In case you missed it, my shiny mission statement on the front of my website is:
“My vision for education is one in which all differences are included and welcomed; education is flexible, relevant and leads towards positive social change.”
It’s a grandiose statement that took me a while to come up with (thanks to my brother), but it does encompass the kind of education I want to be a part of and advocate for.
Sometimes this is challenged – I am required to walk my talk, even when it’s awkward.
Most of the time I feel like I am in a privileged situation and in a lot of instances I sit in the majority, this was the case recently: I was booked to speak for a conference. As I got off the phone, having negotiated my fee and the content I would deliver, I realised I had forgotten to ask about the programme’s representation of people of colour. My first thoughts were: do I need to? Then doubts crept in: they’ve already booked me now with me not asking that question, will they think I’m a job’s worth? Would they have booked me if I had asked that question? And the big one, what if their response was:
We don’t have any people of colour on our programme at the moment, but if you want to give up your slot on the programme for someone you can.
– what would I do in that situation? How far am I willing to be an ally?
Whilst I sat with these moral dilemmas, I dropped the organiser an email asking the question. Up to this point we’d had pretty quick back-and-forward communication. After asking this question, it took two days for them to reply – in the virtual-world-context this seemed like a long time. This delay fuelled my insecurities: should I have brought the issue up? Is it my place to when I’m not a person of colour myself? Will I still work with them if they give me a negative response?
Which got me thinking further – I was going through this inner turmoil around the situation, even though I was in the position of privilege: what must it be like for my colleagues and friends who are people of colour who can’t not bring their colour into the conversation? In lots of educational settings still, just being person of a colour who is a teacher, leader or person of influence is a political statement in itself. I know this one, sometimes by saying the name of my partner I know a political statement has been presented, because I am do not conform to the heteronormative (when really all I wanted to do was have a moan about her not doing the washing up or something).
There was a lot of debate over the summer over on #edutwitter about representation and people of influence and people in positions of privilege giving a platform and voice for minority groups. I saw a lot of things that disheartened me coming from teachers. A lot of what I read did not fit in with my vision of education – a place where all differences are included and welcomed.
In this instance, the organiser got back to me and said “great, is there any people of colour you can recommend who speak on the topic?” It was at that point I realised that I couldn’t(!). So I then spent an hour and a half remembering people I had met, looking for friends of friends, reading people’s work – so that I could make some recommendations.
Again, it took extra work to for me to advocate equality for a minority group. This has happened before, when leading on PSHE lessons I have spent extra time going through search engines to ensure that my resources visually represent a range of people – that a usual ‘group of teenagers drinking’ wouldn’t show. This is a similar debate when discussion positive discrimination: by ‘doing extra’ or ‘creating extra opportunities’ for minority groups we are not being ‘equal.’ However, my belief is, that until society/education has become equal we will have to make more of an effort and take extra time to ensure we are at the same level – be that representation, pay, work opportunities etc. It was an important thing for me to do in this situation – to walk my talk.
It brings up the question of ally-ship and what it actually means:
How far should we go?
How far do we put ourselves out or inconvenience ourselves?
How much extra time do we spend making equality happen in our classrooms and schools?
Maybe even sacrifice? I didn’t have to answer the question: would I give up my position to speak for a person of colour? – this time.