Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Stream of Consciousness: Inspired by Moral Monday CT & Watkinson School

In 2007 I was attending Watkinson School, a private school on Bloomfield Avenue off of Albany Avenue. It was my senior year; I was in photography and working on a project for the spring semester. My project was titled “Socioeconomic Disparities on Albany Avenue” and I took photos of Albany Ave down in the north end of Hartford all the way up going towards Bishops Corner, towards the mountain where predominately white wealthy people live. I took a picture of a church in the north end that was in an old house juxtaposed to the synagogue, I took a picture of some of the houses and some of the people; the disparities were obvious, the wealth was obvious and the poverty was too. I put these photos on a poster and hung it up in a building at Watkinson along with projects from other students in the class.

Not shortly after, a few students came back from their spring break trip to Ghana and did an all school presentation on their time there. It became very clear to me that these white students standing before me at this all school meeting, had no understanding of unconscious racism, stereotypes or their perpetuation of it because in this presentation they made remarks that were offensive, ignorant, and preventable through identity work, social justice education and cultural competency. That happened on a Friday, on Monday I came in and stood before the entire school with a few other black people who found the presentation offensive. One by one almost every person of color came down and stood with us before we began to speak. We named unconscious racism that existed (exists) on our campus and how we needed to address it. I didn’t mention the Ghana trip/presentation specifically but it was implied. I remember quoting Marianne Williamson, I remember feeling free from fear or judgement

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The next day, well the day of, but really the next day I started to receive backlash. I arrived to school on Tuesday a few minutes late, outside was my mentor, as I walked in she told me that people were upset. One of the teachers wanted me to take my photo project down, now remember this poster had been up for a while already. This teacher felt like my project exploring socioeconomic disparities on Albany Avenue was offensive. That she went to that synagogue and her family bought a house in that area and they worked hard, they didn’t contribute to the state of black people in the North end of Hartford. What I didn’t have then that I have now is language and an understanding of what that reaction was.

That was the reaction of a fragile uninformed white person. That was the reaction of someone who had not reconciled that being a “well-intentioned” good person doesn’t mean that you also don’t perpetuate systems of oppression. That was the reaction of someone who, I assume, had no understanding of how they operate in a system that continues to disenfranchise poor black and brown communities and instead spews ideology that if you just work hard you too could live on this side of the neighborhood. This was a teacher who was elevated in this school system as an authority, as someone who was supposed to give me knowledge and information and instead tried to silence me and erase my community and my reality from the walls of the institution, literally.
Their complete lack of understanding, and their complete unawareness told me that this battle was far more difficult- this wasn’t just about a bunch of uneducated, uninformed 17 year olds, I was operating in a system where even the people who were supposed to be teaching me had no awareness of their own position in a system of white supremacy and privilege and how deeply that was tied to socioeconomic disparities. That they could be so audacious to request that I take down a project that I was doing to educate a community that was completely unaware and uninformed about anything having to do with whiteness and anything having to do with their history in this country and how they got to where they are, how they got to live in the beautiful mansions down the street from the governor.

Even if your family immigrated here and was not around during the enslavement of black people or the genocide of indigenous peoples of the United States, you STILL benefit from the atrocities committed against black and brown people in this country. Why do you not understand that? I know why, because no one ever taught you that, because you went to Eurocentric schools that taught you that your ancestors immigrated here, struggled, but worked really hard and voila! You made it. That your great great great grandmother had a factory job and saved all her pennies, or your great grandfather went to war and then used the GI bill to go back to school, or how they saved up to buy a house in a suburb and that’s how your family became stable and comfortable. You hear all these stories and all of these truths without ever being told who was blocked out from accessing all of those benefits and opportunities: who was unable to access housing, who was unable to access resourced educational systems, who was unable to access transportation to get to and from a job, who was unable to access a job in the first place. Because my great great great grandmother was blocked out, yours was able to access opportunities. That is not to say that white folks didn’t work hard but that is to say that your hard work alone is not responsible for the accumulation of white wealth and success.**

**Might I suggest you skip that morning coffee or happy hour drink and purchase:  
“Racial Formation inthe United States from the 1960s to the 1990s” by Omi & Winant.

Yesterday, people from my tribe, radical activists, clergy, friends, blocked that beloved intersection, Bloomfield Ave and Albany Ave. Yesterday, people were arrested for standing against status quo and white supremacy. Just a couple blocks away from my high school, a couple blocks away from where people attempted to silence me, there were people in the street saying that my life mattered, there were people in the street with signs reminiscent of that photo project I had up 8 years ago. Yesterday, white children were at a standstill on their school bus, forced outside of their bubble, while parents commented on the Hartford Courant article to spew ignorance and hatred about how stupid this is, how they despise the interruption and that this is no way to get a message across.

If you aren’t with us, you are against us. In your silence, in your willful ignorance, in your hateful Facebook (unasked for) commentary you are against us. And all I have to say to that is: 

everything is not about you.