A Future For Our Children to Live Into
Tommie Smith 1968 200m Olympic Champion
I can't think of anything more powerful than the love for my children. How would I react if my children were being treated unfairly, had less life chances because of being my child; if I knew they were likely to live a shorter life, earn less, not go to college ... I use the word react deliberately, I know I would find it hard to respond.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the murder of George Floyd which I found deeply upsetting to the point where I wanted to look away. But I’m part of the problem when I do. As a teacher I’ve always wanted to make our world a fairer place. It was why I worked with excluded children and families with greater need. As a middle class, white male I can’t ignore my privilege or bias, when I’m out of work it is not the same as for others. We have to recognise that we are not all experiencing the same event in the same way. Do you see a 9 or a 6 below? Can you see both?
Stopping and recognising my own bias, based on my own context and power, is an important ongoing step, but just one step. Recognising that I am comfortable with not being mainstream is in itself a bias, a context that makes sense of my life and also a realm to live into. We can not ignore our history or the history of others, without awareness there is no chance for responsibility. It is so easy to stop and blame someone because there’s fear, or there’s difference or an unfair expectation.
What do you think of the picture below?
Photo by Steve Irvine, on National Geographic
Some of you may have seen the tree and stopped looking. Some may have seen the owl immediately. Our brains are likely to stop looking though once we have an answer. Remaining curious, listening to understand and asking more questions opens up new possibility. This week I looked back on Colin Kaepernick's unfair experience when he protested peacefully in the NFL which was similar to Tommie Smith in the 68 Olympics and countless others; I have been wondering why wasn’t he heard? We all want to be seen and heard. This refocussed my understanding of the need to protest. If we don't want a riot why haven't we listened and acted? When we point the finger there’s three pointing back at ourselves. Let’s not arrive at a simple reality of one truth, but learn to wonder and wander through multiple truths. Discovering events like Juneteenth, listening to voices young and old, considering micro aggressions and starting to read Natives by Akala (thank you Robin) helped me recognise different truths and challenge my understanding.
In relation to Racism just wondering as a white male can not be enough. I must act differently. There are over thirty thousand research results on amazon in the books section linked to race. Having a book doesn’t make me ok or a society fairer. Reading can be like watching a football match from the stands, it is not the same as playing the game and becoming a better player. It is not enough either to remember back to a good deed once done, or to conveniently dismiss a past event with 'it was a different time'. So I have to learn to act differently, every time I am with someone. Challenging inequality, not seeing tolerance as the end point. I would not want to be tolerated or put up with! Teaching about bias and perception is a must. Let’s talk about and listen to the lives of those, who like Tommie Smith and Colin Kaepernick, had the courage to act and who have lived through injustices. Diversity is a strength that literally sustains life. As teachers, parents, as people let’s recognise the responsibility we have to ACT now, each day, to create a world we would want ALL of OUR children to grow up in.