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#ELVS20 Sneek Peek: A Conversation About Race

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Glenn Singleton, author of Courageous Conversations about Race and keynote speaker at What Matters Most: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools, the EL Education 2020 Virtual Summit, sat down with Student Host, Margarida Celestino to discuss what inspires his work, why courageous conversations matter, how students can use their power for good, and more.

Margarida: What has inspired you to start the work that you do?

Glenn: My calling and purpose to elevate the constructive racial consciousness of white people and people of color through the power of conversation, as a way of improving our society, began more than four decades ago. My foundational and conscious work as a racial equity leader began as a 12-year old in middle school. For the first time, I sat down in a room full of white children, unrehearsed, to take the entrance exam to a predominantly white and Jewish private school in Brooklandville, Maryland. Located in a wealthy, suburban enclave 10 miles away from the west Baltimore city neighborhood in which I grew up and lived, The Park School is where I realized that my elementary school simply had not prepared me for academics at the level of rigor that The Park School required. The most eye-opening instruction for me was actually veiled. It was an attempt to teach us that white schools and white students and white culture and white norms were simply superior academically and otherwise.

Margarida: Was there a time in your life where you almost let your challenges get the best of you?

Glenn: Even though I was born in 1964, merely a few years after the first violent struggle to improve education for people of color, the national fray has never seemed more tumultuous than the past couple of years. I must admit that these circumstances caused me to experience a great deal of trepidation, but they have never caused me to doubt my purpose. Instead, they have caused me to embrace even more tightly the very tools of Courageous Conversation™ that have prompted growth and gains in school districts with which we partner.

Margarida: Do you think of race and/or racism daily? If so, in what context?

Glenn: Why yes, of course. I teach that in order to change the racial beliefs, practices, and outcomes of our daily living, a critical literacy and consciousness about race must be developed. As an example, everyone in our society has been raced (assigned a race). But how is race experienced? How is it lived? Race must be understood in what I refer to as the 3 Cs of race: 1) Color. 2) Culture. 3) Consciousness. So, I must be aware of and be able to speak to first, the skin I’m in. And, I must also do the same regarding how I go about my life and living, i.e. where I live, how I dress, what I eat and where, music I listen to, holidays, and other aspects of what I have been taught by and learned in our society. Thirdly, I must also navigate what it means to think, reason, and understand through each of these first two Cs in a social order that establishes “White” Color and Culture as first, preferred, and best.

Margarida: What do you think about the statement “there is no such thing as race?” Do you think that we should all just see each other as the human race?

Glenn: Well, first, it is true that there is no scientific, biological classification of human beings that is race. There is no such thing as a/the human race. We are all classified by our species as homo sapiens with differing physical markers such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, etc.

That said, the idea of race has been “made real” by living in a society that assigns meaning, belief, and value to the various physical markers of our outward appearance. This is commonly referred to as the “social construction” of race. These constructions of meaning, belief, and value are deemed to be inherent, definitive, and immutable. They are not, and we recognize them as arbitrarily assigned to establish difference and hierarchy, through social power and privilege.

Margarida: What is the importance of courageous conversations?

Glenn: Ancient wisdom from the cradle of all humanity holds that “life is animated by speech.” A more recent translation of this wisdom says “… human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change–personal change, community, and organizational change.”

The importance of Courageous Conversation is that it centers on race. While the very founding of this nation is rooted in the social construction of race, and in the turbulent times today we often hear calls to “ have a conversation about race,” few people want to discuss race or are able to do so in a sustained and deepened manner in a multi-racial setting.

Courageous Conversation provides a set of tools and a strategy to engage the conversation, sustain it, and deepen the meanings and understandings that can be gleaned from such interpersonal dialogues between people of the same, similar, and differing racial lives. It acknowledges the predictable pitfalls and detours that talking about race presents and provides guidance to work around and through them. And, most significantly, it helps every person recognize that they have a race and racial story, and that story, regardless of your color, culture, or consciousness, is needed in and invited to the conversation. Courageous Conversation is about the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.

Margarida: What advice would you give for students like me who want to be a catalyst for change in our communities?

Glenn: The story of race is the biggest story in your life. That is inescapable in the United States of America. It will not go away because of where you live, with whom you live and associate, where you come from, what career(s) you choose, how much education you attain, or how many degrees you acquire or money you have. Know your story, the story of self. It is the most important contribution you will make to our collective humanity, the story of us. And, it is your story that will help us all transform the story of Now. An instruction from the Yoruba tradition of western Africa explains, “Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth.”

Stand in your fullest humanity.

You can hear more from Glenn Singleton and student host, Margarida Celestino, and other experts at What Matters Most, the EL Education 2020 Virtual Summit, taking place from October 22-23rd.

*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of panelists, presenters, and guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.