Wednesday, February 19, 2020

20 Conversations for 2020 Challenge -- Conversation #6 Defining Allyship

Questions to ponder:

  • Do you think critically about the assumptions you make consciously and unconsciously? Are you willing to think about where those assumptions came from? Are you willing to question how your friendships, media diet, and habits may continue to shape your assumptions?
I try. I really do try. But I'm going to be honest, it isn't easy work. In one of my other posts, I explained my background and it makes my work difficult, because I have huge blindspots. But with that said, it surely is easier for me to do this work than it is for my friends, students, and parents who come from diverse backgrounds to live their lives. Yes, the discomfort I feel wrestling with these uncomfortable topics and ideas is FAR, FAR, FAR easier than it is for them to simply live day-to-day. And because of that fact, I am willing to question everything about my assumptions and how I came to those assumptions. I'm willing to question my friendships, the media I consume, and the habits I have developed over time. It is not the easy thing to do, but it is the human thing to do.

  • Do you know how to de-center your emotions?
Realistically I think this has become more difficult in the current political climate, but again -- I try. I try to simply listen when a person is telling me about their feelings and how they are struggling with a certain situation. I'm working on not doing the "well welcome to (blank)" approach to being supportive. 
  • Are you willing to make this a life-long commitment?
Yes, I'm willing to make a life-long commitment, but like anyone -- I will have days when I'm much better at it than other days.
  • Will you consider how intersectional your thinking is?
Yes, I will and as a display of this I would like to share a story about a girl named Crystal. When I was doing my student teaching at St. Ignatius School in St. Ignatius, Montana, I met a young woman named Crystal. Crystal was a struggling Native American girl of 14 in 8th grade. Her attendance wasn't great and her performance in class wasn't really impressive either, but she came to school at least four times a week and did do work. She hadn't given up; she was still making an effort. And then one day, Crystal was just gone. No one seemed too surprised by it. Crystal had moved around to different schools on the reservation before. As a young teacher, I was disappointed by Crystal no longer coming to school. Although she wasn't a fantastic student, she was a nice person and she had friends.

One day I was scheduled to mirror the principal; I was curious about how his day was compared to a classroom teacher. At one point in the afternoon, a family came to school with a new student who would be starting school on Monday. This boy needed a locker, so the principal went to clean out Crystal's locker. Inside the locker were her school books, her notebooks, a hoodie, and sadly an empty beer bottle. At that point I finally asked the question that had been on my mind, "What happened to Crystal?" The principal told me that Crystal's grandmother said she ran away. And that was it. Period. End of story. 

And for 23 years, I've been wondering what happened to Crystal; at least once or twice a year she crosses my mind. She ran away, but did she? What exactly did her grandmother say? Did Crystal leave a note? Did she call? Was the grandmother encouraged to inform the police? Were the police ever informed? Why didn't I ask these questions? Why didn't I push the matter? In the last few years, the caucasian community has finally become aware that Native American women and girls have been disappearing at alarming rates, but that has only been discovered because Natives have been posting all the disappearances on social media. What about before social media? How many Native American women and girls have gone missing before the rise of social media? Was Crystal one of them?

I was a young, male, caucasian educator doing my student teaching at a school on the reservation, it wasn't my place to rock the boat. It wasn't my place to ask the questions that someone should have been asking. Questions that anyone could have been asking, but nobody did. That "nobody" includes me. I hope that Crystal is alive and well; I hope that she is living happily somewhere surrounded by loving family and friends. I hope. 

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