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.
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:
- What is your definition of racism?
- 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,
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 happen; 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,
What do you think about when it is silent?
I started my teaching career at a Quaker school in Long Island, NY. I had made the transition from working in higher education; had moved from Connecticut to New York; and was getting ready to marry my sweetheart. New job, new place, new friends, new life.
Though those were major transitions, for sure, I was not prepared for a different transition. I was not ready for silence.
As a Quaker school in a wealthy, suburban community, we did our best to uphold values of simplicity and honesty; humility and service; and kindness in the
Quaker Meeting House
light of each other. While we sometimes fell short of those ideals, one thing we did well was silence. Every week, our community came together and gathered in the Meeting House.
In my own upbringing, I was raised Catholic and actively practicing. I was used to the singing, prayers, recitations and even, what we joyfully refer to as, Catholic aerobics — the up-down-sit-stand-kneel-stand routine that occurs in a 60-minute Mass.
But, Meeting for Worship was different. Meeting for Worship meant we walked into a wooden shelter, walked into the space in silence, and sat. We just sat. At first, I was so uncomfortable. I kept looking around at others. I kept twiddling my thumbs. My eyes darted back and forth from row to row and seat to seat. I kept looking at my watch and wondering how much longer I had to sit on this uncomfortable, rickety, wooden bench. Only 2 minutes had passed since the last time I looked. I felt awkward when members of the Facing Bench, a small group of elders or community leaders, were sitting across from the rest of the gathering. I didn’t know whether to look at them, past them, away from them, or down at the floor.
I remember the day that Meeting for Worship changed for me. I was feeling particularly unsettled and just wanted to go home, curl up on my couch and watch television. I filed in silently with the rest of the school. I sat on the bench. And, I took in a deep breath. I began to feel a wave of warmth come over me. I felt my heart racing. And, I took in another deep breath. Then, I felt my body settle into the silence. In that moment, a deep sense of peace came over me. My mind was open; my heart was filling listening to the words of community members who were moved to speak; and I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away.
I spent four years in the practice of attending Meeting for Worship. After I left Friends Academy, I continued some of the practices I had learned. I started each meeting with a moment of silence. I taught my students to end each workshop in silent reflection, speaking when so moved.
But, time slips away and my life returned to the busy day-to-day world. Before I knew it, nearly 12 years had passed since I worked at a Quaker school.
Speed Dialogue Activity
Last night, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address to the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. And, after I gave my address and facilitated an activity, I could leave the conference and begin the long drive home. As I began to pack up my computer and grab my jacket, the conference organizers announced that it was time for Meeting for Worship. And, I felt that same sense of deep peace — just at the mention of the phase Meeting for Worship — and sat down.
For the next 40 minutes, I allowed my mind to settle. I gave myself over to silence. I listened to the words of community members who were moved to speak. And, I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away.
I reflected on the theme of the conference: (In)Equity, Past, Present and Future. I reflected on my own activism, my collective roll in this world. I reflected on my own stereotypes, biases, and powerful messages that I received about (M)yself and about (O)thers.
And, in that silence, I began to think about what stirred my conscience. I began to think about the power behind my own words and ideas. I began to think about the power behind the systems I am a part of and the ways I treat others.
What stirred my conscience is that silence is not the absence of noise; it is the presence of peace.
A wonderful friend and student from FA
Peace and Park,
Ms. Talusan, Ms. Rao, Dr. O, Ms. Ellis and Ms. Chen
Each year, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) hosts the People of Color Conference (PoCC). This conference really addresses the experiences of people who identify as having heritage from African, Latino, Asian, Native American peoples. This conference also invites people who identify as Allies – people from European heritage who actively work to dismantle systems of oppression.
This year, five Park School faculty traveled to Tampa, Florida for three full days of learning, engagement, and professional development: Ms. Talusan (Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Ms. Rao, Grade V; Dr. Moorehead-Slaughter, Psychologist; Ms. Ellis, Grade II and Ms. Chen, Mandarin).
But, what does it all mean? Why do we need a People of Color Conference? What happens there?
A beautiful thing happened on the way
It is quite possible that, throughout my day, I might only run into a handful of people of color — and, that handful is usually commuting in a car with me to and from Park School. So, okay, maybe I run into more than a small handful. For my entire life, and even now, most of my day is spent in the company of people who are White.
But, on that morning at Logan Airport, I kept running into colleagues and students who were flying to Tampa to attend the conference. And, yes, those people were people of color. We then all continued onto the plane. And, soon, the plane was filled with mostly people of color. Smiling faces. Warm greetings. Lots of conversations with seat mates who started out as strangers but who exited the plane with “I hope to see you at the conference!” (Bragging Moment: As a mini-celebrity, I got some extra “Hey! That’s Liza Talusan over there!” No shame in my game, friends. No shame in my game.).
I landed and made my way to the taxi line — filled with people of color heading in the same direction. My hotel lobby – filled with people of color. My walk to the convention center – filled with people of color. For the next three days, I would be surrounded by faces that looked similar to mine, skin tones in every shade darker and lighter (within a range) of mine, and attitudes and approaches that were as radical and loving as my own.
For the most part, we all wore name tags. But, even when we weren’t wearing our lime green lanyards, there was a sense of belonging and a sense of knowing — knowing that we shared a life experience that, despite our ethnic differences, we understood together. I never felt different. I never felt like I didn’t belong. I never felt like people were looking at me. I never felt like the only one. I never felt like I had to justify my existence or my commitment to equity.
Yes, these are all things I feel on a daily basis as a woman of color in a predominantly white community. And, I am not alone.
Liberation through Education
I participated in sessions that explored the liberation through education. I talked with teachers who believed that their jobs — their calling — was to create conditions for children to learn, and that these conditions must be affirming, challenging, and culturally reflective. I learned that racism must be dismantled through education. I learned that there is power in numbers and power in love. I learned that we must “comfort the disturb and disturb the comfortable.” I learned that we, as educators, send powerful messages about who belongs and who does not. I learned that even the slightest omission — being left out of a conversation or left out of a hiring process — has massive impact on a school’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I learned that I am not alone in this fight.
My friend and fellow faculty member, Ms. Rao, recalled a story she had heard in a keynote address that week. She said the speaker had the great fortune of growing up in a school where the principal was an Indian woman. That principal wore a sari every single day to work. When the young girl and her mother were out, one day, she saw a group of women in saris walking towards her. This young girl said to her mother, “Look, Mom! A group of principals!” Look, a group of principals. That would not have been my first response. I have grown up with stereotypes about others, and never in my life have I met a principal who is Indian. And, I certainly have not met any principals who come to work in culturally relevant clothing. If I saw that group of women, I simply would have said, “Look, Mom. Indian women.” But, no. This young girl saw leaders. This young girl saw change makers. How are we teaching our own children who are leaders? What do our children believe that leaders look like? Dress like? Talk like?
I had the great fortune of presenting a workshop on culturally relevant leadership to a room of over 125 people. Thankfully, a number of people stayed after to talk to me. Some cried. Some simply said, “Thank you. I have no other words. Thank you.” Some were upset with what I shared and asked for action steps about how to move forward. Some smiled. I believe that the opportunity to talk about identity and leadership was transformative for many people in that room that day.
Our messages our powerful.
As parents, teachers, learners and caring adults, it is our responsibility to provide conditions for children to learn about different cultures, experiences, people, approaches and lives. We are responsible for giving our children information about who they are and from where they come. We are responsible for giving our children opportunities to define and shift who they are and where they want to be.
At Park School, we are constantly on this journey. And, together, we make things matter. I am thankful to have traveled this journey with Park teachers. Through writing poetry and haikus, eating dinner by a large picture window, and powerful conversations after dinner, we got a chance to build capacity for this work.
To read more conversations about the People of Color Conference, go to Twitter and use the hashtag #naispocc to read what others have posted!
Peace and Park,