The Binary

Tomorrow is the first day back after a busy summer.  I’ve prepped my lessons for the first two weeks, I’ve reviewed the submissions from the summer assignment I gave to the incoming inaugural class of AP Computer Science Principles (thank you, Steph Reilly – I’ve been playing Flappy Bird all afternoon!), and planned out my second attempt to do Clothesline Math (my #1TMCThing from 2017).  As much I hate to see summer go, I feel ready.  I’ll be groaning by the end of the week, but I’m ready.

So I sat down to do some of my #ClearTheAir reading for this week’s chat – I’m up to Chapter 5 in White Fragility.  I liked the title, and its computer science connotation – The Good/Bad Binary.  And on the second page of the chapter, I was stopped completely in my mental tracks.  In the midst of the many true and important things that Robin Diangelo has written in this book, truths that we need to hear, reflect and ACT on, here in Chapter 5 is the essence of it all, for me.IMG_5234

Diangelo points out (rightly so) that many of us ascribe to this binary, and thus (finding ourselves not racist, and therefore good) manage to excuse ourselves from reflecting on our role in a system that benefits white people to the detriment of people of color.  When confronted by the fact that we do in fact participate in racism by virtue of the privilege we may receive as we move through a society based on white supremacy, we feel as if we have received “a deep moral blow – a kind of character assassination.” (p. 72)  The titular fragility springs into action, and we become so engaged in defending ourselves, “deflecting the charge”, that we ignore the deeper work that we need to do in acknowledging that we reap the rewards of the racism inherent in American society throughout our lives.

My favorite part of the Seeing White podcast was the conversations between Chenjerai Kuminyika and John Biewen at the end of the episodes; they always managed to distill the big ideas from the story, and leave me with even more questions than the thought-provoking and eye-opening history recounted therein.  In a conversation summarizing one the late episodes, they pointed out that even if there weren’t overtly ‘bad’ racists in America, even if individual people did not commit acts of hate against people of color, there would still be racism, because it is cemented into our institutions. If we think that we have cleansed ourselves of our biases and prejudices, and that we have done all the work we need to do, nothing will change for the better.  And I think Diangelo has gotten at this deep truth with the Good/Bad Binary.

I feel like I was meant to read this passage this evening; as I return to school after a summer of listening, reading, and reflecting, my personal and professional goals are to speak out in spaces where it is sorely needed (my school and department), and to create spaces in which all of my students can have their voices heard.    I am grateful for the supremely articulate way in which Diangelo addresses these ideas; their deep resonance for me lets me know I have work of my own to do.



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