Monday, August 22, 2016

Taking our Responsibility Seriously

Saturday, I attended a session that was hosted by Black Lives Matters - Atlantic City titled Beyond the Slogan/Conversations on Race, Privilege, Power.

This group has been hosting monthly conversations for about a year in the city and this was the first time that I my schedule was clear and I was actually able to attend. The two hour presentation and conversation was so personally worthwhile that I am going to try to make sure my calendar is clear for future sessions. 

Reverend Williams hosted the event in a community church with Dr. Christina Jackson, of Stockton University,  as the moderator. Dr. Williams opened up the forum by speaking about the intent of the group over the past few months, to have conversation about the sudden violence vs. slow violence in our communities. The next focus will be on collecting stories from community members this Fall.

The first speaker, Glynnis Reed , is a professional visual artists that is now located in the South Jersey area. She delved into her work, explaining the background of what she does and why she does it with enough personal detail to make me able to feel the emotion and the pride that is behind her images. Her goal: creating images that counter the mass media, typical image of the Black woman that also integrate nature is apparent and definitely realized as one views her images. 

Speaking with the artist after the show, I was delighted to hear that she will be teaching art in a Philadelphia school this year. This school and her students will be very lucky to have her. For more information on her work, please visit I personally love her Ascending Beauty series.

The next speaker was Dr. Donnetrice Allison, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and
Africana Studies at Stockton University. Dr Allison opened up with a discussion about the history of media and how it impacts where we find ourselves right now. She focused mostly on television and film, taking us through the times of when black men and women were portrayed as “coons” and “mammies”, through the turning point that changed the portrayal of the black man to one of a violent threatening figure and the messaging that “Blacks will ruin the rest of the country” that was portrayed in A Birth of A Nation. She mentioned the divide during the Civil Rights Movement of what people were viewing on television in the news against what was being shown on television sitcoms. A strong point was made to the audience in the room to be mindful of how good images can actually be harmful, talking about the first Black woman in drama shows that were given roles that conveyed a sense of a responsible career woman, but at the same time, the personal lives of the characters were always a mess, suggesting that Black woman cannot handle it all.

The ending discussion, lead by questions from Dr. Jackson and the audience, followed up on Dr. Allison’s thoughts about the balance that Black media stars face when weighing the opportunity to facilitate and pave a way for more positive and authentic Black images in the media, and the responsibility of making sure they are are not put in a position of compromise or selling out in order to pander to what the power system says will sell to the masses. The final thoughts from the two speakers that we were left with were answers to the question, “What one action would you like us to leave with today that will inspire change?” Dr Allison urged us to interrogate our media. Glennis Reed encouraged us to work towards having more personal experiences with others. 

As I was sitting there through the session, I really wanted to take what they showed me and bring it to my children and to my students. Developing an understanding of what you are seeing and hearing and how it is tied to messaging that power structures want you to see is an important strategy to help our youth navigate their future lives. Messaging permeates our media to encroach upon our beliefs, our values, and our purchasing decisions. It shapes the way we live and yet most of us tend to not think about or question it. As a white teacher, in the past, I did not even think about how it permeates my lessons. But we owe it to our students to be more aware.

How can we teach this in the classroom. It is a fine line we are supposed to walk, not to be too political. Yet, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to push that line forward at all times. The Common Core State Standards (and any incantation that has been developed since) emphasize critical thinking. If this is the structure we are currently forced to work with, let’s use it to our advantage. Teach critical thinking to our students that teaches them to “interrogate our media”. Use compare and contrast techniques to show them the difference of then and now, of white and black, of men and women.

But in order to be aware and become proficient in how to do this in our classrooms, we first must become aware of it ourselves.

End note: I spoke with Dr. Allison after the session to ask about what types of initiatives are being implemented in Stockton to help our future educators to be more culturally responsive to their students. She told me of some courses already in place and of some people that are working to implement more. I look forward to seeing how this progresses! 

Written by Melissa Tomlinson, Assistant Executive Director, BATs

1 comment:

  1. Very good article. Looking forward to more of your work. Hope to have you on The Kevin Hall Show Program.


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