Preface: I’ve gone back and forth with myself on whether or not to publish this piece. I’ve never been a person who focuses on race. As a matter of fact, I was raised to be oblivious to it in a community where the color of your skin was blatantly obvious. I’ve always excelled in whatever I tried to do because my mother truly empowered me to own who I was and own the room in the process. However, this is my blog and my place of growth. Since Educon, I’ve had these emotions brewing inside that represent a culmination of all the things that “we” never talk about. It’s 3am. I can’t sleep because all that I can think about is this piece.
Growing up, I was accustomed to being the only black face in the room. I was in band, not athletics, after all. I was in “honors” classes, not regular. I grew up on a mixed middle class street, not across the tracks. I was “articulate”, as my first grade teacher said. (My mother handled that.) I could make friends with any one…any race…at any time. It was almost as if it were a gift (privilege) that I could travel between the self-segregation of lunch tables and not miss a beat. Not everyone could do that and it came at a price. I was called “oreo”. It was even commented to me that my white friends were somehow “blacker” than I was. When they spoke about other black students, they would immediately come back and say…”Oh, well you’re not really black.” Yes, this happened.
That was high school and as hurtful as that was it was even more hurtful to hear my black students speak the same sentiments. To them, my education made me “less black” as that is what they said. To add insult to injury, the intonation of my voice somehow sounded “less black” too. Wait…what? I didn’t choose my voice. I didn’t sit in a room and practice how to “blend” with the rest of the room. I am who I am. I sound as I sound. As I write this, I think that the bigger issue is that my students somehow felt that being educated meant being “white”. (I will be revisiting this in a later post.)
Anyone that says that they “don’t see color” is lying. If you say that…stop saying it. You do. Try placing one color of skittles in a bowl. Now place one skittle of a different color in the same bowl. Shake them up and I dare you NOT to see the difference first. That doesn’t make you racist. It makes you aware and that is okay. On the other hand, put yourself in the position of “the different skittle”. You are also fully aware that when people see you, they see that you are different first before really “seeing you”.
That is what it is like as the only person of color in the room.
As confident as I am in my own skin, for me…it’s still an alienating feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I KNOW that I am brilliantly creative and can command a room when needed but I am also human and that part of me is sometimes uncomfortable as the only person of color in a room. Yet, I also feel empowered to not fall silent because I understand that I have ideas that are of value and need to be heard.
A long time ago, a piece was written by a friend, questioning if social media had done anything to erase the racism that we are so accustomed to. If it has done anything, it has made people a bit more open to the ideas of others in a small way. Before twitter, I would sit as the only person of color in a room and wait on the right moment to speak if at all. With twitter, my voice has a reach that exceeds that room, therefore, giving me a pass into many conversations as @rafranzdavis that my “non-twittter” former self did not have.
I understand that my connected voice has opened doors within the edtech community that would not have been quite so “easy” to open without my connectedness. However, even after typing the word, “easy”, I know that this road…the one so dominated by white men…has been anything but easy. In most cases, I’m still the only person of color in the room and depending on the event, there may be 2-3 others…which really speaks to a greater problem at the school level in terms of racial diversity than that of the event itself.
Sitting at the table with Xian Barrett, Sabrina Stevens, Melinda Anderson and José Vilson at Educon was eye-opening for me in many ways. Talking to them was like lifting a ton of bricks from my shoulders that had been packed with layers of cement for years. I refuse to be silent on this topic anymore.
I am tired of being the only person of color in the room.
As I’ve sat at an event, I’ve often scoped the room for more diverse faces and wondered…
Where are we? Why are we not here? Why are schools still struggling with employing diverse voices? Why are schools not sending these teachers to these events like TCEA and even ISTE. Why are we not submitting proposals to speak? Why are we not engaged within the “circle” that forms the edtech community? Why are we not seen as viable voices when it comes to selecting featured speakers? Why is it still exciting to see a person of color featured? (It is still rare.)
Why is this community so oblivious yet comfortable with the lack of color in the room?
There has to be a way to change this…
I welcome your thoughts.