It’s Not an Excuse
This guest post is from Laurie Walden. Laurie is a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Education.
It begins simply enough. Someone asks, “What are you researching?”. I reply, “Increasing the representation of Black gifted students in America”. They respond, “Oh, well why are you studying in Scotland then?”. It is a fair question and one I have become accustomed to answering; however, it still feels uncomfortable.
But talking about race is uncomfortable.
So why Scotland? After teaching in mostly White suburban gifted programmes, I was looking for a way to address the inequity that I was a part of. I served on district-based task forces and school equity committees, but I still felt powerless, which is ironic, because as a White woman, I held a great deal of power. At the same time, America was experiencing a divisive political and, I would argue, cultural shift. I decided that I needed to research the inequity plaguing schools in general, and gifted programmes, in particular. For various reasons, there was little chance that I would be able to research this topic in an American PhD program. I needed the freedom to shape my own research and thesis without having limitations on how and where I conducted the research. As the rhetoric and crimes against people of colour escalated, especially for Black Americans, I decided I would go abroad and get some distance from the hatred. This was not an easy decision because I left a husband and a 16-year-old son at home in Seattle.
But fighting racism is not always convenient.
Since the day I arrived in this amazing city, I have never once forgotten that it was my privilege as a White woman that got me here. I don’t apologise for it, but I don’t waste it either. My personal journey has been to offer help, if wanted; to give a voice to those that have been silenced; and to engage in a dialogue about race and bias with anyone who will listen. This past year has afforded me the opportunity to read, study, engage, learn, question, and often fail in my quest to understand the forces that have contributed to the racial inequity in American educational settings. This was the “safe space” I needed, but it is now time to go back and confront the reality in America.
Because having impact is not a passive experience.
Organising the logistics of my research has not been easy. As of this moment, I do not know where I will go. The emails to my contacts across the country are awkward-American studying racial inequity but studying in Scotland, etc. Fortunately, I have received nothing but positive advice and support from the Black researchers whose work I follow closely. And yet, the symptoms of Impostor Syndrome are consuming me. I know what I want to do. I know that I need my work to have an impact. But I also know that it would be very easy for me to just give up and say that I’m not the one who should be doing this. Who am I, as a White woman of privilege, to show up in a Black community and ask these children to share their stories? And yet, at the same time as I am over here thinking about how hard this is, America is being terrorised by hate. That was my wake-up call to strengthen my resolve and recommit myself to this work. I don’t care how long it takes; I will not give up. There’s a reason you are here. Never forget that, especially on those days when you want to.
Because being a World Changer is never easy.
Cover Image: Hands on a tree branch. Image credit: www.unsplash.com