Ayodele Harrison shares thoughts and advice on how to discuss race in the classroom in part 3 of his PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation with Adam Geller from Edthena.
Here is a transcript of their conversation.
– Welcome to #PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO. And today we’re talking with Ayodele Harrison. He is the senior partner of education at CommunityBuild Ventures. He’s also been a teacher. He’s taught math in California and DC and overseas. Ayodele, thanks so much for joining us.
– Thank you for having me.
– So we’ve been talking a little bit in the last segment about preparing for the eventual need to have conversations about race in the classroom this year, and for that matter, at all times, but especially to expect it this year. You know, let’s talk about what educators can do to kind of do some of that professional learning. So one of the places I wanna start is just, you know, kind of helping, in some ways talk about the vocabulary. So, one of the words that I think that I’ve been seeing a lot more of recently is becoming anti-racist. So, what does that mean? What is anti-racist?
– Sure, well, I mean, to me, in my understanding of it, it is a term that I’m coming to understand and learn myself. So, I’m definitely not an expert with this. But I think if we define in a very simple term. I saw the one text I was reading that racism or race is about it’s prejudice plus power equals racism. Right? And so if I’m going to be an anti-racist, what I’m working towards is to unpack and deconstruct right? Or dismantle prejudice thinking within me, right? So, it’s an internal work, right? And being able to analyze well one of the first is to really investigate and see what of my thinking’s? What are my thoughts? How do I feel about various communities? Various people in the way that they identify and relate to them. And then begin to think about how do I deconstruct that, right? And have a more balanced approach a balance thinking to that, right? So that’s the anti-niche, right? I think the second part is understanding power. What is power? What does it mean, in this country? How has it been wielded? You know, and how is it hurt? How is it built up institutions? How is it crafted interpersonal relationships, relationships I might have? And it’s really about investigating those and then beginning to dismantle, break it down to the bottom to then grow myself to an understanding of how am I going to begin to work against these things that are structures that are holding various people back, specifically black people in my case?
– Yeah, I think, you know, one of the things I’m hearing here is, if you’re someone who thinks well, I’m not racist. The difference between that positioning and working toward becoming anti-racist is understanding what power you do have and how you’re using that power to, as you said, dismantle the structures of racism, right? So, it’s, that being passive and being, quote, “not racist” is not enough and that you have to, in some ways anti-racism is an active work. And that’s where maybe the shift is for some people to like, understand how they need to become anti-racist, if that makes sense?
– Yeah, I think, you know, it’s this idea that let’s just take white people, for instance. They benefit from racist practices from white supremacist culture that exists that has built every single institution, education, justice, healthcare, all those. They benefit from that. So, it’s not enough to just say that I’m not racist, right? That’s a very individual approach. We have to understand that there’s a systematic structure that has been put in place to advantage one group over another. And so just saying I’m not a racist, is saying that I’m not taking part in this system. However, it is automatic, that’s the air that we breathe and we operate in. So, it’s not enough to just say I’m not racist, it’s now saying I’m anti-racist. That means, I recognize that I am a beneficiary of racist practices of ideology, and things like that it has shaped the way that I think and that I interact with every single person, you know, on this planet. But now I’m going to acknowledge that now I’m going to try my best within my locus of control, to dismantle, to deconstruct those particular practices to add to that. Some of that begins with me, understanding my own history of my country, and saying and moving away from this idea of I’m not a racist, to I’m now working as an anti-racist. Now, the key thing about this is that it is a forever ongoing process. There’s no one course or one book you can read, because you’ll always find what one of my colleagues says “you’ll always find a learning edge”. You’ll bump up against the learning edge. And it is taking that mindset of like, ouch! Okay, I might have offended someone in this particular space I might have. It was something I couldn’t foresee. But let me think about that. Let me analyze that. I might not be able to fix it in that particular moment. But I can go home and think about it and reflect. Talk with a colleague about how did I navigate that? What might I be able to do different? That is this idea of being anti-racist? That is this idea of working to deconstruct within me, my own prejudices and begin to understand what type of power has been wielded, so then I might be able to turn the tables and now say. Well, if I’ve been, what’s the word? I wanna say like unknowingly or like I didn’t ask for this. Well, now it’s like you might not have asked for this. But how do we now wield that power for the benefit, of others? For the benefit maybe of that groups that are experiencing racist practices or racist institutions or policies that they might be facing?
– You know, it’s interesting, what I’m thinking about here, and I’m trying to imagine. You know, hearing this idea for the first time and trying to match other things that might be going on in a workplace, in school, for example, to this type of work that needs to do. And it’s almost like, it’s, we’ve talked about it and feel very comfortable saying things like. Oh, there are ways that you have professional interactions with someone. And here are some ways that works. And when it doesn’t work, well, you should reflect on it and try and do better next time. It isn’t like a binary you’re good at. I mean, some people are good at work or bad at work, but it’s not a binary about like, how you interact with people. It’s this continuous learning process, and I think that kind of mindset, which may be more familiar to all educators, to, as an experienced, they can understand is the same mindset that you need to apply to this work to understanding how the systems and the power structures are just impacting every single day, and how you’re navigating those to make more productive and healthy. You know, relationships and conversations at work.
– Right. And, you know, what we practice here is with our work as brave face building. We know that white dominant culture is at play within every institution that we have. And that, it is important for us to see well what strategies are there to dismantle or deconstruct white dominant culture within. You know, I call it like one meeting at a time. And so what we do is we have brave space where we make, we help to build we teach people how to build containers to have discussions that are rich for learning, right? And so some of the processes the three ways there’s six parts of this process to this protocol that we use, but the three that are most prominent are how do we humanize ourselves when we’re connecting with each other? And so one of the ways when we meet internally as an organization, externally with clients is and building brave space, we do gratitude’s right? So, what are you grateful for? Name something, let us know about that. We also then are saying feeling, how are you feeling right now? In this particular moment, tired, exhausted, exhilarated. You know, sad, low. You know, so on and so forth. And then the second thing is we set intentions for our meeting. And so we go around, no matter how big the meeting is, everybody gets a chance to say those three things. It is, you’d be amazed by how much you get to know somebody and how much the room is humanized, when we’re able to share what we’re grateful for. Coz if we said that, we’re most likely going to reflect on something that is happening to us personally. It’s humanizing us in that particular space. So, while everything’s work, there are strategies and protocols and things that we can practice that will help us create a space where we can engage conversations and really say. You know, be open and honest with each other. To be able to grow in those and be human in those, coz no one’s gonna get everything right. You’re gonna bump into things as a, so as part of a male-dominant culture, right? That exists in the patriarch. I’m going to bump, there are some things I’m going to miss. That, you know, I just don’t understand in terms of that might infringe upon the female or trans experience that I need to now have a better understanding of right? I need a space where I can connect with colleagues and say, you know, what’s happening? what, you know, teach me in that? Well, for that we need a brave space to do that. And I’m keen to not say safe space. Because there is no there’s no part of American history tells me that me as a black man I’m safe anywhere I go. Current history, I could be eating ice cream, I can be in my house. I eat, it’s just there’s not a safe space, right? And so what it is, is we wanna create brave space to where we can really be at a place where we’re able to work together to actually move towards a common vision with one another, or even develop a common vision with one another.
– It’s interesting, I’m realizing, one of the things you’re highlighting here is the importance of ensuring that those relationships that you have, are not just transactional, not just the work of the every day. Because if you know who the people are in a variety of different ways and however they choose to tell you who they are. But if you can know them, then you can start to have this kind of next level of conversation. You know, I wanna parrot what you said, which is this is not that go get the book. Or go, you know, do the specific activity. This is a continuous kind of process. But if I am watching this, and I’m thinking. Like, I want to take the first step or take the next step. Either for myself or for the community of educators that I work with. You know, where do, I mean. I’m going to guess you probably don’t have the recommended first step for everybody. But where do I go to start understanding? Or start to feel like I’m navigating toward really taking that first step?
– I mean, Google? You know, like, just whatever you’re searching in. And not to say that that’s going to give you everything, but it’s going to help you begin a conversation. Where do I go when I wanna fix my sink? YouTube, right? Like and I hope I don’t get, you know, killed by other, like there are a lot of trainings out there if you search for anti-racist trainings or books on Amazon on Google, wherever there’s a lot that’s there. But I know there’s some times to begin a conversation myself is that. I might go to YouTube and actually click on maybe a trusted site like a TED talk or something where someone is able to really paint a clear picture. So, I don’t wanna say just listen to anybody and everybody. There’s, there are sites and spaces there. I’ve gone to TED talks to be able to see like, especially as an educator, and there’s I think, like Ed Talks, which is like the educator version of that. Where educators have come on to actually say, to talk about their experience in a variety of different ways. That is one space that you can begin to do that. There’s a ton of books that are out there. And it’s, I think the process is beginning the work and it is not running to a black person and saying, teach me. Like, that’s not our role in this. Depending upon your relationship with the black people that are in your life, you might be able to engage them. But it’s not going there and it’s starting just your own research. Like if I wanted to. And it’s not as simple as this, but it’s like. I don’t wanna simplify it to, but it’s. Like if I wanna learn how to plant a plant in my garden. I’ll go to the library and do some reading or that might be old nowadays. I’m going to YouTube, I’m going to look. And what I’m gonna do is actually cross-reference many different spaces. Like if you are now searching and listening and hearing people talk, lecture series professors. And you start to see something like the book “White Fragility” come up. And it comes up over and over or the term anti-racist and someone in the book is one of the books is “How to Be an Antiracist”. Like, you might begin to say, I’m seeing that talked about quite a bit. Let me go ahead and do some research about that. Maybe order the book and read it and not say that is the end all be all, for my learning. But it’s beginning that process. The second thing that I will say is that there is this acknowledgment that this process is going to be tough. There’s gonna be a lot of bumps and bruises and one of the things as an emotional self-care educators is about teaching people, the skills to be able to be in tune or attuned to their body and emotions that arise within them. Because we have to begin to understand those to then be able to navigate through them. Because sometimes, emotions are a weight, not sometimes emotions are a way to, that our body begins to tell us that there’s a disturbance in the atmosphere. And that disturbance or a shake can be love, affection, joy, you know, joy in that way. It could be sadness, it could be fear of the things that happen with that. But it’s beginning to have this practice of emotional self-care, which is really understanding and attuning to the emotions that enter your body and how you experience that because part of our preparation to do the work or it’s not a and or it’s a both and that we’re working on creating and getting the literature and learning ourselves, but then also preparing our bodies for we know the work that’s to come for the challenging time. So, it’s how am I practicing taking care of myself at the same time as we are deepening our knowledge about racism, the culture, oppression, and the systematic structures that have held black people and other people of color back for generations.
– We will talk next about this idea of emotional care for yourself. Before I run off, I think I wanna go back to the point you made though where to look first. Which is, I think when you said, when you gotta Google it. I think, you know what your point is, is that the barrier to entry here isn’t mysterious or high. The barrier to entry is actually just starting the process. And that if that’s what we commit to, that’s the first step, you know, in the journey. So Ayodele, we will be back in just a moment to talk about emotional self-care for educators. This is #PLtogether Lounge Talks. You can watch the rest of this conversation as well as other conversations at pltogether.org.