I’ve been reflecting recently on what is involved in teaching for liberation – especially in what might be involved for me, as a white person, to teach in a way which demonstrates that Black Lives Matter and is anti-racist.
The first thing I can do is to make sure that I am handing over the microphone whenever appropriate, and encouraging everyone to listen to people of colour. Paying attention is the first step – and believing what people of colour say, and acting on their requests.
In doing this, however, I need to make sure that I’m not putting inappropriate burdens on those I’m trying to help. Black people and other people of colour who are members my community don’t have any responsibility to educate me or others – I’m very grateful to those of you who choose to offer that, but I don’t want to pressure anyone. That being so, to try and pass over my teaching role to people of colour isn’t always the right move. Giving opportunities and listening is important. Forcing people to speak, requiring emotional or other unpaid work from them, or disclaiming my own responsibilities as someone with a teaching role in my community may be just as damaging – as Sophie Bevan says in a recent blog post, she always has to “answer banal questions about where I’m from or justify my existence in white spaces” and the frustration of that is “constant, inescapable and oppressive”. Sometimes I do feminist work – but I don’t like it when I’m in a room full of men and they all look to me for the ‘feminist’ or ‘women’s’ take on a topic, and so it would be wrong of me to expect people of colour to automatically take on anti-racist work.
I have to hold a balance between taking responsibility for my own education and sharing what I know with other white people, and remembering that as a white person much of the racist structure of our society is hidden from me. There will always be new perspectives to hear and more to learn, so I am always a learner even when I am also in a teaching position.
Actually, this is a familiar position and not restricted to the subject of race. I frequently teach about theology and the diversity of understandings of God/the Spirit/Love/the Divine which exist in my community – obviously I have to do that while unable to know everything about God! I do think I know some things about God, from experience and paying attention to other’s experiences, and I know some things about talking about God, because I’ve worked on those problems for years. But I’m also still a learner – learning from God and learning from other people.
This position demands a willingness to take risks – to say something and see whether others agree, to try and understand something and risk getting it wrong. It demands a willingness to say that I have made mistakes in the past – which I absolutely have – and to expect to make more in the future. It also means trusting the participants in my courses not to take me as the ultimate authority: knowing that they will listen to me, but also supporting their own processes of exploration, and hoping that if I do make a mistake, they will uncover that for themselves and be able to make a correction. How? In anti-racist work, probably by listening to and believing more people of colour.
In order to support other learners in that, I need to continually model the process. Some resources I’ve found helpful in getting to where I am today include:
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge
So you want to talk about race, Ijeoma Oluo
White privilege, Kalwant Bhopal
Some resources I hope to engage with in the future to learn more include:
Talking About Race from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (thanks to my partner Piangfan Angela Naksukpaiboon for passing on this link)
Me and White Supremacy, Layla F Saad
How to be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
Rigorous, a magazine by writers and editors of colour
I also try and donate to relevant organisations when I’m able to. Two I’ve supported recently are:
Colours Youth Network, which supports young Black and people of colour who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex (QTIBPOC)
Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which works with schools and communities to empower young people and improve their opportunities
Supporting a charity is also a chance to learn about their work and listen to their perspectives.
There are also opportunities online. These include the formal opportunities offered by organisations (for Quakers, both Quakers in Britain and Woodbrooke run courses) and informal opportunities. For many years now, I have been reading in social media spaces, where people take the time to make their personal experiences public and make explicit links to the political. This is harder to make recommendations for, because it has to start with your choice of social media setting and it works when you explore, follow links, reach out, and seek people who have different experiences.
I think Twitter, which is structured in such a way as to encourage this kind of public sharing, is especially good for learning by listening. If you’re new to Twitter and want to learn, as well as following people you’ve heard of, try exploring hashtags. For example, the recent #PublishingPaidMe hashtag revealed the way in which black authors are offered smaller advances than white authors in similar situations, and #BlackInTheIvory shares the experiences of black people working in academia.
Maybe I’ll see you there. White people, let’s be anti-racist learners together.