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Macro Affirmations

Recently, over on Twitter, I asked a question about the new vocabulary people are learning in order to see what parts of my own lexicon has changed. While I limited it to new words in the last 5 and 10 years I hadn’t expected the responses. My assumption, and I did make one, was that these words would come solely from educators, my biggest community over there.

Surprisingly, lots of other people joined in and it turned into a learning environment where people asked for clarification, ideologies were explained, folks dropped links to definitions and stories where their word was used, and all kinds of personal growth that comes from the fluidity of language coupled with dominant socialized identities. I offered up “settler colonialism” as an example of something I hadn’t been taught explicitly in school nor did it come from anything I’d learned as a classroom teacher. It simply became a word I’d begun to see once I expanded who I was following on Twitter:

Native Americans and Indigenous peoples.

Sometime in 2017 I began to wonder what it was that I had to learn and unlearn and my feed has been more rich and affirming because of that small change. Once I followed people like Dr. Debbie ReeseDr. Adrienne KeeneKaitlin Curtice and a man who goes by Big Indian Gyasi (aka Breakdances with Wolves, a fabulous name), the recommended ‘people to follow’ began to change.

One of my other learnings in the last 5 years has been around the phrase “macro affirmations”. It’s hard to find much about it online and it’s the kind of granular terminology that makes its way into the anti-racism work I do currently. But there’s not a lot written on it. If I’m wrong and academics use it, then that’s another story and probably a condemnation of the Academy as gatekeepers.

Bias Pie Chart from Bill Hathaway for Yale Child Study Center

In September of 2016 the Yale Child Study Center came out with a report on the emphasis of bias in pre-school teachers who are looking actively for disruptive behavior in Black children (mostly boys). The study, and visibility of the lead researcher Dr. Walter Gilliam, made its way into the mainstream in a way that studies like this rarely do. The implications confirmed that Black children are hardly seen as innocent or developmentally appropriate. As a former teacher and middle and high school administrator, nothing about this study seemed new. We have a plethora of studies on bias and exclusion that pull the thread from pre-K through higher education. It’s common to hear about the over 80% of teachers who are white within the system of education.

Yet, it was what the study didn’t show that piqued my interest. The question that haunted me was what doesn’t this study show?

The conclusion I came to was that it didn’t show macro affirmations.

Following a natural conclusion of the results that pre-school teachers tended to more closely observe (and thus, “catch”) the behavior of Black children which points to the rest of the K12 systems doing the same, I wondered about what that does to the white children in schools. Black students, as well as other students of color, have reported incredible amounts of micro aggressions within school and other parts of society. So, I wondered, what is on the other end of that spectrum?

Macro affirmations.

How do white children, starting from pre-school, get an uneven amount of affirmations in the school setting? They’re told they belong, that every story centers them from the preschool bookshelf to the posters displayed on the walls to the songs they sing to learn. White children see themselves in history books as the victors. They never wonder the race of characters in stories since curriculum choices favor them and relegate the stories of the “other” in small units or months of celebration. Presence, as they understand it, is theirs. Constant affirming of their belonging and being and ways of living are simply…normal. The norms of what they see and how they experience educational settings give them a barrage of messages:

you belong

you are welcome here

everything about you is normal

this is all for you

you can see yourself everywhere

When educators talk about bias we mostly come at it from the perspective of a bias against. Often, we fail to discuss that we have a bias for a group. Even as a biracial Black woman, I have recognized that my socialization has been to have a bias for white people as those messages have also affected me. [Thanks, Project Implicit!] It’s not only jarring to see my own results, it’s devastating to consider how much this informs my own biases.

The macro affirmations that white children get throughout their educational careers is astounding. I want the study that tells me what that does to them.

Or is that ‘study’ already living out before our eyes?

Do I really need a study to tell me that white children are hurting from these macro affirmations when they find themselves in a world that doesn’t center them? Is it possible that a formal study would tell us that the macro affirmations for white children are leading them to high rates of suicide and violence? Would a study explain why the domestic terrorists we see in the news, a news that centers them, refuses to even name them as such?

Some would say this is debatable (as “whiteness” is fluid thus the data set keeps changing) yet the over 70% of gun violence exacted by white boys and men in schools, churches, concerts, mosques, temples, movie theaters seems to point back to that pre-school study of who we’re not watching in the classroom.

If teachers overwhelmingly indict Black children’s developmentally appropriate behavior starting in preschool, what’s happening to the white children who rarely, if ever, get reprimanded for the same thing? I wonder how that socializes them to see some children get in trouble for things they’re doing. I am curious about how the macro affirming messages get deep into their bones and guide their interactions with people who don’t look like them and what it is they make of those subtle stereotypes that turn into ingrained beliefs about themselves.

I wonder what it is we’re missing in schools when we macro affirm white children to the point of not seeing their behavior as errant.

If the Yale study taught me anything, it’s that there are crucial questions we aren’t asking and threads we aren’t pulling from research that literally kills us.

originally published on Medium


Racial Identity & A Certain Looking White Woman

Every week, I stand before a roomful of strangers in antiracism workshops. There's a lot one must be prepared for when doing this kind of work: who will be there? what's the racial makeup of the room? what's the understanding of racism and the willingness to enter this kind of work?

Usually, I depend on local organizers to bring the right people into the space. This means a lot of phone calls, emails, and trust: trust that people will organize well. There is, by the way, such a thing as organizing badly. It's possible to bring the wrong people into this work. Not everyone is ready for it. Some people want to be in the room simply to poke holes in theories, ideologies, and personal experiences. My advice to organizers is this: never knock on a closed door. Find the people who are ready.

Once there, I do an extended introduction of myself and what brought me to this work. It hinges on my own racial identity with a Black father from New Orleans and a white mother from a tiny town in South Dakota. That's when I tell the story of a Certain Looking White Woman. 

The first time it happened, I was 4 years old.

I got to choose an activity with daddy and it was just going to be us. My older sister wouldn't be coming and my mom was home, pregnant with my younger sister. I wanted to get ice cream and I had one more request. It's the kind of request only a 4 year old would give and that was to be hoisted up to be able to ride atop my dad's shoulders. 

We walked together the couple of blocks, through the park, and got in line at the ice cream shop. We weren't there very long when a white woman approached us. A more accurate word would be accosted. She accosted us. The way she walked up to us I assumed daddy knew her. He did not. Almost immediately, she was yelling. 


Kindergarten picture wouldn't be complete without the afro my mother was INTENT on picking out. 

I didn't grow up in a family of yellers. Naturally, she scared me. I didn't identify, until years later, that this is what started my panic attacks. Her face was red and she was pointing at him and then at me. Since I was on his shoulders it seemed like her finger was directly in my face. 



It didn't occur to me that I didn't belong to my father. I never considered that his dark skin against my light skin and green eyes would cause anyone to assume I'd been...kidnapped. Nothing about her accusation made sense but this was the 1970s in Chicago and, well, one just doesn't get into verbal altercations while being accused of kidnapping by hysterical white women. I'd argue this truth in 2019 as well.

I know what a Certain Looking White Woman looks like.

I can always tell. I've made it my life's work to identify them and then, for my own safety, to eschew them.

For more than 20 years I have avoided a Certain Looking White Woman. If she joined a committee I wanted to join while teaching and I saw too many of them, I would leave. When my children were in school and I became involved as a parent on the local PTO and I saw too many Certain Looking White Women, I backed out. There were a lot of instances where I saw her. She is everywhere.

She's entitled, privileged, and thinks she's doing me a favor. Most importantly, she believes she has every right to accost me, deny me, and question my humanity.

At age 8, a Certain Looking White Woman asked me if I felt "safe" when my father was out of earshot. In my teens and out to dinner with daddy, another one asked me if I needed her to call for help when my father left to use the restroom. They approach in equal measures of benevolence and terror and the look? Well, it's unmistakeable. I know when she's coming now. I brace myself and wait for the inevitable conversation that pretends to hinge on my 'safety'. 

The ways in which this has de-legitimized and belittled me are too much. I have avoided a Certain Looking White Woman for so long that it took me until my late 30s to identify it. It's shaped me so clearly in ways that are embarrassing to admit. My comfort has been to be around more Black men, women, and children for obvious reasons. They identify me quickly, even strangers. People who give me the head nod on the street or the Black woman who drops a "sis" or "girl" to me when I've passed her in a public restaurant while I'm fixing my hair. 

It has socialized me to occupy multicultural spaces with people and very quickly identify myself as Black. Sometimes within the first few minutes of meeting someone. I always find a way.

I share this part of my identity work because there are far too many white women who assume they're safe for me. Many are shocked when I identify them as the source of my fear and anxiety. Often, they've never considered the danger they pose to me. Some will ask, once I've told this part of my story, "Do I look like a Certain Looking White Woman? Is it me?" I don't answer directly. Instead, I respond to their question with another question:

Do you think your white femininity makes you a safe person for every person of color in this country? 

And, then, if I'm lucky and I've done my job in a space dedicated to dismantling the social and political construct of racism while getting participants to see they've all been co-opted into this ideology, they'll answer for themselves in a way that leads them to do their own socialization and racial identity work. 

I'll keep telling that story.



This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Hema Khodai titled #IAmBecoming (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

You can read all of the blog posts this month here.





Was Parenting Really Easier Back Then?

This post is sponsored by the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. All opinions and blessed memories are my own.

My daughter could sit for hours in her highchairs to color if I just provided enough paper and crayons. She would smile and wave to strangers in the grocery store thus making a 15-minute trip turn into an hour of socializing with people to whom she gave a bit of sunshine. If she was hurt or needed a snuggle, I was often surprised at how much longer she stayed in my lap. Everything about her babyhood was tender and full of joy for me.


As a teen, she stayed in her room for hours at a time just to read books, including the ones she stole from my dresser when she thought I didn’t know. She remained friendly as a teen, often helping other teens or asking me for advice when her friends appeared to be stuck. That let me know how much she actually listened to me. When she’s in the mood, she’ll text me to ask if I want to join her for a classic movie marathon and, even if we don’t talk, it’s just enough to be near her.


The stories from Dr. Ginsburg here reminded me of how much care we need to be reminded to take with our teens:



If you’re at that point with raising teenagers where you need a boost, check out this piece from Dr. Ken Ginsburg from the Center for Parent and Teen Communication.  I was reminded of how necessary it was to recall those lovely days of discovery of my children when tested all the limits of their teen years. (Be encouraged! I survived and so can you!)  Need a resource guide? I’ve got you covered. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication is a new, valuable resource for every parent navigating the teens with their children. Here’s a bit of the kind of advice you can find from Dr. Ginsburg, Remember the Best in Your Child and See It In Your Teen.

If you know a parent struggling with a teen, why not pass this encouragement along to them? They could probably use it.

Do you have some favorite baby or childhood memories of your children? How has that developed into the amazing teenager you’re raising now?  




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