Lesson 4 - Autoethnography and Diverse Self-Narratives
This lesson we explore how to make classrooms safer by including the narratives of diverse students into course literacy and content. Each student brings a unique story to the classroom that impacts the way they learn, retain, and perform academically. Understanding these narratives and giving value to their importance may help student to reconstruct their interactions with your class, the school, and their self-concept. To do this better its important to be able to write our own honest auto-ethnography.
Chapter 12: Conclusion “I Failed”
I have failed. As I sit here thinking about a recent lapse, I realize I have a lot of work still to be done on my journey to becoming an inclusive leader. It was months ago when I was recruiting co-collaborators for this book. I was watching the news on June 27th sitting on my couch eating chips, and I heard a comment by a national political figure. It was during an event honoring Navajo veterans when the political figure turned the ceremony into a juvenile, sideshow comedy act. He said “You [motioning to the Navajo Veterans] were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in congress who has been here a long time… longer than you—they call her Pocahontas!” The national political figure was insulting representative Elizabeth Warren who has claimed to have Native American roots. I can’t lie; there is a part of me that when I heard the racial slur subconsciously laughed. There was something in me that connected with that visceral, debased, immature and insensitive joke. Was it implicit bias? Maybe it was my middle school days when we (the black male students) would wait for the public school bus and crack jokes on each other. We would use all the creative genius and brainpower we could muster to find new and innovative ‘yo mamma’ jokes. It was the middle school kid inside of me who was never taught the trail of tears or how alcohol and gambling has been used as a weapon to decimate Indigenous communities. The middle school kid in me, who had never listened to the narratives of Native Americans, who were hurt by the name of the Washington pro football team. The kid who never learned about the genius of Navajo code talkers who in 1942 developed the only code for battlefield radio transmissions that was never broken.
I failed to be a mature adult.
In that private split second of chuckling, I failed to be compassionate, inclusive, and thoughtful. Here I was teaching teachers and executives how to be more inclusive and this mean and selfish part of me wanted to laugh; it was attempting to normalize laughing at someone else’s expense. I said to myself, “but my failure was private no one had to know. I could just sweep it under the rug and not spend time reflecting and critiquing myself.” But that thought was wrong; what I needed to do was to be critical and expose myself to the shame of failing. It is only when it hurts that I can become more vigilant and intentional about guarding my mental processes and removing my subconscious and sometimes race-conscious sense of humor. What makes my action shameful to me is that Elizabeth Warren is one of the few heroes in congress who not only understands the damage racial division has to our country, but she is also not afraid to call out white supremacy, bigotry, and racism. Elizabeth Warren was story-silenced by the Senate who voted 49-43, to admonish and effectively bar her from speaking during the remaining debate for the nominee for Attorney General. Warren was escorted out of the congressional hearing because she read aloud a letter from Mrs. Coretta Scott King indicating the racially discriminatory past of the nominee for Attorney General. Warren’s rebuke is an example of what happens when racially deaf ears refuse to, ‘story-listen.’
What I have learned most in the journey of piecing this book together is that I am not perfect. To be blunt, I’m far, far…. far away from perfection. As Paul writes, “I am the chief sinner.” In fact, I realize that I’m so imperfect, and in so many ways don’t have it all together, that I need help. Not human help or help that comes from natural resources. But, I need supernatural help from a supernatural resource. I need God’s love. Without the love of God in my heart, I can’t even come close to walking, living, and sharing in this beauty of collective humanity. We fight off imperfection [U1] to work towards the collective recognition of truth, which is the story we all hold within our bellies and refuse to tell. I have found that there is a sort of “freeing” feeling that comes from being honest.
There is a euphoria of peace that can come from laying it all on the line and sharing your heart. It’s akin to that first feeling you had when you saw that person you were falling in love with and mustered up the courage to say, “I love you.” That emancipating courage that told you “no matter what response I hear, I have spoken my truth, I have opened my heart for love”. If we can be somewhat satisfied with the imperfect, if we can coast on the seas of our emotions long enough to not get offended, then and maybe just then, we can reach that place of peace and unity that we felt when we first entered this world, blind, dependent, and dripping wet. Maybe we can recreate the stillness of that moment and embark into the sunshine abyss of true inclusion. The place where the concept of “the need for inclusion,” is foreign because we all are required only to exist and to be who we were born to be.
This Book’s Lesson
Through the process of listening closely to the voices of: people with disabilities, people of color, international students, people who identify as LGBTQ, and others we can begin to reform our own mindsets. While creating spaces of inclusion, it is also vitally important to disrupt racist structures (i.e. schools, government agencies, the media, exclusive cultures, etc.), which maintain and re-create inequity. An effective method of disruption is to create new multicultural alternatives through entrepreneurship and nonprofit creation. Then, network and link “like-minded” critically conscious organizations through story-listing activities (some can be found in this book).
Become eager to hear the story of the person you may now see as a competitor[U2] . After a conversation you may move from “competition,” to “cooperation” [U3] and achieve an even greater result than either organization could have accomplished alone.
History shows that impactful solutions often come from those who are rarely at the decision-making table. This book used multiple voices, multiple lived experiences, and multiple reflections on race, diversity, and inclusion in an effort to change the ways in which difference is conceptualized. One of the most effective tools I used to cope with racism as a young adult was to read Fredrick Douglas’ slave narrative. Through reading his life story I was able to layer my personal narrative on top of his and see myself in his struggle for freedom and education. Reading his life story changed the way I thought about racial inferiority and altered the ways in which I interacted with schooling and the pursuit of knowledge.
In closing educational reform, corporate inclusion, and increased equity in public agencies all begin with critical self-examination, testing for implicit bias, arrogance, and the need for superiority and control. Each member of the team should take an internal audit of his or her thoughts, motivations, and actions. Each group member should ask themselves probing questions such, as; Do I create space for ‘others’ to honestly tell their stories? Am I a vulnerable and honest storyteller? Do I truly trust and care about the people around me enough to eagerly listen to their stories?
The internal story-telling session of every stakeholder can create an inclusive mental space for repairing relationships. Lets look at an example in education. Inclusion occurs, when the recondite fiber of a teacher’s heart is touched when listening to the life story of their most disruptive student, of another race. Then the teacher listens to another story (without judgment and interrupting). Each story enters the teacher’s mind and begins to serve as a counter-story to a previous stereotype, or racist joke. The more stories the teacher hears the more this new collection of stories begin to counterbalance the decades of stereotypical comments and lessons from racially biased family members, teachers, and friends. It is in this new collection of counter-stories and spaces of inclusion that the real humanity of each person can shine bright enough to make real teacher-student connections. When we are honest about our thoughts emotions and backgrounds we may initially feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Overtime these ‘risks’ will be outweighed by the honest story-listening we receive in return for our honesty. Change does not come from mandatory diversity trainings and intellectualized debates. Real and lasting change is cultivated through caring relationships, and these relationships are forged through the vulnerable sharing of stories. Then in the work we do together we create new stories of trial, triumph, and testimony. When we seek to create new stories in an atmosphere of inclusion we eagerly story-listen and exchange honest story-telling, after we have provided psychological air and sincere silence.
Finally, story-listening can help diverse groups live at peace. President Obama's challenge to, “presume a reservoir of goodness in other people,” is the first step in story-listening. By starting from a place of Love (positive expectations) it opens the door to Listen. After earnestly listening this new data will help the listener to Learn new information. Then the listener Leads by Example and incorporates this new knowledge to make collaborative innovative solutions. This collaborative space creates a new Language where inclusion is the normative and ideas can flow with more freedom and compassion. The end result of operating in this new language of love and inclusion is to Live at Peace.
Lead by Example
Language (of Inclusion)
Live at Peace
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 McLoughlin, W. G. (2014). After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880. UNC Press Books.
 Thomason, T. C. (2000). Issues in the treatment of Native Americans with alcohol problems. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 28(4), 243-252.
 Elia, C., & Jacobs, D. F. (1993). The incidence of pathological gambling among Native Americans treated for alcohol dependence. International Journal of the Addictions, 28(7), 659-666.
 Hendrix, H. (2007). Getting the love you want: A guide for couples. St. Martin's Griffin.