“¿Pies para qué los quiero si tengo alas para volar? — Frida K.
It’s a funny thing, watching a flock of birds in flight. The way they wander, dip and weave in synchronized motion that seems at once planned and sporadic. The outline takes a V shape and then flattens into a straight line. Flying in formation isn’t something easily defined because the direction changes. The leader changes. The destination, however, stays the same.
Every educator of color I know today is in some way, the story of a miracle. If eighty-six percent of all educators are white, we are the fourteen percent. We come from classrooms where many of us were not seen as having the highest potential. We come from systems that taught us to internalize the idea that we were not equal, that we were not to be centered, and that our voices had to be tamed, mutated or transformed, in order to be heard. Though we somehow passed through the flames of a school system that was not designed for us, and came through to the other side determined to make something better for us, by us–it has not been easy. Along the way, we have had to work through and around deep cuts and heal ugly scars, which is why, we often see ourselves when we recognize them in each other.
Some of us came here more recently, from other shores. Some of us came here voluntarily. Some of us are descendants of those brought hundreds of years ago, by force. Still others of us have always belonged to this land. However we got here, the present situation is the same. In the end, our conditioning happens every day in a million tiny ways. It comes as a loud roar and in hushed conversations. It teaches us to make ourselves subordinate, to stand aside, stay moderate, remain small. And if we’re going to be big, to do so in such a way that invites caricaturization–which feels safe (because folks know how to respond to it) and often leads to imitation, or (even/fears of) appropriation. Then we spend our lives running away from this creature we ourselves helped to create.
We have been taught that this is the only way to survive in this hostile society that demands first flesh, and then eyes, blood, teeth, skin, and finally, bone. It would see us smashed under our own weight while consuming us or (preferably) watching us consume ourselves. We can live, but only if we continue to let people and systems oppress us and undress us, strip us bare and steal from us all that makes us who we are. And is that really living?
Our wings are clipped early,
but we still learn how to fly.
In this our divided States of America, both in mind and being, we are taught individualism. We are taught competition, to know only offense and defense–to fill the role of victim or victor–nothing about the space in between. We are taught to contort ourselves convincingly and completely, both in mind and physical aesthetic to become more pleasing to those with power in the hopes that they will share it, failing to realize that fanning the flames of our lust for it is part of the plan. We are taught, “to learn the rules of the game to win it,” but never the truth about the ways we will have to become unrecognizable in order to do so.
“Power corrupts”, they say, but the real corruption lies in the systems that permit actions by individuals that harm us all and force the formation of a divided consciousness for people of color–as a means of survival. That consciousness plays the message on repeat that we are not enough, and can survive only by valuing the transactional over the relational, and internalizing the notion that winning, (no matter what the scramble to the top turns you into) is worth the pain you have caused trying to get there. It has us believing there is only room for so many of “our kind” at the top, picking winners and losers forgetting everyone loses unless they’re the one holding the ladder–or the rope. To exist as one conditioned only to devour self, or be dedicated to the destruction of another is a sad state indeed
…and this is what (some of) them/they want(ed).
But we know other ways. We have a parallel history, and reality.
Before the idea for the (dis)United States came to this land, the people here were connected to each other, to land, sea and sky. Many of us come from people that still, even after a legacy of colonization working until this very day to divide and conquer us, intrinsically value and find strength in community. We resolve conflict by remembering, above all, to honor one another’s humanity and our interconnectedness. We honor the role the ancestors play in embedding their strength, poetry, struggle, and perseverance within our collective DNA because we know that we are better together and divided, we will fall. Collectivism. Unity. Action. Resistance. Determination. These concepts, these words float through our conversations daily, and stamp out the noise that might cause us to lose direction.
We share power, take turns leading various flocks, checking the wind, catching a draft, coasting, choosing a new direction, because nobody wants to lose direction. We know that the moment we turn, rather than staying the course and looking ahead, is the precise moment we will begin to fall. When one of us loses a feather, or a few, we surround them with a little extra warmth (as Antarctic penguins do) until they have had time to heal and move to take their turn on the outside facing the cold head on, weathering the storm. [Though penguins don’t fly, they know they will be lucky if they are able to survive a winter without each other. Such is our respect for and relationship to one another.]
And as with birds in flight, though some of us may at times have it easier–be afforded privilege or the draft wind because of the language we use, place of birth, proximity to power, awards, degrees, complexion…we know when to stop flapping for a while, let someone else take the lead, let them do the difficult, tiring work of pressing ahead first into a climate of much resistance.
How do you fly with clipped wings?
You make what seems like an impossible feat possible by finding strength in your community, learning your whole history in order to reclaim and remember who you are. You alternate catching the tail and the headwind seeing the value in experiencing both stages of the flight. You restore those around you when you have extra warmth to give. You develop endurance for the long journey by flying in formation, not allowing distractions to take you away from yourself or one another because in the end we really are all we got. Though we may get there at different rates, following different paths and in slightly different ways, our mission toward collective liberation, our struggle, our destination, is the same.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by #Blacklibrarian, scholar, and all-around amazing human Edith Campbell (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).