Hey everyone, today is Monday February 1st 2021. February is the month Americans work to recognize what it means to be black in America. For Black people in America this may be a month of both celebration of culture and a time of remembrance of what toll survival has taken on the community. It may also be a call to action to continue in the struggle for equity and equality. For white America, this month could be so much more than it is. This month could be spent in reflection of what our nation’s history has been like for many of its citizens. It could be a time spent using empathy to build an understanding of how people from cultures and experiences different than yours, may feel. It may be a time to consider what actions could be taken to address many of the inequities in our society. It may also be a call to action to join in or continuing the ongoing struggle for equity and equality for all. In fact, it could not just be a month. It could become a value we hold that reminds us, that being a community means, all of us, together.
In our school district we recognize this week as Black Lives Matter at School week. When it comes to the black experience in America our nation struggles to fully recognize and understand and even label the full experience that people who identify as black have had and are having. And this is in part because when you learn about how things have been and, in many spaces still are, for black people, by default you learn about how things have been and, in many spaces, still are, for white people. This can be doubly painful. And that is another reason why it is essential that we learn SEL skills so we can recognize and label and handle uncomfortable emotion information.
These skills were not totally absent in previous generations, however, they were often not recognized, not named, not understood, and definitely not formally taught. This has created a situation where for generations leadership and power have been misidentified by aggression and apathy toward the suffering of people identified by the ty-rants in charge, as “others”. And sure, our nation may have put Andrew Jackson on our $20 bill, and we may not identify him as a tyrant, but ask someone who identifies as Cherokee, or Choc-taw, or Chickasaw, or Creek, or Seminole. Both beauty and tyranny are in the eye of the beholder.
So, for years we have not had enough leaders and people with the skills and energy necessary to help us come to terms with the complicated legacies of brutality, betrayal, survival, struggle, uplift, resilience and what it means to thrive when it comes to race. The stories that have been historically used to promote a positive outlook for, quote, “white settlers and pioneers” have been largely absent from formal education for black students and native students and really for a lot of people, but we need to focus. And the reason for this, is often, when it comes to the experience of black people in America, it is very difficult to separate black suffering from white oppression. So, the stories we should all know, are few and far between.
But we, this generation, are stronger in emotion information than those of the past. We can shoulder the weight of this work because we have been given the opportunity to learn about emotion information and how to interact with it, in the best of times and in the worst. And that brings us to February 2021. Black History Month and this first week, Black Lives Matter in Schools week. Although, we need to call “bull” on BLM as a “week”. For Black Lives to honestly matter, you must see this work as something that is in the core of what you do every day, not just one week a year. So, adults...come on man, pick it up.
Black Lives Matter is not just a movement or an organization, it is a commitment to work toward uplift so that opportunity, access, respect, dignity, expression, safety, value, honor, and all other necessary things are not determined by the pigment in your skin, or the gender you present in the world. And honestly, it’s easier if you hold it as a daily value, then if you try to cram into a single week so again, come on man.
So, as part of our ongoing fight for human dignity, this month we are going to focus our Social Emotional Learning on understanding Resources. Resources are the most basic components of human existence. And the most basic resources we have are land, air, and water and shout out to the Fertile Crescent, #6thgradehistoy. Those are the things that humans need to survive, land, air, and water. Land to live on, to grow on, to build from. Air to breath. Water to drink, to wash, to clean. Access to these resources is necessary for humans to live in a place. You can’t live somewhere without all three of these.
Now, of course there are many more resources that exist beyond land, air, and water and we’ll talk about them over the weeks in February, but land, air, and water are the pillars of civilization and access to these things matter. And as simple as it sounds or as ancient as this is, it is also the essence of understanding Black Lives Matter. Why? Because access to land, air, and water has not and is not equal or equitable in our country. And access to these resources has been governed most by the pigment in a person’s skin. Why? Great question talk among yourselves.
I’m glad you got to the bottom of that. We look forward to hearing your thoughts, learning the reasons, and understanding the why. But now, let’s talk about how. How are resources kept away from some and horded by others? When you ask that question, you are asking about a domain of social emotional learning called Social Management. Social Management refers to the ways a group of people provide guidance and instruction on how to interact with one 'another. And social management devices are the ways in which they do that. If you use violence to hurt or scare people into doing what you want, then violence is a social management device. If you use laws or rules or expectations or etiquette (either written or verbal) and either explicit or more hidden, those are social management devices.
When people have equitable access to land, air, and water then they have much greater personal and community control over their prosperity. When people don’t have equitable access to land, air, and water, then they will rely on the people who do have these resources, for their survival. Now, for a minute, think about our city. Think about where people live in our city and who are the people who live where they live in our city. For many years, not just anyone could live anywhere they wanted. There were rules (or social management devices) that said where people could and could not live. Some of these were formal rules (think social management devices) and were written into codes (or social management devices) and some were shared as neighborhood agreements (again a form of social management device).
And where there were not public or private social managemgent devices that kept people from living where they might have wanted to, there were also banks who could make choices about who they leant money to in order to buy a house. And there were some things from governments, both local and state and federal that helped people with light skin do things that people with dark skin were not allowed to do. That is, living on the land of your choice, was not really your choice, depending on the pigment of your skin. The consequence of this was that usually, if you were sent to live on land you didn’t necessarily want, it was not the best land, and you might not have had the cleanest air to breathe or the cleanest water to drink and wash with.
Zach: If you think that’s a wild thing of the past, then look no further than our own school. Our schools are the absolute products of this system. Just look at us and look at our sister middle school on South Graham. Based on how families identified their home cultural identities this middle school in south Seattle is 0.4% Native American, 31.3% Asian, 31.8% African American, 17.5% Hispanic/Latino, 1.8% Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander, 9% Two or More Races and 8.2% White.
Our school, is 12 miles away. Based on how families identified their home cultural identities our middle school in North East Seattle as .9% Native American, 7.7% Asian, 5.8% African American, 7.9% Hispanic/Latino, 0.2% Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander, 15% Two or More Races and 62.5% White. All you need to know from that is that these numbers are not like this by accident. They are part of the reason why people are saying Black Lives Matter. Because historically, in our nation Black Lives have not mattered in the same way that white lives have mattered.
And that’s why this is ongoing work. Black Lives Matter doesn’t say, black lives are the best, or black lives matter more or that other lives don’t matter now. Black Lives Matter is about understanding that in our nation’s history things have not been equal or equitable for kids whose skin is dark. Kids whose skin is dark have not been able to have fair access to the land, air, or water that kids whose skin is lighter have had. Black Lives Matter is an effort and opportunity for all of us to recognize that we can do something about that, and we should.
So, use your empathy. Consider the feelings of others whose access to land, air, and water has been outside of their control. Consider what that would feel like. Resources, and the way they are accessible are a great way to start thinking about this work and why it’s important for all of us. Here's the thing. When we keep ideas and opportunity limited then we keep the opportunities and ideas from growing to their full potential. That’s the work we are going to be doing this week, and next, and the week after, and the weeks after that.
Until next time, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.