Guest Post: Cody Charles on the Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People

Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People

by Cody Charles

This is a follow-up to my previous piece entitled, Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators. The latter was written for folks who consider equity work as their core life purpose. I wrote Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People for the folks who consider themselves good people invested in social justice and conversations around equity, but who may show up in the ally role most often. Well-intentioned people make mistakes, lots of them. Mistakes must be expected, and being held accountable has to be expected as well. The points below outline some of the common behaviors that show up often in social justice conversations. I want to be clear that we all participate in some of the following counterproductive acts. We are not all privileged or all oppressed. We are complex people with complex identities that intersect in complex ways. Therefore, we all show up in problematic ways with our privilege. I own that my background is from the higher education setting, but I think the points below can be useful for all folks interested in creating dynamic change in the communities around them. Moreover, this piece was written in the midst of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner non-indictments (many more people could be listed), so some of it may feel specific to race. However, these rules apply beyond the identity of race; in fact these rules only exist in the dynamic of intersections. Below are ten counterproductive behaviors that people who want to do “good” commit and must actively work to correct:

  1. Quick to marginalize someone else’s experience

I was walking through a hotel lobby with colleagues. We were headed to a conference social, wearing business attire. There were quite a few conference attendees roaming around the lobby area at that time, all wearing business attire as well. It was a fairly loud, mingling setting. An older white woman walked up to me and asked if I knew where she could get fresh towels. I was puzzled for a moment, which then indicated to the woman that I probably could not help her.

After the exchange, I looked at my friend in disbelief. Not utter disbelief or shock, because it was not my first time experiencing this marginalized view on the identities that I hold, but it did catch me off guard at my professional organization’s national conference; a place where we exchange ideas on how to better serve, educate, and develop the students that we work with. I remember telling a few colleagues later at dinner and getting this response, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that.”

When someone shares an experience like this with you, please STOP yourself from analyzing the situation. Listen, observe, connect with the emotion and experience how real it is to the other person, which should in turn make it real to you. No questions, just listen and learn. Hold on to your questions, which are the manifestation of your wanting the world to be a kind, good-hearted place. It is because you see yourself in that older white woman. Get past that. Be there for your friend, colleague, and mentor/mentee. And maybe ask questions later.

  1. Choose not to speak up

You choosing not to speak up has either to do with the fear of your oppressed identity being pounced on or the presence of your blinding privilege. Regardless, too often, the courageous few are tasked alone with holding the integrity of inclusiveness in spaces. Too often, the oppressed have to make a dynamic choice to either speak or stay silent. To stay silent comes with making peace with your inferiority to dominate culture, self-hatred, and finding comfort in the status quo. To speak is to risk not being a team player, being identified as overly sensitive, pulling the race/gender/orientation card, to not be asked to Happy Hour, to not being considered for promotion, and to fall into a simplified caricature of your already watered-down self. Do your work! Consider perspective as you enter and claim space. Pay attention, observe, and always consider that the ideas being explored in any space you enter are based on whiteness, heteronormative, gender binary (specifically cis-male), able-bodied, middle-upper class perspective. Speak up. Do not allow your colleagues and friends to take on the sole responsibility of shifting culture from “normal” to dynamic.

  1. Respond poorly when held accountable or challenged

You are entitled to your feelings. Really, you are, and you are responsible for your self-development. Here is a secret: the oppressed often fear the response of the privileged around identity conflict. The oppressed often lose in these encounters and historically have lost their lives. You often respond without thinking critically about the information or feedback being given because of your privilege and ego. We all fall victim to this dynamic, generally around our salient identities. Acting purely out of emotion and in defense is not only dangerous to the livelihood of the oppressed, but directly conflicts with your goal of creating a more just and equitable world.

  1. Do not take the time to do your own research (Expect the oppressed to educate)

There is nothing worse than identifying as oppressed, and having to not only explain but convince people that your oppression is valid. Pick up a book! Google it. Read some Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Janet Mock, Malala Yousafzai and Gloria Anzaldua. Do your work. Do not expect all of your education to come from your Hispanic friend, friend with a mental illness, or favorite trans+ personality/activist (LaVerne Cox & Janet Mock). Take a true interest in this crucial conversation, beyond when it is convenient for you. This is not to say that you can never reach out to your “oppressed” relationships, but be prepared before you approach them. Be well read and make Google your friend. It will make the world of difference to your friend that you took the time to educate yourself. In the future, when you ask your friend questions, be prepared for a “no” or “not at this time.” The oppressed are continuously asked to defend their experience, so your question may be too much in that single moment.

  1. See themselves as either good or bad…

We often will not fess up to marginalizing someone else’s identity or creating a space that is exclusive in nature. For some reason, we have in our minds that if we take responsibility for this exclusion, then we are admitting to being a bad person. Instead, we must see ourselves as good people who will make mistakes. Good people create spaces of exclusion all the time. That is reality. Even if the intent was good-hearted, the impact is what matters most. Often, when challenged on their privilege, people love to default to their marginalized identities in hopes of subconsciously (or consciously) garnering sympathy. Stop giving yourself limited choices once a mistake is made. Let go of not wanting to be seen as a “bad person.” Take responsibility, apologize, learn, and do better in the future.

  1. Execute initiatives of change without the oppressed people at the table

In the wake of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, and countless other deaths of black youth, we are seeing more and more rallies, protest, panels, online activism by white people. This is mostly done by well-intentioned white folks that are not inviting or trying hard enough to get black people at the planning table. Generally, what we end up with is a poorly planned event that is offensive or excluding the people it was meant to serve. I chose the recent scenarios as examples, since they are on the forefront of everyone’s mind. This dynamic plays out with all other oppressed identities, which means that more of us than we would like to admit participate in poorly planned initiatives created from our privileged lens.

  1. Create “mystical negro” dynamics (insert any oppressed group)…

This is similar to number four, “expect the oppressed to educate.” However, for the well-intentioned and somewhat in the know group, this idea morphs into something a bit more intense. You utilize your one friend as the absolute expert on the said oppressed identity in addition to having them serve as your educator and moral compass. The conversation around said identity becomes less about making systemic change or a space of support for the oppressed; instead it moves towards helping the privileged figure out their lives around said identity. In turn, the oppressed friend becomes mystical in nature, where their only purpose is to be there to help move you along in a morally correct life. These folks have to carry your education and deal with their pain simultaneously. See number four as a way to improve this one-sided dangerous relationship.

  1. Crying

Your tears take up too much space. They very quickly turn the issue into an exchange about your feelings, your education, and making you feel comfortable in your privilege. Politely tell your tears to have a seat—several seats, a plethora really.

When your eye glands start to well up, STOP or get the hell up and excuse yourself. This point is not saying that your tears or your hurt feelings do not matter; they just do not have space here. Tears rarely worked for the oppressed in stopping the oppressor from beating them, selling them, lynching them, hanging them on a fence, dragging them behind their pick-up truck, shooting them outside their front doors in front of their families, publicly shaming them, and draining every ounce of worth from their souls…so it does not serve any use here!

  1. Giving advice from your place of privilege

I heard Melissa Harris-Perry speak about this point at a keynote and it stuck with me. I began to analyze the truth of it as it applies to me. I found that I indeed offer advice and solutions through my privileged lens. I moved with ease from conversation to conversation with friends, family, and students through my place of privilege. This is something that we all do, mostly without being cognizant of the person and identities that sit in front of us. Now we all can agree that the horrific abuse of Jenay Rice was unacceptable and Ray Rice deserved to be held accountable for his actions. However, we cannot make the leap that Jenay’s only choice in this situation is to leave Ray. Her decision and our decision can be drastically different pending the intersecting identities that we hold. To impose expectations on people through your experiences is to create exclusive and hostile environments that are potentially unsafe. It also places the people you are trying to help in a position to make decisions that are harmful to their interest.

When our privilege is involved, it is quite difficult to name it. I work at a university in support services with a multitude of students and this scenario plays out all the time. I am often not conscious to the inappropriate and sometimes destructive advice I am giving. We must interrogate our privilege to appropriately support the people in our lives.

  1. Believing that being loving and kind is enough…

No matter how kind you are or how much of your heart you share with others, systematic oppression will still exist. You cannot rest on being kind, encouraging, and loving. You have to commit yourself to learning more, becoming conscious of the system, and continually fighting for the cause of equity and justice—while allowing the oppressed to take the lead. Stay away from comments and sentiments that ask for passiveness and harmony, we are more concerned with equity and justice. It is easy to retweet or repost a social justice article on social media and stop there, but that does not mean you are doing anything to end systematic oppression. We have to move away from the niceties and do work.

Let’s break down “do work.” It has already been explored beautifully by Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh), so there is no need for me to find a creative way of saying the exact same thing. I am asking well-intentioned people to do work, such as understand your privilege, listen and do your homework, speak up but not over, apologize when you make mistakes, and remember that being an ally is a verb. Additionally, I have added a sixth point, courtesy of a good friend, which is you do not have to be an expert. While all points are crucial, below are two points I want to explore further.

You do not have to be an expert

Do not allow yourself to be immobilized by your lack of knowledge. You can still do something if you are willing to risk making mistakes. In fact, you will never know it all. How could you? Your privilege will not allow you to take in the full experience of the oppressed. Move past your fear and engage other privileged folk around you and listen to the voices of the oppressed.

Ally is a verb

You actually have to do something! Being an ally is not silently agreeing with the oppressed. You must constantly figure out ways to use your privilege to push forward the voice of the oppressed. The work of an ally should not be an easy journey. You no longer have the luxury of silence. You should feel pain, uncertainty, fear, frustration, and exhaustion. It takes risking yourself, transparency with the oppressed, and calculated action to be an effective ally.

Please know that being active in equity work takes stamina, humility, courage, tough love, a strategic mind, and a forgiving heart.

Cody Charles currently serves as an Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas. During his time at KU, he has led diversity and social justice trainings for much of the campus community, including student athletes, student executive boards, staff, faculty, and high school students. Cody was recognized by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) as the Outstanding New Professional in Residence Life in 2008.

Note: there is no need to contact Cody Charles for permission to use this content. Feel free to email it, share it, tweet it, Facebook it, pin it, and reprint it with credit. Visit www.consultcody.com for more information about him.

This piece was printed previously at The Body is not an Apology.

Guest Post: Oksana Lushchevska on International Children’s Literature

Following One’s Own Beliefs: The Story of a Ukrainian-English Bilingual Picturebook

by Oksana Lushchevska, the University of Georgia

As a reading child, growing up in both former Soviet Ukraine and independent Ukraine, I was kindled by children’s books that told stories from other countries. I read about many interesting places, and was open and excited to visit countries not only to see and learn about places and people, but also to share something from or about my country.

When I came to the U. S. for the first time, I brought souvenirs from Ukraine in order to represent a multifaceted culture of my country. I have been living in this country for about ten years now, and I am still bringing some souvenirs to and from Ukraine while going back and forth between here and there. However, these souvenirs have now turned into books—mostly children’s books to be exact.

As an adult PhD student, I grew even more interested in international books, but became puzzled when I found out that my country was represented only by Jan Brett’s interpretation of a Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten. I was surprised that many other countries are also underrepresented through a children’s literature perspective. While my academic focus is the inclusion of international children’s literature into U. S. classrooms, I also care about the representation of Ukrainian children’s literature in the U. S. But the question is: how can I bring it to U. S. readers?

The stepping stones that I envision to follow my beliefs include reviewing international books for children in both English and Ukrainian, translating children’s literature from Ukraine, writing about it for both IBBY and USBBY organizations, and finally trying to launch a joint project with a small private publishing house, Bratske Publishers, located in Ukraine. I am also sending samples of Ukrainian children’s books in translation to publishers in the U. S. Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.44.36 PMSince I came from Ukraine just a few months ago and brought a number of copies of a bilingual picturebook Скільки?/How many? by Halyna Kyrpa and Olha Havrylova, published by Bratske Publishers, I want to share its story, since the creation of a book always has a story behind its physical artifact.

The first motivation for this project was a graduate course, International Children’s Literature, taught by my academic adviser, Dr. Jennifer M. Graff. The second one was the question asked by my doctoral colleagues: what can we do to bring to young readers the books from the countries that are not widely represented or underrepresented in the U. S.?

The third, and by far the most important one, involves the turmoil and tragic events that are currently happening in my country. A year ago, Ukraine became a country in which huge strives for social justice and societal, cultural, and economic stability were vitally pulsing. In addition, Russia started the war in Ukraine soon after the Revolution of Dignity took place. At this time, we, the students of international children’s literature course, read Jella Lepman’s (1891-1970) book, Bridge of Children’s Books: The Inspiring Autobiography of a Remarkable Woman.

Oksana and others read Скільки?/How many?

Oksana and others read Скільки?/How many?

Lepman was the founder of the International Youth Library in Munich in 1949, and she strongly believed that children’s books are a key to “peaceful coexistence…all over the globe,” and children’s books might help us to raise renewed generations in the world by globally showing and emphasizing the best examples of humanity through the art of children’s books. Books can expand the understanding of global connections and evoke an interest to learn about each other in compassionate ways in order to become global citizens.

Put in Lepman’s words, children’s literature “affords a wide view of differences and similarities in the children’s literature of various nations, it also vividly shows the mutual influence they depend on” (p. 54). With this idea in mind, I considered ways of representing Ukrainian children’s literature beyond the borders of Ukraine. At the same time, I strived to bring another story of my country: the one that shows that despite the war and turmoil, the Ukrainian desire for change has a huge cultural impact. Yet, the news coverage, as we know, often represents only a tiny fraction of the things happening in a cultural and social life of a country. Thus, the creation of this bilingual picturebook was another story, a story with its own voice.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.22.53 PM

An initial step of the creation of this picturebook was to formulate an idea and its format. I found out that Kickstarter provides a fairly simple, yet specialized enough platform to start such a project. My friend, Ian Boucher, helped me with the video, and my colleague, Stephanie Maria Short, helped me with editing the text of the promotion page.

My Ukrainian colleagues and friends, Yuliya Berezenko, a gifted editor and a founder of Bratske Publishers, and Valentyna Vzdulska, an unparalleled editor and children’s book writer, supported me with translation of the information and distribution of it among potential supporters. It was difficult to believe that we would reach a needed sum of money to start the project, but my colleagues, professors, and the members of Ukrainian communities both in Ukraine and in the U. S. supported this project with great enthusiasm. I am deeply thankful for their tremendous encouragement and support. They made the project possible.

When we saw that we were about to reach our goal, I started to work on the translation of the text. I have to admit that it was not an easy task to find a right text. We wanted to publish something that would represent an experienced voice on an author, provide fruitful elements for an illustrator, and finally serve as both globally and culturally-conscious literature.

We finally settled on a poem, Скільки?/How many?, written by a distinguished Ukrainian writer and translator, Halyna Kyrpa. I co-translated this poem with Professor Michael Naydan from the Pennsylvania State University. The text of this poem raises many philosophical questions, and might stimulate deep critical thinking. Here is an excerpt:

“Скільки у сонця промінчиків? / How many rays does the sun have?

А скільки хмарок у небі? / And how many clouds are in the sky?

А скільки піщинок на березі річки? / How many grains of sand are there on a riverbank?

А скільки хвиль у Дніпра? / And how many waves are in the Dnipro River?”

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.50.52 PM

The artist, Olha Havrylova, started to illustrate Скільки?/How Many? right after the translation was done and approved. It took approximately four months of daily work to finish the illustrations. During the process, we checked and discussed each illustration, commented on colors, and tried to document each important step on Kickstarter. It was a challenging and interesting process that might only be learned through experience.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.32.48 PM

When the book was sent to the printing house, another situation emerged. The picturebook came out with some unexpected surprise: the colors turned out to be much darker than we anticipated. We needed to place an order again, to check each book and revisit our expectations.

Another story is a promotional campaign. First, the book was presented at the Lviv Book Forum, the largest literary forum in Ukraine, and finally found its way to the readers. While in Ukraine, I visited about four reading events, and upon my return to the U. S., I also had a chance to read the book to kids in one of the local schools and as a guest visitor at Avid, Athens, Georgia’s local bookstore.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.35.04 PM

Oksana reads Скільки?/How many? with children and their families in Ukraine.

Based on my observations, children and adults responded to the book with great interest. They enjoyed listening to the poem, counting the objects in the illustrations. They picked up new words and phrases easily, and were ready to talk about the philosophical questions raised in the picturebook. They also participated in an interactive game, which I called “A Translator.” They tasted foreign words and repeated them with excitement.

In a nutshell, I am proud to inform our readers that due to the efforts of many children’s literature enthusiasts and supporters, the picturebook, Скільки?/How many? is now available in Avid Bookshop, Homeplace Gifts, and on Amazon in both picturebook and e-book formats.

While looking back at the path we took, I believe it showed me how to answer the question that was simmering in our classroom that day: what can we do to bring to young readers the books from countries not widely represented—or underrepresented—in the U. S.?

I think that we can show initiative, share our beliefs, and use all the possibilities that digital media provides to us. We can also devote our personal time to the ideas that fill us, and to the questions that don’t necessarily evoke right and straightforward answers. We need to experience and learn from that experience. We need to believe that we can do more than we think, and if even sometimes it sounds emotional, it still worth trying.

Now, as the picturebook How many?/ Скільки? has been out for several months, and we have already started to work on our second bilingual picturebook, I think that there are so many steps behind us and so many steps ahead.

I strive to introduce bilingual picturebooks to publishing houses that are interested in international titles for children because I believe that Ukrainian-English picturebooks might bring about many possibilities and provide advantages to learn from and about Ukrainian children’s literature in order to familiarize readers with the Ukrainian language, and to use this literature in worldwide educational academic and school settings. Additionally, such bilingual picturebooks will expand literary responses and discussions, as well as could help to develop and strengthen students’ identities, histories, and imaginations that are at the core of literacy practices.

I have hope that the bilingual picturebooks that we are working on will find their way to children’s literature enthusiasts, and will lead us to see more examples of children’s literature from Ukraine, as well as many countries that still need wider and deeper multifaceted representations for classroom reading and discussions, and for a great reading enjoyment.

References:  

Lepman, J. (2002). A bridge of children’s books: The inspiring autobiography of a remarkable woman. Dublin, Ireland: The O’Brien Press, Ltd.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.55.43 PMOksana Lushchevska completed a Master’s degree in Russian and Comparative Literature, and a Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature from the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, studying children’s literature. She is an author and translator of children’s books written in Ukrainian.

Guest Post — Critical Theory: The Multiple Dimensions of Social Justice

Critical Theory: The Multiple Dimensions of Social Justice

by Maha Bali

I came across Feminist Frequency and the great work of Anita Sarkeesian by coincidence when I found out about #gamergate, given my interest in educational games. Since then, I have been addicted to her work.

But, this post is not about her or about #gamergate, not really. It is about the multiple sides of social justice. We as critical pedagogues, and even educators who do not necessarily label ourselves as such, often refer to social justice—that we advocate for it, that we would like our students to fight for it—as if social justice were black and white. We know it is not. We just sometimes fall into a trap of talking about it as if it was non-controversial.

Let’s take Anita’s videos on LEGO. I agree completely with her assessment of the gender stereotypes in LEGO games and ads. However, I have noticed a few other things not included in the video.

Those games with ancient Egyptian themes—where they blow up things—they are blowing up my national heritage as an Egyptian! Can you even begin to imagine how that feels? What kind of messages are people portraying when they teach kids in school about ancient Egypt, and then play games where they destroy those monuments? And besides, my postcolonial self would like to remind Westerners that they often have stolen and destroyed our “stuff,” as simulated in these games.

Granted, Anita is against violence in boys’ games in general, and I know she would understand my specific complaint as an Egyptian, maybe even say it someday. But she wouldn’t feel it how I am feeling it now.

Additionally, I noticed almost all the people in the LEGO ads are White (I actually don’t remember any non-Whites, but I might have missed something). LEGO’s “Friends” theme for girls has a token Black girl and a token Latina. I’m not seeing girls like that in the ads. I am seeing just one of each in the midst of many White girls. And by the way, where is the token Muslim girl with a headscarf?

You see where I am going with this discussion, right? Critical theorists approach things with lenses, and our lenses are always incomplete. As an Egyptian, Muslim, headscarf-wearing woman, I see the world in a different way; I see injustice upon women, postcolonials, etc. more clearly from my personal experiences than I see injustice against, say, homosexuals or African Americans. I can try to understand it from their perspective, extrapolating from my own experiences of oppression, but it is not the same. I have never experienced poverty, and without firsthand grassroots experiences, I would have been ignorant of the extent of it in my own country. And yet I have not lived it; I cannot speak for them.

I once posted the hashtag #ineeddiversegames. I said I needed diverse games so I could find characters that represent me. Someone responded with a list of games centered around Muslim females. How does he know I meant me, as a Muslim woman, rather than me as a university professor? Or me as a mom? Oh, right. He looked at my twitter photo, and did not read my profile.

But, it was a fair guess. I actually partially meant it as he took it. I do feel uncomfortable with lack of avatars who cover their hair. Playing a Muslim-designed game does not solve this issue. However, regularly having such avatars in all games would—but I don’t think he got it.

I am reminded of a South Park episode about racism where Token (the implied “funny” name for the token black kid) tells Stan he just “doesn’t get it.” Near the end of the episode, Stan said, “Now I get it. I just don’t get it,” to which Token responds, “Now you get it, Stan.”

So here are two important situations where I just don’t get it. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict looks to me, as an Arab Muslim, to be a clear case of oppression of the Palestinian people. But, I am sure there is a moral ground upon which Israelis justify their existence. Not being one of them, I cannot possibly understand the Holocaust or other oppressions Jews have historically suffered. Knowing about them does not help me understand why the Palestinian people are suffering because of them.

I don’t know enough about the history and politics of this conflict, but I sense it is not a matter of knowledge, but of perspective. That justice there might be more complex than I can imagine. I get that the Israeli need to protect their citizens and allow them to live in peace. However, I don’t get how killing tens or hundreds of Palestinians for each one or two Israelis is going to help achieve that goal.

Another issue even closer to home is the ousting of Egyptian president Morsi in 2013. I get why many Egyptians wanted him out. But I also get that the way it has been done has created more instability and violence. What I don’t get is why people supporting either side can’t see the oppression and injustice that has occurred to the other.

In my two examples above, I am talking about individual citizens, not governments. Governments have different calculations, which I doubt have social justice factored into them. But I tend to assume that citizens strive towards social justice. And yet we have a long way to go, especially if we keep talking about social justice as if the goal was clear, and all the difficulty was in the battle.

Maha Bali is an Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at American University in Cairo, Egypt (AUC). She teaches and researches a variety of things related to education and ed tech. She runs a blog: http://blog.mahabali.me; Twitter: @bali_maha), and is co-facilitator of www.edcontexts.org.

This post was inspired by:

Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297-324.

Guest Post: Margaret Robbins on the New Ms. Marvel

Shape Shifting and Kamala Khan:

How the New Ms. Marvel Can Be a Role Model to Teenage Girls

by Margaret Robbins

Teenagers often have to manage dual identities. On one hand, they have to do well in school to please their parents and teachers; on the other, they have to wear the right clothes, drive the right cars, and go to the right parties to please their friends.

Teenage girls often have the added pressure to look a certain way in order to conform and gain popularity among their peers.

As a result, teenagers often look at celebrities as role models, even though their teachers try and encourage other role models, like the characters of classic literature. Yet, Marvel’s new comic series has a strong female protagonist who is worthy of recognition as well: Kamala Khan.

As a teenage superhero, Kamala struggles to balance her family’s expectations with fitting in at school and fighting the bad guys, yet through it all, she gains a better sense of her true self and her sense of right and wrong.

The new Ms. Marvel, also known as Kamala Khan, who first gained her own comic book series in February 2014 (after an appearance in Captain Marvel in August 2013), has many dualities within her identity.

First of all, she has the typical teenage girl issue of trying to please both her family and peers; her identity as a Pakistani American girl intensifies this challenge. She tries to find a balance between respecting her family’s cultural values and fitting in with American teenagers.

Kamala soon discovers that she has a larger destiny awaiting her. At the end of the first volume, Kamala’s transformation into a superhero begins, and Captain America, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel come to assist with the transition. Captain Marvel warns, her, though, “it’s not going to turn out the way you think.” In other words, sometimes, having superpowers is a little bit more than one bargained for.

In my opinion, Kamala’s story is a good example of how minority women are gaining more of a stronghold in leadership roles, especially in stories for young people and in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and comics/graphica. Since these genres are sometimes marginalized due to readers not viewing them as serious literature, it seems almost fitting that these stories are the places for female protagonists and minority women to surface as prominent characters.

Kamala is among the first minority teenage female superheroes to have a lead role in a comic, and hopefully, more will follow. Her story is one worthy of study in classrooms, as her struggles are relatable, and her perseverance makes her a strong role model for teenagers.

However, when Kamala first becomes a superhero, she “shapeshifts,” or changes form, into Captain Marvel (also known as Carol Danvers). Initially, there seems to be no logical reason for Kamala’s ability to shapeshift. However, in volume 3, she comments, “everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel from the news, with the hair and the spandex and the Avenger’s swag, not a sixteen-year-old brown girl with a 9:00 p.m. curfew.”

It’s interesting that Kamala’s commentary reflects on other people’s expectation not only on the numerical age of female superheroes, but also of their physical appearance. However, she begins to realize that even as a teenager, she has agency and can make changes in her life and in how other people perceive her.

In volume 4 of Ms. Marvel, Kamala’s friend Bruce encourages her by saying, “Who cares what people expect? Maybe they expect some perfect blonde, what I need—I mean, what we need—is you.” Only gradually does Kamala realize that she should be her own kind of superhero, rather than the one people are expecting. Therefore, she gains a greater respect for her true identity.

By the time volume five comes along, the hero transformation is complete, but Kamala’s struggles at home intensify. Her father asks more questions about her late hours, her clothing, etc. However, after they argue, Kamala’s father tells her, “You don’t have to be someone else to impress anybody. You are perfect just the way you are.”

Although Kamala doesn’t always see eye to eye with her father, she realizes that she needs to fight for what she feels is right and also to be true to herself and her sense of morality. As she comments, “Abu is right. Bruno was right. I’m not here to be a watered down version of some other hero.”

Kamala still retains her superhero powers, but she stops shapeshifting into Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel). Instead, she keeps her superhero costume on, yet remains in her true bodily form.

Young women often feel that they have to fit a certain mold to please others, to get what they want out of life, and to succeed. However, Kamala realizes that she can help others the most simply by being herself and by fighting the battles she believes to be important.

Kamala learns to fight against oppressive forces and to be authentic, both valuable lessons to teenage girls. I hope teachers will consider studying this comic in the classroom, in conjunction with other literature, to discuss the roles of women in society and the portrayal of female minority characters.

Margaret Robbins is a second year doctoral student in the Language and Literacy Education department at the University of Georgia. She is a Graduate Assistant for both the Red Clay Writing Project and the English Education department. She also has done work with the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project. Margaret taught high school English for three years and middle school reading and language arts for seven years. Currently, she is the Poetry and Arts Editor for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education. She has been an avid reader of YA literature for many years, and her research interests include children’s/YA literature, multicultural education, critical literacy, critical media literacy, and pop culture.

Guest Post — The Things We Carry: Questioning Systems of Injustice

The Things We Carry: Questioning Systems of Injustice

A Guest Post by Megan Adams

There are two stories that I carry with me each day. I tell them to countless teachers and students; I have used them for training purposes as well as instructional tools. Yet what drives me to be a better educator and a better person is the memory of the two young men who are the main characters of those stories.

One, Ced, should have graduated in 2008. Ced was motivated, driven, and athletic. He had several scholarship opportunities. However, he took the Georgia High School Graduation tests for the first time in 2007 and failed all five of them. He tried a second time, and passed the writing and science portions of the test. He tried a third time, and did not pass any additional tests.

The fourth time was the spring of his senior year. By now he was panicked. We worked after school each day before football practice. That spring, he passed mathematics. However, failing the social studies and language arts portions for the fourth time meant that he could not graduate with his class.

By May most of his teachers were deeply concerned. Ced had lost interest, and felt that he was not capable of passing the tests. He said, “if I can’t pass the tests, ain’t no way college will work for me.” Yet he tried again that summer.

He managed to pass English Language Arts, but failed Social Studies for the fifth time. His score dropped so dramatically that all of his teachers were at a loss. Yet once the fall of 2008 came, he was back again. He gave a shy smile, and said, “I’m not going to quit, yet.” He came back for two weeks to review for the test.

The weekend before he would have tried to pass the Social Studies portion of the Georgia High School Graduation test for the sixth time, he got into an argument with his father about chopping wood.

His father shot and killed him.

Ced, a child who made good grades and did everything right in his early years of high school had all of his hopes stripped from him by testing, the failure of a school system to prepare him, and the environment in which he was raised and never escaped.

Soon after Ced’s death, however, another young man, Rico, came into my classroom. He was another football player, and was a junior in high school. The death of his former teammate shook him into reality. He asked me to calculate his academic grade point average (GPA) in order to calculate his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility.

He was a complacent student during his freshman and sophomore years of high school, and was far more interested in popularity than grades. His GPA was a 1.7 out of 4.0. He asked what he could do. “How will I get out of here?” I told him that as a junior, his only option would be to make all As.

He scoffed, but there was a look I couldn’t place in his eyes. Over the course of the school year, he indeed made all As. I was shocked. His GPA continued to climb, and his scores on the ACT were high enough to get into college. Rico passed all portions of his graduation test by the end of his junior year.

What is the point here? As teachers, what can we take from these stories?

It is easy to blame the system; it is no secret that the state of Georgia has changed our education standards and assessment measurements too many times over the past fifteen years – something teachers across the nation can relate to, despite where they live. The teachers can barely keep up. Clearly the system is not working for students.

It is also easy to blame the difference in students’ home lives. But, is that it?

I think there is a deeper, darker issue at play in these stories about social justice. The high school these boys attended was predominantly Black and one hundred percent free and reduced lunch.

There was neither a regional outcry brought on by the first story nor regional shouts of victory brought on by the second. They are just two more students, struggling to overcome a system that is not designed to support them. That system might work, but it might also end in tragedy as in the case of the first child.

Is there nothing more we can do to change that?

Megan Adams is currently an Assistant Professor of Reading Education at Kennesaw State University. Her interests are in researching youth identity and perceptions of empowerment, particularly in the rural, southern United States. She is also interested in taking that work and assisting pre-service and in-service teachers as they improve their reflexive practice to foster social justice teaching. You can reach her at madam104@kennesaw.edu.

Guest Post: Stephanie P. Jones on The Destruction of Memory

If you have ever driven on the expressway or a back country road, more than likely you have passed sites of memorial. Peeking up between the blades of overgrown grass, a wooden cross marks the site where someone lost his or her life. There are degrees of grief, ranging from hand painted names to teddy bears. They stand as reminders of life once lived and markers of the place where life failed to reach forward into the next second. Generally, we just drive past these memorials. Workers cut the grass around them, still preserving the respect of what that moment was for somebody in this world.

But, one week ago today, a memorial positioned across the road from where Michael Brown was killed, was reduced to ashes. Rest with that for a moment.

Cards and homemade drawings with expressions of love and forgiveness. Ashes.

Balloons, shaped like hearts and American flags. Ashes.

Flowers, long dead, still preserving hope and justice within their petals. Ashes.

Ashes.

Plainly put: fire destroys. When someone burns a memorial of a deceased human being, they are denying everyone the right to heal. Both the oppressor and the oppressed cannot face the impact of what happened to Michael Brown’s memorial, let alone his body, if we can’t go directly to the infected wounds of police brutality, fear of Black bodies, and the failure to move forward with the protocol of justice.

Along with our inability to heal, fire can destroy memory. Imagine the impact of burning down a sacred memorial in this country and never rebuilding it. Could you imagine Washington D.C. without the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Or New York without the 9/11 museum? If those memorials fail to exist, the memory won’t either. Forgetting is the consequence of burning.

If you consider yourself to be a teacher of social justice, stop. I need you to BE social justice. Being social justice means that through your teaching, we examine what memorials are being justified, what memorials are being “burned” so that we forget why they are there, and what memorials need to be created so that we can heal and remember.

Being social justice means dismantling structures of oppression, not burning. Being social justice means finding solutions to our problems rather talking endlessly about the problem itself.

Michael Brown’s memorial was rebuilt within a matter of hours. The people of Ferguson and the larger community understood the failure to rebuild would have meant our slow decline in forgetting Michael Brown.

Stephanie P. Jones is graduate teaching assistant and doctoral student at the University of Georgia. Her research interests include literacy practices of Black female youth and teacher education. She taught for six years in an urban high school and is currently working on a project involving teacher education and racial sites of trauma.