Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pruning pale male panels

I'm wrestling with this, and thinking aloud. I'm looking forward to the conversations.

If the point of national education conference panels is to exchange thoughts to stretch minds, then what better way to quash that with several representatives of the dominant culture, many who, like the musicians of Bremen, love the sound of their own voices?

This is not about the individual qualifications of the folks on the panel--we have keynotes for that. This is about putting together a few bright, thoughtful folks in front of a room of bright, thoughtful folks to see what can develop.

Despite our polite protests to the contrary, color matters. Conversations alter when those people enter the room. Sudden tight smiles. Broken phrases. People get careful.

If the point of a panel is to allow an amalgam of authentic voices, then we need diversity. But here's a problem--if we think we are fixing anything by "allowing" voices of color on a panel, by making sure "everyone" is represented, when everyone in the room knows the default power position is white male, we've not only made open discussion much less likely, we've devalued everyone's voices.

We already know what the folks running the show think. We know what those in power have historically done and continue to do. I suspect that the presence of any white man on a panel can alter the discourse in subtle and destructive ways.

This is not to say that there are not phenomenally thoughtful, bright, generous white men who could help make any panel shine, but until folks are truly color blind (not going to happen in my lifetime), then a white man's presence on the panel will alter the discussion by virtue of his perceived position in our culture.
I'm sure this panel was enlightening....
The problem is not just too few people of color on the panels--the bigger problem is the pervasiveness of the dominant culture in spaces that need change. 

If you already have a pale male on the panel, one more is not going to help. 

The voices are out there.


concretekax said...

Michael, I have thought quite a bit about this as I am the primarily organizer of a conference on the Educon model at my school. We have had an all white, make business panel for two years even though we tried to get both women and minority voices there. We had only one session led by a female person of color.

Recruiting speakers is hard (we don't pay them) and my local of circle of educators is very white. I am trying to reach out and broaden my connections, but locally there is not very much diversity in education.

Thanks for encouraging me to keep trying. Another struggle is that I would love to have a session on race and privilege at the conference but it is hard to ask a teacher of color that you do not know well to be a part of it. They may not be comfortable with the conversation themselves. I also want to avoid them being the "token person of color" for when we want to talk about race.

doyle said...

Dear Michael,

I edited out a chunk of the original post discussing regional differences and tossed in "national" instead. If you're on an island of white folks and have no money for speakers, well, not sure what can be done.

Why not have the session anyway? Just frame the question differently. White folk need to start explaining to other white folk why their color blindness is a problem. Heck, title the panel "White Folk and Race" get a mixed bag of white teachers up there, and see what develops. Even two hours of awkward silence is a start. It's not people of color who need this discussion.

Thanks for starting the conversation.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

This so made me laugh, especially the image of the panel on race.