I recently had a conversation with a person close to me in my life outside of Brimmer that I found disheartening and that has been on my mind every day since. We were outside together with our families and this person noticed a t-shirt gently promoting a marginalized group with which he does not identify. He giggled at the shirt, and when I called him out on that, as this is a marginalized group for which I have also shown public support, he said he does not reject this particular group, he just doesn’t think about them. They are not on his radar. Those were his words. As this person and I do not share the same racial or ethnic backgrounds, I found this personally upsetting in addition to just being sad in general. Does that mean he doesn’t ever consider, even for a few minutes, what I may face as an African American female?
The idea of considering the plight of others is an old concept but one that now has fresh controversy and complication. For many who are turned off by the language around this thinking, one of the turn-offs is the perceived shaming that those with more inherent societal power and privilege are supposedly receiving. There is the sense that those of us in marginalized groups want others to feel guilty about any role they or their ancestors may have played in our lots in life. This is where things start to unwind, I think.
My experiences with the concepts of inherent privilege and implicit bias have been frustrating. I believe that there is undeniably implicit bias in our world and that there is inherent privilege as well. Accepting that as truth is very hard for some people, and that is where my frustration lives. Accepting truth is different from taking on undue guilt. As more people from marginalized groups have come forward into the spotlight to speak about their experiences and ask others to simply listen, it seems there is a growing number of people who have been pushing back on that request to listen. I cannot understand why that is. The only conclusion I can come to is that by asking those who have never had to consider their identities as hindrances to listen to those of us who have, we are asking people to spend more time thinking about something hard and uncomfortable. Well, yes. I suppose we are. But isn’t that the basic message that any of us who has children or teaches them tries to instill as early as possible?
Iterations of old sayings about walking in another’s shoes are at the heart of teaching our children empathy. Why, then, is it so hard for adults to practice this? We often become so wrapped up in our careers and families and hobbies that we forget to take a look around and notice and consider what others may be experiencing. We have begun a ritual in my home with our sons, who are 2 and 4, of saying one thing that we’re happy about before we eat. They each usually state that they are simply happy that we are all together. My husband and I will sometimes mention things like having food or a nice home. We don’t spend too much time on this, but what we are attempting to do is teach our children to consider what they have and take a moment to think about the fact that there are people in the world who cannot have moments like we do at home. It should not be a burden, but a gesture of decency to humanity to take a few moments to consider others we do not identify with.
I am quite close to the person mentioned at the beginning of this piece. That our interaction has weighed on me to the point of writing this is likely a sign that I should address it with the person. Rustling up the courage to do that will be a struggle, but I hope I do it. I would certainly advise my own children or any student I work with to do as much. I am confident my colleagues would do the same. Let us not shy away from the work of thinking more and doing more. As educators, it is our duty. As members of the larger society, it should be too.
As an inclusive private school community, Brimmer welcomes students who will increase the diversity of our school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity and expression, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or any other characteristic protected from discrimination under state or federal law, in the administration of our educational policies, admissions practices, financial aid decisions, and athletic and other school-administered programs.