” In order to decolonize our minds, we must begin to surrender participation in whatever sphere of coercive hierarchical domination we enjoy individual and group privilege.”
Yesterday our Head of School at Lakefield College shared a virtual talk with our community. She located her positionality as a white woman and spoke of the work to be done at our school with respect to the systematic racism and violence we have witnessed in the U.S. This is messy work but it is also mandatory work no matter the position in which you approach it. The day after this talk, we gathered in small groups with staff and students to talk about a path forward, though I am not sure ‘path’ is the right word; labyrinth maybe.
In these meetings, a young person asked me, “this is so hard to address; as a white privileged teenage girl, how do I really help? What if I try to do something, but I don’t know what they are going through?” I empathized with her and I was also proud of her for asking these impossible questions. It’s the start of a long journey to locate her positionality in a fight that is predominately rooted in her ancestor’s treatment of ‘other’. She will struggle with the realities of her colonizer background as she realizes she has a very big part to play in this fight; as she discovers the very subtle acts of racism surrounding her that have informed her thinking for most of her life; that she must now undo all of it. This is her work to be done, and it ain’t going to be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is.
I suppose this blog post is a note for her and for all of our other young people grappling with these questions right now. I will speak to my struggle to locate myself in this fight and offer, in a small way, a suggestion to nudge forward as an outsider. Of course, this isn’t really my own work, but work borrowed from those who have gone before me to ally with the humans who we have oppressed for all of these years.
Locating positionality: Locating positionality is the first step in the path towards joining this fight. I will offer my position here and hope that you feel you will be able to do the same. I am a white, middle class, heterosexual female who was born and raised in rural Ontario. I am of Scottish descent, and my family came to Canada 5 generations ago to farm in the Keene area. For this reason, my ancestors are colonizers. They are colonizers of the Indigenous people and the land that they farmed.
Though neither of my parents attended university, I have spent much of my life in educational institutions as a student, a teacher, and a researcher. This time in higher education institutions gives me power. It affords me a language and voice that many do not possess and I am acutely aware that I must not take it for granted. I am also aware that I can use this position to give voice to those who are silenced by the structures of society. Anyone in a position such as this should use their voice to amplify those who have been silenced by centuries of colonization and oppression. Do it in whatever way feels most useful for the cause; for me, it was continuing on in school and offering a voice to marginalized youth through academia.
Educate yourself – it’s simple, yet also one of the most powerful tools to move forward as an ally in this fight. Read everything you can about the history of slavery and how that history has translated into the current climate of systemic racism today. Read about popular cultural perceptions of skin color. Read about what is included and what gets left out of the media we consume with respect to race. Devour literature written by black men and women that tell their stories of oppression.
Read those books and then go and talk to your circles about them. This cause is not interested in your ignorant comments about race; you must learn more about these struggles, not fully understanding what black people have been through and are going through, but knowing a bit more, and becoming an ally in the process. One student in our talks today suggested a credit course at our school solely focused on race; a wonderful suggestion.
Approach this fight with an ‘ethic of love’ – I borrow this beautiful term from feminist and race theorist, bell hooks. She has argued that we must truly care about the oppression and exploitation of others if we are to join in this movement. During the Civil Rights movement, societal consciousness regarding race shifted as people knew it, because it was, at its core, rooted in a love ethic (hooks, 1994). Martin Luther King embodied and lived the love ethic, often sharing in speeches that he had ‘decided to love’ because ‘if we are seeking the highest good, we find it through love.’ So, if we are to follow in these profound words of MLK, that hooks remind us of, we must move forward with an ethic of love as the anchor for all that we do; like a mission statement that we do not deviate from. Love for our fellow humans should guide us and be our ethical compass, we should have no ulterior motives.
Watching George Floyd die at the hands of someone who was meant to protect him was heartwrenching, jarring. It hurt our hearts, but we saw it. We saw it at a time when we were already fed up; fed up with the inequalities staring us in the face during this pandemic; in the face of numerous senseless slayings of black people at the hands of those who are meant to protect them. We are fed up, but we will move forward with love in our hearts for those who are suffering, and we will stand beside them as allies – educated, located, and ready to serve.