Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifty Nine: Re-order-ing The Massacre

So I have four students at Dallas Valley for Creating in the Qu'Appelle. We arrived yesterday. This morning I am eating breakfast, and have a bit of a headache. Half way through my pancake I think, I'm not feeling very well. I go back to my room and lay down. I don't get up for two days, although somehow I climb into the back seat of the rescue car to be driven home. Rather than write something new, here's some more from my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti Racist Pedagogy, p 56 to 62. (Note. On Monday I asked my students to list what was in their backpacks, purses, wallets, closets, any place they collect stuff; they are now writing a poem based on this list. Shhhh. Don't tell them, but I plan to segue into Peggy McIntosh's backpack metaphor which I reference below.)

Re-order-ing the Massacre
            Re-visit-ing the Bessborough Massacre, now an anesthetized and sanitized historical must-see on the tour of my teaching life, is one thing; but willingly re-order-ing the massacre – so that new casualties can be exhumed, examined, and never again buried –that’s something else! The re-visit-ation allows me a chatty pat on the back and the undisputed knowledge that I learned from my mistakes and am now a better person for having had the negative experience. The re-order-ing reveals that I must learn to see again with prescription lenses. New specs!
            Peggy McIntosh (1998) confesses in “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” that she began her re-specs-ification in an “untutored way.” Thankfully (or perhaps not), her visionary writing inspired many to finally see their own whiteness (what kind of glasses had the whites been wearing in the first place?) and in turn develop new prescription eyewear. I now have many far-sighted tutors.
            Slipping on McIntosh’s (1998) prescription, shaped in a list of twenty-six examples of white privilege, I re-vision a white girl standing in front of other boys and girls at the Bessborough, assuming “my neighbors…will be neutral or pleasant to me” (Privilege#4). I had never felt hostility before. I’d assumed, like usual, “I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared” (Privilege#21).
Even more disturbing, I’d taken this job of presenter based on my own confidence in my ability and passion for my research. McIntosh’s twenty-second privilege says, “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.” The conference was not an affirmative action employer, but they were looking for variety. I am not sure what my session attendees suspected of me, but I do know it had something to do with my skin colour and race. I’ve never felt so utterly helpless. McIntosh (1998) introduces “the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all” (p. 169). Once I was judged, there was nothing I could do to reclaim my dignity or credibility. Up to that moment in my life, I’d experienced hard work, which equalled success; laziness equalled failure. In this scenario it had nothing to do with my merit.
One last privilege, number twenty-five, was also shattered: “If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones” (McIntosh, 1998, p. 167). Anything negative left me questioning repeatedly. No wonder I flew back to the reserve a destabilized wreck; however, this two-hour experience is a hiccup in a lifetime of continued privilege. Am I really any closer to understanding the lived-experience of denied privilege: racism?
I was truly distressed at my loss of privilege. McIntosh (1998) questions, “… whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance and if so, what we will do to lessen them” (p. 168). If I was oppressed for those two hours, does that mean before and after I have been part of the oppressors? McIntosh (1998) shares, “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture” (p. 166). As McIntosh, I am “newly accountable” not only to “weaken hidden systems of advantage” or “reconstruct power systems on a broader base” but also to diagnose my own white privilege as evidence of “a damaged culture.” White culture is a damaged culture. I suppose every culture is. Is it fair to think that because we have societal power, we should be able to do something about our damage?

The power of the McIntosh article
That it brings us to a place
We can have a questioning attitude
Perhaps this is the power
Of Your Bessborough experience, too.
-- Michael

Another set of specs I can wear to re-view the Bessborough Massacre belong to jona olsson (1997). Her tutelage begins, “For white women living in North America, learning to be anti-racist is a re-education process. We must unlearn our thorough racist conditioning and re-educate and re-condition ourselves as anti-racists” (p. 16). But, I grew up in a family of near-hippies. We went to pow-wows when I was little. We had friends who were black, cousins who were red, and family who were yellow. I was a young warrior, standing up for the downtrodden. In defense of my earliest teachers, my parents, olsson mentions early indoctrination “Eenie, meenie, minie, mo…” which I self-corrected at an early age. Likewise, olsson mentions cowboys and Indians; I rode my Shetland pony bareback because that’s what I thought the Indians would do.
Still, olsson (1997) is not content to allow me to keep the rosy shades on for much longer. She says, “I have observed in myself and others some common patterns of white guilt, denial and defensiveness that are part of those same habitual behaviours (racist behaviour) birthed in our internalized beliefs” (p. 16). Her first point, “I’m Colour blind” catches me with my white hand in the brown cookie jar. I walked into the Bessborough Massacre, having often said, maybe even saying that day, “People are just people” (olsson, 1997, p. 17). I thought everyone in that room was just like me, wanted the same things from the session, and were willing to help me get what I wanted. olsson (1997) blows apart this na├»vely racist train of thought:
Statements like these assume that people of colour are just like us, white, and have the same dreams, standards, problems, peeves that we do. ‘Colour blindness’ negates the cultural values, norms, expectations and life experiences of people of colour. Even if an individual white person could ignore a person’s colour, society does not. By saying we don’t see their colour we are also saying we don’t see our whiteness. This denies their experience of racism and our experience of privilege. (p. 17)
Similarly, my Dene colleague said, “Some people can be so prejudiced.” Whenever I have re-visited this story, I equated prejudice with racism. I thought I was experiencing “reverse racism” which olsson (1997) addresses in her second point.
To say ‘people of colour can be racist’ denies the power imbalance inherent in racism. Certainly, people of colour can be and are prejudiced against white people. That was a part of their societal conditioning. A person of colour can act on their prejudices to insult even hurt a white person. But there is a difference between being hurt and being oppressed. People of colour, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual person of colour abusing a white person, while clearly wrong (no person should be insulted, hurt, etc.), is acting out of a personal racial prejudice, not racism. (p. 17)
So, olsson (1997) has even challenged my prescription while wearing McIntosh (1998) glasses and questioning: if I was oppressed for those two hours, does that mean before and after I have been part of the oppressors? My heart was in the right place when I said “if” but I didn’t truly understand the overwhelming concept of oppression. That’s like today in class, we had our school counsellor in our classroom. One of my students asked if he, himself, was “withdrawn” because he loved to play video games in his basement. The counsellor had been explaining the impacts of violence on teenagers. The fact that this student was at school, able to vocalize, and he was the centre of his table’s attention negated his two hours of “withdrawn” behaviour in the basement. 
Power shifts.
In those two hours
power/knowledge shifted.
Your expectations of the power that you were going to exercise
Change to two hours of learning about
Authority, privilege, and identity.
-- Michael

            When I grabbed for the picture of my colleagues, I was guilty of claiming to be “Innocent By Association” because I was especially sure to point out that my research colleagues were either Dene or married into the Dene culture. olsson (1998) says, “This detour into denial wrongly equates personal interactions we may have with people of colour (no matter how intimate) with anti-racism. It assumes our personal associations magically free us from our racist conditioning” (p. 18). There goes my favourite crayon box: black friends, red cousins, yellow family. How can I now colour myself an anti-racist?

rac     ism,
the system      of oppression
(of people      of colour)
and ad v     an t age
(for wh it     e people)
dep     ends
on      the
coll u     sion
an     d
coop er     at I on
of white      people
for its perp     etuation.
jona olsson 19        97 (p. 16).
who has the            problem?
If it was a pink-hue through which I first accepted a view on the Bessborough Massacre, just like the Sunday school song: red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, I would dream a world equal in hope, opportunity and grace. But my new specs, prescribed by those who go before me in sight toward anti-racist pedagogy, are less pretty, but offer surprising specs-ification. If my old glasses were rose-tinted, the new are white-out splattered, black-out rimmed, red-out loud, yell(ow)ed-out softly. The change in eyewear should come with a warning: may cause headaches.

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