive thing, there is a fine line between using performance as a starting point and completely abandoning anti-oppressive work while continuing to receive recognition and praise for it.

For example, although we both believe that meaningfully engaging in ceremony is part of the reconciliation process, there have been many times that we have turned down opportunities to participate because we were “too busy” or had other things to do.

Ultimately, our lists of priorities that prevented us from participating was our privilege in disguise.

Our privilege means that we can say and think things like: I don’t need to go to this; this doesn’t affect me; my life won’t change whether I go or not. Yet, even when we have participated in ceremony the potential to be unaffected by the experience is a reality – we can cut ourselves off from it just enough so that we are not personally affected by it.

What is being an ally?

We would love to be able to say we are allies of our Indigenous friends and colleagues; however, we realize that we cannot give ourselves that status. Showing up to ceremony does not make us allies; putting ourselves in a physical space is not enough. We need to make a consistent effort to authentically work towards reconciliation rather than superficially and periodically visiting the idea – committing to being witnesses, not tourists.

Receiving Cookies

Something else we’ve struggled with is receiving so much praise for our work with S.T.A.R.S. Regina. Noel Starblanket often wears his S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt and often commends our group when he speaks. Our #TreatyEdCamp event was recognized in the Legislative Assembly. Dr. Jennifer Tupper, the Dean of Education, sends out tweets like this:

We are grateful for any recognition we receive, but it is still problematic. Due to our privilege, we are positioned as “good white people” and praised for doing very little. Dr. Michael Cappello calls this kind of praise “receiving cookies.” We’ve been really uncomfortable with being positioned in this way and are unsure of how to respond respectfully.

Moving Forward – ReconciliACTION

This post started with us asking each other:  What have we ACTUALLY done? We provided opportunities for learning through PD events like #ReadtheTRC; we brought teachers together to learn about integrating Treaty Education into all subject areas; we’ve had many conversations about power, privilege, and reconciliation. But what effect is that ACTUALLY having on us and others? How do we move from talk to action?

Although we are still wrestling with these questions, we’ve tried to identify a few of our next steps:

  1. Listen to Indigenous colleagues when they say this is good work. 

Although it’s important to be critical of ourselves, we must be careful to not fall into a cycle of cynicism. We won’t dismiss encouragement and praise from our wonderful allies, but we will not to take it as more than it is. We cannot allow these ‘cookies’ to lead to our complacency or tempt us into apathy. We must remember that our Indigenous allies are happy to see these starting points, but also expect much more from us. While we are grateful for any recognition, the feedback and input of our Indigenous colleagues and friends is most important because they have been directly impacted by this history. It is these relationships that are central to reconciliation and our movement forward.

  1. Start with conversations.

We know they are ‘Calls to Action’, not ‘Calls to Conversation’, however, we need conversation to guide us to the right ways to do this work. As Gary Edwards explained at Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, we know we’re in a time of real change because nobody knows what to do or how to do it.

We also need to have conversations with our peers, colleagues, profs, siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who might not know about the horrific historical injustice, or the painstaking work put into the TRC, or what the Calls to Action mean for reconciliation. Although this conversation may be uncomfortable and difficult, we must commit to it. It’s far too important to remain silent and our silences will not protect us anyway. These truths must be spoken.

  1. Build relationships.

We have often heard, “Reconciliation is about relationships,” but wondered how we could go about springing up relationships out of nowhere. The best we can come up with is putting ourselves in spaces where there is potential for relationship building. We will participate in ceremony and seek out public events, like the lecture by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair and the roundtable discussion Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, where connections and relationships might start to form. We will listen to the advice of Emerging Elder-in-Residence Joseph Naytowhow, who encouraged us to use laughter as a way to enter into relationship.

  1. Take responsibility. Pick a Call to Action and commit to it.

After Sinclair spoke, many people stood up in the lengthy line for the microphone to ask questions that sounded like: “…So what do we do?” to which he replied, “I just wrote a 5000-page report. What are you willing to do?” He urged us to read the report, or at least some of it:

He encouraged us to pick a Call to Action, to work to make it happen, and to never stop.

Sinclair used the metaphor of planting trees to describe the importance of starting to do this work and never stopping. We will not see reconciliation fulfilled in our lifetime; our kids may not see it fulfilled in theirs. But we need to start with planting seeds and teaching our children to water them so that their children might see the saplings and then their children might see the roots deepen, the trunk widen, and the branches fill out. We need to commit to this work for future generations.

We commit to Call to Action #62. We will teach about residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada. We will continually learn how to integrate and utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into our classrooms and we will provide opportunities to help our colleagues do the same.

The Choice

We’ve realized that instead of carrying the weight of undoing colonialism and achieving reconciliation, we need to start with planting seeds. Is planting the seeds enough? Not even close. But we have to start somewhere. And for us, it starts with the decision to commit to this work for the rest of our lives.

We will need help along the way to ensure we do not give in to our privilege, which will tempt us to apathy, to smugness, to being tourists rather than working towards witnessing. Will you challenge us when we set foot there?

 

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is life’s work, and we must choose it every day.

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Feedly and Feminism

I started using Feedly about a year ago, at the suggestion of the brilliant Katia Hildebrandt.  I immediately saw the value in using it; however, as I struggled to find time to read and share articles over the summer and throughout my internship, my use of Feedly dwindled.

Evaluating My Feedly 

Since the start of this new semester, I have been getting back into the swing of tweeting and sharing content daily, and am now inspired to get back into using Feedly as a tool for this.  This week, I took some time to evaluate my Feedly page.  Here is what it looked like when I started:

Feedly Before

As you can see, I had previously followed quite a few blogs on feminism and race, a couple on mental health, and one ed tech blog. I decided to expand some of the categories I already had, to add to my ed tech category, and to start a new category for inclusive ed. Additionally, I decided to delete some of the blogs that I usually skip past on my reader. I think getting rid of blogs you aren’t reading is an important part of keeping a Feedly page so you don’t get bogged down by content that isn’t useful to you.

How I Found Blogs to Follow

I used the Explore option to search for topics, such as “ed tech.”  After clicking on a site, I also found it useful to check out the Related Feeds that Feedly suggests.  I also checked out The 50 Best Blogs for Future Teachers and Teach 100 – Top Educational Blogs, as suggested by Katia and Alec.  After searching “inclusive education” in Explore and not finding anything, I googled “inclusive education blogs” and found this article – Top Ten Blogs About Inclusive Education, which was really helpful.  I added several blogs from that article (using the Google Chrome Feedly extension), including Eliminating the Box, a blog by an inclusion facilitator in Alberta.  On her page, she includes a list of blogs she follows as a widget on the right-hand side, so I also looked at some of those blogs.  As you can see, one thing leads to another which leads to another, which is why exploring Feedly facilitated some of my procrastination this week.

(Side note:  Click here for a hilarious post about why procrastinators procrastinate.)

What I Look For in a Blog

When I’m deciding whether or not to follow a blog, I ask myself a few questions.

  • Do I like the way this blog looks?
  • Is it useful content that will help me grow as a person and/or teacher?
  • How related is this to my current context (ie. where I live)?
  • Who writes this blog?  What is their background in the field?
  • Will I actually click on these articles or will I scroll past them every day?

Then I make a judgment call (usually after excessive overthinking has taken place). The good thing about Feedly is you can always delete content after if you decide it isn’t useful!

Everyday Feminism 

One digital media site that I find extremely useful is Everyday Feminism.  Their mission is “to help people dismantle everyday violence, discrimination, and marginalization through applied intersectional feminism and to create a world where self-determination and loving communities are social norms through compassionate activism.”  Here is a screenshot of how it looks on my Feedly:

Everyday Feminism

They post articles on topics such as privilege, trans&GNC, LGBTQIA, race, class, religion, and more.  I love that their articles are engaging, clear, and easy to read.  This site is helpful because it allows me (as a white, middle class, cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied woman) to read stories/perspectives from people who experience oppression in a variety of areas.  Reading these articles helps me understand the privilege I hold and allows me to learn about issues that others (and many of my future students) face every single day.

My Updated Feedly

Here is a screenshot of what my Feedly looks like now:

Feedly After

I will definitely continue to update my Feedly reader by adding/deleting content as I see fit.  I look forward to using it as a tool for learning and sharing!

What is your favourite blog that you follow?  How did you come across it and what makes it so awesome?

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?

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!

Response to a Critique of the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign

I – along with the rest of the world – was recently captivated by Emma Watson’s moving speech on feminism at the UN, which launched the ‘HeForShe’ campaign.  First of all, Emma Watson has been my girl crush since I was in junior high, and second, I was pleased to hear her clarify the definition of feminism, as it has been misunderstood by many.  Watson states that feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”  She goes on to invite men to join the movement for gender equality, pointing out that gender stereotypes imprison men as well as women.  Finally, she ends by encouraging everyone to ask themselves, “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”  I found that ending really empowering because it implies that even though I may feel small, I can make a difference and there is no reason to wait.

Now, that video sat well with me for about a week.  I talked to others about the speech, praising Emma Watson and spreading word of the ‘HeForShe’ campaign.  I did have a prickle of discomfort when I was thinking about the name of the campaign because it seems to imply that men are stepping in and saving women, but I pushed it aside and told myself I was being nitpicky.

Then I read this critique of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, which points out some problematic things:

  • There has been little discussion of what men who sign the pledge can actually do to improve the lives of women.
  • Emma Watson acknowledges that she was privileged because her parents and mentors did not expect less of her because she was a girl, but does not acknowledge how being white, wealthy, able-bodied, or cisgender have affected her life experience.
  • The campaign reinforces the gender binary and excludes those “whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes,” the very people who are more likely to be oppressed.
  • The campaign fails to invite those whose voices need to be heard the most – the voices of non-white women, trans men, and non-binary people.
  • There has been little discussion about how HeForShe can improve the lives of women and non-binary people who experience intersectional oppressions, like racism, transphobia, and fatphobia.

The critique ends with the suggestion that Watson should have handed the microphone to Laverne Cox (transgender actress, LGBT activist) or Janet Mock (transgender woman, transgender rights activist) if she really wanted to be a “game-changer” for feminism.  After reading this critique, I felt a little defensive of Emma Watson.  I have also been in a position where I was called out for not acknowledging how my privilege shaped my life experiences.  That’s the tricky thing about privilege – it can easily slip by unnoticed when you’re the one who has it.  Also, I wondered, isn’t she managing her privilege by using it for good in standing up for women whose voices aren’t heard?  (Except that she is only standing up for certain women.)

I agree with the critique in its concerns about the exclusion of non-binary people and I’m really ashamed that I didn’t notice that when I first listened to the speech.  I need to get back into the practice of being critical of what I read and listen to.  Additionally, haven’t been able to find anything that explain what the ‘HeForShe’ campaign will actually do to end persisting inequalities.

What do you think of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign?  Did you initially agree with it, or were you critical of its shortcomings?  Could Emma Watson have used her privilege in a more productive way?