The buds are budding. The sun is shining white. Ellen Gillies stops to visit with me near the hospital as I walk the pavement. Teachers and staff at school demonstrate power thinking with little cards; I am power one standing on a chair, the two Michaels are power twos, then power threes sit on chairs, power fours on the floor. In the entry way teachers and students play table tennis. I post pages 39 to 41 of my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti-Racist Pedagogy.
As I re-read this sample of what my thesis might look like, my internal dialogue is spouting theory. I’d better commit some to the page.
I remember visiting with my husband (who is also a teacher nearing the end of his Master’s Degree) a few weeks ago as I began my thesis in earnest. Full of self-doubt I asked if he thought I was on the right track.
We discussed the two memories from on-reserve, and he said, “Just listen to the discourses in those stories: respectability, privilege, power, crisis, stereotype, identity, teacher…”
He said, “Have you read ‘What is a Discourse?’ by Burr (1995)? I hadn’t. “A discourse is images, institutions, voices, beliefs, values, worldview, and cultural norms, all these things informing you. A discourse is the complexity of your identity on any given part of your identity.”
I said, “Let me get my pen.”
As I re-member reading “Delivering Report Cards” to my writing colleagues, I’m struck with my obvious need to be considered respectable, as perceived by whites and First Nations. This reminds me of my incessant worrying while on reserve. I remember a friend, who was Dene, often saying to me at school, “Sheena, relax.”
I think, back then, I would have viewed this worrying as a virtue. I was working so hard to be respectful, thinking about things from “every” angle, asking lots of questions of my “informants”, and sharing my enlightened discoveries with anyone who would listen. Now, I have to question the seeds from which these behaviours sprouted. Was my worry and fear motivated by my hope to disrupt oppression or my hope to maintain my privilege as a liberal-minded white girl? I think the intensity of my worry tells me it was/is – even though this is painful to admit – all about me!
This discourse of respectability is huge within my identity. My respectability is key to my power and privilege. Am I using my marginalized students, even today, to help maintain my power? My respectability? Am I the creator and actor within my own conspiracy theory? Is this what they mean by hegemony? “The mainstream curriculum is hegemonic in schools in the sense that (a) it marginalises other ways of organizing knowledge, (b) it is integrated within the structure of power in educational institutions, and (c) it occupies the high cultural ground defining most people’s common-sense views of what learning ought to be” (Connell, 1993, p. 38).
Even as I’m now revisiting this text on my second round of edits, I’m tormented by a recent event in which my family’s respectability has been questioned. This feeling follows me around like a line from a song. It loops through my mind: anger, self-pity and guilt. The meaning of the words lost. Only feelings remain.
I take my dogs for a walk.
Now I can work.
Here I am on third edits with another heavy heart. I don’t remember the last crisis in my respectability mentioned above. Probably could if I thought about it. Today’s crisis is something too trivial to commit to ink (or, I feel I’d lose respectability if my reader knew how shallow I am and how I use my privilege to protect myself). I wonder if worry is my theme music, which busies my mind so completely, you’d think Screwtape (Lewis, 1942) himself played fiddle.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a society in which I did not feel respected almost all the time. Even more, a society in which I couldn’t protect my fragile respectability with my privilege. Many people can more than imagine.
Maybe my job isn’t to vision a society where I invite others into my fragile world of respectability. It may be to search for reciprocity in respectability, privilege, power, crisis, stereotype, identity, teacher…