Equity Consciousness

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director and Orinthia Harris, CEI Faculty

Our HeartMind e-News connects the relationship of heart centered learning and mindfulness to current research and circumstances. Our goal is to provide our readers with concrete opportunities to further implementation of heart centered practices in their schools and districts. These opportunities will include suggestions for reflection, journaling, dialoguing, and compassionate classroom activities. These exercises often start with adults, working on our own knowledge and skills, before we turn to students.

Equity and justice made headlines over and over again during 2020. What do we foresee for 2021? How will equity and justice be addressed? And why might CEI’s 5Cs (consciousness, compassion, confidence, courage, and community; Mason, et al., 2019, 2020) play an important role in helping educators address racism?

Let’s Begins with Consciousness
Yvette Jackson (2020) in a recent webinar for the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center’s Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative described a need for an equity consciousness. In Jackson’s view, equity consciousness begins with conscious awareness of the innate potential of ALL students for engagement, high intellectual performances, and self-determination. 

  • Equity is providing the support to elicit students’ innate potential through instruction, school policies, and classroom interactions while paying intentional attention to the barriers that restrict students’ innate potential from thriving and flourishing.

  • Equity solutions begin with a conscious understanding of ourselves and others, including the lives, the experience, the history, the fears, the racialized trauma, and the hopes of many who have been treated unjustly, faced discrimination, and continue to experience injustice.

Exercise #1: Describe Your Equity Consciousness

What school realities (outside and inside school) stifle educators’ consciousness of the innate potential of ALL students for engagement, high intellectual performances, and self-determination?

Write down some of your ideas regarding equity and justice—this could include both instances of inequities and injustice and also areas of progress.

On a scale of 1-10, how aware are you of equity concerns of people who are most marginalized?


Faculty Corner

I think Equity Consciousness must begin in the subconscious. We must question narratives that we inherited by virtue of being brought up in America.

A white educator friend sent me this quote last week and I have been wrestling with it ever since:

You are not descendants of slaves. You are descendants of free people made into prisoners of war within our own homeland. Never accept your oppressors’ marginalizing narratives of you. They’re designed to seep into your subconscious mind and demoralize.” (Unknown Author)

When I read this quote, it made me question my thoughts on how I identity myself. Do I view myself as a descendent of a royal people kidnapped and taken to a foreign land? Or do I view myself as a descendent of slaves?

Wrestling with these thoughts reaches the very core of my foundation. Merely embracing the fact that my story doesn’t begin at slavery, as my public education would suggest, can create a new lens in which I view equity and justice.

We cannot have a conscious understanding of ourselves until we accept that we all have inherited subconscious bias and racist ideals simply by being American. The racist ideals, embedded in our nation, which the founding fathers deemed necessary for its perpetuation, are still impacting all of us today. This is simply a historical fact and accepting it does not make one any less patriotic.

Until we can remove the stigma of admitting that everyone raised in American culture has inherited implicit bias and racist ideas, the subjects of equity and justice will always be approached from a “how can we help them,” mentality versus “how can we help us.”

A Great Awakening will happen in our country when collectively, we fully embrace the words of the Declaration of Independence and whole-heartedly denounce the hateful actions that policy has allowed to persist.

Compassion, Connection, and Equity

Not only is equity consciousness needed, we also recognize the value of a compassionate response to the needs of others. In The Inner Work of Racial Justice, attorney Rhonda Magee (2019) speaks of the importance of compassion and mindfulness. In a discussion of racism and equity, Magee reminds us that “Compassion—for ourselves and for others—helps make it possible to recognize that what we have been trained to see is simply not the whole picture” (p. 86) and that “Seeing is Awakening,” (p. 87).

Magee states that:

If we are willing to see, we might recognize just how we participate in the normalization of racial inequality . . .Seeing the pervasive structures of white supremacy that run through dominant culture is its own moment of awakening. From there, mindfulness may help us determine how to relate to what we see. (p. 87-88)


Exercise #2: Equity Consciousness Questions
How is racism impacting your life and your instruction? Reflect for a moment on Magee’s statement. What do you notice?

  • On a scale of 1-10, how much is racism impacting your life?
  • Compare your answers from Exercise #1: Describe Your Equity Consciousness. How much discrepancy is there?
  • What does this suggest to you?
  • What do you know about racism and the dominant culture?

In her primer, Magee (2019) suggests that “our formal practices of mindfulness and compassion can increase our ability to have not merely difficult but increasingly complex conversations” (p. 194). Magee also reminds us that “at the heart of compassionate engagement with other people is the openness and desire to connect” (p. 292).


Exercise #3: Equity Consciousness Mindful Reflection

Have you had successful conversations with others about racism and equity?  If so, how did you connect?  What factors contributed to your success?  If you have found little opportunity for these conversations, or if these conversations have been troubling for you, how could a mindful practice help you understand more?


Exercise #4: Equity Consciousness Questions

  • In what ways can educators recognize and elicit the innate potential of ALL students for engagement, high intellectual performances, and self-determination? 
  • How should educators address equity concerns?  
  • Spend a few minutes reflecting and write down 3-5 ideas for what you or your school or district might do.

Exercise #5: Radical Empathy

  • Do you have ideas for addressing racism and equity from a place of radical empathy (kindred connection that opens your spirit to the pain of another)?
  • What can you resolve to do within your spheres of influence?
  • How can you incorporate lessons on radical empathy into your instruction?

References

Jackson, Y. (2020, November). The future of education: Equity, inclusion, and advocacy. With C. Mason, R. Santa, and A. Smith. Webinar for the New England MHTTC’s Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative.

Maghee, R. (2019). The inner work of racial justice: Healing ourselves and transforming our communities through mindfulness. Tarcherpiergee.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., & Jackson, Y. (2019). Mindfulness practices: Cultivating heart centered communities where students thrive and flourish. Solution Tree.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., & Jackson, Y. (2020). Mindful school com­munities: The five Cs of nurturing heart centered learning. Solution Tree Press.

Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents. Random House.

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