Positive Papers: Proud To Be Who We Are

All throughout this semester I dutifully read the readings and challenged myself to critically question everything I was introduced to.  With this in mind a major dissonance I felt was the complexity of how some of these issues are addressed in action in comparison to seminar discussions.   I felt class discussions were inadequate in presenting me with the reality of the classroom.  However, today, I faced my dissonance head on in a ‘real’ classroom setting.  I must say I always felt like learning about these things was never enough, and I needed to get out there to fully experience challenges or barriers in the classroom.  Now I realize that patience is essential to understanding discomforting knowledge.  I was ready to rush right in head first to overcome my dissonances without knowing that time is the biggest helping factor.  I have learnt that discussions are as equally important and contribute to lived experiences, which is something I have overlooked.  I know discussions are important, but I overlooked them sitting next to experience.  Both types of learning are adequate, sometimes we do not realize the importance of our learning until later on.

My lived experience helped teach me all these aspects in a challenging situation.  I was volunteering as a ‘Go Girls’ mentor and we were doing an activity that required each grade 5 girl to write down a positive comment for every girl in the group.  After, we were to discuss ‘feeling good’ about giving and receiving compliments.  During this reflective piece of the assignment one girl quietly tugged at my sleeve and pointed at her sheet of paper.  She never said anything as her bottom lip quivered and my eyes followed the direction of her finger pointing across the page to read:

“proud to be

brown 🙂

I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to reread the comment.  This is a good/bad comment coming from a Grade 5 perspective.  yes be proud of identity, but stereotypes are hurtful.  How do I reinforce proper language to avoid racism without silencing identity?   Frantically looking at my partner she brought the rest of the girls to another space, continuing the session.  Seeing as every girl had a distinct marker colour I knew who wrote the comment and casually brought her to the side as well.  Inside of me my heart was frantically pounding.  I suddenly felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.  This was something I felt directly connected to social justice issues addressed in class lectures.  I felt I had a strong grasp on the course concepts until being put on the spot in this moment.   Having this event happen unexpectedly from out-of-the-blue was a lot harder to deal with than continually discussing ‘safe’ situations in the class.

I gave the girl with a quivering lip a hug and asked her if she was offended by the comment, she nodded her yes and I further asked if she wanted to talk about what was hurting her.  She didn’t want to elaborate which was fine; I told her it was alright to feel upset.  The other girl looked concerned and did not realize her comment was offensive.  She voiced her opinion about being proud of being Aboriginal.  I told her I knew she didn’t mean to purposely hurt her friend.  I began to explain how we must choose our words carefully because some words hurt.  I elaborated on how we should feel proud of who we are as people and focus on culture instead of stereotyping skin colour.  Once I felt the situation had more stability apologies were made.  Because I wanted the girls to feel good about themselves and to leave feeling happy with who they are so they could proudly hang up their ‘positive papers’, together us three girls fixed the visual representation.   I rearranged the comment to say “proud to be who you are” and drew an outline of a heart around the word ‘brown’ and a line down the middle of the heart.  I took the two darkest markers and handed one to each girl and told them each to fill in a side of the heart.  Here is the transformation:

“proud to be      =                   “proud to be who you are

brown 🙂”                                                        ♥                       🙂


Once the session was over I couldn’t help but replay this situation in my head over and over again.  Questions arose in my head asking myself “did I handle the situation appropriately?”; “what could I have done differently?”; “did the girls truly understand what I tried to do?”; “What are they going to tell their parents/guardians?”; “Am I over thinking this situation?” ect…

From my understanding both girls are proud of their identity.  I don’t think anyone meant any harm whatsoever.  This situation has taught me a lot of things, but the main point for me is how racism is so embedded in our society that it is often unintentionally reproduced.  I will never know the impact I had on the two girls and if they understood the message I was trying to instill in them both that they should respectively be proud of their identity.  I can only hope that with knowledge and education these girls can grow firm in their own identity and voice throughout the people, places, and things that will additionally frame their perspectives of social justice issues in society.

As a pre-service teacher I wanted to share my thoughts on the situation because I believe we strongly learn through stories and collaboration.


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