Diversity – Resources for Teaching Compassion, Empathy & Understanding

Diversity – Resources for Teaching Compassion, Empathy & Understanding

: ATC Comm Photo from Pexels

“The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist,’ it is ‘antiracist’.”

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

I’ve been fiddling around with ideas on where to begin a blog post about this topic. In the process of attempting to find the right words and write them well, I started compiling a board of resources on Pinterest. With limited exposure and few personal (witnessed) experiences, I struggled with where to begin and how exactly I could give justice to the subject in a respectful, honest and sensitive manner. A subject that I know very little about.

I guess a bit of background on my beginnings is a better place than any to start. Without more accurate descriptive words, it’s safe to say that I grew up very ignorant and naive to racism and social injustice. Being born and raised in the west coast, in a somewhat middle class white home, it wasn’t something I saw often. If I did, I can’t say that I was aware of it. The privilege of living within my skin prevented me from ill and unfair treatment and even though I was surrounded by an extremely diverse community, I failed to recognize if and when it was happening to my friends and family of other complexions.

From what I can remember, I was always an easy going and accepting child with a multicolored group of friends. I was very much aware of the differences within our homes and cultural upbringings but instead of clashing over them, we embraced and celebrated our individual uniquenesses.

This will most definitely age me, but it wasn’t until the riots from the Rodney King beating and the response to O.J. Simpson’s trial that I was ever aware just how much my being white separated me from others, even while attending schools in south Sacramento where there were very few students of European descent. It was actually the first time I feared the fact that being white might cause others to hate me, maybe even wishing or inflicting harm upon me. It rocked and shattered my heart that someone would see me and assume I would hate them because they didn’t look like me. It hurt more to realize that some of the dearest people to me where hated by others because they didn’t look like them.

After graduating from high school I attended a local Bible college. One of the required classes was called Apologetics, Defending the Faith. It was taught by a teacher from an entirely different and almost opposite denomination. It was frustrating and uncomfortable but in the end I was able to leave knowing WHY I believe what I believe.

As we walked through alternative theologies and religious practices from all over the world, my perspective was broadened, and I was given the chance to refine the foundations of my own spiritual life. What once was a class that I dreaded attending and most times left me infuriated from, a shift in my attitude brought down defensive walls and opened up a relationship of healthy conversation. It was there, in that more vulnerable position, I was finally able to learn.

I believe that is exactly where we need to be if we are ever going to see the current climate of our nation change – vulnerability and being willing to listen to what makes us uncomfortable without throwing up defenses. Speaking for myself, I am no where near where I should be when it comes to education in and exposure to diversity and inclusion. Thankfully I have some amazing and very patient friends who are people of color, and a plethora of resources at my fingertips.

Recently there have been videos circulating of black parents teaching their young children, their babies, how to respond to police when stopped or approached. I sat with tears welling as a small girl held her hands in the air and spouted out her rehearsed answer of personal information. I couldn’t help but see the beautiful and innocent little faces of former students, knowing that this is their reality. I cannot fathom or even begin to understand what it must feel like knowing that this topic of discussion is necessary for the health and safety of my child’s life.

For 25 years I attended and was very involved with a church here in Northern, California. At one point in the early 2000’s this particular church was noted as having the most diverse congregation in our denomination. To top it off, this particular church was founded in a once small town that was saturated in dark history with deep roots of racist activity. After becoming a city, that small town had a population explosion and is now one of the most diverse suburbs within Sacramento County.

I have been very fortunate to not only be surrounded by people representing several nations and ethnicities for a majority of my life, but to be placed within safe and healthy relationships where I have been given the opportunity to learn about and celebrate those cultures. By no means am I in any way an expert, and there is SO much more learning to be had. I’ve done things right, but I’ve also made some pretty big and stupid mistakes out of unknown bias I carried deep within my heart.

I acknowledge the advantages I have in life as a white woman – the advantage to not be looked at in a store with suspicion as to what my motives might be, the advantage to be treated with more respect by people in positions of authority, the advantage to walk down the street without the fear of danger or bodily harm caused by society’s stereotypes, the advantage to be heard when I speak. I recognize that because of these advantages, I have a responsibility to stand up and speak out for those who don’t.

Where to start:

Take a good look at yourself – your circle of influence, your own bias and implicit bias, how you interact with your students (are you treating children of color differently than their white classmates? Are your expectations higher or lower than what you expect of the white children?)

Are you being intentional and teaching by example? Your body language, facial expressions, reactions and interactions.

Are you teaching about and celebrating differences?

Are you demonstrating that bullying of any kind, exclusion and racist behavior will not be the norm, accepted in any form or tolerated?

Are you listening to, reading about and conversing with people you don’t agree with? It’s ok to have differing opinions, by the way, as long as you maintain a relationship built on respect.

Are you LISTENING? Yes, I know it’s in the previous question but critical that I repeat it.

I’ve put together a list of some of the people and organizations I follow on social media. Because of my background, many of them are faith-based. I don’t necessarily always agree with everything they post, sometimes I get pretty uncomfortable but in the end I see how much their influence has opened my eyes to the life and struggles of others and I’m reminded once again of the importance in seeing a differing opinion.

The first on my “People Everyone Should Get to Know” list is a good friend of mine. My husband and I have known Ilesha and her husband for about 10 years. We worked beside them in different ministries and sat around their dinner table within their home on many occasions. Ilesha is nothing short of inspiring. Her story blows me away and I stand in awe of the hardworking, strong and determined leader that she is. The following is a recent post from her social media accounts. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and her Podcast.

#TeachableMoment – Ilesha (aka CoCoSpeaks) Graham

I conduct a lot of diversity training and there is a concept that I always share about windows and mirrors. As we interact with people, they serve as either windows or mirrors.

Mirrors are those people who reflect back who we are. They validate us, they’re like us, they make us feel comfortable and good. They are often our strongest connections.

Windows are people who are not like us and through our interaction with them, we get to see the world through a different lens. What we are able to see are different realities and sometimes hard realities that help us to have more understanding, compassion, and a broader world view. Those experiences can help us to learn how to love others better.

Just like it would be odd to live in a house with all mirrors and no windows, our life (social circle) should also contain both mirrors AND windows. Why? Because there is a hazard in only having “mirrors” in our life. It feels good, but it limits us – limits our perspective, our ability to connect, and even our ability to lead and have influence + impact. 

While, it can be challenging to have a lot of “windows” in our life, it can make us better citizens, better leaders, and better ambassadors.

Now is a great time to take stock of your circle of influence. Do you have too many mirrors and not enough windows? Have you taken time to scrub off (the bias from) your windows so you see more clearly through them? Have you used your mirrors to reflect on how you can love people better?

#CoCoSpeaks – Instagram

Along with the following links to accounts and resources, feel free to take a look at the Pinterest Board (Diversity, Empathy, & Compassion) and Amazon List (Diversity – Teaching Compassion, Empathy & Understanding Books for children & adults) I’ve organized with learning materials for young and old alike.

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