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Are WE Ready?

What a great turnout at the film screening of “I’m Not Racist… Am I?” at Park School. Thank you to the many faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, friends, community members and colleagues who came out on a(nother) late night at Park! 

I have been traveling as part of a facilitation team with the film for over a year. And, over the course of the screenings, there has always been a pattern of dialogue during the debrief. Every single time (with the exception of one very prepared and progressive school), the dialogue focuses on the question “Are all white people racist?” Despite 90 minutes of young people sharing their stories; letting viewers into their lives; the outrage of injustice; and the friendships that develop, dialogue focuses on a 6 second moment in the film.

But, I am thankful to add Park School, in my experience, to the community that asked more than that 6-second question. 

At Park, the dialogue was rich, humble, assertive, and actionable. I’m sure people were individually wrestling with moments in the film. I’m sure people drove home with questions. I’m sure that partners wondered how the information related to their families.IMG_3605

But, in that theater, in that moment, people asked, “What do we do?”

As educators, parents and caring adults, we asked ourselves whether or not our children are ready for this type of work and this type of film. But, one follow up comment really moved us in a different — and thoughtful — direction: “Are we, as adults, ready to really talk about race? And, what does ready mean?”

So, Park School. Are we?

Are we ready to talk about Whiteness? Are we ready to talk about how we participate in racism? Are we ready to talk about how we benefit from systemic racism? How there are people in our community who, daily, are faced with racism and racial prejudice? 

If last night was any indication, then I say “Yes.” 

There were many wonderful ideas that were brought up last night:

  • Another screening for all faculty and staff
  • Another screening for parents, including some of our older students and children
  • Opportunities to talk more deeply about race in affinity groups
  • Opportunities to talk more deeply about race in mixed-groups
  • Programs that our own children and students can participate in, similar to the ones the young people in the film went through
  • Programs that we, as adults, can participate in, similar to the ones the young people in the film went through
  • Opportunities to interact with other parents and students from other independent schools around issues of race

I say, “YES.”

Last night, I asked the audience to think about these questions:

  1. What is your definition of racism?
  2. Does racism still exist in the United States?

As we at Park continue to think about the film, the experiences of the students and their families, and our own roles in race and racism, I encourage you to seek out others who engage in this conversation. If you have not seen the film, you can still talk with others about race and racism. 

As we move forward, remember these three steps: Learn. Say. Do. 

Learn what you need to know.

Say what you’ve come to understand.

Do take action for justice.

Peace and Park, 

Liza

 

ON RACE

I admit, I was worried about having a school-wide dialogue on race. But, probably not for the reasons you would imagine.

For most of my career, I have traveled to different schools and universities to engage in workshops about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, in almost 20 years, I have seen the spectrum of comfort in talking about race. Some schools have brought me in because their communities have never talked about race. Some schools have brought me in because they are in the midst of talking about race — either because of a proactive movement or, more common, as a result of an incident on campus. Some schools have brought me in because they have been working diligently on issues of race and want to continue their commitment.

So, which is most difficult? Can you guess?

It might surprise you. 

I have found, personally, that the ones that are most difficult are the schools and organizations that have been working diligently on issues of race and want to continue their commitment. 

But, to be clear, there are two types of approaches to the schools and organizations that have been doing the work: 1) the kinds that fully commit as allies and embrace that learning must always hapdownloadpen; that identify structural racism, and 2) the kinds that are like, “Why are we still talking about this? We already know this stuff. We’ve done it already.”

Depending on which of those two a school or organization is affects the dialogue. 

This past year, I was part of a team that was revamping our hiring processes at Park School. The effort was done to minimize racial bias in the hiring process — which inherently exists when a hiring process does not think about this dynamic. It was a change at school, for sure. Time and again, as aspects of the hiring process was rolled out, I heard from colleagues who were unhappy with the changes. The other day, I happened to be walking behind two colleagues — who did not realize I was there — who were commenting on how ridiculous this new hiring process was. 

All of those individuals who expressed frustration were White. 

This is what racism does to us. 

Racism, especially for people who are White, makes us upset when our privilege is challenged. Racism makes us angry when we read statements like the one you just finished. And, when that privilege is challenged for people who are White, they see changes as “unfair” or “ridiculous” or “a waste of time that I actually had to interview for this job” (real comments I have heard). For people of color, they see these changes as “opportunities” and as “doors opening.” Our new hiring process disrupts the practices of racial privilege. Our new hiring processes disrupts patterns of racial bias in which people who are White are seen as “better fit” or “more qualified” or “I feel like I connect with her/him better.” Our new hiring processes changes the ways in which people have access to job openings that have, historically, included only (or very mostly) people who are White. Our own hidden biases have created barriers to access to people of color. And, the changes in our hiring processes have made people upset. 

If you’re reading this and thinking, “No, Liza. I’m upset because of other reasons.” Then, I ask you to take a moment and ask yourself, “What if this was true? What if I am upset because my White privilege is being challenged?” You just might experience what people of color feel in the hiring process. 

Still not convinced, check out the decades of research that has demonstrated that, despite good intent, racial bias is alive and well in hiring processes. 

I am part of a documentary project that opens the door to dialogue about race and racism. With a provocative title, this documentary typically causes two reaction: 1) “Gasp! How dare anyone call me racist!” or 2) “Wow, yes, I participate in a system of racism. I must do something.”

I’m looking forward to our film screening and talk-back at Park School. I’m looking forward to my colleagues, fellow parents, friends and community members thinking more deeply about race and racism. And, yes, I’m looking forward to a lively dialogue about it afterwards.

Here are a few different articles to read prior to the film screening that will help to frame our dialogue on race. If you can’t make it, I’d love to spend some time talking and meeting up, too! These conversations and reflections are not a one-time events. 

Nicholas Kristoff’s article: “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” 

An article focused on teachers talking about race

Article last year about students at NY independent schools and race

Finally a great video that highlights systemic oppression and barriers for communities of color. 

Peace and Park, 

Liza

 

 

Transgender Day of Visibility

On March 30th, we honor Transgender Day of Visibility — a day, though we all know it should be honored all year, all the time, every day — where we focus on the lives, experiences, and visibility of people who identify as transgender.

Given the climate of our country right now, and the recent passing of the bill in North Carolina that requires people who are transgender to use restrooms of their assigned birth sex, it is important that we engage in conversations about humanity, kindness, awareness, and advocacy of all people. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 3.32.51 PMThe other day, I took the opportunity to show this beautiful TED talk by Geena Rocero, a fashion model who, after her career had already skyrocketed, came out as transgender. I also want to note that Geena Rocero is Filipina! My daughter was in my office as I was watching the video, and I invited her to watch it with me. She’s 9 years old. No, she is not too young.

What did my 9-year old see? She saw a woman talk about her identity. She saw a woman be confident, proud, and vocal about her identity. She saw a woman get up on stage and be vulnerable. 

I’m proud to work at a school where we openly talk about gender identity, gender expression, stereotypes and gender expectations. But, I also know that it took a lot of work for me to feel comfortable talking about these issues. As a cisgender woman, I haven’t had the experience of anyone questioning my gender or gender identity; haven’t had to choose a bathroom that didn’t align with my gender identity; and haven’t had to think about whether others are using pronouns that match my gender identity. Those are not always experiences that people who are transgender experience. Why? Because not all of us are comfortable, yet, with difference. Not all of us are comfortable with gender expression and identity. 

And, making us (cisgender folk) comfortable is not the responsibility of people who are transgender. It is our responsibility, individually, to think about how we learned about gender and gender identity; to think about how we feel when gender norms are contested; and to reframe how we understand the very diverse gender spectrum. 

If you are still on that journey of learning about gender identity and gender expression, here is a great video by the Trans Educational Resource Services as well as the TED Talk by Geena Rocero. 

Finally, there are changes we can make. Here is a great example of how a Kroger grocery store made a statement at their location. 12472661_10201578078290098_354569431481058982_n

Peace and Park, 

Liza