Teaching Yourself; The importance of teaching yourself inclusivity
A Note Before We Start:
This blog serves as a discussion and gathering of thoughts and information surrounding independent learning. This blog is not meant to ‘call out’ any group or individual, it is simply a discussion of the importance of educating oneself in social topics concerning race and individual identity and how to go about finding materials to do so. This blog is a part of a series meant to help bring attention to and train individuals in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please consider reading the others in this series.
‘Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes. …Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions,’ a quote from American writer, Audre Lorde (Lorde, 1980).
Think about it this way…
Think about a hobby you have, I will use crocheting as an example but any hobby may apply. When I first started to crochet, I went online and watched tutorials and read blogs all on how to do different stitches, what hooks to get, and the best yarns for different projects. Several recommended books that I could have purchased or checked out at the library. I also found several groups on Facebook and joined just to see their different patterns and tutorials. I wanted to learn everything I could, and after determining which hook, yarn, and project I wanted to start with I got to work. I had to restart several times, but eventually with a lot of practice and troubleshooting with more experienced hobbyists I improved. Now, I still have a lot to learn and I am not an expert on crocheting by any means, but I am better and plan to continue practicing.
Learning how to be inclusive and increase understanding and compassion for others is similar in this way. I am sure for your hobby you may have spoken to experts, but there were a lot of independent resources that you used to help you get started as well. Search for online articles, videos, TED talks, and books. Check your local library for additional resources, both physical and digital. Try looking for books or other media forms created by people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community and see the difference in perspective. Additionally, you may not feel like an expert but the more you practice the more comfortable you are, just like with your favorite hobby. You can find this information easily, and without relying on an individual to be your teacher.
Becoming Racially Literate
You may be asking yourself what ‘racial literacy’ means, and it is not just reading social justice books and articles. Racial literacy is the ability to thoughtfully discuss and recognize racial injustices (What is Racial Literacy, n.d.). In their 2017 TED Talk, Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo discussed their journey in learning about and elevating the standards for racial literacy in the United States (Vulchi, P. and Guo, W., 2017). These recent high school graduates were in the process of traveling to each of the 50 states to interview individuals on their personal experiences surrounding their race. The pair have co-written two books; ‘The Classroom Index,’ a textbook on racial literacy and ‘Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Stories of Race, Culture, and Identity,’ the collection of stories from their road trip across the United States. Their first book and TED Talk elaborates on the two largest gaps that Vulchi and Guo identified; the heart gap and the mind gap.
The Heart Gap
“...an inability to understand each of our experiences, to fiercely and unapologetically be compassionate beyond lip service,” (Vulchi, P. and Guo, W., 2017). Think back to when you learned about racial history in your first 12 years of education. Who do you remember hearing about? What events were highlighted in all of the textbooks? Were there any discussions of more recent historical events that pertain to race or personal identity? If your answer to the last question was no, you are not alone. Many of us are taught this history without modern context, which often leads to disassociation between the history and people who are affected today. Additionally, the use of cold statistics continues to separate identity from individuals.
The Mind Gap
“... an inability to understand the larger systemic ways in which racism operates,” (Vulchi, P. and Guo, W., 2017). Though the cold statistics may be an issue in the heart gap, we still need to pay attention to the context of why those statistics exist and how they affect individuals. We need to recognize and understand the interpersonal experiences with the history.
Using Inclusive Language
For anyone who has studied at all, many of us learn better by studying together, this includes discussion so you will need to know how to discuss the topic of race and personal identity sensitively.
‘Use people-first language (i.e. person with a disability vs. disabled or person of color vs. colored) unless the person indicates another preference (The Diversity Movement, n.d.). Using person-first language emphasizes the individual before other parts of their identity.
Gender Inclusive Pronouns
‘Never assume a person’s gender identity based on their name or their appearance - if you don’t know, use gender inclusive pronouns or ask for their pronouns,” (The Diversity Movement, n.d.). Nearly all of us have been incorrectly identified as a different gender than what we identify as, and while it is awkward this is often solved with a simple apology. Though it may seem awkward and take some practice, try starting off using gender neutral pronouns and offering a simple apology with missteps.
At the end of the day we the individuals are responsible for our own education. We must go out in search of materials and information to better ourselves. This extends beyond the academic and into the social realm. In order to be responsible members of our communities, we must do our best to be knowledgeable of and compassionate to the experiences of others. Please use the resources provided as a jumping off point of information.
Deggans, E. (2020, August 25). ‘Not Racist’ Is Not Enough: Putting In The Work To Be Anti-Racist. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/24/905515398/not-racist-is-not-enough-putting-in-the-work-to-be-anti-racist
The Diversity Movement. (n.d.). Say This Not That: A Guide to Inclusive Language. Accessed 2022, December 5. https://thediversitymovement.com/say-this-not-that/
Holloway, K. (2015, April 14). Black people are not here to teach you: What so many white Americans just can’t grasp. Salon. https://www.salon.com/2015/04/14/black_people_are_not_here_to_teach_you_what_so_many_white_americans_just_cant_grasp_partner/
Lorde, A. (1980). Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. Paper delivered at the Copeland Colloquium, Amerst College. https://www.colorado.edu/odece/sites/default/files/attached-files/rba09-sb4converted_8.pdf
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (n.d.). Being Antiracist. Accessed 2022, December 4. https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/being-antiracist
Thompson, D. (2021, November 1). 10 Actions You Can Take Today to Be More Inclusive At Work. The Diversity Movement. https://thediversitymovement.com/10-actions-you-can-take-today-to-be-more-inclusive-at-work/#:~:text=The%20most%20important%20thing%20you,Inclusion%20is%20a%20continuous%20practice.
About The Author
Bri Hull is the Communications Associate at the Tallgrass Prairie Center. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Bri came to Iowa to attend Wartburg College. In her time in Iowa she developed an interest in environmental science and stayed to learn more about ways she can help her community. In her time with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Bri hopes to learn how to become more green and how to reach out to her community to do the same.
This blog is one in a series as a part of her 2022-23 Professional Development Project. Her project focuses on increasing diversity and inclusion in our greenspaces.