Wednesday, July 1, 2015

False Binaries and Good Schools

Guest post by Erin

The notion that two types of schools,  “good” vs  “bad” has never sat well with me.  In short, I've come to see this as a false binary, and a particularly damaging one at that.  It undermines the fabric of the communities in which we live and groups children based on family income and race.  And I now have a better understanding of the very logical explanation for all of it.  

As a parent, I was surprised at how the “good/bad” school conversations started long before my own children were old enough to attend school.   They’d surface on playground sidelines, albeit quite innocently, with chit-chat about how old the kids are, if/where they go to preschool, and in which neighborhood you live.  And without fail, the topic and timeline of your parenting choices shifts to elementary school. And that’s when the good/bad aspect inevitably comes up.  

I generally tend to ask what information or measures parents are basing their statements about whether a school is “good”.  The responses are usually a) parental ranking on websites or b) test scores.  I ask about the highly self-selecting sample of upper/middle class parents that write surveys on school ranking sites. I frequently note that, test scores are only one of many ways to judge quality of education, and standardized tests have been proven to reflect little beyond socioeconomic status. I inevitably struggle because in these conversations we dance around the topic of race (and class - which we know to be inextricably tied).

In America, we can't have an honest and meaningful conversation about schools without discussing the history of government decisions that produced such extremes.  Our history books are structured to paint an image of our history that supports a narrative of our troubled past, which we overcame, because we had a civil rights movement.  I keep trying to understand what events led us to the this point I've found it helpful to create a timeline (it's oversimplified at best) of the series of notable events, decisions and policies of the last century:


1861 -1865
Civil War
1865 -1877ish
Reconstruction
1893
Emancipation Proclamation (Yay! Slaves are free! wait, now what!?!?! Share-cropping, vagrancy laws, incentives for officers to arrest those “associating” across race lines); I just learned that in 1863 - 10,000 slaves in NYC alone were freed, but little changed in their living situations
1896
Plessy vs. Ferguson - Supreme court says separate but equal is cool, Black kids can go to school BUT not a)with white kids b)not if their parents were slaves c)not if they have to work as sharecroppers so they have a place to live
1900s- 1960s
“The Great Migration” of 6 million blacks from south to big cities on the West Coast, Midwest and Northeastern parts of the country to escape the state-sanctioned domestic violence known as Jim Crow in the South (read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson)
1940s
WWII ends and white soldiers return home w/GI bill, to buy homes in areas where blacks are actively excluded (both overtly through redlining, and covertly through restrictive covenants) - Although the GI bill was technically “available” to all veterans, only 4% of returning Black soldiers were able to actually benefit from the bill because they were unable to get loans for property ownership in predominantly white areas
1940s-
Blockbusting by realtors scares white homeowners into selling cheap and allows realtors to turn around and rent a single-family home to many Black families at much higher prices. Restrictive covenants are made between real estate brokers and homeowners associations; redlining; FHA low interest loans (read Seeing White, Jean O'Malley Halley)
1964
Civil rights act & school integration (in Boston--Chain of Change, Mel King)
1960-1970s
Integration fuels massive white-flight to suburbs nationwide
ongoing
Wealth accumulated over past generations enables those homeowners to assist with college tuition &/or down payments on homes for their children (mostly baby-boomers like my parents)
1960-1990s
These baby-boomers purchase homes in neighborhoods that are built on restrictive covenants (the totally legal way that homeowners and real estate brokers work-around for the fact that it’s illegal to forbid sale to blacks)
1970-80s
Many baby boomers go on to achieve higher levels of education & access to higher paying jobs and were able to accumulate wealth to pass on to their children
1990s-present
Factory jobs get moved overseas where labor is cheaper

Working class neighborhoods transition to extremes that reinforce past patterns of segregation.  Hyper-ghettos are established where areas of concentrated poverty
Present
The wealth gap is expanding, schools are again segregated.


This time last year, I was back in my hometown of Houston for my Granny’s funeral.  In her Milby High School yearbook, I came across a “Pledge of Allegiance” that she and her classmates made to their community during their graduation.



All parents exert influence through their choices. But what if parents decided to “always exert influence" not only for their kids, but for the benefit of all students? What would happen if as a society, we all stopped thinking of schools as good or bad and instead we focused the funds and energy to shaping schools to prepare all children for their contributions to society. What if we collectively recognize that it’s in all of our best interest to educate ALL children, for they will inherit the systems we create and maintain?

This either/or thinking is a hallmark of white supremacy culture.  It allows for the status quo to continue and for those with power to retain it and pass it on to their children.  Things are either good, or they are bad.  An action is right or it is wrong.  You are either on my team or you are my opponent. You are my ally or you are my enemy.  YOU are good or you are evil. You are racist or you are not. A person you pass on the sidewalk is safe or they are dangerous.    This attitude is dangerous for a number of reasons.  It gives us permission to avoid discussion and attempting to understand the complexity of these issues.  It allows people to buy into the notion that a school is “good” or it is “bad”.  Plenty of parents will point to standardized test scores as a qualifier for why a school is good/bad.  Yet, when asked about the high-stakes testing that occurs, the consensus among both parents and teachers is that there is too much. The testing mandated by No Child Left Behind pulls valuable time away from opportunities for innovating and exciting educational exploration.  Arguably all parents want these same things for their children. Allison Benedikt of Slate shares these sentiments:

“Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids. Use the energy you have otherwise directed at fighting to get your daughter a slot at the competitive private school to fight for more computers at the public school. Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school—the one you are now sending your child to—better. Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.”

I can't help but feel that when white families opt out of the public system they fail to see the effect it has on the other students in the district.  Does wanting “what’s best” for one’s child have to come at the expense of other children?  When families with resources to improve education for their own children focus efforts on the institutions that serve all children in the community, everyone benefits. As our focus stays fixed on defining schools as “good” or “bad”, we lose sight of why public education exists in the first place.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Confronting My Own Racism

I am a white woman, and I have spent most of my life not thinking about race. Not in a "we live in a post-racial America" type of way, but just that on an everyday level it didn't really come up that much. Of course when something overtly racist happened, I would notice and be upset by it. I knew that people of color (POC) are underrepresented in STEM, I thought this was a bad thing, and I wanted to increase the number of underrepresented minorities (URM) in Astronomy and Physics. But overall, race and racism was an occasional thought that would briefly come to my mind, and then quickly leave.
Source: Washington Post 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Examining My Whiteness

by Erin

In his last post, John posed the following questions:

  • What does it mean for you to be white in the US, or Western Europe, or the world?
  • How does your whiteness affect the conversations you have in your daily lives?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit (as you may imagine!) and share my responses here:

I'm white. But until recently I didn't know it.  I know that sounds silly, because I've checked those "white" boxes for all of my life, but I didn't deeply examine what it meant to be white because I never had to. I always thought of myself as differently. Or I didn't think of whiteness as a thing - I was just "normal, or American". My family's ethnic heritage is Italian, French and German and so that's how I've seen myself...as the embodied mashup of my relatives who emigrated to US 4-5 generations ago. Regardless, just as the world sees John as black, I'm seen as white.  My whiteness allows me to blend in. To go unnoticed. To be silent when I want or to speak up when I choose. To float through life without my very presence rubbing someone the wrong way.  It has allowed me to look for the good in everything.  It fueled my positive outlook for so long it earned me the nickname "Optimissy"  -remember those Little Miss books? "Little Miss Optimist" would be mine.

Being a white woman means I get to be "default".  I'm the norm, I don't stand out and as such, I'm generally given the benefit of the doubt. I can trust that others will see me as "safe" and won't cross to the opposite side of the street when I approach them on the sidewalk. Others are patient with me when I ask for directions.  I can ask questions without others wondering why I didn't get it the first time. I can rely on people hearing my words rather than fearing or dismissing me as "aggressive" for speaking out about something that hurts me. My whiteness shields me from daily questioning about why I am in a given space and ensures that I will get good service in restaurants and while shopping. My whiteness means I'm approachable and people regularly offer to help me if I'm lost or drop something. I can wear pajamas in public or leave the house without fixing my hair and not be called a "crack head." I can open a box of crackers for my hungry kids in the grocery store before paying for them and no one will raise an eyebrow or question whether I will pay for them. To my knowledge, I have never been followed around a store. Being white meant my parents didn't have to have explicit conversations with me about how to interact with a police officer when I get pulled over for speeding, and I can have a conversation with a cop when pulled over (a luxury not afforded my husband, as I clearly witnessed recently).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I love white people. Seriously!

I've been getting a lot of email, private Tweets, and Facebook private messages that seem to be expressing a common theme: "Why don't you like white people? Why are you so bitter against white people? Be nice to white people!"

Allow me to clarify something very important: I love white people. Not to sound like a white person talking about their "black friend," or the sexist talking about how "my mom is a woman," but I work with white people, advise them, mentor them, eat lunch with them, get coffee with them, play basketball with them, do astronomy with them, etc. I'm the son of a white woman. I married a white woman. I have the best (white) mother-in-law anyone could ever hope for (she gave me a Black power beer stein for my birthday for chrissakes!) 

I love white people.

But you know what I have a hard time with, nay, can't stand? White culture. White culture---the straight, cis-male version in particular---is anathema to me. I think this is a very important distinction. This even goes way beyond "Love the player hate the game." The thing about white culture I dislike the the most is the fact that no one talks about white culture. It's as if it doesn't exist.

Whenever I fill out any kind of form asking for demographic information, I have to check something that identifies me as "Black," "Black/African American," "Black/non-Hispanic," etc, and my University sees me and calls me a minority or URM, or on a really good day a person of color. All of my life it has been clear to me that I belong to a group, and that group is based on being non-white.

The problem with white culture is that white people see themselves as "normal people" and as "individuals," and as such don't recognize themselves as belonging to a specific group of people in our society. More than being normal, and hence invisible, it is also considered "right"  and "superior." Everyone should aspire to be accepted into or tolerated by white culture, because to be a part of it is key to being American. The combination of being normal and right is what makes white culture normative

That's a key aspect of white culture: to be white is to be normative, invisible, regular, taken for granted, and most importantly, superior. This is white supremacy in a nutshell. It's not the sheet-wearing, cross-burning, KKK membership variety, per se. Those are all subsets, albeit extreme subsets of white supremacy. But white supremacy goes well beyond these extreme examples. 

If you are white, everything in American society is geared toward you and people like you, from "flesh-colored" Bandaids, to "Nude" clothing, to every goddamned show on Netflix, to our politicians, to political discourse, to our wealthiest private universities (HWCUs as I call them). This country is based on and geared toward white people. That's a very important aspect of white American culture. It doesn't get any bigger than the fact that culture itself in your country is geared toward your people! That is white supremacy.

The supremacy of white culture shows up in almost every aspect of life. White families have 20 times the wealth (assets minus debt) as Black and Latina/o families. White people numerically dominate every aspect of our country's societal, economic, judicial and political structure. This means that white people are in charge of shaping this country's social norms, wealth/income distribution, and laws. There is no aspect of American life in which Black or Latina/o people can exert this sort of influence and control. Whiteness permeates every aspect of our society. And yet it is invisible to most white people.

The flip side is that non-white people and their cultures are seen as inferior, strange, always lower and always the exception. This is troublesome to me, and the more I learn about race and racism, the more I see everyday examples of non-white people being relegated to lower rungs in our society. Sadly, my field of science provides the clearest view of this: 90% of astronomers are white, and less than 2% are Black, Latina/o, or Native. That's white supremacy. It's right there in  your hallway every day, and its presence does not go unnoticed by the few people of color you may (or may not) have in your department or institution. 

So here's my challenge to white people. Answer these questions:
  • What does it mean for you to be white in the US, or Western Europe, or the world?
  • How does your whiteness affect the conversations you have in your daily lives?
If you, as a white person, start asking yourself the first question every morning, and the second question throughout your day, you will actively combat systemic racism. Seriously. You'll help PoC, especially women of color. You'll make a huge difference in your world and your scientific community. This is called keeping your privilege in focus. This is unpacking your invisible knapsack. This would be AWESOME!

I'd love to hear from the white people in the comments section What are your answers to my two questions above? I don't expect much, but I'm always happy to be surprised!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What to do when you hurt someone: Stop talking, start listening

Guest post by Renée Hlozek

There have been a lot of emotions flaring within the larger astronomy community. There have been friendships severed and alliances forged while debates raged in the open forum.

As a community we've been dealing with some of the following issues [Note: please excuse the over-simplifications here - I don't mean to reduce the discussions but I want to précis some of the issues that have been discussed]:
  • how do we deal with racism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism in astronomy in the US context and more globally?
  • how do we confront the spectre of colonialisation (both in the past and in the narratives of colonialisation that remain)?
  • how do we even have conversations about issues of race in astronomy, given the heated nature of the debate?
  • how do we make a safe place to deal with issues that we may not have realised exist (given our own privilege)?
  • how do we share our own stories (be they from a different cultural context or country) without speaking over or distracting from one thread?
  • what happens when you become 'the bad guy' and feel backed into a corner, and/or wronged?
A week ago I left the Astronomers page for a while because I started to feel unsafe and harassed by some of the arguments (and those individuals putting forward various arguments) and I needed some time to regroup. In one case an astronomer made an observation, and this was challenged in the comments of the FB thread. A bit of a back-and-forth ensued between what a person said privately and publicly and things got very intense. When called out, the astronomer was eventually removed from the group, but kept contacting people individually to try and clear their name. There were some allegations that screenshots were being taken of conversations on another thread to show as 'evidence' of different discussions and it all started to get pretty stressful. Unfortunately once the astronomer left the group (they have since rejoined) the original posts were removed, and so it had the effect of feeling like all this had happened partly in a dream. I decided for my sanity and safety I'd leave the group and 'check out' of the discussions to regroup and find my center (these conversations can be incredibly destabilising, one of the dangers we forget about engaging online).

After a call by John Johnson on the Equity FB page I realised that I'm in a lucky position. I'm also also in a privileged position, with the luxury of walking away from racism, while people of color cannot do the same. So I'm going to try and tread lightly here. I have been both the offender who wants to understand and make amends and figure out where it all went wrong AND I've been the offended party who feels like they are drowning in other people's good intentions but harmful---even if unintentionally harmful---words.

There have been lots of very good links on how to deal with these issues---and I don't want to 'spare' anyone the reading (e.g. herehere, here and here). Educating oneself when it comes to these issues of race, power and status at this time is really important for everyone.

But I wanted to highlight one super important and overlooked action you can take when you are called out and don't understand but there appears to be a lot of hurt.

Just stop.

No really. Stop. Stop talking, stop explaining, stop commenting.

You can't listen if you don't stop. And I realise that sometimes you don't want to listen. Because you feel you are in the right, or you never meant to harm, or you feel like you are being shouted at unfairly or you feel like if people just grasped how much you mean to be supportive they'd get it. I know you may want to reach out to friends who know you or who would advocate on your behalf. Or you want people to know you didn't mean to offend them, and you want to highlight your track record with various diversity efforts.

But stop. Please.

It is amazing how continued arguments with people when in that emotional phase can damage and hurt and make me never want to engage with you ever again. In these debates that is the equivalent of running down the street after me. It makes me want to lock the door to my house and never come out. Your explanations will not help. You will just continue to assault and offend. 

So what can you do?

Well, if you do actually care about making amends with someone---then say "hey, I'm going to let this cool down a bit, I apologise [no really, apologies make a BIG difference] for my behaviour [note: saying you are sorry for how I feel or sorry if you hurt me because you didn't mean to isn't the same thing] and then say something like: "if you would like to hear more of my opinion and what I was trying, but failed to say properly, I'd love to have more dialogue later."

And then let it cool down.

The person who was offended may not want that dialogue. And that hurts, because you feel like there is so much more to say. But you can't have every conversation---sometimes we can build those things we wanted to say into a calmer, cooler narrative and communicate them anyway, without the heat and pain that they were connected to earlier.

But until then, stop.

If we don't stop talking and start listening to those who have been voiceless for so long we are going to break this community apart.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Guest post by Dimitri Robert Dounas-Frazer on Learning How to Be a White Anti-racism Ally

Today's guest blogger is Dimitri Robert Dounas-Frazer, a frequent poster in the Equity & Inclusion Facebook Page, and a white man who allies as a verb. Dimitri earned his PhD in physics from UC Berkeley and he is currently a postdoctoral researcher at CU-Boulder working on physics education research. 

When John asked me to write a guest post for his blog, he said, “Humans need to hear stories to make logical connections. We are storytellers. The story of your personal journey will help people start putting the pieces together.”

Here’s my best attempt to summarize where I am now, how I got here, and what’s on the horizon in terms of promoting equity and inclusion in Physics.

Part 1: My Whiteness

First, so that my fellow cis white men don’t feel alone when they make similar statements about themselves, it’s important to say this upfront: I have benefitted from, and contributed to, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional racism. And: I will continue to benefit from that oppression despite my best intentions and efforts.

Some brief personal history: On my father’s side, my family tree traces back to the pilgrim Paul Sears. My dad has a brass coin of some sort to this effect. When I was younger, I used to stare at the coin and think that my lineage made me a “real” American, one of the “first.” My colonialist understanding of American identity was (is?) a result of my socialization in a country where whiteness is normative and where American history starts with Plymouth Rock instead of the Bering Strait, with Purple Mountain Majesties instead of the culture and history of the Ute nation. Chimamanda Adichie calls this “The Danger of a Single Story.

My mother was born in Greece. When she was finishing primary school, her family emigrated to South Africa. At the time they lived there, apartheid was still in effect, and my mom and her family were perceived and treated as white. My grandparents found work, saved money, and eventually came to the U.S. Thus, as is the case for my paternal ancestors, exploitation of people of color is an integral thread in the fabric of my mother’s and maternal grandparents’ history.

So, I benefitted from my whiteness even before I was born, as do all white people.

As a kid, I grew up in a family where my white parents and white grandparents owned their own homes. My neighbors were all white. Most of my childhood friends were white. All of us in my family and neighborhood had benefitted from racism in the housing market, something Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “The Quiet Plunder.” 

I worked as a busboy at my uncle’s restaurant when I was in high school. My uncle forbade me, the only non-Latino busboy, from cleaning the bathrooms because that type of work wasn’t for “people like me.” Did he mean white people? Greek people? Family members? Probably all of the above. Thus, I was socialized in settings where my whiteness was not just normative, but better than.
  
I went to a small engineering college where roughly 75% of the students were men and 75% were white. In 2006--my last year of college--the college president announced a Diversity Initiative. Almost 10 years later, these trends are no different. And in that 10 years, the sexist slur “RIBS” is still a common feature of campus culture. In college, I joined a field (Physics) in which 80% of college degrees are awarded to men and 80% to white people--trends which, again, have been stagnant or worsening over the last decade.

My education has not only bolstered my perception that whiteness is the norm, but, in the words of philosopher Arianne Shahvisi, it also “reinforces the belief that [I was] special, or deserving, to start with.” Moreover, along the lines of psychologist Albert Bandura’s work on self-efficacy, witnessing the success of other white, male students enhanced my own confidence and motivation.

These are just some of the cultural, institutional, and psychological ways I benefitted--and continue to benefit--from my race. However, the point here isn’t to catalogue all of my privileges. Instead, John has asked for my story. So, now that the stage has been set, I’ll give brief overview of how I came to be aware of my unearned privilege and power.

Part 2: Awakening

In May 2014, a straight cis white man killed 6 people and injured 14 others in Isla Vista, CA. I was teaching physics in San Luis Obispo when this happened. Many of my students spent their weekends in the Isla Vista area. Having gone to high school in Lakewood, CO, during the Columbine massacre, the Isla Vista killings knocked something loose in my heart. I remember feeling a deep sense of dread and worry for my students and their friends.
  
The Isla Vista killings were different from the Columbine massacre in several ways. One of those differences was that, in the former case, the killer went on a murderous rampage because women weren’t giving him the sex to which he felt entitled. I couldn’t wrap my head around this motivation. In an effort to make sense of what happened, I found myself reading feminist blogs and engaging in lots of conversations with my friends and colleagues.

First, the ugliness: I found out that many of my male friends were blaming women and feminists for the killings. After a lot of challenging conversations with these men, I ended up parting ways with most of them. I simply couldn’t accept their mentality--certainly not in the context of the violence that just transpired so close to where I lived. This process was emotionally taxing.

Next, the less ugly parts: I learned about different types of feminism, including intersectional feminism. I remember one phone call in particular. This call was with a smart and passionate woman who I met in grad school and has since become one of my best friends and most trusted colleagues. “What does it mean to be a feminist?” I asked. “Am I a feminist?” She and I explored these ideas over the course of several conversations.

Looking back on that period of time and reflecting on those conversations, I feel like I deconstructed and then reconstructed myself. What do I value? What do I stand for?

Or, more importantly: Who do I value? Who do I stand for?

A few months after the Isla Vista killings, Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer. This tragedy happened at a time when I was still in the process of rebuilding myself and my values, leaving me me wide open to exploring other dimensions of oppression and marginalization beyond sexism. And so Brown’s death added a new layer to my ongoing learning about the inherent violence of white/male supremacy in the U.S.

Again, this process involved lots of reading, talking, and listening. Ezekiel Kweku’s blog post “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” sticks out as a particularly memorable reading from last fall. Around this time, a friend and co-teacher sent me a link to Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s TEDx talk in which Duncan-Andrade says, “One in three urban youth displays symptoms of mild to severe PTSD. And when you compare that data to the military data, you find that urban youth are twice as likely soldiers returning from Iraq to get PTSD.” Duncan-Andrade goes on to describe the concept of Complex-PTSD, which Wikipedia defines as:
a psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma in the context of dependence, captivity or entrapment (a situation lacking a viable escape route for the victim), which results in the lack or loss of control, helplessness, and deformations of identity and sense of self.
At the time, I was still in the process of reacting to, and learning from, the Isla Vista killings. So, issues of sexual violence against women and PTSD were fresh in my memory as I watched Duncan-Andrade’s TEDx talk. The concept of PTSD turned out to be a major link that helped me connect Isla Vista to Ferguson, a connection that gave me a foothold into understanding what “white/male supremacy” was capable of. Or rather, what white/male supremacy is doing:

White masculinity in the U.S. inflicts violence and lasting psychological harm on people of color and white women.

My white/male privilege initially made this hard for me to see and accept. It took me 30 years to really understand that race, sex, and power are intimately connected in the U.S., and that racism and sexism permeate every aspect of our lives. Now I know that where I live, where I went to school, what I studied, my ignorance of what hunger feels like, my ignorance of what a broken bone feels like, my ignorance of fear, even my embrace of the American identity... all of these things are facilitated by the unearned power and privilege that comes along with my white maleness.

Part 3 My Queerness

As a college student, I remember saying things like, “Well, I never owned slaves,” or “I never took land” in defense of my self-perceived innocence with respect to historical acts of racism and colonialism. Now, I know that such statements are, well, bullshit. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the details of the emotional growth that happened between then and now. But I’ll do my best to describe that process.

I came out as gay the summer before my first year of college. Towards the end of the year, a young woman who was also finishing her first year came to my dorm room and asked, “Are you the gay guy? My friends and I were talking about renting a house together, and we thought it would be fun to live with a gay guy.” Caught off guard, I told her that I was indeed the gay guy. After talking for a bit about our hobbies and interests (mine included rock climbing and backpacking), she said, “Actually, I don’t think this will work. You’re not the right type of gay.”

As an undergrad, I did research in the Chemical Engineering Department one summer. The grad student in that group was also gay. He had grown up in Laramie, WY--the same town where Matthew Shepard was beaten, killed, and tied to a fence. The grad student and I had several conversations about what Shepard’s murder meant for us and our safety on a campus that was pretty hostile to queer people.

So, as I started learning about patriarchy and white supremacy, about commodifying minorities, and about the violence of oppression, I had a reference point. My queerness grounded concepts which, for others, may seem abstract or theoretical. In addition, my queerness helped me dissociate myself from the motives of the Isla Vista killer, preventing me from identifying with him even though we were both cis white men.

Also, I had been engaged in outreach work for years before the Isla Vista killings and the murder of Michael Brown, so I had a foundation for understanding the systemic institutional and cultural roots of “diversity issues” (a term which I’ve since stopped using  in favor of the terms “supremacy” and “oppression”). I’m sure my experiences teaching, mentoring, and co-working with students from marginalized groups helped me dive into learning about intersectional feminism in a way that didn’t immediately trigger overwhelming feelings of shame.

However, realizing that I was complicit in a system that inflicts damage on white women and people of color was still a hard pill to swallow. My queerness and outreach experience didn’t prevent me from, e.g., tone policing a woman of color when she called out a white man for blatantly sexist speech in an online forum dedicated to social justice in physics and astrophysics. Similarly, my queerness didn’t prevent me from experiencing white fragility the first few times I got called out on sexist and/or racist speech of my own.

Sexism is different from racism is different from homophobia. Being gay might have helped me empathize with the experiences of people of color and white women, but it certainly was no magic solution to my own problematic socialization. And it certainly doesn’t eliminate the feelings of embarrassment or depression that accompany learning about my role in oppression.

Part 4: What's Next?

Now that I am aware, what next? First, I continue to learn. Not only about racism and sexism, but also about ableism, classism, transphobia, and homophobia. I’m learning about intersectionality. I’m learning about how, as a queer person, there is a real temptation to cling to my white/male privilege. (In fact, as Christina Hanhardt demonstrates in her critical examination of gay neighborhoods, cis white gay men have a history of oppressing poor queer people, queer people of color, and trans* people in the name of “safety.”) I’m also learning that being queer doesn’t magically prevent me from doing and saying homophobic things, promoting heterosexist culture or policy, etc.
  
So. Much. Learning.

This learning happens through reading blogs, peer-reviewed articles, and books. It happens through conversations with people, both in-person and online. More recently, I have been trying to really listen to poets and songwriters like Venessa Marco, Denice Frohman, and Janelle Monáe who speak and sing about patriarchy, homophobia, and queer female role models.

For me, social media--and Facebook in particular--has been an incredible medium for learning. For instance, it was through Facebook that John recommended to me the book Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race by Halley, Eshleman, and Vijaya.

One important thing to remember is that this learning often happens at the expense of people from marginalized groups. Over the last six months, a lot of my learning has been in response to being called out for problematic speech or action. This is different from making (and learning from) mistakes in a typical classroom context because these “mistakes” bear the weight of my white maleness and thus promote oppression. Moreover, I am often called out by the very people who suffer from the very oppression promoted by my problematic speech and action. Thus, people of color often do “double-duty” in the sense that they both persevere in the face of oppression *and* educate oppressors. Doing so comes at huge emotional, cognitive, and temporal costs--which means that the lessons need to be cherished and remembered.

To Be Continued

In this post, I’ve focused on my ongoing process of learning about white/male supremacy. But learning is only part of the story. As Chescaleigh says, "Ally is a verb. Saying you're an ally is not enough, you've got to do work" (see also Dr. Sarah Ballard's recent post). So I want to finish this post with a “To Be Continued” of sorts, because the story of my journey is far from over.