Continuing the Conversation (Ep. 158)

In today’s episode, Nic takes a look back at the past months and everything that has happened since the death of George Floyd. Her reflections today cover how she reacted with the podcast, online, and in her own life. Listen as she discusses her willingness to listen and learn, her realization and acceptance that she would make mistakes, and how she wants to continue to take action.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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“Every white person that shows up and tells the truth because it’s her duty as a member of our human family is going to have her racism called out.” This is a quote from Glennon Doyle, who wrote the book Untamed. I’m your host, Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota several months ago. I wanted to do something immediately. Something relevant with this podcast, but I was nervous. I didn’t know how to address it. Here I am, a white person in the suburbs of Minnesota and this is such a huge event in our world. Well, I had some counseling from some of the other coworkers at the Art of Education, and we came up with just being true to myself. So I gave a perspective of a person from Minnesota. I gave some thoughts and I felt like I was going to make mistakes, but I was willing to do so.

Not too long after that, I was invited to go down to Minneapolis and we were grouped as a team led by Amy Cunningham and we were able to paint some of the boarded up windows from the riots in Minneapolis. Amy Cunningham was so kind as to join me on the podcast as well to speak about that experience and the meaning behind that, the reasoning behind it. So we addressed that on this podcast as well. And then not too long after that, I invited Yuca Larson and Troy Johnson, who are equity specialists in our district of ISD 728. I invited them onto the podcast to speak about their job. What does equity specialists do? What does that look like? I felt like I was on the right role, kind of bringing in some different voices and some different experiences. Of course, we’re going to talk about art education, but isn’t this part of it.

I then went on and I made some changes in my own life. I started challenging myself by really looking at the social media feed that I was receiving. I started following different hashtags. So I follow black lives matter. And I started not following people and products that I felt were not supporting a message that I was trying to embrace. I joined a group led by Ron Husped who is the ISD 728 EREA. So, that’s Elk River area. I’m vice president of our union. He is also a teacher to my two children, which I am grateful for. He started a group to just start this discussion within our district about racism and what we can do to make the change. This included a lot of district group discussion, a lot of videos, a lot of articles. And let’s go back to that first one discussion.

That’s the big one discussion amongst a group of educators who want to make a difference. At the end of the summer, maybe a month ago, not even, a couple of weeks ago, he sent out a survey and it said, “Where do you want to take this group now?” Now that we’ve met a couple of times, and we’ve done some book studies and some videos together and had some discussion, where do we want to take this now? I replied to the survey, in a dark, dark moment. And I said, “I can’t. It’s too much. We are starting school. I don’t know how I’m going to be teaching. I don’t know if I’m going to be teaching, in person, online. I don’t know what it’s going to look like for my personal family. I can’t. I can’t address this right now.

As I sent that out, I was told by a friend to pick up the book Untamed. Actually, I was told several times to pick up this book Untamed. And I realized that Glennon Doyle had written another book called Carry On Warrior, which I had purchased a couple of years ago. And it just didn’t speak to me. I never really got too far into it. So I was hesitant to buy, yet, another book by this same author. Untamed is different and it was put into my hands by something bigger than me at just the right moment. The moment that I needed to read it.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on this podcast before, but I often listen to books on audio. Actually, almost exclusively. I like having it available in the author’s voice most often. And I believe this is one that is spoken to me in the author’s voice. As I listened, there was so much that I needed to hear the moments that I was hearing. It that’s the way books work. Right? You can read a book, but if it doesn’t speak to you at that moment, you might place it by your bed stand and maybe never look at it again. Or maybe a couple of years later, you pick it up and you start reading it again. And it’s exactly what you need to hear at that moment. This book was like that, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. There’s one chapter in it that is titled Racism, underlying in most of the book, you’re going to be able to really relate this message throughout the entire book. But one chapter on the audio book is titled Racism.

She tells so many stories. I don’t even know which one to talk about because there were so many that really spoke to me. One portion of the chapter was actually talking about her dad. And her dad and family went into an environment that was going to address this idea of racism. And he was excited to do so. And the leaders of the group said, “What we’re going to do is we are going to create these packs that we’re going to send over to a school with people of color. And we’re just going to try to bridge the gap. And the congregation or the group of people that we’re meeting exhaled, because they knew that doing something, putting something into action like this. She says, “Performance instead of transformation is a safe way to address the need.”

Her father stood up and said, “I’m not here to make packages. I’m here to talk.” Glennon’s father continues to explain. “I’ve got racism in me and I want to unlearn it.” What he’s talking about is our society. How there is racism all around us and we don’t even know that we’re seeing it, that we’re experiencing it. He wants to see it and unlearn it. Glennon continues to have a conversation about how she uses her platform of fame to fight this battle of racism. And in doing so, she posts some things on Instagram that were taken as her being racist. She acknowledges that she is, after listening to the two groups of people that give her feedback, let’s call it feedback. She was heartbroken when this happened, but when she let herself understand and digest what was being said. She understands that there’s two types of ways of looking at this.

One way is she took her platform and even though she’s a white woman, she spoke about it because it was something that was true to her heart. And she wanted to address it and work through this. But, there’s another group of people who think, yeah, fine and dandy. But, you need to point to the people that are already doing the fight. The people of color that have been fighting this all along. This isn’t you that should be acknowledging this or fighting this fight. You support us, you point to us. And I think that was important for her to hear and understand and then share. Man, thank you for sharing that with me to understand, because this related very closely to an experience I had earlier this year in 2020. In March, of course, we all went to distance learning in the United States. And many of you who listen throughout the world did this prior to us or maybe after, but nonetheless, we were all teaching online and many of us were posting pictures of something called the museum challenge.

So it’s where you take a picture of a piece of art. And you try to mimic it with a costume, maybe makeup, you’re positioning the whole bit. And you try to recreate this image in a modern way. I gave that challenge to my students and I saw many of you do the same thing I decided to participate as well. And what I noticed even prior to the relevance of George Floyd. I decided, “You know what? I love the artist, Derek Adams. He is amazing and I love his work.” And one thing that I was noticing at the time is a lot of the images that were being recreated were white artists, white figures. And so I thought, “You know what? This is one of the reasons that I like bringing Derek Adams into my classroom.” For a couple of reasons, he’s very accessible for students as far as inspiration, and he’s a person of color and I’ve listened to him speak before.

And I was very impressed with what his messages. So I went through his work and I saw some current work of beautiful women portraits and they’re straight on. And they are a very angular as far as the line work on the faces and they have this simple white background and it’s just a portrait. So, I chose one to recreate. I put a little top bun, at the top of my hair, straightened my hair on either side, I looked directly into the camera. For my position, I added a white background and I use the tones that were in the image and I painted them on my face. The tones were all neutral colors, multiple colors of this neutral look. I posted this picture and I was so proud because I was excited to share an artist that I love and represent something that I had not seen represented yet.

I got a huge response. There was plenty of likes on Instagram, lots of comments. And I was excited because I thought, “Yes, I’m doing this. I’m sharing beyond myself, beyond my classroom. I’m sharing this artist that some people have not even heard of, many people had.” I, after a couple of days, received a message from a person and it was a private message. And I’m so grateful to this person and can’t even thank them enough for making this private. But, what they did was they reached out to me and said, Hey, Nic, I think what you’re doing here with this picture is actually called Blackface. My heart sunk to my toes. I couldn’t believe what I just read. And my absolute first gut reaction was, “No. I wouldn’t. No, this is not.”

In fact, I went a step further and I copied the message and I sent the picture to several of my friends throughout the United States. People of color, white people… But, really, what I was looking for is different perspectives from all parts of the nation. Is this Blackface? Is this black face? I heard the opinion of several people and immediately decided to take down the image. I was embarrassed, completely embarrassed. And in fact, there’s a reason that I haven’t shared this story until now. I was embarrassed by being naive by the perception of others when my intent was so very different. I was saddened and hurt and embarrassed.

Glennon had a similar situation. She was called a racist. I was called a racist. My gosh, if there’s one thing I don’t want to be, it’s a racist. She talks about Glennon. We’re going back to Glennon Doyle. She talks about three types of people, rather than two types of people. There isn’t a racist, an antiracist person. There isn’t the two options. There’s actually three. Number one, people who have been poisoned by racism and actively try to spread the racism. Number two, people who have been poisoned by the racism and actively try to detox. Number three, people who have been poisoned by the racism in our culture and deny that it’s in them.

When I think about those words, it makes me sad because I don’t want to be a racist. But, she’s right. If you listen to this chapter of this book, you’re going to find more insights as well of why this is true and what it really means. We have to acknowledge that we do have racist ideas, thoughts in our bodies, in our souls because of the society that we have been brought up in. Now, what are you going to do with that? How are you going to change it in your life?

For myself, I’m going to continue the conversation. It is an important conversation, no matter how much stress is in my life right now of distance learning and teaching in person and trying to figure out how to sanitize between all the kids and keeping everybody safe and wearing my mask. In amongst all of that, I’m still going to have the conversation and I encourage you to do it as well.

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.