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Module 1a: Agreements
Module 1b: Introduction
After working through this module, you will be able to:
- Commit to a set of norms that will guide your progress through the Project READY curriculum.
Welcome to the Project READY curriculum! This module will set the stage for the rest of our work by describing some “ground rules” that will facilitate your successful progress through the curriculum. Then, in Part B, we will explore some of the assumptions that guide the curriculum to make sure that we have a shared foundation of understanding on which to begin building our knowledge and practice around racial equity work in the library setting.
A Note about Terminology
Throughout this curriculum, we use various terms to refer to racial groups. These terms will be more fully unpacked in later modules.
- Black: In general, we use the term Black rather than African American, unless we are specifically referring to people of African descent. The term “Black” is more inclusive than African American, including people of African and Caribbean / South American descent who identify as Black and share a common racialized experience in the United States based on their skin color.
- Hispanic / Latinx: The terms Hispanic and Latinx are not interchangeable: Hispanic refers to language, while Latinx refers to geography. See this comic by Terry Blas for a simple explanation. When we are referring to people of Latin American descent, we use the term gender-neutral term Latinx. See the additional resources below for more information about this terminology.
- Native American, American Indian, and Indigenous people: Reflecting a variety of preferences among these labels within the Indigenous community, these terms are used interchangeably. Note that the term “people of color” does not necessarily include Native people, as explained in this blog post from Native scholar Debbie Reese.
- People of Color (POC): We use this term to refer collectively to non-white, non-Native people.
- BIPOC: Short for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. We use this abbreviation throughout the curriculum to refer collectively to racialized (non-white) people. The umbrella term “People of Color” has been criticized for erasing the unique experiences that Black and Indigenous people in the United States have had historically and which continue to impact their present realities. Namely, the ongoing legacy of slavery continues to impact Black Americans, while the legacy of Native colonization and genocide continues to impact Native Americans. Black Americans who have recently immigrated to the United States have a different relationship with our country’s racial history, and the term BIPOC acknowledges the diversity of experience within the Black community. For more information on this, see the BIPOC Project website.
- BIYOC: Short for Black, Indigenous, Youth of Color. We use this abbreviation to refer specifically to racialized children and teens.
- White: This term is used to collectively refer to people defined primarily by light-colored skin. While straightforward on its surface, the question of who “counts” as white has been a contentious one historically; for example, people of Middle Eastern descent and Irish immigrants have at times been legally and socially considered non-white, and at others considered white.
Part One: Agreements
Race and racism are challenging topics to learn about and discuss no matter what the setting. In face-to-face equity training workshops, often the first activity is to develop a shared set of guidelines or agreements that will guide the group’s work together. Although online equity trainings like this one lack a real-time, face-to-face component, we believe it is still critical to establish a set of norms that will guide participants’ progress through the curriculum. The guidelines described below are not meant to be skimmed; instead, we ask that you thoughtfully engage with them, asking how you might hold yourself and/or your group members accountable for upholding them throughout your Project READY work.
Agreement #1: Expect and accept discomfort.
Learning about race and racism is often an emotional experience, and can challenge long-held worldviews. During your engagement with this curriculum, you might experience feelings of anger, shame, sadness, defensiveness, or guilt, regardless of your own prior experiences with race and racism. When we feel these negative emotions, it is tempting to shut them down in some way – by denying, questioning, or disbelieving the information being presented, moving on quickly to a new topic, or stopping the work altogether.
When you are working through this training online, short-circuiting those negative emotions is even easier than in a face-to-face training, where it can be difficult to physically leave the setting. However, research shows that for adult learners in particular, experiencing and working through discomfort is critical to the learning process. Negative emotions can serve as a cue for us to more deeply engage with our “growing edge,” to interrogate our existing beliefs and actively work to incorporate new ideas.
Race plays a role in our experience of discomfort. As racial equity trainers Heidi Schillinger and Erin Okuno explained, ideas like “safe spaces” are often translated practically into “spaces that are comfortable for white people,” spaces that don’t threaten their existing ways of thinking. In contrast, people of color often find themselves in unsafe or uncomfortable situations because of their race, and they do not have the option to avoid that discomfort by ignoring race or opting out of the conversation. As Schillinger and Okuno stated, “Safety and comfort are the norm for white people, but you can’t be safe and comfortable to learn and grow.”
Watch the brief videos below in which former Project READY participants share their thoughts about the importance of discomfort for racial equity work.
Agreement #2: Keep your focus on race and racism in the United States.
There are many forms of inequity in the United States and beyond. Prejudice and oppression impact the lives of people who are marginalized based on not only their skin color but also socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, and ability status, among others. Although each of these facets of identity is important and each intersects with race in critical ways that we will explore here, it’s important to remember that our central focus in this curriculum is on race and racism in the United States.
Often, white people who undertake racial equity training will attempt to connect racial oppression and prejudice to other forms of marginalization that they may have experienced themselves, for example, poverty or gender discrimination. The intentions behind this may be well-meaning: such connections may spring from a genuine desire to empathize with BIPOC. However, the simple fact is that other forms of marginalization are not equivalent to racism, even though their impact on one’s lived experiences may be just as severe. The experience of race and racism is distinct from the experience of poverty, or homophobia, or Islamophobia, for example. Similarly, the experience of a Black person living in poverty will not be identical to that of a white person living in poverty.
Prejudice and oppression should not be treated as a contest of who has it worst, and by focusing on race and racism, we are not making any claims about the severity of this form of oppression compared to others. However, when white people claim that they know what racism feels like because they grew up poor or identify as gay (to name just two examples), this takes attention away from the real problem of racism and recenters the focus on the white person.
For these reasons, it will be important for you to monitor your own focus as you work through these modules, especially if you are white. Are you sitting with the ideas and issues presented here, or does your mind want to focus on more familiar concepts? When you find your attention drifting to issues that are outside the scope of this curriculum, take some time to recenter yourself.
We all have multiple identities that shape who we are and the ways we interact with the world. At various points during your Project READY work, we will ask you to reflect on how your personal racial identity informs your understanding of the world and how you move in it. To prepare for this work, it’s important to name and explore the various identities that you claim, including your racial identity.
In your journal, reflect on the questions below, most of which come from a cultural autobiography assignment [PDF] created by Kim Bettelyoun at Oglala Lakota College. You can write down your answers or simply spend some time thinking about them. Then, synthesize your thoughts in prose (for example, a narrative cultural autobiography), poetry (for example, an “I Am” poem [PDF]), or a drawing.
Basic Questions: What is your…
- socioeconomic status?
- parental status?
- marriage status?
- sexual orientation?
- education level?
- disability status?
Experience and Environment Questions:
- Where did you grow up?
- Where did you go to school?
- Who was/is in your family?
- What are some of your favorite places?
- What do you like to do when you have free time?
- What was the happiest / saddest / most important moment of your life?
- How would you describe your culture?
- In what ways has your culture been taught to you?
- What objects or artifacts are important to you?
- What was your first job?
- How would you describe your style?
- What’s your native language?
- When and how did you learn to read and write?
- What are your career goals?
- How would you define success?
Agreement #3: Maintain hope while confronting the brutal facts.
For people of all races, learning about racism and its impacts on the lives of children, teens, and adults can lead to feelings of hopelessness or despair. These feelings, like others that may come up for you as you work through the curriculum, are valid; however, we believe that hopelessness is not a strong foundation for effective racial equity work. To sustain the motivation needed to integrate racial equity work into your daily life requires a belief that things can improve. Indeed, things have already improved compared to earlier centuries and decades in the nation’s history, though sometimes it’s easy to overlook that fact in the face of continuing struggles.
If you notice yourself slipping into despair during this process, sit with that feeling and try to reframe it as fuel for the work ahead. Keep in mind that you will not be able to single-handedly end racism – but that doesn’t mean you are powerless. In the second section of this curriculum, we will focus on what you can do to work toward racial equity in your own setting and beyond. As you begin or ramp up this work, you should start to notice positive changes for the children and teens you work with, which leads to…
Agreement #4: Celebrate the small wins while keeping the big picture in mind.
Racial equity work will never be finished, and sometimes it will really feel like WORK. Sustaining that work requires continuous learning, connections with others who can support your journey, and personal commitment, all of which we will explore over the course of the curriculum. Another thing that can help sustain racial equity work is evidence of progress, and it’s important to note that such progress is often incremental and very small-scale. For example, maybe you manage to get a $200 PTA grant to purchase some new culturally relevant materials for your library. Maybe a Latina teen at one of your library programs comes up to you and tells you how much she enjoyed your new program or a colleague who has heard about your work with this curriculum approaches you to see if you might be interested in starting an equity-focused book club. These small wins are worthy of celebration, even as you keep in mind that there will always be more work to be done. Pause to enjoy these moments, and remember them when the work might not be moving as quickly as you hope.
Make a plan for keeping track of and celebrating small successes throughout this project. Here are some suggestions:
- Dedicate a whiteboard or bulletin board in your workspace to success stories. When you plan a successful program, have a great conversation with a student, start an equity team at your school, or see evidence of some other progress, document it on that board with a picture or note.
- Keep a running list of your successes on Google docs.
- If you’re doing this work with a group of colleagues, commit to noticing each other’s successes and letting each other know that you’ve noticed (for example by writing notes or sending an email).
Agreement #5: Participate.
When you participate in face-to-face racial equity training, the element of physical presence encourages your active engagement in the process. Online, it is easier to skip ahead, skim, or rush through the process. We have designed the Project READY curriculum to include a mix of on- and offline activities. To get the most out of your work here, commit to fully engaging with each module. When you reach a journal prompt, activity, or action idea, take the time to complete it before moving on. This curriculum is not meant to be completed in a week; if you work through all of the included prompts, you could easily spend a year or more on this project.
What if I’m working Through this Curriculum in a group?
If you plan to work through Project READY with others, you will want to establish additional group agreements that will help guide your interactions with one another throughout the process. Each member of the group should agree to the following, and all members should commit to holding each other accountable for upholding these agreements:
- Listen to understand, not to respond: Growing in your understanding of race and racism requires a willingness to learn about the experiences of others who may not share your background or culture. Unfortunately, our ability to listen is often compromised by our desire to respond in some way to what has been said. This might be a positive response or a negative one, but either way, when we focus on what we will say next instead of allowing for time to simply process new information, we risk missing important pieces of what has been said.
- Share accountability for challenging racism and the dominant culture. Often in discussions of race and racism, the burden of noticing and defending against biased or racist remarks and behavior falls on the shoulders of BIPOC. All group members, but especially white group members, should look out for potentially offensive or hurtful language and behavior and call it out when observed. If a BIPOC brings an incident to the group’s attention, it is important that all group members acknowledge the harm done and take proactive steps to address it and prevent future harm.
- Step forward, step back: We have all been in meetings with “that person” who dominates the conversation, shutting out other voices in the process. Commit to monitoring your own contributions to the conversations you will share during Project READY. Sometimes, you may need to “step back” to allow others to speak. At other times, you may need to “step forward” to inject a new perspective into the conversation. You should also agree to group norms for gently reminding each other to step forward and step back as appropriate. As part of these conversations, consider how the racial and gender backgrounds of the people in your group may contribute to expectations about who will do most of the speaking and whose voice might be more valued in other settings, such as faculty members. Commit to prioritizing and centralizing the voices of people of color and Native people within your group.
- Use “I” statements: When we state our opinions as facts or attempt to generalize from our individual experiences, we can alienate others whose experiences may not be the same as ours. Instead, commit to using “I” statements to make it clear that your thoughts and experiences are your own. This isn’t about making your conversations nicer or more polite, but rather about fostering clear communication among group members and encouraging each person to take personal responsibility for their contributions.
- Brave space: Exploring racial equity issues in community with others will open you up to vulnerability. You may say something hurtful, or you may be hurt by what someone else says or does in the space. Thus, you can’t guarantee that your group can create a “safe space” for these conversations, in the sense of ensuring that no negative emotions arise from your work together. Instead, commit to establishing a brave space, which Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens (2013) have described as having five main elements:
- Controversy with civility: varying opinions are encouraged and openly discussed.
- Owning intentions and impacts: when someone is hurt by the actions or words of another, the incident is openly acknowledged and discussed.
- Challenge by choice: each group member always has the option to step out of a challenging conversation.
- Respect: group members show respect for each other’s shared humanity.
- No attacks: group members agree not to intentionally inflict harm on one another.
In your journal, read over the agreements page and add any commitments you would like to hold yourself and/or your group members to for the duration of your Project READY work. Spend some time thinking about which of these agreements might be most difficult for you to stick to, and why. What actions can you take now and in the future to hold yourself accountable for these?
Acuña, R. (2000). Occupied America. New York: Longman.
Aparicio, F.R. (1999). Reading the “Latino” in Latino Studies: Towards re-imagining our academic location. Discourse, 21(3), 3-18.
Flores, J. (1997). Latino Studies: New contexts, new concepts. Harvard Educational Review, 67(2), 208-222.
Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. Landreman (Ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (pp. 135–150). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
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Module 1a: Agreements
Module 1b: Introduction