Tonight’s PTA meeting rocked my socks off. My daughter’s school is a poor school – 67% of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunches – in an urban district in a bankrupt state. The kids are taught in three languages: English, Spanish and Cantonese. The PTA and staff are mostly white. The students are mostly Hispanic, Asian and Black.
Does this sound like your idea of a nightmare? The school has its challenges, but most of the time, it works pretty well. It sees itself as a school for social justice. Test scores are climbing. Over the summer the teachers and principal got together to hammer out, among other things, a new way of addressing privilege and talking about race. Here’s some of what they came up with:
- Stay Engaged
- Speak Your Truth
- Experience Discomfort
- Expect and Accept Non-Closure
The principal explained that we need to move from Discourse 1, which blames the victim and ignores systemic and institutional racism, to Discourse 2, which acknowledges the disastrous effects of privilege, and the virtues of complexity and life’s essential messiness, and looks for multiple solutions.
The staff came up with the notion of zones of dissonance. You have your comfort zone, where you are singing in the shower. And you have your danger zone, where someone is physically threatening you and you have to get away. In between are zones of dissonance, where you take risks and where learning happens. In order to learn, you have to be willing to explore those zones of dissonance.
Hence, Experience Discomfort. Expect and Accept Non-Closure.
It’s hard. My Spanish is pitiful, my Cantonese non-existent, and I don’t like being the one who is struggling to keep up. But it’s essential. To me, my work on intersectionality and race is an essential part of my geek feminist identity. It’s about deconstructing how I feel when I am the marginalized one, and applying those insights to other spheres of my life, where I am the one doing the marginalization.
It’s about belonging to a community that does real work and overcomes real challenges.
This is what I want for my daughters.