Dr. Sheldon Eakins: (00:00)
Welcome, Advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Today I got a special guest with me, Mr. Shamari Reid, and I'm very happy to have him on. He was actually a referral. So a good friend of mine, Cornelius Minor, sent me his information and said, "Yo, you gotta have this guy on the show." So I'm really excited, Shamari, that you're on with us. So without further ado, thank you so much, Shamari, for joining us today.
Shamari Reid: (00:33)
Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here, and I trust Cornelius, I trust Cornelius. So I'm like, "Alright if he connected us, there must be a reason. There must be a reason why we had to have this conversation." And I'm excited to sort of have it recorded and to share it with other people who are listening.
Yeah. So let's do this. So we were talking about like when you and I were going back and forth, as far as emails go, it's like, okay, what do we want to talk about? How do we want to frame this episode? And so we're discussing kind of some of your thoughts when it comes to what we do. People of color, what we do when it comes to educating others on maybe equity or racism. And we kind of settled on discussing like marginalization and underserved, underrepresented, oppressed, those kinds of words that are typically referred to people who do not have a lot of representation when it comes to traditional quote-unquote. I'm using air quotes, by the way, traditional practices, and quote-unquote mainstream topics. But before we jump in, I do want to give you an opportunity to share a little bit about yourself, what you're currently doing as far as your education and what you're passionate about.
Thank you for that. This is something I'm currently doing. I guess I'll start there. I mean you asked a series of questions, I'll sort of start with where I am and perhaps going to go back to where my journey began. So right now, I am in my fourth year at a doctoral program and -- at Teacher's College, Columbia University, and the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. And so I am done with coursework. And so at the moment, I'm actually just sort of collecting data for my dissertation, and I plan to spend the next 10 to 12 months actually thinking about what I think I've learned, analyzing the data with the people whom I'm so grateful to work, and writing and defending and hopefully graduating and going into the job market next year. And so that's where I am right now. Before coming to TC -- Teacher's College -- I taught high school, so I taught high school Spanish for a little while.
I also taught English as a new language. I taught K-12, and so yes, I've been in kindergarten classrooms. I've also worked with middle school and high school, and I've also taught adults. I used to work at an afterschool program. And so I guess; specifically, these were people who were seeking citizenship, and so they were looking to improve their English and so I would work with them in the evening. And so I refer to myself often just as an educator. I am someone who really loves the process of co-constructing knowledge because I think that the act of learning with and from people is so human and so magical. And so I try to keep myself in classroom spaces always in the classroom. The space might look a little bit different, but what I mean by that is just an idea that I can be in community with other people who are trying to know stuff, who are trying to grow their knowledge about stuff and who ultimately want to share stuff.
And so that's kind of who I am. That's where I come from. And so I'm interested in sort of all things education specifically as it relates to those of us who have experienced -- I know a word you use, and then we'll talk about but -- marginalization and oppression. And so that's something that I've always sort of held near to me because it's personal, sort of growing up as a black boy, specifically as a black gay boy, specifically in Oklahoma city with a single mother just sort of invited me to learn too much, too early about power and privilege and oppression and unhappiness and dissatisfaction. And so I just am committed to improving the experiences of not only students who identify as I do, but all students, particularly those who we often leave out of conversations around what it means to receive a quality education.
So yeah, I like how you said those who we typically leave out like I've been trying to think of. Okay, what is another way? I'm glad you asked. Okay. So those who we typically leave out of these conversations, thank you for the wording I have been looking for. So I appreciate you sharing that. So speaking of that, speaking of words, right? So let's talk about the word marginalized. Okay. What comes to mind when you hear it?
And so I am someone who believes, let me start with this. I am someone who strongly believes that language matters. And so I don't think it's trivial and there are a lot of folks who were like, "Oh, it doesn't really matter what word I say or what I mean you get the point." And for me, it's like "No, words matter." And so when I think of marginalized, I think of power, and I think of other words that might be similar like oppressed and minoritized. And I think that's different than saying that someone belongs to a marginal group or to a minority group. Because when you say marginalized and you say minoritized, it makes me think of an act like a verb, and then I think of power, and so then who is it that's doing the oppressing? Who is it that is doing the sort of marginalizing, who is it that is doing the minoritizing?
And when you do that, you sort of shift it from the group and their circumstance to who is it that is benefiting from their positioning in society? One, because so many of the groups we're going to speak about who are often left out actually in terms of numbers aren't minority groups. What's happened is we've conceptualized them as minority groups, and we sort of tell them that and lead them to believe that thinking they don't have the numbers, they have no power. And so for me, it's like, "Oh, you are minoritized." And so what I've tried to do is I've taken your racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic group, if you will, gender group. And I've tried to minoritize it and make it marginal and push it off to the margins. And so I think of power, I think about the act of whatever the thing is we're speaking of -- marginalization. Who is it that's doing the marginalizing? Who is it that is trying to sort of push these groups of people to the margins, and then why are they doing that, and to what benefit?
You know, I got to give a shout out to Dr. Javier CosatoParraz. He was on my Leading Equity Virtual Summit this past January. And his topic was Cultural Taxation, Tokenism, and Eraser. And one of the things that he talks about was the same conversation in regards to marginalized or marginalized and minoritized. And he said, you know, basically his thing was you -- and again, kind of going off what you were saying about power, it's just like – "Okay, my community -- I'm not a minority in my community, in my home. And the people I hang with, my social circle, I'm not a minority in that sense." But when we look at it from a broader scale, like you said, when we're talking about power, then we start having these conversations about minorities and minoritize, and those kinds of conversations come up. A lot of that is due to power.
Yeah. Yeah. And thinking about who controls language. And so who gets to decide who's dominator, who's non-dominant, right? Who's a majority, and who is a minority. So all of that to me always speaks back to who's talking, what words are they choosing? And then how are those words sort of being positioned as the sort of blanket terms for entire groups of people who -- it doesn't always make sense. And so when we think about public schools for example, and we think about our students of color in many school districts, I don't know, I don't want to say all, but I guess across the nation students of color actually are not the minority group in terms of numbers.
Right? And so it's like when you call them minorities and you say, "Oh, they're minorities in schools," it's like that's actually untrue. And so I'd have to ask who is using that language and for what purpose? And for me it's going to come back to power, trying to maintain power or maintain the illusion that you have power because you are the majority and you have more numbers, and I think that your power would be weakened or undermined if, in fact, people understood, "Oh actually we aren't the minority group here. Actually we are the majority in terms of numbers. But you've tried to lead us to believe that we're minorities." So it goes back to the "minoritization," which is the act of doing the thing.
You know what really bothers me a lot, Shamari, is -- and I might've said this on the show before -- but I once read an article that was talking about an incident that occurred at a school, and it said the school was majority-minority and I'm like, wait a second, you're telling me there's a school that is predominantly black and brown, and you still use the language that the school demographics was majority-minority. That doesn't even go together. Like isn't that like some sorta my English folks out there? I mean, is that an oxymoron or like to me it doesn't make sense to me how you could still be in a position. And again, this is someone that's writing, this is going out in media. This is an article that's out there, and I'm sitting there like dumbfounded and scratching my head. Like how could you say that someone is a majority-minority?
Like you have already started to diminish the relevancy of people of color, and that's such an issue. And I struggled with that. I almost wrote the columnist a letter or something. I was like -- man, I should have, I –
You know, you still have time.
I do have time, and you're right. You know what I should have if I'm sitting here, my show was all about equity. It's all about advocacy. And I got to practice my own message. You know, if I'm telling folks we gotta be advocates out there, that was a moment for myself that I should have written something because again, that really bothered me. And I was mad. I'm not gonna lie to you. I was upset so…
But, you know what's interesting too, in thinking about language and the language that we use, even when we're trying to be these equity-minded folks. It's unfortunately quite common for me to come across educators who are thinking about equity, and they will say things like, "You know, Shamari we've got to be mindful of the language that we use to talk about students." And I'm like, "Absolutely, of course," we have to come from this sort of asset orientation. I'm like, "Absolutely." And then in the very next sentence, they'll say things like, "And that's why I want to work with my low performing students. That's why I want to work with my poor students," and it's like, wow, "You just gave me an almost-dissertation about how important asset-based language was and then the very next sentence, the language you use to describe these young, beautiful people was deficit-based."
"Deficit-based," and we don't always realize it. I had someone call me out one time because I had mentioned, I think it was actually an asset-based lesson that I was giving and I said to your struggling readers and they called me out on it. They were like, wait a second, you're saying struggling readers. So now I try to use the language striving readers or approaching or something like that to where it's, again, I'm trying to frame it in a way that it is not from a deficit lens, but it is from an asset lens. And again, I've said to some before, I'm like, I'm not perfect and I do podcasts so I can learn more. That's why I speak to folks like you and others who are equity-minded. Because I think one of the most beneficial pieces of how to get better in your craft and how to learn is to be surrounded by folks who are likeminded and those who also come in with diverse perspectives. But we can all come together and have these conversations. I definitely appreciate those kinds of things.
Yeah. And so that's just something that I wouldn't say it bothers me because I'm actually bothered a lot less these days. I have learned to, you know, I just for my own happiness and my own peace, I can take note of something. I might engage with someone in order to share my thoughts but to be bothered or annoyed or weighed down. It's just for me, not always productive. Now do I get angry? Absolutely. I'm frustrated with a lot of the -isms if you will, and [inaudible] absolutely, but I'm just like, "What do you want to do about this thing? Do you want to call this person and do you want to engage and you want to -- okay, you don't want to do that, do you want to go and write about it? Okay, you don't want to do that, and then you might have to let it go."
And it's not ignoring the issue. It's just saying, "You know what, this is not what I want to engage in right now for my own mental/emotional health." But I see a lot of deficit language and people using the language of those in power those who are doing the oppressing to talk about others who aren't oppressing other people. And I'm just like, "Wow, you have reduced our entire narrative, our entire story down to what someone has done to me, and you've neglected all that I have done for myself and for my community." And so what does that look like in these communities that we've come to regard as marginalized -- cool, fine, whatever. But we cannot erase the power that's in these communities and how they have continually sort of worked to hold themselves up and to give themselves life. And you can't always focus on that. If you're thinking about what they don't have and what they can and cannot do based on what someone else has done to them.
You know what, we could talk about this all day, but let's shift gears a little bit.
So one of the other things that I want to talk to you about, and this might actually be kind of on the same lines, but again, when we were exchanging emails, and we were talking about Ralph Ellison's book -- novel, The Invisible Man, and it's about this unnamed black man and Toni Morrison -- you pointed this out -- Toni Morrison responded to that. She was like, "Well, invisible to who?" And I think that's something that I wanted to chat with you about because again when we talk about The Invisible Man, or sometimes I'll see these documentaries and you know, this person we didn't know about, but I mean why didn't we know about it or who's saying that they didn't know about that this person was invisible. I wanted to get your thoughts, especially when it comes to people of color, what are some ways that we can engage more within our own community? And maybe so we're not focusing on who's the quote-unquote invisible person, but what are some things that we can do more in our own communities?
And so I think they are related, right? I think this will connect to our previous conversations. But starting with Toni Morrison, who, let me just say on the record, I love -- I am so grateful for her life and for her writing. I really feel that it's through Toni Morrison's life, and through her work that I came to not only know myself but understand the power in my community. And so when I'm watching the documentary and Toni Morrison, and she was talking about, by the way, quite positively about Ralph Ellison's work, she was talking about how wonderful, exquisite it was, but that she always felt that it was one of the sorts of texts among others that didn't speak to black people. But that was speaking about black people in her evidence of that was if you were talking to us, we can see each other.
And so we are not invisible to ourselves. And so when you say you are an invisible man or this other unnamed black person is an invisible man, you have to ask, "Invisible to whom?" And when you do that, it -- I think -- brings our attention to whose gaze it is we're privileged. And so what I've learned from Toni to answer your second question is what can we do in our own community that people of color I think is to remove the white gaze and start thinking about what is it that we want for ourselves, not in contrast to them, nor are we interested in trying to prove our humanity to them or help them with anything. What can we do for us? And I think that becomes a very different conversation and a world of possibilities open up because we are now focused on "I," "How do I see Sheldon?" "How does Sheldon see me?" And let's have that conversation and not the conversation of how does white America see us both because that is not important.
And if we continue to center that it actually plays right into white supremacy. And so I think what we can do for ourselves and these communities of color is focused on us outside of our distinction from those who have attempted to, but as I in some ways at oppressing us. And so it's a shift [inaudible] the shift in perspective. And so we are not invisible. That's untrue because I see myself every single day the same way that I see my mother the same way -- you know what I mean? And so to say that we're invisible almost says that our eyes don't matter. It's like saying, "Oh, my mother sees me when I'm invisible." That's like saying she doesn't matter. But if we consider ourselves as people who met there, which we are always trying to proclaim, and you can't call us invisible, you can't call us matter-less.
You can't call us valueless because we matter, and we always have to each other. And so I think what we should be thinking about and/or doing is asking ourselves, what do we want for ourselves? Like, what do we do? How do we get this thing we want? Whether it's liberation or -- I don't know, love, joy, happiness. But let's talk to each other about how we get there and not so much about how we can get them to honor us, get them to stop oppressing us, get them -- because that keeps them at the center of our lives and at the center of our liberation. And I think as Toni Morrison said: "That is a distraction and a waste of our energy -- it is a waste of our energy."
Okay. And I agree with everything you said. So, here's a question. I just want to throw this out there for you because you know, there's a lot of conversations that I hear is "a seat at the table." We want a seat at the table, whatever that might be, right? So for example, I'll give you this, like there's been a lot of social media saying #oscarssowhite and there's other issues where it's like we need a seat at the table. We need to be right there as part of these conversations. So as I listened to your previous response, it made me think, "Okay, what is Shamari's take on the whole seat at the table?" Is that something that you, I guess, support, or are you thinking more on the lines of, "Well, we shouldn't worry about having a seat at the table. We need to be maybe creating our own table and building our own table and our own chairs and all that good stuff." So just wanted to get your take on it.
I love you -- man, you are putting me on the spot. You know, with these questions, they're powerful, but they are putting me on the spot. But let me say this, and I'll try to do it in a way that I feel honors both of my sort of schools of thought because there are a lot of things floating around in my head, but first is this around "Oscars so white," et cetera.
As artists, I am aware that artists of color work very, very hard, and are incredibly talented and deserve recognition. They deserve Oscars, they deserve the Grammys, et cetera. I think we deserve a seat at the table. However, I have just over the years lost interest in and faith that we will ever actually have seats at the table that can bring about any sort of sizeable change. And so where I am now is let's create our own table.
Let's create our own Oscars, our own Grammys, our own et cetera. We have to recognize ourselves for ourselves. Again, it goes back to Toni Morrison "outside of the white gaze" because if we keep seeking to be included in their institutions well, then their institutions remain in power. And I think James Baldwin said once, and I don't have the exact phrase in quotes, someone please look it up and correct me, but he said something to the effect of the white man's world loses its power when the black man stopped believing in it or something to be an effect or accepting it. So basically, when I say the Grammys has no value or the Oscars has no value, then they, in fact, lose their power. If I continue to say that this institution that is known to be racist, has merit and that I want to be included, I keep, I sort of contribute to its status.
I don't know if that makes any sense, but it's one thing to say, "I want to be at the table." I think that table is somehow attractive and that you should be at it. But if the table we know is oppressive, if the table has ignorance, if the table is sexist or racist or -- why would you want to sit there? Why wouldn't you want to go over here and build our own table? Because I know how talented we are because I know how powerful we are and I don't need to be validated by the people at that table because they're unable to validate me because of their own warped sense of self. That's where I am right now. And it's hard for me to articulate that because there are so many people in my life who I love, who works very hard at their crafts and who I would never say, "Oh, you don't deserve these awards."
And so yes, they do. But how can I also say that while you deserve these awards, you don't need them to validate your talent? One, because these awards are sort of Meyer for me and a distorted sense of merit. They aren't equitable, they just aren't. They don't see us. And so then why are we continuing to, for me, expend energy on like, "Hey," trying to be seen. "No, forget that. Come over here to high table. We got you to come over here to, I don't know, the NAACP awards come over here to the BET awards over a year, and that's an investment in our own institutions for ourselves."
I appreciate that Shamari, so, okay, the same conversation here. Okay, we're still talking about this table. Okay. Because one of the thoughts that came to my mind as I was listening to your response, your impromptu response was when we think about the table and when we think about public education and we talk about school boards, we talk about even maybe from the local council folks or mayor or whoever is who you know, because our schools are regulated by local governments and things like that. In that sense. If we have our children, our students of color, our LGBTQ students, our students from lower socioeconomic status, when we're talking about disabilities, things like that. Students that are not always in these conversations. In that sense, yes, I think we need to have a seat at a table because when it comes to policies that are being made when it comes to handbooks when it comes to dress codes when it comes to whatever policies, I mean gifted and talented, those kinds of things where these conversations are happening, and they're about people, but there's no representation about, you know, there's no representation in these meetings, and they're talking about folks.
Then I think, yeah, we definitely need to have a seat at the table, but I also agree with you as well when we're talking about, "Okay, well, we want to be recognized for these same awards. We want to be recognized for the same quote-unquote, same status level." I agree. We do need to create our own things, and we do have our own things. I think we as people of color or whatever culture you're representing, we need to support those who identify with the same culture that we identify with. And I don't think that that's always the case.
Well, absolutely because we've all been socialized to believe that the Oscars is the top, right and that the Grammys is the top or that Harvard is the best. And so I am not surprised when you have those of us who are, who have been intentionally excluded from these institutions, still want to be in them because it's that at the same time, while let's say I am black, I am also born and raised in the United States. And so there is this double consciousness, right? And on the one hand, yes, I'm black, and I'm proud of that, and I want to go here [inaudible] other black people, on the other hand, I'm a US-born and raised person who has been taught that Harvard is the best. And so yes, I want to be there. And so I am not surprised when you have folks who belong to these communities that still or that who don't support when we have our own stuff.
Well, that makes sense because we have all been socialized to believe that our own stuff is less than or that it's minority stuff, whether it's the value of that stuff or that a BET award isn't the same as a Grammy. We've been taught that. And so then for me, the work becomes, while we're at our own table, how do we unlearn that? And I think those are the conversations that we can only have once we focus on us. And so it goes back to your other question about what should we do in communities of color? Talk about us, talk about the way that we love the way that we show up, how powerful we are. We have to remember that our story starts well before -- you know, for those of us who are sort of ascendance of enslaved people before this country that was actually quite powerful, I think that is very, very, very important because if not, what will happen is you have young people sort of being raised and not even knowing how great we are.
And so then they'll spend most of their life trying to validate their greatness, these white institutions which were actually created to invalidate them. And so it's for me a lose-lose. And so I'm like, "Come back over here and let's talk about how amazing you are. Let's talk about how much I love you. Let's talk about how much I care for you." And I think that can only happen when we stay in our own communities when we focus on our own. And then maybe -- cool we after we built ourselves up if you will, and we've raised our, not only our consciousness but our whole self. Then maybe, sure, we think about what it means to be at these other tables. But if we haven't unlearned the inferiority, those tables can be quite dangerous for us because it might invite us to think that our existence depends on our acceptance at those tables.
Shamari, you took me to church just now. I, well, I pass the collection plate over.
Listen, if you don't get something, send me my point.
I was ready. I was ready. I was ready to give. So here's the thing, and I appreciate your, appreciate you being on the show and shout out to Cornelius. I appreciate the recommendation. So that's what's up. So let's do this real quick because I want to start kind of winding down a little bit, but I do have another question for you because I want to talk specifically about our schools. Okay. So specifically, when we're talking about schools with large populations of students of color, what are your thoughts on where we should place our focus when it comes to education?
You know what? I have a very -- believe it or not, I have a very simple answer, and it's going to go back to my longer point. You know, my longer little church point. I think those of us who, you know, people of color who are working in schools at large groups of students of color, I think we should focus on our greatness and our brilliance. And for me, whenever I'm in front of students of color, I have one goal, Sheldon, I walk into that space, and I'm like, I just need them to know once they leave, how dope they are, how brilliant they are. We do that. And you have young people who know who they are. I have no worries about the future because they're empowered because they are aware of the power they already possessed. Nothing was given to them or handed to them.
Someone was just like, "Hey, look at you, look inside. You see that that's your power. That's your brilliance." And right now unfortunately, and I think you know this, that's not happening. They aren't being sort of made aware of how incredible they are. They are being told that you need to learn X, Y and Z to be successful. Need to go on, acquire these skills to be successful. And I'm like, yeah, cool. But before any of that happens, they need to know that they are worth it, that they matter, that their lives are worthy. That is the work that I think we need to focus a lot more on. It's that internal self-worth, and it's that self-love because, with that, they are unstoppable, but they've got to know themselves and love themselves.
You're absolutely right, and I think one of the things I would add on to that is one way to show students that they are amazing and that they have so much potential is they need to see themselves in the curriculum. I think that piece gets left out a lot in, or it's just an add on. You know, there's -- we're having a lesson, but we're still teaching it from white man's perspective and then we'll throw in maybe a special unit. Maybe it's a special lesson, or maybe there's just a paragraph within a lesson that just says, "Oh yeah, by the way, black folks did this, or our Latinx folks did this," but we're still talking about this main concept from my perspective. But we'll just add in a couple of things to try to throw you a bone here and there as opposed to looking at things from a multicultural perspective, and we're really just bringing in different lenses and not just, "Well our students -- we'll just do something here and there," and I think if our students get to see themselves in the content, they could see the success of, because when I say "see themselves," I'm not talking about just slavery, but I'm saying if they see themselves where there's power, you know if we talk about -- not the contribution but the overall things that they have done, their ancestors have done or maybe even their community members, someone that lived down the road from them, that's a successful business owner, those types of things -- then we can really develop their self worth or their self, you know like, "Oh I can do that.
Oh, there's a guy who just, that looks just like me, and there's a woman that looks just like me that is being successful, and they had a similar background. Maybe they, they grew up in my neighborhood and yet look at them, they're doing well." And I think we could see those things as well that can also help with, you know, again, developing the confidence in our students.
Yeah, and something you said that was really important is seeing themselves in the curriculum. And I think that is something that often like you said, gets skipped over or done minimally. And so what I have always invited teachers to do is say, "I don't want you just to put me in the curriculum. I want to be the curriculum, the whole thing centered around me." And I don't mean me, I mean your students, right? The whole thing should be around them. And so when you talked about [how] they should explore people in their communities. Absolutely. They should explore the movers and the shakers in their community. The people who they know, the guy who worked at the corner store, the person over here who did this thing like these everyday people who not only look like them but move through life like them. I think that's also how we can not only build a sense of value that they can have in themselves, but they can have in their community. Like, look at this place I come from where there is so much knowledge here, so much love here. And despite all of the sort of obstacles and challenges, look how far we've come. Look how beautiful we are. And I do think that's important.
That's right. So, Shamari, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?
I'm terrible with the -- I am so bad with the, you know, give me one last thing. I don't know. But I guess to anyone who is listening, know that you are enough and that you matter simply because you're alive and because you breathe as we all do. And because you have blood that runs through your thing as it runs through all of ours, that alone makes you worthy, and it makes you enough.
All right. If we got some folks that want to reach out to you, Shamari, what's the best way to connect with you online?
So I'm pretty active on Twitter, which is my name. And so, @ShamariKReid. And if that doesn't work, you can go to my website, which is just my first and last name.com. So shamarireid.com -- again, Reid is "R-E-I-D," and then Shamari is "S-H-A-M-A-R-I."
All right. I got Mr. Shamari Reid, soon-to-be Dr. Shamari Reid in, I don't know, a few months or so, 10-12 months maybe. Fingers crossed, but it has truly been a pleasure. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
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