I strive to be a social justice educator. This means that I try not to order students or participants to find a singular way to being critically conscious. The paths to critical consciousness are varied and I have to help people find their own way. This means that I do not assume that I know more. This means that I’m human and I’ll make mistakes and learn from them. This means that I work with participants to try to guide the way. It means we’re constantly and purposefully learning, acting, and reflecting together.
It means that I walk with them on their path to critical consciousness. It’s not an easy path. There are pitfalls. There are dangerous twists and turns that can lead one back into status quo thinking. I’ve seen students become confronted with new concepts of what it means for them to white. They are confronted by their privilege and what it means to the experience of their peers. I’ve seen students find ways to embrace this concept and begin to work against privilege and I’ve seen students turn away from furthering their understanding because there is a huge fear of what it means to accept the reality of privilege. The students know it would change how they interact with the people around them. It would change most students’ worldview and how they interpret the media, conversations, and the language that people use. It’s scary, but that’s why we exist.
Being a social justice educator means helping anyone work through that cognitive dissonance where what they’ve always known is challenged by the evidence in front of them. I have to shed the inherent power dynamic that is present between educators and students/participants. I have to recognize that I don’t know everyone’s experience despite the assumptions I have and biases I might carry, because I am not free from the biases that I have been trained to have. This power dynamic can sometimes make me feel like I should know more than my participants or that I should be able to answer all of their questions, but vulnerable honesty can be more powerful than giving someone a script or recipe to follow.
I pay attention to what is happening around me and attempt to highlight the underlying systems that create consistent injustices in the world. I create space to share rage, frustration, and sadness at the things that happen that we have no control over. I make myself vulnerable to expose how I’ve benefited from systemic oppression or how I’ve perpetuated it. Because understanding the benefits I’ve received and ways in which I unconsciously perpetuate systemic oppression gives me the tools to fight against it. I also hope that it gives others the courage to start their own self-critique of their histories so they can develop the tools to fight against the ways that they perpetuate oppression.
This work isn’t easy. It’s tiring. It can seem lonely. But with a community of folks who are working toward the same goal this work can be uplifting and rewarding. And it’s easier for me to do this work than to ignore what’s happening around me. I do this work because the weight of willful ignorance on my conscious would be unspeakably heavy.