Reflections On Our Practice As Social Justice: Educators: How Far We Have Come, How Far We Need To Go
This was a very interesting article. It followed the author's social justice education efforts down through the years (I see some parallels, but I have the benefit of MUCH more information) to the present, and then she looks at the things that may need to happen at other times to move forward. It was interesting to look at the evolution of social justice education from a single practitioner's standpoint, as it gave me some insights into ideas that I hold that need to change (the aforementioned inability to see my whiteness and privilege being one of them, of course). I liked seeing that the author made mistakes and did things wrong. It helps me to know that because I'm sure I'll make a few mistakes and I may do things wrong. Knowing up front that it probably WILL happen, and more than once, helps me to turn a mistake into a learning experience for both myself and my co-facilitator, as well as our participants for that day. I'm not, by any means, an expert on social justice education. And I have no problem with others learning from my mistakes. (After all, that's what they're for. To TEACH you something.)
I know that Kathy is one of Rebecca's heroes, and I was very interested in what she had to say. I actually learned a lot. But the key idea that I seized on from the article was the intersectionality of our identities and how this intersection drives us. I did quite a lot of thinking about this over the last couple of nights, and I'd like to share some of my ruminations with you. The first is that two people may share almost all of their identities. But that doesn't mean their identities affect them in the same way. It also doesn't mean that their identities INTERSECT in the same way. We all deal with this intersection differently. My mom and I are very alike in our identities, but VERY different in how we treat the world. We're both middle class white women who identify as cisgender, heterosexual, and Roman Catholic. We both spend a lot of time working. We enjoy a lot of the same leisure activities, and family is very important to both of us. But the way these identities intersect is totally different. She allows her judgments of people to color how she treats them, whereas I do not. I've often said I don't see color, creed, race, gender, etc... By this I mean I'm not making judgments on people because of these things. I accept people as they are, and am always looking for the good in them. (I can find good in most people, of some sort.) She looks for the bad. I accept that different people bring different things to the table. She thinks customs from other countries are weird or odd. So the fact that our identities are similar has NO EFFECT on how we interpret those identities and how we act them out.
And the intersectionality is sooooooooo fluid. In some situations, two of my identities interact in one way, but in another situation they may act in an opposite way. To me, this means that this intersectionality is dynamic and can change from situation to situation. When I started reading this article, it was in my head that my identities react to each other in a static way. (By static I mean unchanging.) But then I started reflecting and realized how easy it is to change the way this intersectionality works. One or two words different in what someone says to me, and I may have a completely different reaction to the sentence. My boss emphasized ambiguity once. He said look for ambiguity in tasks and refine them till there isn't any. He used a simple statement to prove his point: Tom didn't say Harry stole his wallet. But how many meanings can this statement have? I see eight. TOM didn't say Harry stole his wallet. (George did.) Tom DIDN'T say Harry stole his wallet. Tom didn't SAY Harry stole his wallet. (He implied it.) Tom didn't say HARRY stole his wallet. (He said George stole his wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry STOLE his wallet. (Tom lost it, and Harry found it.) Tom didn't say Harry stole HIS wallet. (He said Harry stole George's wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry stole his WALLET. (He said he stole his money clip.) So you can see how delicate words can be. We could react to the same sentence in very different ways. And a one or two word change can make a BIG difference. So we really need to look at how our identities are intersecting in the moment. Are they all involved, or are just a few involved? Are we acting in a triggered state? Do our identities intersect in certain ways around certain people or groups? Do we react to certain identities in certain ways? There are so many questions we can ask here, and if we ask them around different people, we're bound to get different answers to them.
It is my opinion that we all react to the things that happen in our lives based on which identities are intersecting at the time of the event. If our religious id is intersecting with our race id at the time of an event, we'll react differently to that event than we would if our gender id was interacting with our social class status id. And our reactions could be just a few words different, or they could be worlds apart. And I've come to the realization that my identities are what make me defensive or cautious or pedal to the metal. My identities drive me to respond in certain ways. When one is at the forefront, I respond in one way. If another is at the forefront, I respond in another way. I've come to realize my myriad identities need to be recognized as a big part of what drives me. My student identity drives me to get good grades. My employee identity drives me to do the best job I can at work. My white identity drives me to want to tell people what to do. My Roman Catholic identity drives my morals. These are just a few examples. But my identities are what drive me. If I'm in student mode at work, I have a hard time working. If I'm in work mode, I have a much easier time of it. And I've decided if I want to be a GOOD social justice educator, I need to be more conscious of exactly WHAT is driving me at any given moment: a tough task to be sure. I'm frequently oblivious to what is driving me, so becoming more aware is something I'll really have to work at. On the plus side, I do like to be challenged, so that'll make it a good thing for me to do. And so I'd like to challenge my readers (all four of them) to be more conscious of their identities and what is driving them when they interact with the world at large. I may try journaling, or maybe some brainstorming to see if I can get a better handle on this. Good luck to you in doing the same. (And feel free to leave a comment on this post for what you want to try and how you think it will work out for you.)