SOL #10 A Challenge to fellow Slicers to share a story about race

So I’m into a slicing groove now. Got a reasonable rhythm. I know how to not overcommit. I keep my posts short and manageable. Don’t worry much about the yardsticks of creativity or originality. It’s day 10 after all and things are humming along, right?

Here’s some truth. When it comes time to comment and I need to pick at least 3, I am overwhelmed on a couple of different levels. First it’s the sheer number. Depending on the time I check in there could be anywhere from 12 to 149. As I scroll up and down I look for titles that call to me. I try to find at least one person whose slices I haven’t read yet at all and leave a comment. Perhaps like the teacher I am, I regret that I won’t get to comment on more. I feel a little guilty that I’m not taking on 6 or 10 or more. But time is limited and I need to be realistic about what’s doable, so I stick to 3 -5. Done.

The other thing, is that as I scroll through the many profile pics, I am struck with how white and female this collective is. There are very few people of color that I can readily identify based on those micro pics and I also know that this is largely representative of the field of Language Arts teachers in North America. And while I appreciate the work of several educators in this community and elsewhere incorporating anti-racism and anti-bias work into their curricula and book selections, I cannot ignore that feeling I get of being one of so very few.

And there’s the hesitation to say anything at all. To not want to put a damper on all the good vibes we’ve already created in 10 days or for some, over several years. Why rain on anyone’s parade? So what if the group is almost all white women? Who’s to say that that’s not one of the strengths of this particular community? And from someone who fits in so seamlessly, who am I to make waves, throw stones or rock the boat? (mixing my metaphors like cocktails, this morning.)

Alas, there’s the rub. Who else notices this fact? Who else is wondering about why this is the case and how it might matter for what we do and think outside of this community? What if this community reflects the contexts that most members experience in their day to day lives? What if most of the white people in this group only know and talk to other white people?

What I want folks to understand is that this state of affairs has very real and concrete consequences for how we understand and interpret events and experiences. Talking about race is uncomfortable for a lot of folks. It hatches all kinds of difficult feelings including guilt, shame, anger, defensiveness, helplessness. So many of us avoid it like the plague if we can. So on day 10 of the slice of life challenge, I want to offer a challenge to all of my fellow slicers:

During this month, if you are willing, please talk a bit about race and how it affects your life. An episode, memory, an insight, a book you read, a class you took, a conversation you had – whatever you are willing to share. Tag me on Twitter @edifiedlistener or send me an e-mail: sherspelic@gmail.com.

We have the benefit of community here. Please let’s use it to grow ourselves in multiple ways. Talking about race is necessary and critical. We have an opportunity. I wonder how we will use it. Thanks for hearing me out. I appreciate your being here.

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39 thoughts on “SOL #10 A Challenge to fellow Slicers to share a story about race

  1. Sherri
    I’ve been part of Slice of Life on and off for more than ten years, and sometimes I note in reflections at the end of March the same observation you write about here — the gender, race dynamic is predominantly white, female.
    I’ve sometimes, as a participant writer, tried to connect Slice of Life with other communities, to invite more people in. I was never all that successful. As white male elementary teacher/writer, this demographic make-up has not hindered me personally as a writer. SOL at TWT is still an amazing thing — hundreds of teachers, writing! It was more, this could be a positive opening for so many more teachers with diverse backgrounds to write with others, to share and make connections, to expand the notion of storytelling.
    Speaking only from my standpoint as a male teacher, and remembering an interaction I once had from another male teacher who did a bit of Slice one year and then stopped when he noticed he was not getting comments on his writing, I think Slice of Life can be seen by a newcomer as a female-infused writing space. I’m not sure if is is perceived as having a white face to it, too, but maybe it does. When we don’t see ourselves in a space, we are less likely to dip our toes in.
    I know Stacey and others at TWT are cognizant this point, too, and they strive to make sure everyone is invited, and appreciated, and I know that they would love a more diverse group.
    How to achieve that? It would likely involve more time spent actively inviting diverse folks from other communities. It might involve adding even more diversity to the main administrators of the site. It might even require thinking of the design of the TWT website to showcase the ways in which a diverse writing community looks.
    All of this can seem forced, particularly at first, until the momentum catches on, and then it can become a natural way of being. Just think of the potential, building on what is already an amazing experience for many teachers to write publicly, a huge barrier for many made easier by the Slice of Life community.
    Kevin

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Kevin, thank you so much for responding so fully to my invitation. I appreciate your presence in TWT SOL community and must say that from the beginning, seeing you here helped me feel welcome and decide to stay. I appreciate this community immensely as it has helped me attend to parts of my writing that might not otherwise see much light. I agree with the characterization of SOL as a “female-infused writing space” and can imagine how some men might feel a bit awkward or underappreciated in this setting. (Which, by the way, gets me asking a whole other set of questions. ;-)) There are so many aspects to each of our identities that may feel out of place here – based on socio-economic status, mental health struggles, gender non-conformity, able-bodiedness, religion, or political persuasion. I understand if folks prefer not to address those here or in public at all. For this reason I rely on the combination of observation, personal commentary followed by an invitation. No need to respond or engage if one does not feel called to. That’s important. Thank you for sharing your thinking in a follow-up post. That honors me and my ideas greatly. I am glad to know you and your meaningful work.

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  2. The highly female, mostly white makeup of our SOL community is something our co-author team is not only aware of, but it is something we have been discussing at every Google Hangout. I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about this — on the phone if you have the time — because this is something we want to change. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you since we think it is important to diversify our community of writers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would love to, Stacey. I appreciate your responsiveness. I believe in this community where so many wonderful things are happening all the time, many of which I will never see. Thank you for reaching out. If you shoot me an e-mail, I can share a phone number or maybe a G-hangout would work, too.

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  3. Hi Sherri. Thank you for the challenge. I really appreciate your willingness to step forward and ask people to talk about race, but I’m also sorry that it has to be you that does it. On Friday I posted about a party at work, which included anonymous pictures of my colleagues arms, and I thought to myself, “Huh. Look at all the white people.” I didn’t write that, but I could have. I finally finished reading White Fragility and I am looking forward to talking about it with my coworkers next week. I have some ideas for posts for this challenge, although I immediately struggle with telling stories truthfully while maintaining the anonymity of the children involved (especially because there are so few CoC in my school!). I don’t want this to stop me or anyone else, but it is important to be mindful that when we tell stories of other people – of children – that we are telling their stories as well as our own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank YOU, Julie for sharing your impressions. I don’t do this so much either: “Look at all the white people” probably because it’s still my given in most situations. Yet when I do notice and wonder, I am rarely surprised or particularly moved. What does amaze me is when I look at the history of why this might be the case, when I ask how have we come to be here (in my school, for instance) with so few POC and a fairly narrow demographic representation of white folks? That’s where the harder truths are buried and the efforts to uncover them are not always welcome nor appreciated.
      That said, when I imagine people sharing their stories, I hope they will keep your point about whose stories we are telling, in mind. Not all stories are ours to tell. I have to think of this often when I want to share news about or comments from my sons. I have learned to ask for permission to share which is vital as we increasingly take personal sharing on social media for granted. I’m so glad you’ve joined this challenge, by the way. Love being able to see more of your writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Such an important post, Sherri–I’ll take on the challenge… maybe even more than once, as I have several stories that come to mind. I’ve always tried to push out of my “Write Alikes” (which are often times my Look-Alikes) but I haven’t considered the overall demographic of the SOL community as much as I should have and I’m embarrassed to admit that. We are very aware of our demographic as TWT co-authors. Thanks for a positively provocative post. Truly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Melanie, for your openness and willingness to take up the topic of race. Part of my reasoning in raising the questions I have has to do with acknowledging what we notice and don’t notice and how that may be a function of identity. Recently a male colleague pointed out how few men there were teaching elementary and I had to admit that this aspect hadn’t occurred to me yet. Because as a woman I belong to the dominant group, this aspect escaped my immediate attention. So I think this is something we all struggle with on many different levels. Becoming and staying aware of ‘who’s in the room’ is an every day set of skills that needs practice.

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  5. Your post is timely for me because I’m reading “So You Want to Talk about Race” right now and having some cringe-worthy moments realizing how much I get wrong and have gotten wrong. I’ve written posts about race from time-to-time. A couple days ago I sliced about sonnet songs and featured the work of one SoC but did not identify him as such. He’s one of a handful of black students in my school, but I don’t want to treat him as a token in AP Lit. He’s a brilliant student I adore, and I’ve shared w/ him my desire for him to set me straight when I get something wrong in our discussions about race and literature.

    I don’t know how to bring POC into this writing community, and I’m probably not the person to offer advice, but I did notice from the onset the whiteness and that w/in this demographic most are elementary, although that has shifted a bit. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to participate this year, and I won’t finish the month because I’m heading to China next Sunday.

    Last trimester I think I only taught literature by POC. I did that intentionally and will teach more POC to the sophomores this trimester. I share why w/ them. I have blogged about these topics in recent months. I’ll be sure to this week.

    Thanks for your post today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Glenda, how exciting that you’ll be off to China soon! Thank you for sharing your experience and I wonder how your students enjoyed reading literature from authors of color and how their responses change over time. “Exposure” was my mom’s mantra and it fueled her commitment to making sure that as kids we saw and met and interacted with all kinds of different people. I think that’s a big part of me feeling so at home in this writing community. It holds many benefits for me.
      I always wonder about the notion of ‘bringing more POC into’ a space in the same way that I also want to consider what we mean when we say we want to ‘get people on board.’ I think we need to look carefully at other movements, groupings, activities that are underway that are attracting more educators of color and ask ourselves how we can support those movements or look for opportunities to consciously collaborate. Often the notion of inclusion can become shorthand for offering an in for those who are ‘other’ to become more like ‘us’. So in this particular community, maybe it will mean less that more POC find their way in, but that more members of this community branch out and discover POC-led spaces and engage there. I don’t think this is an either/or proposition either. I’m hoping as always for plenty of both/and thinking and doing.

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  6. I am so glad to have read your post this morning, Sherri. Race can be such a third-rail in conversations and when I hear someone make comments like, “Why do we have to focus on race? I’m not racist.” it reminds me that it is a privilege to be able to disregard such an important conversation because it makes one feel uncomfortable for a brief moment. I am well aware that each of us holds implicit biases, no matter how open-minded and accepting we strive to be. I am committed to greater understanding by engaging in conversation, listening more, and reading professional books like “Not Light, But Fire” by Matthew Kay, “Being the Change” by Sara Ahmed and “We Got This” by Cornelius Minor as well a myriad of YA and KidLit books that offer me ‘windows’ into lives I haven’t lived. I must admit I am a work-in-progress and I welcome your challenge this month. Don’t worry about “putting a damper on good vibes”, most of us welcome the inspiration and thought provocation that comes from this challenge. I am grateful to you for slicing on this today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for engaging, Paula! I have all three of the books you mentioned and they are among the most helpful guides I have found for thinking about how we approach identity in our classrooms especially. I feel a lot of momentum both in schools and society towards deliberate anti-bias education and living. And we also have our work cut out for us which is why I’m glad to see us take up the discussion of race here in a generous and thoughtful community.

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      1. Paula, if you’re on Twitter, I would recommend joining the #ClearTheAir chat led by Valeria Brown or get involved with #DisruptTexts led by Kim Parker, Tricia Ebvaria, and Lorena German. Also TeachingTolerance.org is a fantastic one-stop shop for all manner of resources regarding social justice for the classroom, home and everywhere else.

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  7. Thank you for your insight, Sherri! It’s my first year trying Slice, and you have brought this issue to my attention. I will be taking you up on your challenge. You are definitely NOT putting a damper on my morning by proposing we talk about anti-bias. Especially in a space with a lot of white educators, it’s especially important to be aware of our impact and, sometimes, our lack of training in this area. Thank you for this post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to the Slice of Life community, Danielle! I started only last year and actually continued for quite a while on Tuesdays after the March challenge was over, so I hope you’re having a positive experience so far. I’m glad you found my post a worthwhile invitation. I look forward to reading your writing.

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  8. I also welcome this idea, Sherri. I am heartened by reading all the above comments and am impressed by your thoughtful, lengthy and kind responses. I will write on race, not sure how or when yet, but I will email you when I do so you will know. All the best in this ongoing betterment of each of our communities. That’s horribly written, ha ha! Do you know what I mean? Important work, that exists everywhere we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Literally, everywhere we are, Fran. Thank you, I feel understood! I welcome your thoughts and applaud your willingness to take this on. We all have and make choices. Folks choosing to walk this road with me for a bit is a wonderful feeling. I am thoroughly encouraged by the positive and kind responses to my challenge.

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  9. Hi Sherri,
    I notice as well. As a white mom of three bi-racial daughters, I’ve had to google and join conversations I never had to think about before. My eyes have been open through their eyes- I’ll take on your challenge. Thank you for opening our eyes and pushing us to do better.

    Jessica

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you, Jessica. I have bi-racial sons and sometimes I forget that they are both/and, not either/ or. I need to remind myself that they will have a different take on things than I will, although I explain that they will be read (in the US at least) as Black. It has only been a fairly recent development that I have begun to talk about race more openly in my predominantly white environments and I do that cautiously. So I’m glad to open the conversation and eager to listen.

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  10. Hi – My children are biracial and I am constantly trying to understand how to support their sense of “other” at school and around our very white community. I struggle to fully comprehend my husband’s usual stance as the only African American in the restaurant, gym, at the kids’ soccer game, in church, at the grocery store, at parent nights, at work parties, at his work, etc.
    I will never fully “get it” and this makes me feel ashamed at times. I promise to post about this tomorrow.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I think it’s generally a big challenge for us to walk in some one else’s shoes and truly understand how they experience the world. It’s why literature – reading and inhabiting worlds other than our own – remains such a force in our world. This community is made up mostly of people who take reading and writing seriously as a way to help develop humans who will live up to all the potential that mantle entails. Since we are gathered here, talking, sharing, wrestling will all of it strikes me as necessary and beneficial if we want to move forward.

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  11. Sherri, this is my third year slicing and working at an International School, with teachers from all around the world and Ghana our host country, I invited a few of them to join the SOLSC. We are all sharing slices about where we are and writing from our perspective. It is great, as it is making me aware of the fact that we need to hear stories from different perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Juliette, I gathered from your posts that you were in Ghana and now I see you are at an international school as am I. Good on you for inviting your colleagues to take part in the SOL challenge. I think it can be a truly meaningful way to connect with people perhaps connected to but not necessarily dependent on our shared work environment. I’m a PE specialist and I enjoy this month especially to get to know what Language Arts teachers and other educators have to share. It broadens my horizons and feeds my practice in all the best ways. I’m glad to see you here and look forward to reading more of your slices.

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  12. I am so glad that I stopped by your blog tonight (and sorry that I haven’t come by since we started – you’re on my mind). I will absolutely accept your invitation to write about race. I think about race quite often since my classes of at-risk readers are often majority PoC while my school is predominantly White. I have done some reading & thinking about this, but I have not shared any of these thoughts here (or anywhere, really). Time to use my writing to dig deeper and share – thank you again for the invitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amanda, Thanks for stopping by. I knew we’d find each other sooner or later this month! I welcome whatever thoughts, questions, wonderings you are willing to share with us. It can be a little scary to put our unpolished thoughts about a challenging topic out there for everyone to see. But in this community where the willingness to listen and learn from each other is especially high, I can hardly imagine a safer forum. As the response to my single post has shown me, folks here are ready to think along with me about race. That’s an incredible gift that benefits us all. I look forward to connecting more often as we continue. Please tag me if your decide to write about race.

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  13. Hi Amanda,
    I can say I feel your pain but of course I can’t exactly! I’m English married to an Australian and living in India or Asia for most of the past 24 years… for the past ten years my husband and myself have been running a school for poor children in a tribal rural area of India, where we are the only white people and we get called ‘phareng’ (foreigner) by some of the locals who don’t know us, so the shoe is on the other foot!

    Skin colour just isn’t an issue to us or any of our five children who spent ten years in India with us early on. One of our daughters is volunteering as a midwife in Africa, her heart’s desire is to help women on that continent, another daughter has taught in Shanghai for the past 4 years….

    I’ve enjoyed attending a few online teaching webinars recently where most of the participants are not white. As a non-American, I just don’t get the racist scene in the US. I’m glad you’re raising it here and people are responding!!

    Liked by 1 person

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