EduColor: Having the Deeper Conversations Online
Jose Vilson of EduColor, a movement and platform for educational equity and justice, discusses strategies for elevating the voices of public school advocates of color.
For years, people have wondered about the growth of the EduColor message. How did we do it? What drives us? How do we inspire and motivate everyone from teachers, parents, and students to policymakers, researchers, and union leaders? Some of us are astonished ourselves. As recently as three years ago, some of the biggest voices in the connected educator spaces (those educators on the major social networks and blogs) said that we couldn't have authentic conversations online. Some folks have made that attempt, but few delve into the issues with as much depth, clarity, and audience in the way #educolor does and has.
So, to change the narrative, we had to be intentional, direct, and speak to larger ideas.
We found ourselves discussing plenty of issues, from teacher diversity to STEM and students of color. We did our best to shatter expectations for designated months, including Women's History Month and Asian American History Month. But where we found that we'd built the most community was during times of trauma and tragedy. Our chats covered the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Charleston shooting, and religious intolerance during the Paris tragedy.
We built a collective of people who moved about the internet with the idea that any space was the right space to have that conversation. Here are some ways that I approach it.
Be Transparent About Intention and Effect
What many of us in EduColor agree upon is that the issue of diversification has itself become fraught with issues. The way that we address diversity is to talk about the underlying power issues in any diversity initiative. Will the people brought in get to make decisions, or are they just placeholders for an already pre-scripted agenda? Does the new person have a way of addressing issues of race, class, and intersectional issues when they come? Are they considered equal colleagues or a special project?
These are the sorts of questions that we would ask in an offline and online context, and that often helps us sift through lackluster diversity initiatives. We are most effective when we carefully assess what we'd like to do in a given space and prepare ourselves for intended and unintended consequences. Having that understanding early on allows for EduColor folks to boldly walk into both online and offline spaces.
Work With the Willing
In an imaginary world, everyone would get along and believe everything that we believe. They'd fall back whenever we asserted that #BlackLivesMatter, and they'd listen to the argument that many of their colleagues have racist and sexist tendencies. That's not always so. This is why we've learned to work with those who truly believe in social justice and want to learn more. We've found that these are the very people who can turn naysayers into affirmatives. As with any movement, the truest believers always come first and organize in their pockets.
We specifically talk to those who feel like they're islands in their own schools, neighborhoods, or organizations when it comes to social justice issues. They'll create progressive curricula in schools that teach teachers to "teach like a champion," whatever that means. They'll wear hijabs in spaces that absurdly question how someone can cover up and educate at the same time. They'll push their colleagues to consider their privileges when their student body is predominantly of color. Our chats online and our gatherings offline build refuge for them, and we provide a community as a result.
In times of conflict and strife, the best intelligence to have is emotional intelligence. This is but one.
Being Uncomfortable Is the New Comfortable
Plenty of organizations and collectives are pushing people to become less comfortable, and we've found that to be effective. It either creates conflict, change, or both. EduColor members practice said discomfort with each other in conversation, laying bare our most difficult problems and hardest quandaries. It's harder to practice critical conversations with family and friends (which is why so many of us don't post this on Facebook) than with strangers. We're more fortified when we know that we can coalesce around social justice ideas and, should disagreements come up, we know what it's like to feel tension.
Plus, in this country, many of us know what it's like to be uncomfortable as a way of life because of who we are. Why not spread the wealth so we can all change and grow together?
Many of the complaints about these difficult conversations boil down to the issue that the platform doesn’t allow us to have such conversations. Often, that sounds like a lack of creativity. On Twitter, the complaint is that tweets are too short. On Facebook, the problem is that it's text-based only and you can't attach feelings to words. On Instagram, it's because -- well, it's Instagram. Even when the groundswell of activists are using online platforms to organize for social justice, education conversations are particularly averse to progress. But #EduColor has made it so that we can be as long or as short as we'd like, while our sharp focus on principled discussions around race and education allows us to push conversations deeper and with more humility and complexity.
Not so coincidentally, our chat doesn't often get listed with other ed-chats even though it trends monthly and continues to be a source for culturally competent education. We've spent so long challenging other hashtags to do better that perhaps it was necessary to make our own space apart.
Stay with us. We have a lot more posts in the EduColor series coming your way. And we welcome your thoughts in the comments section of this post -- or any of our posts.