Last night I watched the movie Pleasantville and was more than pleasantly surprised to find a movie about people living in a monotone world, struggling with the process of waking up (seeing and becoming colour). It took me a while to realise that’s what it was about – it does take me a while to wake up to things sometimes.
This still from the movie represents a moment when a woman begins to wake up (she is becoming coloured) and is scared of the consequences of being seen to be different by others whose views are considered more ‘acceptable’. Realising she is not yet ready to embrace an openly vibrant life, her beautiful son helps her to ‘cover up’ with makeup, until she is ready to stand up and claim her new perspective on the world.
This got me reflecting on a magnificent piece of writing I was fortunate to find recently. Heather Plett had come to my attention through a thought piece she did a while back on holding space, and her latest piece speaks to me deeply about the experience and ongoing work of my life. I’m fortunate to be in a position to be supporting teachers and pre-service teachers as they undertake undergraduate and post-graduate professional development. We speak a lot about education for social justice – about the ways in which we can cultivate learning spaces for our students that foster transformed perspectives on oneself and one’s place in life. It’s all about living in an awakened state.
Additionally this week, I received news that one of my academic heroes passed away recently. Patricia Cranton’s work has been a joy and an inspiration to me, focussing as it has on authentic teaching in transformative learning spaces. The notion of providing the right conditions for students to ‘wake up’ is central.
So for whatever way it might speak to you, I am passing this on to you.
In waking up to the exquisite colours that are ours to embrace, we are also wakened to bitter and often dark truths – about the world around us, and about ourselves. But it is part of waking up to life. Darkness is as much a part of life as light and colour. It just is. And once we make friends with the dark spaces in ourselves …
… it is no longer threatening to stand by those
who are also waking up …
Waking up is hard to do.
First, you wake up to your own oppression,
to the ways you’ve been silenced,
to the many little stories you carry about why
your words are worth less than those who
benefit most from the old story.
You wake up to the truth that
your view of yourself wasn’t only constructed by you.
It was shaped for a purpose – to keep you small,
to keep you silent.
Then you wake up to your own anger,
to the fierce determination not to obey,
not to listen to the stories,
not to stay small.
But then, one day later on,
after you’ve learned to speak,
there’s another awakening.
You wake up to the fact that
your frustration taught you to adapt rather than to rise above.
You shape-shifted to be more like them,
to work in their hallways of power,
to survive in a world that didn’t want your voice.
You became one of them to be heard by them.
Then your anger wakes up once again,
and you have a new determination.
This time, you speak with your true voice
whether or not it is heard.
You begin to live in the centre of your true life
whether or not it is acceptable to them.
You risk dismissal and disdain
because you are no longer willing to go back to sleep.
But then, one day later on,
you realize that there is something else going on,
and this will require yet another awakening.
This will require that you look with more clear eyes
and speak with an even more clear voice.
You begin to wake up to other people’s narrative,
other people’s oppression, other people’s silence.
You begin to see that those whose skin
is different from yours,
whose gender and love is different from yours,
are waking up too,
and their waking up is asking you to be uncomfortable.
Their waking up
is asking you to look more clearly and unblinkingly
at your own life.
Then you begin to wake up to your own privilege,
to the ways that you have benefitted from their oppression.
You begin to wake up to the pain in them,
and you begin to hear the cries of the silenced,
“we want to be heard too!”
This waking up is the hardest,
and you want to ignore it,
to resist it, to deny what you now see.
You want to return to your own narrative,
to your own uprising,
because in that you can feel victorious and liberated.
In that, you don’t have to face the truth
that maybe you, even you, are holding the keys
to someone else’s chains.
But finally, you can deny it no longer.
Your awakened eyes see that you are only truly free
if they are free too.
And so you wake up,
and you face the hard truths.
And you feel the hurt
when your micro-aggressions,
and white fragility are pointed out.
And you do the hard work to peer with unwavering eyes
and to see both the shadow and the light,
and the space in between.
And when you are awake,
you begin to see it all,
and you can’t look away.
And finally you see,
that when you are truly awake
and truly honest about your place in the world,
it is no longer threatening to stand by those
who are also waking up.
And your anger burns anew.
And your fierce determination rises up once again.
And this time, your love is big enough,
to hold their hurt along with your own.
And this time, your voice is strong enough,
to speak their truth along with your own.
And this time, your courage is deep enough,
to let them speak a truth that is
different from your own.