“It’s a myth that our reactions to danger are fight or flight. There’s a third option often pursued: to gather for reassurance, protection, strength, and insight.” – Rebecca Solnit
Yesterday I spent an hour in my favorite restaurant on a crisp Autumn day writing: a cold glass of a saison beer, sausage and fennel, accompanied by white supremacist videos. I frequently brushed away tears and the waiter gave me a wide berth.
Since last November, I have included #resist in my twitter profile to indicate something about my orientation as an educator. Later on I included my status as a member of the Oneida First Nations peoples as I thought more about the power of representation in education. So, I wasn’t viewing white supremacist videos out of casual interest – I don’t suppose that anyone can be really casual about it – but as part of what turned out to be a piece of educational investigative journalism, kindly picked up by Save Our Students Alberta and then Rabble.ca.
When I started writing about a blogger who speculated about the heritability of IQ in relation to education, I immediately contextualized my scientific rebuttal in the way he used gendered language to put down those who contested him and the white and male privilege that made it safe for him to go wading in those waters. After all, no matter what he found in the ‘science’, it’s unlikely to negatively impact people with white, cis, het, male, and abled privilege.
And one overwhelming reaction was that this is about science. Who has the scientific knowledge and who doesn’t? Which studies did people read? Who understand how heritability statistics work? Are they even applicable in education?
What that focus on science signifies is that knowledge about oppression doesn’t matter as much. Indeed, I was accused of playing ‘identity politics’ for even framing my critique in terms of the privileges that the blogger – and often the scientists – enjoy. Some allies suggested that I shouldn’t have used the phrase ‘white dudes’ in my original blog post because it distracted from the main argument. As the story evolved, and it turned out the blogger was making links about race and IQ and recommending white supremacist websites, it became clear that a kind of identity politics was indeed the main story: the indifference of white men to the impact they may have on the community, and their fragility in reaction to being called out.
I have white privilege, though I identify as being First Nations. Thus, I too could have engaged in a ‘neutral’ conversation about the blogger’s work without anyone – read: white, cis, het, abled men – thinking that I had an agenda. This would have been easy. Calling out the privilege was hard. It’s left it’s mark on me.
I have practiced what people call ‘self-care’, but let me tell you, that matters a hell of a lot less than the community care that I have received. As Yashna Padamsee explains it,
“Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.”
How many messages of support did I receive? I have literally lost count. It would be a full-time project to go back through those messages and tally it up. And that’s left it’s mark on me, too.
I received help on many levels, a gratitude that I hope to repay to each person. And when I sent out a call for people to help me find publishers, my network came through in less than three hours.
Dr. Vincent Lien eloquently framed the significance of this last week:
“Henry Giroux’s sociopolitical categories of three types of teacher intellectuals – resisting, critical and accommodating – sketch out their essential qualities. As educators, we need to reflect on our own identity as intellectuals – who are we and who do we want to be?”
We each need to think through what this question means to us, and it will mean different things based on how we are positioned in relation to power. We each need to be safe. We each need to resist. We each need to care for one another.