Navigating the Deep Waters of Social Justice Teaching
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Find inspiration in this compelling story of an educator's social justice journey as she partners with families to explore racial identity, religious celebrations, and racism in response to a biased comment by one child to another in her diverse preschool class.
You Can't Celebrate That! is part of the Reimagining Our Work (ROW) collection. Use the ROW collection to discover how early childhood educators in the field are reimagining their work and thinking alongside children.
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Katherine, thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is essential to be mindful of our words. That is a great reminder for all of us to take a step back and realize the effects.
My comments below are based on my experience living at community level in rural Eswatini since 1983; along with raising my daughter in said environment. Both of us have white skin. I am originally from USA but have Swazi citizenship. My daughter was born and raised here.
I would like readers to understand that diversity is contextual. It is not code for non white. The example in this story - I have experienced it at least 3 times a week since 1983. I suspect that most other people with white skin living at community level in Africa and perhaps even Peru have too i.e. I am not referring to expats or tourists, which is a different dynamic.
In that regard I can identify with this story, although even as I say that I am aware that not everyone would understand or accept that.
Mainly what glared at me in this story is the term "White people and people of colour, children and adults…" how about "people with different colours of skin other than the majority in the given situation".
One of the activities of Vusumnotfo, the Swazi NGO I work for, is to provide support to children with special needs at family level. The special needs profession is very very clear that language is important.
It is not "a blind child, or a deaf child, or an autistic child" rather it is "a child with a visual impairment, or a child with a hearing impairment or a child with a sensory impairment" i.e. the word child always comes first because this reminds us of our common humanity (instead of starting with what is different about this child).
Actions to support child development and learning specific to the unique circumstances of each child or group of children may still need to take place, but by starting with the word CHILD we are reminded that our common humanity is both the starting and the ending point for doing so.
Based on my direct experience over 38 years, it is high time we apply this same principle to colour of skin.... person with brown skin, person with black skin, person with white skin i.e. the word person comes first.
Using "person first" language also serves as a reminder to ask ourselves - is noting the colour of skin relevant to this article, or just a habit? Sometimes it is relevant and sometimes it is not - so its good to pause and consider before automatically assuming that skin colour is relevant in all situations.
Racism is rooted in the belief that a person of skin colour different than ones own is so fundamental different from you that they may for not example feel pain or joy in the same way as you do, or that you can not possible have an experience that may give you insights into their experiences.
Across history, culture and societies, language that highlights "the other" lays the foundation for both systematic and personal racism to take root - so lets select our words through wisdom not habit.
I challenge each of you to shift your language to "person first" for 3 weeks. This exercise can help uncover hidden assumptions based on long standing word habits.
This does not change the important message in Nadia's story. But a slightly different use of words may generate empathy in a wider group of people; and when people feel a connection they are more likely to change their behaviour or to speak up when others are behaving badly.