On Perspective

I think I would identify myself as a social justice educator. I hesitate because it’s an ambitious title; there’s a lot that goes into educating toward social justice, and I’m not very good at most of it. I’m not sure I even know what most of it looks like.

But one piece I’ve thought a lot about is understanding the perspectives of those with different backgrounds from me.

I’m reading Carol Anderson’s White Rage as part of the #ClearTheAir chats, and it’s all the history I never learned but need to know. The erosion of progress during Reconstruction, the forces working against the Great Migration, the violent and defiant opposition to Brown v Board, the reversals of gains from the Civil Rights era, and finally, “How to Unelect a Black President.” This is the history that has created the world we live in today, the intentional discrimination and hostility toward the black community that has changed form but not impact over the last 150 years.

We often tell this history as a narrative of progress, as major victories that have moved our society forward. I think we tell those stories because they are comfortable, and because they fit into the narrative we want to tell ourselves about our country. What would it look like to value discomfort and truth-telling over progress and American exceptionalism when we talk about history? Whose stories do we tell? Whose narratives do we hear?

I’ve thought about this tweet often in the last few months. Which authors do I read? Whose stories do I hear?

I think about this in other contexts as well. Who do I retweet and amplify? Who do I reference and quote in my writing? Which students do I gravitate toward?

I am far from perfect; it would take me a very long time to retweet as many people of color as I have white people, or to link to as many white education writers as people of color on this blog. But White Rage is one example of a place where I’ve been pushed to expand my horizons. And White Rage is giving me new insights into the world around me, and how I can exist as an educator in it.

And here’s something I’ve noticed. As I’ve been more intentional about whose ideas I’m reading and sharing and referencing and amplifying, I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m exposed to more culture, richer conversations, perspectives that push me to think in new ways, and ideas I wouldn’t have found without that active effort. I see the world around me through a new lens, and I am better for it.

I’ve read a lot recently about why diversity matters, in different contexts and from different perspectives. There’s not just one reason to seek out diverse perspectives. Take a sample here, here, here, and here. These are thoughtful folks and great arguments.

For me, one important driving force has been my personal experience that being intentional in who I read, reference, and amplify is leading me to a richer life than the comfortable, familiar perspectives I’m likely to learn from without that effort.

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