55. Regarding Social Engagement pt 3


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Good Morning Families, today is Wednesday June 10, 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.


Social Engagement is about working toward the uplift of others. And just as our nation has a terrible legacy of abusing our brothers and sisters with dark skin, it also has demonstrated the ability to help others. Both of those are characteristics of our national identity. As we continue to unpack the legacy of our abuses, we should also be unpacking the legacy of our ability to help.


When someone is being bullied and others watch and do not help, we call that behavior by-standing. There were four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd. Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng chose to participate in the physical restraint, at that point they became willing participants in the murder. The third office Tou Thao remained a bystander; as he watched. The people who were also present, and particularly the folks filming and pleading with the officers to stop were choosing to do what they could. They were doing the actions of being an ally.


When we use the term ally in reference to social change, we are describing the behavior of being willing to act with and for others in pursuit of gaining equal and fair treatment, ending oppression and supporting a path for the uplift of other people and communities. Watching and doing nothing is by-standing, but working toward help, that’s being an ally.


When Mr. Roger’s talked about his mom telling him to look for the helpers, it is often the helpers who are being allies for those who are inflicted. In the case of racial equity in our nation allies with light skin are necessary for making change because historically the concentration of social power has been given to the communities or people with light skin. In that regard it is very important that allies from these very communities come forward. Folks need to see themselves as capable of helping, not just standing by.

By-standing is like just watching, not doing anything. Sometimes by-standing can also encourage the power and performance of the bully, especially if they start to believe they have a willing audience. The silence and presence of the by-standers can be interpreted as approval. Even if it’s not approval, it can have that consequence, and it can be interpreted by others as either compliance or encouragement. This interpretation may not be fair to the by-standers as they may be frozen with fear or simply unsure of what to do. Of course, that is another reason why holistic social emotional learning is so important, because, if used properly it would help folks in this situation know how to interact with the emotion information we call fear.


So, let’s say you have light skin and you want to become an ally for helping change the way people with dark skin are treated in our country. It can be hard to know where and how to start. Let’s first look at how self-awareness skills might help us.


Number one, use your social emotional literacy skills. Ask yourself about your thoughts. Ask yourself how you feel in your body. Ask yourself how you want to express yourself. And ask yourself how you can express yourself. This is the foundation of the work. Why? Because the thoughts you think and the emotion information you receive are going to have some impact on the way you act, so you want to be clear in what you are working for. You will want to know this because there are some common things that sometimes light skin allies do, that might not be as helpful as we think.


As you use your SEL skills try to remember that being an ally is understanding that working toward racial equity is important for all people. Consider the ancient text, best brought forward by poet Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” That is as true today as it has always been. Remember, this is a place of duality. For there to be the oppressed, there must be the oppressor. For there to be privilege there must be subjugation. We are all caught in this. So it will take all of us to work through it. I don’t know of anyone who wants any of those titles placed on them, and I know a lot of people from a lot of different places.


So, you check in with your intention. Why do this work? Well you do it for others and you do it for you. That is, working toward racial equity will free us all. This is the work that will uplift our entire nation. However, you want to be clear about your intention. If you have light skin, and at some point, in checking in with yourself, you recognize that you really want to be seen as “one of the good ones” that’s a trap. Don’t beat yourself up for thinking that, the thought is pretty natural. But just be mindful of how you may choose to express that. Because if you’re not careful with that thought, it could lead you down the path toward something called “the white savior”. Stay away from the “white savior”.

It’s true, the white savior is a trap of the ego. What the white savior mindset does is it distorts the work from being about trying to make things better for others, to trying to be seen making things better for others. See how it’s different? It’s subtle but it matters. Trying to be seen doing good could lead a person acting in ways that may feel unauthentic to others or may be more for show or spectacle or may hurt or alienate other potential allies. Here’s the first clue you might be slipping into that, that would be if you’re trying to work on racial equity, exclusively in the presence of people of color. How is that a trap? Because that’s not really where the work is. The work for folks with light skin involves entering the spaces that are privileged to light skin. That’s where ally-ship can really make a difference. Look to where the power lies. Because remember, the legacy of racial inequity hangs upon all of us, in different ways and none of us are free until all of us are.


That is not to suggest that marching in the streets is not important. That physical show of support is very important. It is working to make change. However, it cannot stop or only exist there.


And on that note, let’s hear more from the streets.


((You can hear audio clips from some of the social engagement in the region on the links above.))


Thank you to all who shared. So use that self-awareness today. Just a reminder, Friday is our last Moment of SEL until we return in September. We’re not sure what the format will be exactly, but we know we’ll be back in some way. But for now, until tomorrow, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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