Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Looking Back Over Five Years and Two Weeks

Five years ago I wrote my first blog post. Let's be frank, before that my writing had been seen in my journals, papers turned in to teachers, and no where else. I was not a writer. My papers returned to me in school bled, reminding me of my failure as a writer. Grammar eluded me, punctuation confounded me. My voice wasn't one that I used, I did not want to be noticed. I retreated into my world of books and felt hope. I tried hard not to be noticed.

That all changed with a conference. NCTE in Chicago gave me the nudge, or the forceable shove, I needed. I left realizing that I was a decent teacher of reading because I was an avid reader. I could recommend books to my students and use them as the basis for our connection. I didn't ask my students to do senseless reading activities because I knew that wasn't what I did as a reader. But as a writing teacher I was a bit of a fraud. I couldn't figure out what to tell my students when they experienced a block because it had been so long since I was there myself. Through this blog, that changed. I began to write - first here, then for Choice Literacy, then even more. My teaching changed. I was able to help and connect to my students on another level. Truly, my identity changed. 

The person who tried so hard not to be noticed was still there, but I had found my voice. I began to pay attention, to open my eyes. To realize that I had a greater purpose. Through writing I could speak up, to act. Being passive is my nature, but sometimes that is not what is needed. Staying quiet is the easy choice. It's much harder to choose to speak up, people do not celebrate that - especially when their views run contrary to yours. I see it on Facebook daily - friends commenting that they are "cleaning house" and removing anyone who is posting political "crap." That Clinton supporters need to move on, grow up, be quiet. 


If it was just that my candidate didn't get elected, I could handle it. That's happened in the past and I've move on quickly. I've long argued that we need to come together to support whomever is elected, that they are "our" president. That we all need to want them to succeed. 

So, the fact that Clinton lost is not why I feel sick to my stomach. 

The fact that hate seems to be winning is. 

My friends that are imploring people on Facebook to return to our regularly scheduled social media world share a common trait - and I share it too. We are all White. If I could get them to listen I'd beg them to be open, to read, to talk, to feel. I cannot watch the hatred towards gays, Muslims, refugees, Blacks, Native Americans, and...and...and... and not speak up. I can't see the hate thrown at a Muslim, to say that the Internment Camps of our past weren't a bad idea, and not think of a relative that was in those camps. I cannot see homosexuality decried in the press and not think of the student who hugged me on Monday morning upon returning from NCTE and said she felt "safe" around me. I cannot watch the raised hands saying, "Hail Trump" and worry for the future. 

This past week I was in Atlanta. I went to the Center for Civil and Human Rights with friends. I walked the floors, reading about Emmett Till and weeping when I realized he was Luke's age. Looking at the rows and rows of mug shots of Freedom Riders and feeling pride that they had stepped up when they knew it was important. And then I came upon a lunch counter. The docent told me it was an "immersive experience." I was to sit down at the counter, put on the headphones, close my eyes, and place my hands on the counter. I did as she asked. 

Almost immediately the room fell away. The sounds of a diner filled my ears. Then an angry voice came behind me, and another. They were saying hateful things to me. I opened my eyes and looked. It felt like someone was towering over me. No one. I closed my eyes. I was back in the diner. The words continued, then a shove, a kick. My chair vibrated and terrified me. I opened my eyes. I wanted to take the headphones off. It had been a minute. I closed my eyes again. 

I made it ninety seconds before removing my headphones. By that point the tears were streaming down. The docent handed me a Kleenex and said not a word. What I couldn't shake, what I still can't shake six days later is that I could take the headphones off. If I wanted to I could clean house on Facebook. I could remove anyone from my newsfeed who insists on sharing undesirable news. I could pretend that the world is fine, we are all being treated with equal respect, that the future is in good hands.

That is my privilege - it is white privilege. It is one I do not deserve. 

Each day I am learning. I'm trying. I'm not perfect. I have no idea what to do, but I'm trying to be open. I'm trying to educate myself. I'm trying to use my voice. 

I do not fear Republicans, I have family members and friends who identify as members of this party and I love them all. What I do fear is people who operate with hate. I fear people who believe they are better than others because of their sexuality, race, or social class. I fear those who want to silence the voice of those they don't agree with. 

I worry that speaking up is not enough. It might mean that some of my Facebook friends unfriend me, but I cannot look in the mirror and be silent. I have too many relatives, too many friends, too many students that are a target for hate right now. My voice is here and it's ready to be used. 

So, on this five year anniversary I can say I'm grateful for this blog. My little corner of the universe has taught me so much. More than anything, it has been a place to reflect. It has made me open to admitting I don't know the right path, but am willing to try and learn. Thank you all for being a part of this journey.

To celebrate, I want to give away a book. This is a copy of A Poem for Peter, one of my favorite picture books of the year. 

Thank you for allowing me to use my voice. Please use yours as well. This conversation needs to continue.