When facing racism, undercut and expose

I wrote an email on Wednesday with a subject of: “About Black hair & portrayals of Blackness” to the mother of another child in the 3 and 4 year old class. What propelled, if not compelled, me to do so was having read a helpful article on microagressions by Ruth Terry in the October 2019 YES magazine a few weeks prior. In it, Terry describes how Derald Wong Sue responds to microaggressions with:

 By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.

Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.

I had to name the thing for myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberate about writing how this other parent’s behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft of what it is to be Black in the United States; though, I could have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race before Wednesday’s email.

I made a clear request for corrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they would definitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the husband saying two things: that the corrective action had been done and that I should not (maybe it said never) contact them again.

I was not looking to make friends with the other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.