Blog Prompt: How do the structures and institutions of society create, maintain, and perpetuate white supremacy? How does the intersectionality of poverty, race, gender, class, ability and ethnicity help create oppression for BIPOC? How does your own privilege contribute to the oppression of BIPOC and how can you use your privilege to alleviate that oppression?
The discourse of inclusivity and exclusivity is foundational to the creation, maintenance, and perpetuation of white supremacy in the structures and institutions of Western society. White supremacist discourse correlates directly with the history and legacy of colonialism. White supremacy is based on a discourse that normalizes and neutralizes whiteness, making it the standard against which everything else in society is measured.
White supremacist discourse is fictional; a social creation. But “it is real, in the sense that societies and rights and goods and resources and privileges have been built on its foundation” (DiAngelo, 2018, p. x). Graham & Slee (2008) discuss the white supremacist discourse of inclusion/exclusion and argue that “in naturalising a particular mode of existence, we construct a universalized space free from interrogation, a ghostly center which eludes critical analysis and thus recognition of the power relations embodied within notions of normalcy which exert influence over other ways of being” (p. 287). The ghostly center that Graham & Slee (2008) propose continues to exist because a sense of “normalcy is established through an unsaying; an absence of descriptions” (p. 287) of what it means to be white and to hold privilege in our society. DiAngelo (2018) takes this concept one step further. She suggests that through racist socialization, white people actively deny their privilege, and become defensive at the suggestion of racism, or the racist systems that serve them; a concept she coins “white fragility”. The power of white discourse, coupled with the defense mechanisms of white fragility allow the notions of white supremacy to be a nearly impossible force to dismantle.
When considering the blog prompt for today’s assignment, I find it interesting to compare Graham & Slee’s 2008 article to DiAngelo’s 2018 book as I think it demonstrates a shift in the conceptualization of white discourse. Graham & Slee (2008) argue that the ghostly center of white discourse is impenetrable and that it holds power by not naming or defining what it means to be white. Meanwhile, in 2018, DiAngelo (and many other anti-racist literary leaders) are writing literature that names, defines, and calls out this “ghostly” white discourse. I am not however, suggesting that in the decade between these two works that racism has lessened. The United States is in the middle of a civil rights movement which proves the axiomatic presence of racism in Western culture. But I am hopeful that perhaps voices that aim to deconstruct white supremacy are being amplified in ways that would not have taken place a decade ago.
This decade of comparison is even more relevant to me because 2008 is the year I began my work towards anti-racism. In 2008, I started my B.Ed at the University of Regina and was confronted for the first time with how I was socialized through a system of white supremacy as I read Peggy McIntosh’s article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” for my first ECS course. Each year since then has brought with it more and more learning about myself, my privilege, and how I contribute to an oppressive society for BIPOC. It’s been a decade of learning and I still have far to go. Discussions with other white people have occurred in courses I have taken over the past several years and more recently, these conversations have started occurring in my social circles. While many conversations with family and friends leave me feeling hopeful that the white supremacist discourse is being challenged, there are equally as many conversations where I am confronted with responses of white fragility. There is much work to be done. As Trepczynski (2020) suggests, “black and brown people have been resisting, uprising, and protesting in this country for centuries. If that were enough, it would have worked already. The missing link is white people doing deep, honest, and ongoing inventories (and clean-up) of their own relationship to white supremacy”. I take full responsibly for doing the deep and honest work related to my white supremacy.
DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
Graham, L.J. & Slee, R. (2008). An illusory interiority: Interrogating the discourse/s of inclusion. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40 (2), 277-293. DOI:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00331.x
Sleeter, C. (1993). How white teachers construct race. In C. McCarthy & W. Crichlow (Eds.), Race, identity, and representation in education. (pp. 157-168). Routledge.
Trepczynski, S. (2020, June). Black and brown people have been protesting for centuries. It’s white people who are responsible for what happens next. Retrieved from https://time.com/5846072/black-people-protesting-white-people-responsible-what-happens-next/.
Below is a collection of nature photographs from my backyard for the eco art assignment. As a Covid-19 hobby, I decided to dig a bit deeper into gardening. This year I started several varieties of flowers from seed. This process require beginning the seeds indoors in February, March and April under grow lights. I plan to take some of these photos and replicate them using water colour. For today’s assignment I was able to combine two passions — gardening and photography!
Blog Prompt: What developmental struggles did you have as a child? What help did you receive? Who was there to support you? How does that experience play out in your life now?
As far as I am aware, I did not have any developmental struggles as a child. As a white, middle-class, cisgendered female, I recognize the “ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy” (DiAngelo, 2018, p. 129) that has formed the world I grew up in and as a result gave me many advantages towards ‘typical’ development. DiAngelo’s (2018) book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism describes racism as a “complex social dilemma” (p. 5) and asks white readers to consider how “race will influence whether we will survive our birth, where we are most likely to live, which schools we will attend, who our friends and partners will be, what careers we will have, how much money we will earn, how healthy we will be, and even how long we can expect to live” (p. 5). So, when I think about my childhood development, I am called to these considerations posed by DiAngelo to understand how white supremacy assisted in the playing out of my upbringing and school experiences.
In coming from a family of teachers, the importance of school was stressed, as was following the rules of school — both written and social (racially) assumed. My life was relatively stable and I was able to form secure attachments with my parents and other family members which fostered typical development.
DiAngelo (2018) also calls for readers to “Consider models for child development and its stages, and how our culture talks about children as a collective group…Is an Asian or an Indigenous child’s development the same as a white child’s within the context of white supremacy?” (p. 57). In learning about the trauma-induced neurochemical changes and attachment styles through readings in this class, and through other social justice/anti-racist readings in my M.Ed degree, I have come to realize the intergenerational role that white supremacy has played in systemically inhibiting the health, success, and development of people of colour. Further, to measure all child development as equal is by DiAngelo’s definition, an act of racism as white educators tend to ignore the racial inequities faced by students of colour when we talk about child development, referring to “children as a collective group” (p. 57) and therefore not-naming or not recognizing the barriers non-white students face.
Therefore, while I cannot speak extensively to personal developmental struggles faced, it is my responsibility as an educator to understand the socialized, racialized society that granted me the opportunities I had and recognize how and why my students lives can be and are framed differently. By learning more about these topics, I am becoming increasingly aware of how I can work simultaneously towards including anti-racism and trauma-informed practices into my classroom space and practice.
Blog Prompt: Are you aware of the press of your environment? What do you notice in your everyday surroundings? How are you grounded in the land you live upon? What are the sounds, the odours, the things looked upon, in relationship to you as you move through the environment?
Today’s lecture focused on sensory processing and how to create trauma-informed spaces. Our professor, Karen, mentioned the necessity for educators to be acutely aware of the classroom environment as students use their five senses to interpret the world around them in combination with their nervous system which is constantly scanning for cues of safety and danger. It is important then, for educators to examine personal awareness of the environments they occupy and notice how their preferences for organizing the classroom may appear soothing or chaotic, safe or unsafe, to students who enter the space.
I am frequently aware of my environment, mostly in thanks to my mother, who throughout my childhood, frequently cautioned my sister and I to be aware of our surroundings. Through questioning us as we entered new environments both locally, and while travelling, she encouraged us to engage our nervous system and use environmental cues to determine our safety. Often times upon surveying our surroundings and verbalizing our noticings, she would ask us what our “gut feeling” was about the place we were in. This surveying of our surroundings often included us articulating what we noticed via our five senses. What smells did we notice? What did we notice about the people around us? What was the lighting like? What sense did our body give us about that particular place? Where are the exits? How would you leave this place if you had to do so quickly? What was it about that person that made you feel comfortable (or uncomfortable)? As this type of questioning was often part of the dialogue for most places we went, we grew to be keenly aware of how our bodies processed the environment around us.
Sensory Preferences in My Environment
My preferences for the spaces I occupy are soft or neutral colours, soft and calming objects, soft lighting, calming music, clutter free and clean, spacious, natural light, presence of life, in plants, for example, comfortable seating, scents that are not overpowering, and space for one to be alone, step away or take a break from the main event of that environment. These preferences signal safe, warm, inviting, comfortable feelings. When I am in environments that are opposite of the preferences I have just described I tend to feel the press of the environment and look for ways to spend less time in those spaces. These are all factors I consider when designing my classroom.
Grounding with the Land
Connection with the land is important to me. I have been fortunate for one week each summer to spend time in northern Saskatchewan at a fly-in camp with my family. There is no cell service or connection with the outside world once the tiny bush plane drops us off. Summers up north have been filled with teachings from my dad about living from the land. Hunting, fishing, berry picking, navigating the land and lakes, spotting animals, safety skills, and cooking shore lunches, are just a few of the many skills we learned (and continue to learn) on our visits. My dad has instilled in me the importance of being self-sustainable which has encouraged a love for gardening at home in the city, and choosing local food sources when needed. It is important for me to bring these teachings into the classroom and for students to have the opportunity to learn to grow plants, become aware of the local skills and products available, and spend time on the land as much as possible. Some of the ways we do this is through our Little Green Thumbs garden, inviting local guests and artists, and through a variety of Outdoor Ed opportunities.
Blog Prompt: In your life, try to remember the first time you felt safe. Is there a person, place or thing that helps you feel safe now, in the world? Using your five senses describe it. Where do you feel it in your body? What are your emotions? Where in your body can you anchor this resource? What is your trauma response: fight, flight or freeze?
More so than specific times, people and places stand out as being safe both as a child and throughout my adult life. For me, these safe people include my parents and some extended family members, in particular, my grandma and my aunt. In my adult life, I would include my partner as a person who makes me feel safe.
In addition, there are a few specific places that I find calmness within, particularly in nature. But my safest space has always been my home. My current home which I share with my partner, daughter and two dogs. My childhood home shared with my parents and sister. And my grandparent’s home.
To describe the feelings of safety being at home using my five senses, I arrive at the following responses:
- Smell – aromas of good food being prepared, scented candles, the smell of old books and of fresh new books
- Sound – sometimes laughter and conversation, sometimes calm and quiet, guitar music
- Sight – photographs, people gathered, pets, sunshine
- Taste – delicious meals
- Touch – family and pets close by, camera close by to capture and preserve precious memories with one click!
This exercise in positive neuroception is felt initially in my shoulders and chest. As I become self-aware of my body beginning to relax into a safe and comfortable state, I am reminded to engage in a complete body scan. The feeling of safety is felt somatically as it extends in a flowing manner throughout the rest of my body, bringing peace and comfort.
The opposite becomes true when I am experiencing negative neuroception due to the presence of stressors. In these instances, my body initially feels tension in my chest and shoulders which is a primary indication of my level of discomfort with a person or situation. My trauma response is typically flight.
Blog Prompt: In your life, how aware are you of your own trauma reactions and responses? Have you worked on your trauma issues? Are you aware of when you are activated and when you are stressed? What self-care do you do?
I arrive at this blog post with a significant amount of privilege due to my socialization as a white person. While I have experienced challenging times, I am aware that I have been afforded a limited number of what I would consider incidence of trauma over the course of my life and even in these incidence of trauma, I recognize that white privilege has served me in having a less traumatic experience than people of colour experience under similar circumstances. My stating these facts is for the purpose of recognizing the lens through which I am writing this response.
It is only within the last four years that I have been more aware of my trauma reactions and responses. Not because I have experienced significant trauma in this time frame but rather that in the past four years, I have become much more self-aware and have created personal goals for my self regarding self care and mental health. I am now quick to recognize when I am activated due to increased self awareness of physical responses. My body presents the initial signs when I feel myself shifting away from a self-regulated, ventral vagal state towards the sympathetic. With this increased self-awareness, I have worked towards self-care that decreases that frequency and severity of my response to stress.
My self care is primarily focused on being more calm and peaceful, allowing my mind to settle and avoiding ruminating about issues that cause anxious feelings. While I have always considered myself to be calm and peaceful in the classroom — many colleagues have commented on the calm environment present in my classroom — and through supportive interactions with close family or friends, I have not given myself the same type of care and compassion until more recently.
My physical self care is focused on proper nutrition, drinking adequate water throughout the day and taking time to move my body on days when this is possible. Self care for my mental and emotional self has occurred in the form of meditation, positive affirmations, and educating myself about setting boundaries, and working towards being simultaneously vulnerable and courageous in challenging situations (thanks Brené Brown!) both professionally and personally. This final point is particularly challenging for me as an introvert as I lean towards being quite private and non-confrontational. I recognize that my lack of confidence in being vulnerable and avoiding confrontation are skills that require development as these are two coping strategies I use to avoid being uncomfortable, hurt or from fear of having my boundaries crossed. Further, my practice of self care is focused towards spending my most precious gift, my time, with people I love and feel safe with and doing activities that I love such as reading, being in nature, exploring new places, photography and a new found passion for playing the guitar!
In the past year, I have experienced what I would consider a traumatic event and therefore have spent some time working on the issues related to this trauma. In fact, a number of the emotional and cognitive effects of trauma (Wallace & Lewis, 2020, p. 78) stood out for me as responses that I have experienced. Some of these responses I had previously recognized in myself and others of hadn’t initially occurred to me but now make sense as a response to the trauma I experienced. My primarily outlet for working on my trauma issues has been to lean into the trauma via education. I have immersed myself in understanding the event from multiple perspectives, sought out evidence-based information and narratives of people who have experienced similar situations as well as worked to gain a better understanding of increased personal agency should I experience a similar situation in the future. As Elder Joseph spoke on in class today, I am working to heal using empathy, kindness, respect, and love towards myself and opening myself up to other possibilities of healing processes.
Daily PAN: Hand Art Process Response
Wallace & Lewis (2020). Trauma Informed Teaching through Play Art Narrative (PAN). Koninklijke Brill NV.