Why a passionate educational leader, who was the Founder of the Educators of Colour Network, says that while school staff were once comfortable talking about diversity, multiculturalism and equity, in recent months, has seen a shift that now includes white privilege. Michelle Jean-Paul, a woman of colour who self-identifies as BIPOC, shares her views on anti-racism and why, when she created the Educators of Colour Network she wanted to include white as a colour. Michelle is currently working on her Ph.D. in Educational Administration, is an author, keynote speaker with expertise on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion within the context of educational settings.
Recommendations from Michelle
https://www.nfb.ca/film/for_angela/ (Short Film - For Angela)
(Book - 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act)
(Book - Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada)
(Music - Toby Nwigwe)
See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.
This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights.
Here's your host Stuart Murray.
My guest today said that school staff are far more comfortable talking about diversity, multiculturalism and equity than white privilege.
But that is starting to change.
Michelle Jean Paul has been a public school principal for 12 years.
She is currently working on her PhD in educational administration.
She's the founder of the Educators of Color Network.
She's an author, the keynote speaker dealing with equity, diversity, inclusion within the context of an educational setting.
Michelle jean paul.
Welcome to humans on rights.
Thank you very much Stuart, I'm happy to be here.
So Michelle education.
Why did you get involved in education?
You know what, I have always said that I never seriously considered anything else.
I would definitely consider it a vocation for me.
Um, I think like most kids, it's one of the careers that were exposed to earliest and at some point in time and the most Children think they're going to be a teacher had a strong influence of my dad who was an educator.
You know, I I remember always playing school, but I always took it to another level even as a young child.
So I've always seen myself in this position.
I've always had a passion for education and for the power of education for me to move into it in a formal way as an educator was was very natural and uh, you know, I toyed with a few other ideas, but always came back to this.
And so why do you feel it's necessary to, you've got your Bachelor of education, you've got your Masters now, you're working on your PhD, why do you feel that it's important to have that degree or that involvement behind what it is that you're pursuing?
Yeah, for me, it's really just a question of professional development.
You know, I try not to equate intelligence or intellect with pieces of paper because I think there are a lot of phenomenally brilliant people who who don't have those pieces of paper to support it.
And I think reverse lee there are a lot of people who have all sorts of accreditations that that don't necessarily demonstrate a keen intellect.
For me, it was really a question of wanting to dig deeper into some big questions that I had in terms of my practice in terms of of the system that I'm a part of, but also a way of adding voices that might be left out of the dialogue around schools and schooling.
So it was important for me to um, to kind of formalize that and hopefully use my, my research and my writing to create, create a perspective and present a perspective that's often left out of some of the dialogue around education.
One of the things that you have done over the course of time is you have started you're the founder of educators of Color Network.
Why did you start that?
What's important to you about that?
Why did you feel it was necessary in the education system or beyond?
So that work grew out of my masters um dissertation research.
And so um I was looking at the academic achievement in school engagement of black youth in Winnipeg schools.
Um and the thing that came up over and over again in my interviews and in my reading was about the lack of representation.
Um and you know, some of the students I spoke to in my research talked about how well I remember there was that one substitute or was E.
Um and at that point in time I was at the beginning of my career and administration and and I recognized to you know, I'm seeing people working as substitute teachers that are coming from diverse groups, but not necessarily in permanent positions around the table with me as colleagues.
Also adding to that um within the province of Manitoba, there was a a surge of black educators from the Caribbean that arrived in the 70s.
And I was part of that generation.
Um and a lot of those people were reaching retirement age.
And so I was seeing black educators, many of whom um were huge support to me and advocates um of mine as I as I kind of traveled in my journey as an educator, but these people were leaving the system and they weren't being replaced at the same rate.
So all of those things kind of combined, I approached the black educators Association of Manitoba and I asked them for a little bit of funding uh if I could do a meet and greet and see, you know, who is this next generation of black educators out there.
But as I was extending the invitation and doing some digging around to find names, I had educators from other racialized groups saying, what about us?
What about us?
And so the original intent of the educators of Color Network is really just to look at some of the gaps and try to fill them.
And that's basically our mandate.
And so largely the work that we've done has been supporting internationally educated uh teachers and the teachers from racialized groups who are underrepresented in the field through networking opportunities and free professional development session.
But the network has always been open to everyone.
And I think the name educators of Color network speaks to me and the way people understand it speaks to me about the work we need to do around racism and anti racism and equity in schools because were all of color, you know, but you know, and I think oftentimes white is seen as neutral and it actually the name was intentional and when we named it, there had been some questions and a little bit of controversy around the naming and I thought I'm going to be delivered and intentional in this.
And if people can't see themselves in the name, hopefully that invites, you know, some of these deeper conversations around issues of race in the system of education and how it presents a barrier for so many.
And when you started at Michelle, I think it was in 2009, what, what have you seen your vision for it then and how you see it today?
What's what, how do you evaluate the progress that you've seen for educators of code?
You know, what, for us, we've always worked very hard to stay at a grassroots level and not get caught in the politics of management that sometimes come with organizations.
And so, I mean, we've seen growth, definitely, and that would be evidenced by, you know, we're we're at our distribution list is now pushing 300 you know, our events will be, I think our largest event, we had upwards of 90 almost 100 people attend.
Some of our events are, you know, as few as five, and it's never been about, um, it's never been about, you know, having having those huge numbers, it's never been about, um, you know, recognition, it's been about really trying to create meaningful opportunities for the educators that are reaching out to us now over the last year, our work has evolved a little bit, as you know, as I said, we're always looking to kind of fill the gaps and as conversations about anti racist education have been surfacing more and more, um we've seen this as an opportunity for us to shift a little bit in the work that we're doing.
Um and part of that being cognizant of the fact that, you know, our work with with educators from underrepresented groups is important work because we want them to be able to access employment in the system, but at the same time, they're not the reason why they're not getting jobs right.
A lot of the reasons why these people are finding a hard time accessing permanent employment within the education system has to do with barriers within the system itself.
And so being able to kind of have these conversations and do some of this training around anti racist education, working with school leaders around developing their understanding of how they're complicit in perpetuating cycles of inequity and systems of inequity.
It comes hand in hand with the work that we've been doing.
You know, trying to empower and equip educators who are trying to access employment and now focusing a little bit on trying to shift the system in ways that in the ways that we can.
So I think it's always fascinating, you know, when you get an organization going and I love the fact you talk grassroots because that's really where the change can be, but there seems to be always a process that when you start an organization that it just kind of starts to pile on and become more bureaucratic, how have you been able to keep it at a grassroots level?
You know, we actually were just talking about that with the leadership team, and we just you know, we've said we've been around since 2009 with never any conflict or drama within our leadership team.
And I think part of that has to do with the fact that we all approach this work, not from a place of ego, but from a place of service, uh, and and wanting to contribute to our community in ways that will make it better.
And so with that we're open to critique and we're open to suggestions, but we're also mindful of the fact that we're pursuing what we see as our strengths and our passions, and we're not trying to be everything for everyone.
And so, you know, we've had a couple of, you know, time's over over the years where someone has been interested in joining our leadership team and they've had ideas about how we should approach the work.
One example of that would be yet one individual who really wanted us to do lobbying and petitioning of government, and we said that's great work, that's valuable work, but that's not the work that we're doing.
And so if we can encourage and support you into pursuing network.
We will, we'll share information, but that's not the work that we're pursuing.
So I think just being true in, in who we are as individuals, um, and also as, as part of this leadership team, um, has led to our ongoing success in the work that we've done and how we've defined success, I think also contributes to that.
I mean for years people had no idea that I wasn't even attached to the educators of color network.
And uh, in our early years, our work had been attributed to a superintendent, a former superintendent who had given us space on occasion.
But other than that had really not contributed, you know, much much to the, to the work of the network.
Um, and none of us ever fought that because we really, we really didn't care who was getting the praise or the credit.
All we cared about was the fact that the work was being done.
Um, so I think that is probably how, how we've been able to continue to develop and grow and sustain at that grassroots level.
And when you talk about success Michelle, this is obviously something that is, is growing and getting momentum.
And uh, you know, just in the free press, there was a great picture of you with the big, you know, kind of World War Three headlines always talk about anti racism 101, But so so tell me about sort of success.
You know, it's not a matter of, you know, a goal line, it seems like there's, you know, kind of that notion that is climbing a ladder, you just want to go one step, keep going and keep going because, you know, the end, what is the endgame?
But tell me about how do you, what would you value or what would you see as success in terms of the network you've created?
Yeah, I think for me, you know, some of the big success is is seeing some of our members no longer attend events because they found a community within a school division.
I think that for me, you know, is is always a huge success.
I know, on a few occasions we've had members come to us and say, you know, I'm really sorry, you know, I haven't been around, but I'm now working in such and such a place and don't apologize, that's that's what we want.
We want you to find a home outside of us so that you don't need to access our resources.
Um I think for me around the intro to anti racism um workshops for me, success is the ongoing dialogue that people are wanting to have around these issues.
Um and getting that, you know, I attended a one hour workshop and I don't have all the answers.
I just have more questions.
And so the openness and willingness of people to continue to engage, um and to continue to look for support as they develop in those areas um is how I see success in this work.
And I think it's a that's a great answer.
I I think one of the one of the elements in in talking about anti racism is it's hard not to start a huge George Floyd is a little bit of a of a point in time.
You know, um would you say that you have seen more interest, more openness?
Um more people wanting to either a get engaged to be part of the conversation since that?
And and if so, can you, in your own words, why would you say that?
That has been the case?
I think there has absolutely 100% been um an increase in interest or intrigue on the topic of anti racism since the death of the murder of George Floyd.
And I thought a lot about the whys behind that, because I think for me, these are things that I've lived my entire life and this is work that I have engaged with in my entire career.
And I think for a lot of racialized people, um George Floyd was just one more story.
Um and you know, I think there's a little bit of of of perhaps even anger around the fact that so this time we care.
What about all of the other times before?
Part of me wonders if the fact that we were all in lockdown at home and we couldn't hide from the story, right?
I feel like in some ways the pandemic made us more receptive to his story and perhaps also we were all feeling a little bit more vulnerable because of the pandemic than we have with past cases on our side of the border as well, in Canada of police brutality, I think, of Rodney King.
And and that to me was, you know, within my lifetime, such a pivotal event.
And, you know, I I think there are probably some changes then, but then the stories kind of go away.
And so I think George Floyd absolutely.
You know, just happened to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
Um, but my hope is that We maintain this energy and this level of of of concern around these issues.
And we don't kind of just let this become another story that, you know, in 10 years time we'll be saying George Who.
So let me just go back to a comment, Michelle, you mentioned that the Rodney King uh that horrific video was a pivotal point change for you, or a pivotal change point for you.
Why was that?
Well, I think for me it was a deepening of my understanding of systemic racism and I think that, you know, I've had the privilege of of excelling within the school system.
I had the privilege of excelling with them, a lot of the institutions that exist within society.
And so my personal experience as a black woman um have not been ones where I've faced, I've felt for the majority of my life, like the system is pinned against me.
But I've always been able to recognize that that's about me as an individual and that my experience is different than the experience of other people like me.
And I think for me, Rodney King's, that that whole experience, it happened at a time in my life where my social consciousness was developing and my sense of identity was, was kind of burgeoning as well.
And just to recognize the way that justice does not exist for certain kinds of people.
Um, and that there are people who will defend injustice and believe wholeheartedly that certain people do not deserve to be treated equitably.
I think those things, you know, it just it was the time in my life that had occurred, I think as well, that really made that resonate with me and really led to me deepening my understanding of systemic racism and of the way that institutions, you know, we'll we'll continue to support some and deny the value of the lives of others.
And, you know, the word systemic racism, I mean, has been around for decades yet.
It seems to be, you know, a word that we're using now, and even then some people struggle with it.
You're not sure where it goes.
And we we've seen that in the news.
I want to just come back a bit to you as, as, as a young Michelle jean Powell in school, what sorts of things would you have experienced as a, as a woman of color in, in, in high school or grade school that you look back today and sort of understand now what, you know, or maybe you knew it at the time was an issue of racism that specifically involved you.
You know, unfortunately I was very conscious of a lot of those things.
They weren't things that kind of passed over my head and I think I had a deep sense of, of identity.
Um, and on issues of race from a young age.
Um, you know, I recall being in fourth grade and you know, at that time it was boys catch the girls or girls catch the boys or whatever the recess game was, we took turns chasing each other.
And it was one of those harmless games that, you know, when someone feels upset because their ego is bruised and then it causes conflict and now is the school principal.
I deal with those same chasing games and, and the conflicts that arise from them.
Um, but when I was in grade four, uh, there was a boy who was upset that another girl and I were able to chase them and catch them and that made him upset.
And so some name calling occurred.
But there was a special name that was used against me.
Um, and I recall knowing from the moment it was said, um, that it packed a certain weight and, and I don't remember ever explicitly having a conversation with my parents where they, you know, they said this is what this word means and, and, and this is this is what the world is like.
But I, so I don't recall a specific conversation, but without a doubt in my mind, I knew what that word meant when it was used against me.
And I do.
I mean issues of race were present in our lives um as Children.
And so in that moment I felt very supported by the school, but I had the benefit and I often will tell the stories and workshops that I do.
I have the benefit of my dad having been a teacher at the first school I attended.
So my very first memory of school and schooling is hanging out in the teachers lounge, being fed cookies and sweets.
And so I have always, when I talked earlier about the privilege that I've had within the system, I've been able to recognize the fact that my dad had positive, pure relationships with his colleagues in the school that I attended from kindergarten to grade nine impacted the way that I related with the system.
And so when this issue occurred, my classroom teacher had not just a responsibility to me, but to his buddy.
My principal had a responsibility not just to me, but he had to answer to his fishing buddy on how he dealt with this issue.
And so I felt as though school took these issues seriously.
Now fast forward to an experience I had in high school where it came to light that there were a group, a group of kids who are making racial jokes and the jokes were targeting a lot of them were targeting black people.
And some of these some of the guys in this group I really had nothing to do with and didn't care much for, but some of the guys who were named as part of this group of people that I considered good friends of mine.
And I still remember the way the whole thing unfolded and you know, I've always been someone who who has been vocal around what, you know, issues of justice, you know, where where I can be.
And so I remember, you know, there was the the whisper whisper in the girls change room at during phys ed class and people were sharing about did you know this happened over the weekend and they said this and it happened that another girl who's also um of of mixed mixed heritage had been at this particular party where these comments were made.
And so, you know, people brought it to me and Michelle will know what to do about this.
And you know, I just remember feeling such weight and such hurt and how do I manage this.
And so we're sitting outside waiting for the bell to ring so we can go to our next class and this group of guys is standing there along with us and one of the guys who I'm friends with says hi Michelle and I look at him and I just say I used the words that were the punchline of one of the jokes and he kind of looks at me and I said, oh I said you call me Michelle now, but is that how you refer to me when I'm not around?
And that led to a big unpacking of these ideas of race and racism for me on a deeper level.
And you know, I think that is where not where my consciousness was born, but maybe perhaps more of my activism was born because I remember after that, you know, petitioning the school because there was an anti racism rally that was occurring and they wouldn't allow us to put up posters.
So I petitioned the school, you know, to if if you're not supporting this rally because you don't know who's organizing it and you don't want to kind of put your name on it, then you need to do something because racism is clearly an issue within within our building.
The school put me in a position of leadership and they gave me authority and we held a big anti racism rally, you know, when we were large high school at the time and I recognized the importance at that point of of creating space to have those conversations in very real ways.
And again, due to my feelings of privilege within the school system.
Keep in mind.
I was an honorable student.
You know, I didn't get into trouble.
I had great relationships with teachers, I was involved in a lot of extracurriculars.
So I was the student who had, I didn't think anything of it when I knocked on the principles door and said, you know, I've circulated a petition, this is what I'm asking you to do, You know?
So let's get it done.
Uh, there was no question in my mind that that was gonna happen.
And I think, you know, now I recognize the fact that systems and institutions don't always work in that way.
Um, and I think I probably faced more systemic barriers as my career in education has advanced than I did, you know, as a young child.
But I think for me, those opportunities, those moments where I face racism and there are other examples, But those moments where I faced racism and the system or institutions supported me in a response have greatly informed the way I approach my role as an educator.
You know, when issues of inequity arise, when, you know, when there's that angry phone call from a parent or the post on social media, my approach is not to get defensive, but to look at it as an opportunity to grow and to learn as a system and to be responsive.
Um, and I think, you know, I think for me that's that's definitely informed my philosophy of leadership as an educator and I think that's a great way to segue around leadership for people like you who have been doing this, two people that have sort of white privilege and always the question, I think that's happened sort of recently and again the murder of George Floyd seems to be why, but it is there is that people are looking at, how can they?
And I think they use the term ally and I just want to get your view on what does that mean?
Or is that sometimes these things become so performative because people are struggling to get a real sense of how can they be a part of a conversation or I think the term is there's a lot of unlearning to do.
I feel about the term ally, I think for me the tricky thing is wanting to get attached to words and language because language is constantly evolving and I think that sometimes the way that language evolves creates confusion amongst people who are just trying to do good things.
And so I think, you know, a lot of people conversations, I just did a workshop the other week around Savior ship versus ally ship versus accomplished ship and you know, people are saying, but I thought it was a good thing to be an ally.
And so for me, my understanding the way I sit in those words and in that language is it is a good thing to be an ally.
I'm not saying that it's not a good thing to be an ally, but for me, the difference between an ally and an accomplice um is the level of risk that you're willing to take on in terms of supporting uh, systemic change.
And so I know some literature will talk about, you know, an ally is on the individual level, whereas, and accomplices on the systemic level and that, you know, people are kind of open open to their own definitions of those words, but for me, you know, an ally as someone who is definitely developing in their understanding.
Um, you can't name yourself as an ally.
I'm a firm believer of that the people who you're working too to support and the voices you're looking to amplify, They need to be the people who are letting you know whether you're being an ally or not because I don't think it's for us to determine um how people are receiving what we're doing.
We can have the best of intentions.
Um, you know, I'm someone who, I am constantly working to be an ally to the LGBTQ Plus community.
Um, but it's in relationship with people from that community that I developed my ally ship and I'm constantly learning and growing.
Um, and so I think with Ally, you know, there's there's, I think most of life exists on a spectrum.
Um, and I think with Allies, you know, there are people who are perhaps demonstrating more performative ally ship.
Um, and those are the people where, you know, maybe it's the black box on their instagram or you know, I went and I bought from, uh, you know, a minority owned business once.
And you know, now I've done, it hears me taking my picture in front of it.
Um, or I read, I read a book.
Um, and so I think those things become more performative.
And I think as we understand more about performative Ally ship, that's when Ally has become a bit of a dirty word.
Um, but not that it needs to be.
And I think even with performative Ally ship for some people, it's a starting point.
Um, and maybe maybe you're starting point was going and checking out that indigenous owned business.
Um, but what are your next steps?
And so I always will talk about the fact in, in the workshops that I conduct that once you believe that you've arrived, when it comes to equity work, that's when the problem begins.
As long as you are constantly positioning yourself as a learner and you're someone who is striving to not just understand more, but have your actions mirror your understanding.
Um, then I don't care what words you use whether it's ally or accomplice.
Um, as long as it's something that you're working towards.
But I think, you know, when we put labels on things and when we put them in boxes, it's like, well I'm a I'm an ally or I'm an accomplice.
I can't be racist, I can't be homophobic, I can't be.
Um but we all are socialized to be oppressive in many ways.
And so if we're using those words to defend um and protect ourselves from critique, that's to me when they become problematic.
And so I think, you know, language evolves.
Um and for me, being an ally is being someone who wants to work in solidarity with communities in order to ensure that their voices are being heard.
Um and that they are finding space within the bigger dialogue within some of these institutions.
And that brings me to a comment Michelle that you know, this is we're coming up to um anti racism week here in in in Winnipeg, which is a great thing, always sort of look at these things and say, you know, they why they name something a week or a day or whatever it may be.
But one of the things that you know, there's the notion about by Park or I.
However you want to sort of term and you're talking about language.
You know, one of the things that has come out of the conversation around anti racism week in the city of Winnipeg is there trying to modify the language because as you see, language is important and it doesn't mean that you have to sort of land on language and its definitive, I think it is growing.
But you love your comments on the fact that one of the things that the city is looking at is changed, not changing, but maybe modifying by Park two first Nations, Metis Inuit black racialized.
I'm sorry, and religious minorities.
So you know, there's an acronym there somewhere.
But again, it comes to your comment about, about language and I'd like to explore about why do you think language in this debate is so important?
Yeah, I think, I mean, I think you raised some really great points there Stewart.
Um, I think as human beings we want to understand and part of how we develop our understanding is by grouping and categorizing by labeling by naming.
And I don't think that that's a negative thing, but I think we often get stuck on the words and stuck on the naming and we don't look at the meaning or the understanding behind it.
Now, Daniel Dickie is um, he's an actor or an educator out of the States and he is doing this whole approach around literacy and I had the opportunity to hear him speak speak a couple of years ago, but he's talking about how in order to create equitable literacy environments and literacy learning within schools the importance of teaching kids the roots and the origins of the word so that they're not just memorizing words but understanding the origins, understanding the meaning and I think this is so powerful and can be applied to language of equity as well.
We become stuck on the word right?
We don't understand what the prefix means, what the suffix means.
And so we look at the word as a whole and this is all its meaning is and we don't see it as its parts.
And I think the same becomes true of things like by Popper IBT Oh see now I'm someone and I try to unpack it a little bit when I do when I do work with people around this.
I used by Pop because I center myself and everything that I do as a black woman.
And so that's why I use bipod but I often caution people if you are not black, why are you centering black people within the Canadian context.
Um you know within the Canadian context.
Indigenous voice should be prioritized.
Um and so I I unpacked the words and why are indigenous and black apart from people of color because at one point in time, you know people of color was the appropriate term to use for people who are black but why is it no longer?
And so it's understanding that that terminology is not saying that these people are all the same but we are trying to you know in my mind that terminology is looking at similarity and solidarity while still trying to distinguish.
And so again for me the term is not is not what's necessarily problematic in using Ivp oh see what's problematic is when we use it and we don't identify the diversity that exists within each of those different groups.
Um and like you said you know within indigenous, even if we break it down to first nations made the T and Inuit the diversity within each of those individual groupings is so rich and so beautiful um that there is no way to name without individually naming.
And even within that you can have people who belong to the same ethno cultural group.
Um You can have people who belong to the same culturally linguistic groups and have diverse ways of being and seeing their identities.
And so again we use language to label to contain to be efficient.
Um and I think the english language is filled with examples of of efficiencies and I think when we compare that to a lot of um indigenous languages that tend to be more descriptive and our beautiful in that nature.
But I think part of the english language is about efficiency and part of communication is around that.
And if you look at the origins of the term bipac it came out of the U.
Where the black experience is often more centralized to the indigenous experience due to population numbers and due to um due to the the smaller presence of indigenous people as a result of genocide and colonization.
Um but it was also created for twitter.
So let's think about the wise language that we use as well.
And so I don't, my understanding is that it was never intended to be this all encompassing word that that can express the the multitude of identities that are encapsulated within it and the and the various experience that that are that are captured within it.
Um but it was created to be efficient in communication.
And so I think those are some of the conversations that have to occur around language and around the evolution of language because I think and for me it's very important when I do this work with people that I talk about the words in the language.
And sometimes, I mean I think some of that can be a whole workshop, you know what in in in in and of itself because it's important to understand how we're using those words and what our intentions and using them as an educator.
Do you see a different approach to, I'm just going to talk about a younger population in the education system.
I'm just gonna say grade 1234, so, you know, very entry level, maybe an older adult population in terms of educating on systemic racism.
Do you see a different approach there in terms of language?
You know, I think there's more unlearning to do when we're looking at older populations in my experience as adults.
We we tend to see our years of living as this rich experience, which it is, but it also can position us to be resistant to change.
And so we've seen more cycles and evolutions, you know, around things like language and the same applies to clothing trends and everything else.
And I think sometimes our resistance to shifting our language has more to do with the comfort zones we found ourselves in, but also it has to do with our apprehension about being seen as wrong or unknowledgeable.
And I think particularly with my field of education, we're supposed to be the ones who know, and I'm being told I can't use this term anymore, but I have to use this term while, you know, why do I have to keep changing the words meanwhile words are and and and language is constantly evolving and we don't take offense to it when it comes to other things.
So I think when I think about students and I think back to my experiences agreed to teacher when we talked about residential schools, my kids got it like that.
They didn't pull out well what if and if, you know, they understood that this is a fundamentally wrong thing.
They understood how are we taking Children from their families and robbing them of their language and their culture and putting them in these schools where, you know, they are deprived of that.
They didn't argue it.
They didn't try to defend it, They didn't try to talk about the good work that they did.
They understood it at a pure level.
And I think our egos as adults gets in the way of our understanding sometimes.
Um, and again, we want to be good people, we want to be enlightened people.
And so for me, part of the work that differs in working with younger people as opposed to older is always positioning myself as a learner as well.
So I always say I might be invited here to speak with you, but I'm learning to and if you come and you ask me in a year, I might shift in the things that I know because I've lived more and I've experienced more and I've had more conversations.
Um, and I always, when I work with educators remind them, we constantly are asking our kids to make themselves uncomfortable in their learning and we need to be ready to do the same thing.
We need to be ready to kind of let go of some of our ideas and create space for new ones to be formed.
So I want to pick up on the word uncomfortable because I think that's a very, very key word and I would say that um as a white man of privilege, I've always felt that my parents raised me as a very, very good person yet.
I know that you get to a point where you get into a conversation that it's so easy to become defensive and uncomfortable and I think that part of being uncomfortable is really coming to a realization that perhaps that's when you're starting to, I think the term is unlearned.
I would definitely agree with that.
And I think for me it's what we do when we reach that point of discomfort.
Do we put the wall back up or do we use that as an opportunity to engage?
And I often, I mean, I will often say, and I feel as though if your intention is good, if you're trying to do the right thing and you're encountered with information or a conversation that makes you uncomfortable because you've been told that maybe what you're doing isn't as good as it thought as you thought it was, or, you know, you're being challenged on on how you're approaching something or the language that you're using, if your intentions are good, live in that discomfort and grow and change to be better.
But I think again, if we're leading and living with ego as opposed to, um, you know, a genuine desire to be a good person, it's easy to kind of put that wall up and and say, well, no, you're wrong or you don't know what you're talking about or, you know, well, this is how it's always been or I can't do anything about it.
It's not me, it's the system.
Um, I think there are lots of lots of barriers that will, will put in the way of our own growth and development, um because of the ego.
So Michelle when you look at, I mean, you're you're now getting your PhD in educational administration.
How can education Which normally, you know, my my did when I grew up in education was the three RS.
Writing, what is it writing arithmetic, things like anti racism.
You know, when you talk about from an educational standpoint, are you finding that that is starting to become part of the curriculum that is part of what people are teaching and our learning and our understanding on a day by day basis?
I think slowly, yes, I think we've looked at different versions of it as an education system, whether it be multiculturalism, things like equity and inclusion or diversity.
Um, I think definitely the events of this past spring with with the death of George Floyd have encouraged a more focused look at this from many educational institutions.
But I think about the great work group of educators that I worked with on a day to day basis.
And um, I think of the work that we've tried to do in our school community where this is embedded?
And it's not another thing.
And I think for me that's part of the danger, you know, are are we approaching this as you know, as an education system that okay, we've done these three events.
So check we've done anti racism or are we embedding it in the work that we do and the way that I lied.
Half day workshop is very different than my approach in this work as an educator because I recognize I have the benefit of working with my school community every day over a period of years.
And so my goal as an educational leader within the context of my building is to create systemic change.
And so it's a constant conversation.
So I'm not as deliberate in the language that I use and in the naming of things in my day to day work as I am.
When I do a workshop, when I do a workshop, you brought me in because you want me to provoke thought in some way.
And so I'm going to stir it up a little bit differently and hopefully push you to think about things that might change your practice.
But I can't guarantee that.
Whereas when I do the work within a school community, it's about embedding it in everything that we do.
So when we're buying books for our library or our classrooms, are we thinking about anti racism when we're bringing in guest speakers to our classroom, are we thinking about anti racism as we're planning field trips or song selections for our concert?
Are we taking an anti racist approach?
Because to me, true anti racist education isn't about one thing or one time, it's not about a policy or a particular practice.
It's about embedding an anti racist approaching every single aspect of our work as an institution.
And it's only when we've done that, that we're truly, truly achieving anti racist education.
And again, it's something that is going to be a daily daily work in progress.
Because until we reach the point where every single day, you know, we're doing something and we can no longer count the number of times that we've done anti racism.
We're not doing enough.
Um, and I think our error as a system is to think that all of the other things that we do are neutral and they're not, they come from most often a dominant perspective.
And so until we have embedded so deeply all of these other diverse perspectives, we're not doing enough as a system.
And and that's something that we just need to kind of continue to wrestle with and continue to um, to learn ways of embedding um, an anti racist approach and the work that we do as a system.
And it's a it's a fascination Michelle because when you look at education, I mean, the the core of education is that you learn as a student, you learn a subject, you write an exam and you either pass, you fail and then you are promoted to the next grade and so forth.
So there's a notion that there's a bit of a finite end to something that you're learning.
And this is not a finite end.
I mean, this is an ongoing constant conversation and I just wonder how do you feel we can continue to grow with systemic racism, acknowledging it, talking about anti racism.
So you watch a student come through school and then they either go to university, but there in in in life now, how do you see somebody looking at this as a lifetime journey as opposed to when do I write the exam?
No, that's a good point.
And I think, I mean when I think about our educational institutions, there have been efforts to, you know, stop kind of silo ng learning because I think it's important for us to recognize that, you know, we use term lifelong learners, right?
And so I think if we treat anti racist education as a topic as a subject that we study, then we risk the danger of taking that approach of, okay, I've passed the test and now I can move on from it.
If we embedded into our way of living and our way of being within community, then it's something that we will carry with us and all that we do.
I think the same things that are true around institutions around our approach to thinking in an equity focused way can carry through within anything that you do in life.
So it's not just about the way we live and how we learn with in school.
You know, let's let's let's look at working in a grocery store and how how does racism perpetuate itself within a grocery store, right?
Like you've got food and then you've got international foods right are what, what defines the food is international because doesn't everything come from somewhere.
And so I think these notions of racism are so deeply embedded in our society that again, if we try to silence them and if we try to look at anti racism as a subject in school, um once we leave school and we enter the world and reach positions of leadership, we're not going to be looking at ways of dismantling um oppression within the institutions and the organizations that we move on to.
So I think it's something that, you know, whether it's it's continuing to read or or you know, for people who aren't into books, there are a million great personas on on social media that within a couple of tweets can pack a lot of punch, but being committed to recognizing that anti racist work is not just the work of schools, it's not just the work of teachers and classrooms, but it's the work of all people within society.
If we truly believe we want to live in a more equitable world?
One of the things that when you talk about white privilege, what do you think is the best way to introduce the concept of white privilege when you're talking about anti racism?
So I think white privilege, it gets people's backs up because we have not named whiteness for such a long time.
And I think part of it too is in an effort to be politically correct.
We reached a point where we tried not to name race at all.
You know, I I do believe that race is a social construct, but I think that it's one that has been part of our society for so long that we can't pretend that it doesn't exist.
But in efforts to be politically correct, we stopped naming race, so we wouldn't say that that person is black, we would, you know, try to ignore that fact.
Um so I think I think normalizing um normalizing conversations about race is one of the ways that we create space for conversations around white privilege.
Um one of the ways that I tried to go about when I have sustained time to engage in a conversation around it, I try to start with the conversation around individual privilege.
And so I talk about what are some of my individual privileges that I have.
And so it doesn't mean that just because I belong to a minority sized group, that I lack privilege completely.
Because on an individual level I have some, you know, for me, when leading people around this conversation of white privilege is helping them develop an understanding that this isn't about you as a person necessarily.
This is about structures and systems that benefit some people more than others.
And so if you're taking it as a personal attack, that's that point of discomfort that maybe you need to live in a little bit and explore the reasons why you feel defensive around that?
But I think I think there are important conversations to have because I think as a society we are, we are built on the foundation of particular beliefs.
Um, and I said earlier, we think that those things are neutral and they're not.
And so if we can understand that they're not neutral, then we can understand how a system privileges certain people over others.
I think some people are always going to be hell bent on taking, you know, a neo liberal approach to life where oh no, it's it's not.
It's not about that.
It's about picking up, you know, picking yourself up and pulling yourself up on straps.
And and I think that even people who belong to minorities groups will often subscribe to that rhetoric as well.
And part of that has to do with our desire to be successful and to integrate and perhaps even assimilate right?
And so I think I think sometimes you'll have, you'll have that, that that face or that voice from a racialized community Who will say, well no, I don't believe in systemic racism because look at me and I'll use me as an example.
I am a black woman who started as a school principal at 27 years old.
How can I say that there is systemic racism?
I was black principal at 27.
And so I caution people to look at what what are the aspects of my individual privilege that led to me being successful in this system.
And am I one of many or am I one of a few because we don't reverse lee look at, you know, and say, well Stewart as a white man, you know, had this career and was able to accomplish this and that and the other thing that must mean that all white people can do it right, We don't use those same, we don't use that same language when we're talking about the dominant group, yet we use it when we talk about and I don't even like using the word dominance because when I'm talking of dominance and talking of power not necessary, you know, statistically, but I think when we look at some of those marginalized groups, we use, you know, these exemplary models as demonstration of the fact that we'll know if it's true for Michelle, then it must be true for all people.
But I like no Michelle was born and raised here.
You know, Michelle had the privilege of having those first experiences of school where she's always felt a space of belonging in school because of her father being a teacher in her first school.
You know, Michelle has advanced degrees which support this and these are all things that have contributed to that.
But my dad was a vegetarian one generation before me who I think was a brilliant educator didn't have the same opportunity.
So, you know, these are these are the reasons why we need to kind of unpack what we're talking about when we talk about white privilege and and again, not just focused on me as an individual and I'm a good person or I came from a rough upbringing, but how do systems support certain people And Michelle would you say that you know, March 21 is international day of the elimination of racial discrimination or what does that day mean to you or that title?
I think for me, I think we need days or weeks or months or whatever because it brings attention to things that are often forgotten.
And I mean I think of your comment earlier, right, like a day or a week is not enough because this needs to be 365 days a year.
We need to carve out moments where we're drawing attention to things.
I remember when I learned about March 21st when I would have been in late elementary early junior high and I had my stop racism pin and I thought it was such an amazing thing that there was this day where we could focus on it and like and no one, no one could say that you know, I was being too political or you know problematic and bringing it up because it's this internationally recognized moment and I think those things are important to highlight and surface issues that often get lost in the mix.
But the danger becomes when we leave it on the day and so many first has ended, you know, again box checked, we did our anti racism rally and now we don't need to address it again.
And so I think those are the things that become problematic and so um great as an awareness raising campaign.
But how do we maintain the focus on those conversations when those days or months our past Michelle as we start to wrap this conversation up and I can't thank you enough for the time that you have spent.
I've learned something as I always do and I have a conversation with you so thank you so much.
I just on a personal basis is there a movie, a documentary that you might recommend to people listening?
And I'll put it into the episode notes that people should, you know, sort of check out on the basis of issues that are important to you?
Yeah, I would say for me, a film that really increased my awareness around anti indigenous racism is for Angela by the National Film Board.
And so came out I believe in the early nineties.
I think it's still available on their website, but it was such a powerful, powerful film that I still I still recall it vividly to this day and the personal impact that it had on me and in my understanding of indigenous issues within the Canadian context.
And I would say that is one that I think every Canadian should watch um because it really personalizes a family story.
Um and and I just, yeah, I from the moment I watched it, I was in tears when I watched it when in my early teens and I um I encourage people to watch it all the time.
So for Angela by the National Film Board, is there a book and author again that you might recommend?
In terms of books, I think, you know, there are a lot of great books that are being kind of highlighted around anti racist education as of late.
Um, but I think it's really important for us not to just look beyond but to look within the context of of Canada.
Um because I think sometimes when we're reading some of this great work that happens in the US um for instance, it it helps us uh kind of pat ourselves on on the shoulder as Canadians and an excuse some of our behaviors.
But I would say 21 things you may not know about the indian act must read for all Canadians again, understanding the legacy of systemic racism and how it has impacted indigenous people within the country of Canada to this very day.
Um, and and The way that it highlights the fact that some of these things are happening now, not 200 years ago.
So that would be one and then until we are all free.
That's another one from a black Canadian perspective that I think is great.
And then lastly, because I know that you you're a music lover Extraordinaire.
Is there an artist?
And I mean maybe there's many, but you know, it's hard sometimes to pick one, but is there an artist that you would sort of say this person has it going on?
I would say my anthem around uh over the last year has been, and I'm gonna mispronounce his last name, but Toby Wig way and he has one song hell of Black and it's a catchy little song.
But when you listen to the lyrics, there's a lot of depth to it and just it's a celebration of black identity.
But also if you actually sit and listen to the song and it it's an exploration of the way that race and racial identity is perceived and it's a reminder to, you know, that that despite racism and Colorism and all of those other things have a sense of pride and identity.
And so, hello, Black by Toby, that would be a musical selection for you.
I'm gonna check it out for sure, Michelle jean paul, thank you so much for this.
When I say this.
I mean a sense of understanding, a sense of education, a sense of how fortunate we are to have people like you in our educational system and in the community to continue to promote those things that are right and those things that make us a better community a better place to live.
I can't thank you enough for this time.
I really appreciate it.
Thank you, Stuart.
Always a pleasure talking to you.
Humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray.
Social media marketing by the creative team at full current and Winnipeg.
Thanks also to Trixie May bite you in.
Music by Doug Edmund.
For more, go to human rights hub dot C A a production of the Sound off Media company.
Hi, I'm Matt Kendell host of the sound off podcast, the podcast about broadcast every week since 2016, we've been bringing on broadcast leaders to talk about their experiences and radio, what they've seen and where they believe it is all going.
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