A Perspective from Minnesota (Ep. 145)

Four months ago, Nic spent an episode sharing everything amazing about the state of Minnesota in preparation for the NAEA National Conference. But after the cancellation of the conference due to COVID-19 and now the police killing of George Floyd, the perspective has shifted. In today’s episode, Nic talks about her view from Minnesota right now, the lessons she is trying to learn, and the work we all need to do moving forward. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Just a couple of months ago, I was excited to introduce you to Minnesota because we were going to host NAEA 2020, the National Art Education Association for the year 2020. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus that was canceled, but not before I had already recorded and explained why Minnesota is so great to visit. All the things that you were going to be able to do when you visited Minnesota. Currently, the word Minnesota and possibly the word Minneapolis means something different to you. It is the location where George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, 2020. Today, I want to face that fact and talk about my thoughts and we’re going to just deal with some real. This is Everyday Art Room, and this is your host Nic Hahn.

So it does feel strange to talk to you about Minnesota today because not only four months ago, I was talking to you about how wonderful it is to come to Minnesota, to visit Minnesota. The things that you will see, the people you will interact with. And it’s something I feel deep down in my heart. I love my home and I’ve explained that a hundred times to you guys on this podcast. In fact, I think it’s very similar to the way that our governor Tim Walz feels about our state. Tim Walz is an ex-educator. He is a retired educator and he has become governor to our great state in a time of a pandemic and now riots because of an action of a Minneapolis police upon George Floyd.

He updates us on a very regular basis. And in one of his speeches, he was talking to us about how Minnesota is ranked towards the top of states to live in. And I looked it up and sure enough, when I look at this, we are ranked very well. Number three in the United States overall. And it’s because of our opportunities that we have for the people of Minnesota and then our natural environment. We also rank fairly high on our economy and education and healthcare amongst other aspects that qualify within this American US news based in America, US News Report. And Tim Walz stands in front of the cameras yet again for another update on our state’s current situation. And he says, “We are ranked high, and this is why.” And he boasts about all the wonderful things that Minnesota has to offer. And then he said, “I have always felt that way, but I have felt that way because this is a wonderful place to live if you are white.”

This stopped me in my boots. Like I heard him say that and I thought as he was praising our state, I thought, yes, that’s how I feel about it. That’s how I feel about it. And then when he said, because I’m white, I thought, wow! Is that true? Is living in Minnesota that different due to the color of skin? Now, that can’t be right because I am a half-full type of person, right? I always look at things on the bright side. I try very hard to stay positive. I work on it every day. I’ve done podcasts on this idea of staying positive. That’s not it, Tim Walz. It’s not because of that, it’s because I’m a positive person. That’s how I look at our state and our life. A couple of days later, I saw a Facebook post and it was titled The $100 Race.

I clicked on it to watch what it had to say. And I’m so glad that I did. It showed a bunch of college-age students as my guests lined up, maybe 80, 100 students lined up on this line. And there was a leader an instructor in front of them. And he said, “If you run this race and win to that finish line, right back there, you will get this $100 bill in my hand. Now, before I say go, I’m going to ask you or give you a couple of scenarios. If you can say yes to them, I want you to take two steps forward.”

He starts out by saying, “Both of my parents are together, they are married. If this is true for you, take two steps forward.” And many people did. He continues, “I grew up with a father figure in my life, two steps forward. I had access to private education, two steps forward. I had a tutor as I was growing up, two steps forward. I never had to worry about having my cell phone shut off, two steps forward. I never had to help my mom or my dad pay the bills, two steps forward. I had never had food insecurity, two steps forward.”

Then he said, “Turn around, look at the people behind you.” During this time, the camera was on individuals who weren’t able to move forward. These were people of color, the mass majority of people that took step after step after step were whites. The instructor goes on to say, “This has nothing to do with what you have done. You have done nothing to earn this. You have these advantages in this race called life, just because… Because of where you were born and who you were born to. Now, you’re all going to run the same race, but you’re starting at different starting points. Who’s going to have the advantage to get to that finish line first.” Wow!

I showed this to my son. It was so powerful to me that I still cannot tell the story of this video without tearing up. I brought my 14-year-old son and I said, “Oh, sorry, watch this.” He watched it and said, “Mom, that is so powerful and so visual of what white privilege is.” I couldn’t agree more. Nothing I have done has allowed me to look at Minnesota and the way that I am looking at it. It allowed me to see white privilege in a new way. I continue to learn. In fact, this is what this has forced me to do, or possibly I am choosing to do at this point of my life. I am listening, watching, learning, and continuing to grow. Along with this, I’m going to make mistakes. They’re probably even in this podcast, I will make a mistake. I will misstep.

I will say the wrong thing to some listener, but I cannot let that stop me anymore. I can’t wait for the right words or the right situation. The right thing to say that everybody is going to be accepting of, I have to speak up. I have to listen to the people around me and allow that to give me the courage to stand up as well. I am seeking guidance from our media, from social media, from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I am seeking guidance, I am looking to the people that I respect. The people that I follow, the people in my family. I am listening to not only my peers that align with me or what I think is my perspective right now. But also listening to what other perspectives had to say, trying to understand the whole. I have friends both on the Minneapolis police department, as well as standing down on the opposite side, protesting in peace.

How do I find a balance? Can I truly be on both sides? Can I support both sides? These are questions that I need guidance. These are the things that are influencing me right now. I am looking to the artist creating and boy are they creating right now? These are the things I’m seeing, I’m seeing people creating artwork with the lack of the full spectrum of color and instead focusing on neutrals on skin tones. Artworks from Jessie Raulett, you might know her as @ettavee, I think is how you say it on Instagram. She is phenomenal. She always has bright, beautiful, bold colors in her art and has recently posted a neutral image. If you get a chance to walk into her Instagram world, look at the comments that she makes below. Ashley McKean takes her image of You Matter and she changes the rainbow to neutral skin tones.

Laura Lee Chambers takes a quote from Kandinsky and then creates an image again with the neutral skin tones. And it’s beautiful and powerful in the imagery. People are taking simple messages of justice, hope, equality and changing their artwork. I’m seeing vloggers. So I’m saying a video blog, right? Vloggers, maybe even people that aren’t typically vloggers. So I’m thinking of Trevor Noah’s site on Facebook, where he typically shares political ideas or comical whips. He’s amazing. His humor is wonderful, but his perspective is so broad and so deep, and he is sharing it right now in videos. He’s actually one who has brought this idea of supporting both sides. Can you hold a black lives matter sign and also support your police force? How can you find the balance? How can you find good on both sides? Platforms in every realm, we’re talking down to Sesame Street, holding town meetings on their channel, as well as PBS inviting illustrator author, Christian Robinson, to read his book, You Matter on Facebook live and on their YouTube.

Teachers everywhere are posting books of tolerance, acceptance, love, diversity and books of different perspectives. Even there is illustrators for hire, it’s Salli and Nate. They are co-founders of They Draw & Cook and They Draw & Travel. I’ve talked about them in the past on this podcast. They just posted one simple image that says illustrators make a difference. And that is so true to me. I am looking at Instagram for the images of perspectives from people all over the world right now, especially within our nation. The messages are coming in faster. They’re coming in stronger. And with every post, they’re deepening my understanding of our situation and different people’s perspectives. So at this point, all I can do is ask myself, what do I have to offer? What can I do? How can I have a voice in this as well? How can I support equality and justice? Not even not equality, but equity amongst all people, not equality, equity.

What do I have to offer? Well, okay. I ask myself that over and over. As of right now, and this will continue to change, I promise you. I will continue to listen and grow, but at this time, I’m a teacher and I can bring this message of love, hope acceptance to my students and artists. I can introduce them to artists of color and artists with a message. Tim Bogatz, who does a podcast for the Art of Education, Art Ed Radio. He recently has spoke to us about different artists that you can bring into your classroom for this purpose. He also has a Twitter post, so you can check out that, but definitely listen to his podcast. I can read books, do projects based around artists of color, artists with different perspectives. We’ve talked about this before, bringing in artists that look different than you, so that all students can see themselves in art.

I can hang action words, words of love around my classroom. So they too are influenced by artists the way that I am on social media right now. I have been invited to work with some artists downtown and uptown, Minneapolis. As the community is healing, they are asking for art teachers throughout the Metro area, Minnesota area to come down and paint over the boarded up walls and windows as the community continues to heal and rebuild. Every single time that there was a riot, there was the community members coming out the very next day, repairing, cleaning up and improving. And we as artists have the opportunity and have been invited to also partake in this and beautify the city in a powerful way, in the way an artist can change the world.

So I will be going down Monday and Tuesday of this week to help out with creating artwork, to brighten up the city and work towards healing. I have this platform here right now. I use this platform as much as possible to bring big issues to light. We have talked about mental health issues. We have talked about multiculturalism and the issues that revolve around different cultures and different perspectives. We have talked about the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve even talked about learning difficulties on this podcast. Of course, we are going to continue to stay relevant and talk about what matters today right now. And right now it is justice. It is love. It is equality. That is what we need to be talking about right now. And I will use my personal platforms of Instagram as well as communicate to you on this podcast with my current thoughts, being an art teacher here in Minnesota. Without opening up this conversation, we will not learn. We will not grow and we will not do better.

As I was gathering my thoughts of what I wanted to speak about today in the current situation of Minnesota, I just really came to the conclusion after talking to many of my peers, my mother-in-law, my husband, the people around me, as well as listening on social media and making myself as informed as I can be at this point, I just decided I needed to share what was on my heart. I was encouraged by a quote that I read from Desmond Tutu. He writes, “If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I don’t want to choose the side of the oppressor, I want to speak out.

There was yet another quote from an Instagram post of Jessie that I mentioned earlier in the podcast. And she mentioned the fact that the silence from her white peers, friends, business partners is deafening. I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to learn from the people around me. I want to listen to stories of unjust situations, and I want to learn from that. And then I want to continue to share myself so that others can learn from me. Let’s keep this going. Keep this conversation strong. This is what is going to create the change that the students in our classroom need to see in their lifetime.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.