Awkward White Ally Reporting For Duty

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I'm tired. Not the infomercial, need-a-pill-for-that sort of tired. But a fatigue that comes from seeing no results to my words or actions.

My classroom used to be my place of solace, a space to take feelings and turn them into actions; but in my new role as a coach who travels from school to school I find myself lost in the equally-lost narrative of today's America. The one reported from the barrel of a gun as it shoots another innocent black man; the rhetoric spewed from Trump and his supporters; the moldy story seen in the eyes of children at schools built within the confines of the institution of racism.

I remind myself that I left the security of my classroom to make a bigger impact, but it's hard when the transience of coaching stretches your efforts between countless classrooms. The biggest struggle I now feel is my own awkwardness in bringing up restorative practices and solutions for systemic racism as a white stranger. Through many mediums, I've already come out to the world as a white teacher unafraid to teach a social justice curriculum in my own classroom, but when faced with the act of coaching, my activism in education has taken a backseat to attempting to share that philosophy on foreign soil. That is, until I spent the last three days enraptured at the 2016 National Summit for Courageous Conversations.

My tired self remembered the passion and fire and will and COURAGE required to have these conversations, whether a classroom or a coaching lens. Especially invigorating was the final keynote speaker, Chris Crass, a white male who shared his experiences through humor and strife and what he called, "The Awkward White Ally." This ally he described tiptoes and struts and slips and teeters its way through a journey toward racial equity. Always passionate about the cause, and usually less than graceful. Never in my life had I felt more understood. In fact, I've been struggling with my white ally awkwardness half my life. As a very young child, I had friends of all colors because I went to a diverse school, and while this was only a surface-level understanding of diversity, it matured as I did, to shape the rest of my life.

Just before I entered 5th grade, we moved to a golf course community in the suburbs of Dallas. It was the first day of school, and I remember thinking, "I don't see a single black person in my class." I also remembered thinking, "Am I allowed to even think that?" I went home that day and told my parents what I noticed. That first direct interaction with systemic racism changed the way I viewed things throughout my student and professional careers.

This was very powerful to me. As I graduated to middle school and the elementary schools combined, creating more diversity, I began to take notice of which classes children of color were in, where they hung out in the cafeteria, which cliques they identified with... I began to notice the blatant construct of separation that had already been laid out within the public school experience. I never really talked about it outside of my parents, though, because I always felt extremely awkward that I was even aware of these things. It wasn't until I began teaching that I built relationships with other racial equity leaders to whom I felt comfortable speaking about these social constructs.

I began to actually study, rather than just observe from a distance, how the construct of institutionalized racism had programmed me to subtly feel and think in the awkward manner I did. Eventually, institutionalized racism became more than just something I researched, but rather something that I was glimpsing into and experiencing for myself and within my environment. At first it was uncomfortable for me as a white person to talk openly about black and brown people and their rights. As with anything, it got easier with practice. I started integrating social justice it into our 5th grade curriculum, began participating in local marches and rallies, engaged in meaningful conversations around potential solutions, and supported social media campaigns connected to current events.

My classroom was the place in which my activism for social change was born, but by no means will it die there. I'm still figuring out what that looks like in this new season of my life, but what I am confident about is that I will still be fighting through conversations, no matter how awkward I may feel at times, on the right side of history.