Note: This post was originally written in July of 2019.
I write this post at a very particular moment in time. The leaders in positions of power in my country are perpetuating hate in ways I could not have imagined three short years ago. It is a time of both reckoning and rumble, a time when we walk our talk or we hang our heads.
We can choose courage or we can choose comfort for, as Brene Brown so aptly says, we cannot choose both.
A young girl goes home to her mother to tell her a story. Her teacher, she says through tears, wears a shirt with the words “Teacher Tribe” on them. She chose courage and told her teacher that, as a young girl from an indigenous tribe, the fact that her teacher took on the tribe moniker and put it on a t-shirt hurt her feelings. It felt like it discounted just how sacred that word is, just how sacred that entity is.
Unlike the girl, her teacher chose comfort. “Don’t be so sensitive,” she replied.
The child went home that day and, through tears, chose courage again. She told her mother what happened at school. I do not know the exchange that occurred between daughter and mother but I do know it held enough pain that the mother could not stand by and say nothing. Like her daughter, she chose courage and called a meeting with the teacher where she shared her concern as well as reiterated the sadness of her daughter.
Again the teacher chose comfort, dismissing the concern with, “it’s just a shirt. She shouldn’t be so sensitive.”
As a child repeatedly told I was too sensitive, reading this felt a knife in my heart made doubly problematic because, in the last several years, I have built a community of over five hundred teachers called “The Teacher Tribe.” This is not the same community that this teacher belongs to, but we carry the same name and from that I can not hide.
I have built my career on the fact all children deserve to be seen and loved and valued for who they are and the gifts they bring to the world. All children. And I run a long-time community that co-opts the word tribe.
This, my friends, is a reckoning.
As a straight, white, able-bodied, English-speaking, Christian woman born in the United States, my cup of unearned privilege runneth over. I have always worked very hard, starting at age 13 and not stopping since. I am kind and generous. I love freely. When I get something I share it. All that said, I encountered no stumbling blocks on my life’s journey related to my race, my sexuality, my language, or my religion. I never once had part of my identity subject me to othering; I never once had part of my identity appropriated, maliciously or not, by others.
Here I am, in service to our children and the national treasures who are our teachers, doing just that. Not maliciously nor intentionally, of course, yet it’s been several months since I read the blog post that details the story of this little girl hurt by her teacher, and I have been “too busy” with work and family to make a change of my own.
What a luxury it is for me to be too busy to change something that causes pain to others.
At the current moment I am also enjoying another benefit of my privilege. I write this post from a coffee house in Hong Kong, where I have come to work with teachers on the name and dime of the prestigious university for which I work.
This week the Hong Kong government is poised to debate a bill that would allow the extradition of citizens to mainland China, something that has created visceral and palpable fear in my new friends and their country people. One million people, literally 1/7th of the population, have taken to the streets. The teachers in my care are bound by their schools and their commitment to children to remain with me during the day and so they take to the streets at night. They do so in courage, despite the cost to their comfort and safety. No fellow brother or sister will have their freedom taken on their watch. Not without a fight.
Courage or comfort, Hong Kong. Not both.
In the meantime, back in my country, refugees fleeing violence of the worst kind are carrying their babies as they walk for months to our border only to have their babies taken from them and put in literal cages. Cages where they are allowed to be sick and alone and, in the cases of eight children so far, die. Our country chooses comfort, despite the courage of the millions who came before us who stood in the shoes of refugees and then fought to the death for the ideals we purport to hold sacred.
Courage or comfort, United States. Not both.
And me, too busy. Telling my new friends from Hong Kong how imperative it is to allow our kids to see themselves in their curriculum and instruction. How it is our duty to work into that curriculum and instruction all the cultural and linguistic assets of all of our kids. How we must nurture each child’s particular genius in service to a greater classroom, a greater school, a greater country, a greater world.
Courage or comfort, Nicole. Not both.
On our last day together I asked each of the teachers to write a six word story, modeled after Earnest Hemingway’s original:
Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.
As each teacher read their six word stories I felt the invisible weight of the little girl and her mother whose pain was ignored by that teacher. I felt the weight of the children in the United States who learn how to duck and cover before they learn how to read. I felt the weight of the children from Latin American who cry for their parents and the weight of their parents who are carrying the absolutely unimaginable fear and pain of their children being taken from them and put into cages in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
I feel the weight. And so I write.
Tribe. Another thing taken. No more.