Beyond Heros and Holidays: words, thoughts and late night research

“It is uncomfortable”… began the last group on their presentation of the chapter, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, “but we have to do it.” The group, of four white females, went on to acknowledge their privilege.

In the chapter Mclntoch states, “I have noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged.” Replace the word ‘men’ with white people and ‘women’ with non-white people and the statement is true to the nature of white privilege.

Although Mclntoch’s article may be known as groundbreaking, it is important to keep in mind that Mclntoch was not the first person to write about white privilege. She was however, the first white person to do so.

Before presenting, we got the opportunity to discuss small sections of our Beyond Heroes and Holidays text using a formula called “Save the Last Word for Me.” Each person presented, each person reflected and there was space for silence, for thoughts, and for growth.. each of us bringing different perspectives to the table. There were times when I could taste a lack of knowledge, understanding and perspective at the tip of my tongue as I spoke. I listened and thought of my students from last year.  Did I leave them silence to ponder on? Did I give them their 3 minutes without interruption?

For a week straight I wrote on my hand in permanent marker:

Every student- the most important person in the world

But did I really allow for each of their voices to be heard?

Later, I overhear a conversation about the term “institutionalized racism.” Does institutionalized racism infer that there is such a thing as non-institutionalized racism? Might I venture to draw parallels to the term “consensual sex” as if there is such a thing as non-consensual sex (rape)? Similar but different? I stay up late thinking (as I often do)..thinking about the words that I use, what they infer.

I stay up even later researching.

A quick google search comes up with the following:

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Earlier in the day, at the Alaska State Museum I read:

“I_____, a native born Alaska Indian, solemnly swear that I do now and for all time renounce all tribal customs and relationships, or so help me god.”

…written on a certificate of Citizenship because Alaska Natives were excluded from citizenship until 1924! In 1945 Alaska Native groups succeeded in passing Alaska’s first anti-discrimination law.

It is only 60 years later, and I just read from a google search that white privilege is a “joke.” This is no joke. I am not laughing. The lack of awareness is frightening. Seared to my mind are Ernestine Hayes‘s memories of herself as a little girl in a world where she felt “timid and alone”and the white music teacher with heels and red lips. I jot down in my notebook: I want this for no child. No student, future, past or present. 

I am chilled right to the spine at the thought Ernestine’s childhood music teacher. What do I do to ensure that no student of mine ever feels as though they do not belong? I decide to make a list of everything I must do.

No two lists… the other list will include everything that could make a student feel as though I do not believe in them, so that I will never forget what not to do.

I spend another two days deciding if I should post this or not. Do I even know what I am talking about? I decided to go ahead; sometimes things need to feel dangerous.

4 thoughts on “Beyond Heros and Holidays: words, thoughts and late night research”

  1. Heidi,
    Very beautiful written. I know you have left a positive mark on every student- you are very sincere in your care and appreciation for all of them. You introduced songs with them, and their interests in minds; you take time for them individually, and you take time to have fun and interact as a group..

  2. Heidi,
    I enjoyed reading your post, all the thoughtfulness and love for students that comes with it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. This was a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it. I, too, was chilled by Ernestine’s story about her music teacher. Her experiences remind me that I want to make sure that I always strive to cultivate an inclusive, multicultural, caring music classroom. I never want to see a student feel the way Ernestine did.

    1. Katy, I can’t say it enough…those JAMM kids are going to love you! Juneau is very lucky to have a new music teacher like you!

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