It has been several months now since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. His traumatic death sparked a global uprising in many forms.
George Floyd was a victim whose fate has shaken up our world. His death motivated so many to speak up and gather in solidarity against systemic racism and engage in conversation and action for positive change.
I tuned into this tragedy from my own safe, protected little corner of the world in northeast Minnesota.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
On May, 25, 2020, I, a 40-year-old white female, took a day trip paddle into Slim Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with my three boys.
My reality was that when George Floyd’s family was navigating the reality of the terms of his death, and while buildings were being burned and businesses looted, I could just turn the TV off and distance myself from the constant replay of disturbing images in the news and take in a peaceful sunset on the dock of our family cabin on a lake.
I know that where I was born, my gender and the color of my skin have contributed to my privilege and overall comfort and safety in life.
Over the past few months, these realities, and others relating to my privilege as a white female, compounded by the explicit portrayal of the suffering and oppression of others in the wake of current events, have evoked within me mixed feelings of guilt, fear, compassion, frustration and empathy.
My heart has been heavy. I have been committed to take action with steps rooted in empathy and love with a desire to promote equality, respect, opportunity, justice and peace.
Activism is traditionally most often recognized in the form of protests and marches, but it does not always take that form. As an individual with a more introverted personality, marches and protests have not felt right for me. We all can be catalysts for positive change in a variety of different ways. Activism can be defined as “the policy or practice of doing things with decision and energy.” I have participated in quiet activism in the following ways:
• Learning, unlearning and listening. I have recently listened to and highly recommend the audio books (which are both available in print form): How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. I have also been listening to podcasts including Unlocking Us with Brené Brown, Raising Good Humans and The Great Unlearn with Cal Callahan. I have had conversations with friends and extended family members whose children have had to navigate through the trauma of racial oppression in my efforts to learn and grow. Simple actions like these are first steps to increase awareness and understanding.
• Moving beyond awareness to action. You can read a book or view and share a post on Instagram or Facebook to increase awareness of an issue, but that is really a baseline. Moving beyond awareness to engagement and action is necessary for the betterment of society. We are certainly not going to solve big problems with social media rants or shares. Engagement and action take meaning when we apply what we’ve learned in a book or podcast by working to make changes to our habits and beliefs. Other examples include making a donation, volunteering and voting.
I am also working to acknowledge and own my mistakes, while acting upon the courage and openness to continue to move forward (knowing that I will make more mistakes!). Brene Brown speaks to this in her July 1 Shame and Accountability podcast, when she notes that “accountability is a prerequisite for change” and illustrates the point with several notable examples.
• Parenting and teaching with intention. As a parent and educator, I know that I have a lot of children looking to me for direction and guidance. I am a quiet and powerful activist in my role as a parent and educator. I am working to be intentional in these roles, being mindful and thoughtful with my words, choices and actions daily. I have been researching and initiating developmentally appropriate conversations to help shape the minds of my own children and the children I teach. I recommend the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi for older kids (and their parents), which is a gripping, fast-paced (and much shorter) version of the young-adult version of Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. This book explains our country’s history of institutional racism and investigates how we identify and “stamp out” racist thoughts in our daily lives. A great teaching guide can be found here. Here is a good resource for talking to kids about race age by age.
• Living true to my values. When I chose the profession of an educator, I did not do so for the money or for the glory. I did so because I have values rooted in social justice, service to others, and because I have the capacity to love and care for children that are not my own. I am trying to approach my activism with the grounding ideal that every life matters, and until we have the equity that everyone deserves in terms of economic, political and social rights and opportunities, our work should be focused on those who are most oppressed. As a mother, educator and individual, I am committed to do better.