A few deep breaths. Fresh start. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes I talk without thinking first, too. Second chances. All in. Full participation. You can do this. I don't give myself pep talks often, but this one was quite convincing as I hopped out of the car and headed into the middle school for my monthly course on diversity.
It was the first month that I had really enjoyed the text, and had some significant personal connection to it that stretched me and pushed my thinking. I was looking forward to the conversation that was about to unfold. We started by sharing moments from our month where we took pause to recognize our place in society, to notice how we were impacted by or how we impacted others with our status, or color, or anything else that makes us uniquely who we are. I always find the the most interesting part of class. Listening to a colleague that had a personal revelation, or celebrating with a colleague who had a triumphant moment,
or sympathizing with a colleague that experienced a painful interaction. Those are the moments I am touched and stretched to a place of growth in character and belief.
As we moved into dialogue, our conversation revolved around the Native American culture and history, here in the Midwest. While discussing language and dialect, the teacher posed the question, "What is the relationship between language and culture?"
I know that his questions are meant to create conversation, with no single person knowing or having THE right answer. Instantly, I wanted to wave my arms in the air, linking my fingers together back and forth as my students do when they have a connection. A lull in the conversation left me an appropriate entrance into the discussion to share my connection.
"This morning, in my equity team meeting, a first grade teacher shared this amazing story about how he had heard a speaker recently talking about the importance of students being able to identify with things from their home culture. One of his examples was language and the teacher was extremely excited about the potential for helping his students connect so he made a phone call to a brand new student's dad, who he knew spoke a different language at home. After talking with dad, he had a greeting in the student's native language to add to their list of morning greetings and when they started their morning meeting with the greeting in the little boy's native language, not only did the new student glow with connection, but so did two other students in the class that recognized the greeting, and when the three noticed one another they connected over their common language with bright eyes and big smiles!" I said all in one breath, in about ten seconds flat.
As I inhaled to oxygenate before finishing with my connection, the blurt that interrupted my thoughts was stunning. Painfully, stunning. "Is there more to that than just being a silly story? Is there a deeper meaning to it all for you?"
My inhale didn't become an exhale. It stuck, lodged in my lungs, as I felt my face turn red and my head feel light. Did I hear him correctly? Surely, he would let me finish before he would so rudely discount my sharing for the second month in a row, right?
But before I could even utter a word, he had directed the class onward, and I was left sitting, stunned, with stinging behind my eyes, as a full grown adult, thinking, "What just happened?" My mind was made up. I spent the rest of class quiet. Not just quiet, but disengaged. I was using my computer for things unrelated to class (reading SOLC daily blog posts, to be exact) and I was ignoring the teacher, the content, the class, and my feelings.
I left class and did what I always do when I don't know what to do. I grabbed the phone and dialed the number that is most often at the top of my recent calls list.... mom. I re-told the story with just as much passion and emotion as I felt as it unfolded in real life. I probably threw in a "How dare he!" and a "Can you believe that?!" or two. And, of course, my mom, in her predictable, mom-way said, "Who can you talk to? What are you going to do?" and sometimes I say, "MOM! I JUST NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT." and other times, like last night, I say, "I'm not sure yet, but I need to email him, since I never see him but at class, first, so I know I have been honest and upfront with him." Our conversation abruptly ended when I pulled in the driveway and said, "Mom? I gotta go. I have an email to write.
I sat at my computer and wrote. I wrote as honestly as possible... the first draft. The first edit was changing some of that honesty to being slightly more tactful honesty. The final edit married honesty with tact and professionalism, and hopefully a bit of additional respect from the previous drafts. I took a deep breath, and this is what I sent...
I wanted to chat with you after class tonight, but was in a conversation when you left and felt it to be rude to interrupt her to chat with you. I wanted to send an email, since I don't work with you and won't have the opportunity to run into you prior to our next class, most likely.
In an attempt to advocate for myself, which I do find difficult, even if I am a confident, verbal person, I feel the need to share with you my frustration over a couple of things that have occurred during the past two classes.
In February, I felt shut down after you made a remark about how my experience couldn't have possibly been what I was saying that it was. After watching the video, and discussing the way the men had pointed out the visceral feeling they had when they were in a crowd, or in this world, alone, as men of color in a sea of white. When I shared my experiences, as I recall, from my first moment alone in the Philippines, your response was to point out that my feelings weren't valid because I could have been "rescued" at any point in time. I am not writing to argue the point, but to let you know that your quick words to devalue my experience felt extremely disrespectful. I left class feeling very frustrated, and de-valued. I wrote about it and then processed through it in order to start this month with a clean slate.
However, tonight, when you asked about the connection between language and culture, I shared, what I saw as a relevant "story", and you were even quicker to call out my "silly story", again, de-valuing and placing judgment on my experience and my thinking. I was so stunned that I couldn't even finish the conversation. Had I been able to, I would have pointed out that my "silly story" was supposed to be an example of the deep connection that language is to root us to others, which was evident in the boys' connection when they realized they shared a common greeting in their home-language.
I find it ironic that in this class, where we are exploring diversity, I feel extremely judged and not good enough, every time I try to engage in conversation. These are the two biggest examples that I have, and I just wanted you to be aware of the way your responses to me are impacting me, and my experience in the class. I get the feeling you don't like me, or don't trust me, or something, and that's your prerogative. However, for me to feel like I have done my part to have a successful experience with this work, I had to be honest with you.
Thanks for your consideration -
Sent at 9:34 PM on March 4, 2014.
Here it is, 8:42 PM on March 5, 2014, and I have received no response. I am OK with that. I still feel like I was honest, respectful, and self-advocating in an appropriate way. Sometimes, the most important part of conflict is knowing that I can feel good about the way I have handled my part of it. Truly, I hope there is some closure to this, but if there is not, at least I know that I am in a place where my truth has been lived.
How about you? What would you have done? Or have you had an experience where you felt like you were mistreated by a colleague? How did you handle it?