This post was originally published on José Vilson’s blog.
“Your silence will not protect you”
Audre Lorde calls for our silence to be transformed into language and action in her 1977 speech. But if our silence will not protect us, then why do we hold on to it for comfort? Why do revert to silence when we witness, see and read about the injustices and cruelty of this world? Why do we let fear take over? Why do we let compliance sink in?
There are many reasons for silence. But I am not looking to hear reasons and excuses for your silence or lack of action. I am here to tell you that while educators dominate the Twitter-sphere with their skyrocketing number of tweets and followers, only a small fraction of those tweets are dedicated to discussions on racism, social justice, inequity, Islamophobia, homophobia and other systematic prejudices. Conversations are happening, but they’re a very minor, and often times you see them in spaces where people of colour have already paved the way for them, such as on #EduColor and#SoJustEdu.
Pew Research Centre published survey results on social media conversations about race. According to the survey, “two of the most used hashtags around social causes in Twitter history focus on race and criminal justice: #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter”.
So then why are educators so silent when it comes to race conversations?
According to Pew Research Centre’s survey, “roughly two-thirds (67%) of whites who use social media say that none of things they post or share pertain to race”. Why are Twitter’s most dominant users silent on issues that concern the very youth who are driving these conversations online? How can educators be silent on issues that concern our kids? We talk about student voice and student choice, and all the other #stuvoice trends in teaching, so how can we ignore their voices in the real world? Social media is the real world. To our youth, social media is their voice. Yet, we ignore. And ignore. And we pretend it doesn’t exist.
White educators need to break the silence. They need to call for action against racism, prejudice, Islamophobia, and inequities in the classroom, school and the education system. Melinda D. Anderson, a fellow #EduColor activist and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, recently wrote about the necessity for teacher education to include conversations on racism, culture and ethnicity. She says “Countless time, energy, and resources are spent trying to improve the field of teaching to meet the needs of a growing, diverse student populace – and no one wants to speak the words “race” or “culture” or “racism.” She goes on to explain that this isn’t a problem that needs to be unpacked by white teachers only. We all need to have these conversations together as there are hidden and learned biases and assumptions that we all need to confront.
I am not necessarily saying everyone needs to start tweeting and writing about social justice, racism and inequity in education. However, I do believe that if you’re active online, join chats, blog often, and have something of a PLN (professional learning network) then it’s important to have these conversations with your network. It’s not enough to favourite tweets or blog posts and move on. You need to be actively engaged in the conversation because it will truly make a difference. We don’t grow if we don’t try to come out of that comfort zone that we’re so used to being in. And more importantly, change does not just happen because we have good intentions, or we wish it.
Change happens with words and actions.
And why should we stand by silently watching others making change when we have the power to make it ourselves. So I challenge you today: This new year reflect on your own practice, what can you do to make a difference for marginalized students? Will you speak up next time during a faculty meeting? Will you write about how a practice or policy in your school needs to change? Will you amplify voices that are rarely heard by giving them the space, while stepping back?
Whatever action you decide to do and words you decide to use, do what feels right for you, because at the end of the day, while movements move the masses, there are individuals behind the movements, and it’s believing in our individuality and the power of our own voice that can truly make a difference.
In the spirit of love, solidarity, and justice,