2014-11-25

by Emzi Miller

 

On November 14th, we had a Leadership and Development (L&D) Day at Seattle Public Schools' (SPS) headquarters. Held twice a month, L&D Days are a break from in-school service that bring the corps together for professional development and group-based reflection.

The day was centered around a four-hour racial equity training facilitated by members of SPS' Equity and Race Advisory Committee. The training was intended to deepen our understanding of systemic racism as corps members serving in schools attended primarily by low-income students of color. It is proper that we as a corps regularly discuss issues of race and racism, as well as privilege and oppression in general. The training was a wonderful opportunity for this.

We began by exploring some key terms. The presenters looked at racism as an institution that gives white people power and privilege over people of color in a myriad of overt and hidden ways. They introduced us to the framework of intersectionality, which posits that race inflects all other dimensions of human identity and experience, such as gender, sexuality and class.

We then did an exercise that allowed us to apply this framework to our own lives and to meditate upon who we were as racial beings. After brainstorming on sticky notes, we wrote reflections on our own histories with race, chronicling our most significant racial experiences from birth to the present. We then split off into trios to share our thoughts.

Articulating myself as a racial being and thinking about how my race interacts with my other identities is always an interesting process. I am white and upper-middle class, and I have attended private schools all my life. My racial and economic backgrounds have afforded me opportunities that many of my students at Roxhill do not have.

Yet I am more than my race and class. I am also a queer and transgender individual with a non-binary gender identity that most people do not understand. I have also fought social anxiety disorder my whole life. Talking about my own intersections and hearing about other people's was quite edifying.

Later, we discussed how to handle microaggressions -- small, everyday comments or actions that invalidate people for their race or for their other marginalized identities, often inadvertently. The presenters warned that even when we intend well, we can still end up hurting other people in spite of our good intentions. Acting out different scenarios in small groups, we practiced both interrupting microaggressions and being interrupted while making microaggressions. The exercise emphasized how challenging it is to hold people accountable without leaving them feeling alienated or disposable. Yet as we were told, if we all approached these situations as opportunities for growth, they would not make us feel so uneasy.

The training concluded at lunchtime, but it was definitely the highlight of my day. I am thankful to have had such a candid dialogue around race with my fellow corps members. Although we still have more work to do, I am glad that this conversation is happening.

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