My commitment to #DecolonizeEd: Conference remarks by NYU CSS Director, Natalie McCabe Zwerger

Decolonizing Education. It brought you here today. It prompted you to wake up early on a Saturday when you have other commitments and obligations. It will prompt you to engage with other educators today on why and how we must shift the way we teach, think, and act with even our youngest babies.

Decolonizing Education will require us to disorient ourselves and those within our spheres of influence from our deep entanglements with white supremacy. It will require conscious and intentional thought and action on a daily basis that reframes, refocuses, and reshapes how we support positive racial identity development for all of our children and it will prompt us to consider the ways we can center Blackness, the ways we can center Latinidad, and decenter the pervasive whiteness that exists in our teaching methods and our content.

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Decolonizing Education will place requirements on us. First and foremost, it will require each of us to know and acknowledge where we are situated in both historical and contemporary racial oppressions. It will ask us then to consider how we will teach, relate, and authentically care for our students who are situated and positioned differently from us on a spectrum of privilege.

What will this look like in practice? Let me share a few of my commitments with you.

I commit, as an advocate for this work, to never back down from what I know to be the only way we can authentically shift the mindsets that are so ingrained in many of the educators in this country. I commit to interrogating dated practices steeped in racism and injustice. I commit to disrupting and dismantling “the way we do things here.” I commit to pushing school leaders, district leaders, and systems beyond courageous conversations to courageous and bold and necessary ACTION. I commit to continuing to advocate for educators in this country to provide our children with the high-quality, anti-racist, anti-bias education TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED.

For me, I commit to continuing to forefront the colonization and systematic abandonment of my island of Puerto Rico. I will continue to demand of you and anyone else I have contact with that you do not feed into false narratives about my familia and other familias that we need to “get our lives back together” and “move on.” As hurricane season is about to begin again in 13 days, I will not relent in prompting us to consider all of the trauma that any of our students and their families from the islands will face with the trigger of each heavy rainstorm and serious storm.

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As many of you know, I am expecting my first child in November. I commit to you today that my daughter will know on which pillows of privilege she sleeps and wakes. She will know where she is situated in historical and contemporary racial oppression and injustice. That is my commitment as a soon-to-be parent and truly it must be our commitment for any of the babies over whom we have contact and influence.

It is my belief that the heavy work of decolonizing education must be done by the colonizers. The heavy lifting, in disrupting and dismantling inequities and disproportionalities, must be done by white folks. By folks who could all decide to stay home tomorrow. Not even get out of bed. And would still reap the rich and effervescent privileges of their own unacknowledged supremacy.

Activist Jessie Williams reminded us, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander…If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”

You all, being here today, and everyday in this work, are showing us, and more importantly, showing our students, that you are about this work. That you will no longer serve as a complicit manufacturers in an assembly line factory of systems of oppressions that- generation after generation- churn out more and more oppressors. Who create more and more oppressors and so on and so forth.

This work of decolonizing education is hard. It should feel hard. Heavy. Complex. Never-ending. But look around you. Look around you at the faces of fellow educators who chose to be here today, who are committing and re-committing to disrupting and dismantling systems of inequity in our schools. Feel the energy that will be generated this morning and in your sessions throughout the day. We are blessed with a fierce keynote speaker and 73 workshop presenters who include 27 young people. Beginning with a 5th grade student and including the voices of so many students from NYC and beyond who will tell us today how they want us to decolonize their education.

My ask of you today is simple. Leave with your set of commitments. Leave with your list of what you will hold yourself accountable to. Because if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

 

 

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