“Our perception is always impacted by the lens through which we see, and our lens is always impacted by both physical barriers and socialization. For example, when looking through the barrier provided by sunglasses - the world may appear darker; and when looking through the socialization of the dominant narrative - the world may appear merit-based and not oppressive,” Re-Imagine Education (Posted 4/24). Given this reality, it is imperative we relentlessly question what we see. Below are 5 questions we continually ask ourselves at Re-Imagine Education - questions that help sharpen our social justice lenses.
1. Did a white person really create or discover X for the first time?
Whenever you hear that a white person created or discovered X for the first time - be skeptical… Did Christopher Columbus really “discover” America, or was it African explorers led by King Abubakari II of the Mali Empire in the 14th century, or the Vikings who populated the upper Atlantic continents in the 11th century, or possibly African explorers led by the Egyptian pharaoh King Ramses the III in 1200 BCE, or actually, was it paleolithic hunter-gatherers who discovered the Americas crossing over from Asia over 10,000 years ago - people who would become the primary inhabitants of this [land] for thousands of years and who are now referred to as Native Americans, First Nation, or simply the first people to explore, settle and colonize the Americas. Christopher Columbus was merely the first white person to commit genocide in the Americas.
2. Why did the media choose to portray so and so in such a way?
Whether it is the news or the newest Netflix drama - one should always question how different people are portrayed. For example, when a white person goes on a killing spree in America - the stories often question the man’s mental health whereas when a Muslim man kills - the media often question Islam. When a police officer kills an unarmed child - the killer is often pictured in Uniform whereas when a black or brown man commits any crime (murder or minor) they are often pictured in a mug shot. All of these portrayals orchestrated by the media - consciously or unconsciously - play into the dominant Narrative that white people do not commit crimes unless they are deranged, while black and brown people are criminals by nature. Similarly, the portrayal of “welfare queens” first coined and depicted by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s set the scene for the dominant narrative in our media that people of color are freeloaders whereas white people pull themselves up from their bootstraps. Ironically - the statistical face of mass murder and domestic terrorism in this country is a white man, and the face of welfare is a white women.
3. Who do I surround myself with?
Are most of the people in my inner circle the same race as I am? Do most of the people in my inner circle come from the same class as I do? Do most of my inner circle have the same political ideations as I do? Similarities bring people together - that’s not a bad thing - but remember when you surround yourself with a homogenous group your filter for information or ability to process diverse information with others is stifled. In other words, your lens is limited - you only intimately know the narrative(s) of the people in your circle. Don’t fool yourself that you know more. For example, in my personal life, my inner circle does not include hard-line, right wing, American farmers and ranchers who live on the US-Mexico border. I do have recent immigrants from Mexico (documented and undocumented) in my inner circle. Therefore, when I consider Immigration reform and strive to broaden my lens, there are huge pieces of the story that I am missing. I know the dominant left wing and right wing narratives, but I miss out on understanding several nuances and truths between the dominant narratives. If I want to better understand counter-narratives, I should not demand others tell me their life stories, but read, do the work, and potentially broaden my inner circle.
4. Why are people acting friendly?
Question when people are nice to you. This is especially true for white people. White privilege can often be viewed as freedom from consideration. We rarely have to consider if someone is treating us a certain way because of our race. Flip this freedom. Every time someone treats you well question; are they treating me well because I deserve it, or because I’m white? Are people universally friendly towards me because I’m just that friendly or because of my race? Does everybody in the bank really like me? I imagine you must be pretty hip, attractive and likable since you're reading this blog, but the answer to that question is probably, No. But just remember, here it Re-Imagine Education we like you… probably… maybe.
5. What are my biases and the narratives I subscribe to?
Passed down from generation to generation, instilled by the media, and reinforced by those closest to us, we all have biases that support the narratives we believe in. We must always work to be conscious of those biases and question the validity of the narratives we subscribe to. Having biases is real and unavoidable by nature. The issue is not always in a bias, the issue arises when our biases are combined with power to oppress others (read Teaching the difference between Bigotry and Racism for more information). Being aware of our biases and the narratives we subscribe to also helps us work through those biases to reduce them - or at least ensure we do not use them for harm.
In the end, really, there is only ONE question (and it is a two parter so get ready): Question what narrative is being reinforced, and question what this reinforcement leads to - redistribution and equity, or inequity.
Ian McLaughlin & Ryan Williams-Virden