Frozen, Rebellion and the Gospel

So, Disney accidentally made a movie about the gospel. Which is awesome.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

A lot has been said about Frozen, both positive and negative. It’s about two sisters, which is fantastic!  It hangs a lampshade on the ridiculousness of marrying someone you just met, which is also fantastic (and funny)! And yes, it is problematic that there are no people of color. And it’s a bit weird that the sisters have essentially the exact same facial features and bear a striking resemblance to Rapunzel and apparently that’s because it’s hard to draw women with emotion, but hey, nothing’s perfect. 

Most of the conversation around the movie seems to be centered around the song “Let it Go,” which is a fantastic song and is exquisitely performed by Idina Menzel (aka Elphaba from Wicked, aka Maureen from Rent, aka the woman whose voice I would kill to have). It’s become this huge phenomenon, this anthem of embracing yourself and throwing off the shackles of expectation. I’ve seen a lot of talk on the internet about how much people relate to the song and how great it is to see Elsa stop concealing her true nature and becoming who she was meant to be, with quite a bit of sass thrown in for good measure. She is rebelling against the rules and restrictions that have been placed on her for so many years, both by herself and the society around her. Obviously, this is a message that resonates with people, particularly those who feel marginalized by society for whatever reason.

What no one seems to be talking about is how her rebellion does not solve ANY of Elsa’s problems. She embraces her power and builds herself a super awesome ice palace – but nothing else changes. She is still lonely. She is still isolated. She is still afraid (the scene where Anna comes to the ice palace really illustrates just how afraid she still is). And she is still causing incredible amounts of damage to the people around her. Letting it go completely is just as harmful as keeping it all shoved in inside, even if she insists that the cold doesn’t bother her.

So what does solve Elsa’s problems? What enables her to use her gifts for good? What reconciles her with her community? What allows her to experience joy and companionship and fulfillment? Love. Specifically, relentless, unconditional, sacrificial love. Sound familiar?

Let’s look at Anna and the love she has for her sister.

  1. It is relentless. In “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Anna continues to come and knock on Elsa’s door, even though she is continually turned away. Even though Elsa is hiding, Anna desires a relationship with her and does everything she can to build one.
  2. It is unconditional. After Elsa’s powers are revealed and everyone begins to fear her, Anna continues to love her. She says she knows her sister and that her sister is not a monster. She sees her sister for who she is and loves her all the more. She continues to pursue her sister, even as Elsa tries to run away.
  3. It is sacrificial. When Hans threatens Elsa during the climax of the movie, Anna steps in and lays down her own life for her sister in what even Disney considers an act of true love.

Even more than that, it is Anna’s resurrection that shows Elsa what love really is. It is only once her sister revives that she learns how to release Arendelle from the winter she has caused – through love.

When the king and queen took Anna and Elsa to the trolls at the beginning of the movie, the troll king warned them that fear would be her enemy. They tried to defend against fear with control, which only made things worse. Completely letting go of control didn’t make anything better either. But through Anna’s sacrifice, Elsa learns the truth – that perfect love casts out fear. Once she learns this, she can use her powers for good. She brings joy to the community, she is reunited with her sister, and she is both controlled and at peace.

I don’t think for a second that Disney intended to make a movie about the gospel. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t. And honestly, that’s one of the things that reassures me when I find myself doubting whether the gospel is really true – it is a story that is so ingrained within the hearts of humanity that it spills out everywhere. No matter where you look, you will find stories of this kind of love, of love that is so relentless, so unconditional, so sacrificial that it has the power to change people’s hearts. We all want that; we just have to remember that these echoes and imitations that are all around us should point us to the original source, Jesus.

Why I Am A Follower

Last week I was having a conversation with my principal and she told me that I was a leader in our school. The comment surprised me because I don’t really think of myself that way. I have become much more confident in my teaching abilities over the past few years, but if I were asked to list the teachers at my school that I consider leaders, I would not have placed myself on that list. I don’t have a formal leadership position and I don’t have as much experience as many of our teachers.

I recently ran across this really excellent article from The Atlantic that addresses American colleges’ and universities’ emphasis on leadership in admissions decisions. It dared to question whether our glorification of leading over following or working completely independently is really a good thing. It resonated with me because it put words to the disconnect I always felt when I was in Teach for America. Everyone kept talking about leadership, leadership, leadership and seemed to believe that everyone in the organization was a Type A innovator with an entrepreneurial spirit, which is basically the opposite of my personality. It made me question whether or not I really belonged in the organization and I think it hindered my growth as a teacher because I was trying to fit myself into that mold for awhile.

I don’t exhibit the traits that we in America traditionally associate with leadership. I am not a big-idea person. I am not a self-starter. I am not decisive. I’m very rarely the first person to notice a particular detail or develop a solution to a problem. I have zero experience motivating and inspiring adults and my go-to method for attempting to motivate and inspire students is to just be ridiculously, over-the-top in love with the things we read and write about.

I am, however, a follower. I always have been. When I was a kid, I would see other people breaking rules or being rebellious and I would think to myself, “That looks like a whole lot of work.” It always just seemed easier to do what people asked me to do rather than to constantly try to swim upstream (not that I didn’t have my defiant moments, as I’m sure my parents can tell you). In elementary school, getting my name on the board could reduce me to tears and I only had detention twice in my entire middle school and high school career. I liked going with the flow, following the rules, being the good kid.

I’m not an innovator. If you have ever heard me say something you thought was profound, I guarantee you I got it from an article I read or a conversation with a friend or an argument I overheard. I am a collector of ideas, a watcher, an aggregator of sorts. I soak up all the information I can get my hands on and let it bounce around in my head for awhile, and then try to express the amalgam in a way that will make sense to whatever audience I’m addressing. That’s what I do when I write blog posts, when I argue about politics with my dad, and when I teach my students.

Following and watching are not seen as commendable traits in our society. They are seen as markers of someone who is passive or lazy or unintelligent. Strong people go after what they want; weak people do what they are told. Strong people blaze trails; weak people retread safe ground. Rebellion is cool; doing what is expected is mundane. We’ve created this false dichotomy and I don’t think it’s made us better.

When I started working at my school, one of my favorite things was that the expectations for teachers were so clear. I knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing to help build the school culture and be an asset to the school. In our particular setting, a great deal of success in the classroom depends on the teacher buying in to what the school is trying to do culture-wise. And I love what we are doing with our school culture! So from day 1, I have been on board and have been following my school leadership. That doesn’t mean I agree with all of the decisions, but it does mean that I trust that the people running our school have reasons for their decisions and that the best thing I can do for my students is to follow.

And so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve followed the vision our Head of School puts forth. I’ve followed the lesson plan template. I’ve watched other teachers and listened to other teachers. I’ve taken the things we talk about in professional development sessions and let them bounce around in my head until I could get them in a form that made sense to me and worked in my classroom.

As I thought about my principal calling me a leader in our school, I realized she may kind of have a point. I’m someone who frequently speaks up in faculty meetings and professional development (mostly because I hate awkward silences or my friend is leading the session and I’m trying to help out). The Latin teacher has come to me a few times this year to ask for advice on how to effectively incorporate more writing into his class. We’re doing peer observations this month and one of the middle school teachers has asked to come observe me. But I don’t think I got to this position by leading in the traditional sense of the word; I think I got here by watching and following. And I’m good with that.

A Love Letter, of sorts

Dear new teacher,

You know that feeling you have right now? Like this last week and a half are just dragging, but at the same time going too quickly for you to finish everything you need to do? The feeling of so looking forward to the break because you will get to feel human again, but also knowing that it will fly by and kind of already dreading going back in January? The feeling of “Oh crap, I have to do this for another whole semester starting in just a few weeks”?

That feeling goes away eventually.

This job is excruciatingly difficult for the first couple of years. It just is. It doesn’t have to be completely miserable, but it will not be sunshine and rainbows. Anyone who tells you differently is lying.

But if you stick with it and fight through the difficulties, that feeling, that overwhelmed, underprepared, ill-equipped feeling – it fades. And one day you will be at the end of a semester and you will look around, and while you will still be busy, you will also be hopeful. Capable. Confident. Looking forward to all the amazing things you will do with your students when you come back in January.

I don’t know when this will happen for you. I would love to give you a specific timeline, a day you can count down to, but it doesn’t work that way. All I can promise you is that this job is worth the tough days.

It’s worth the long hours and the headaches and the nights you can’t get to sleep and the mornings where getting out of the car and walking into the building requires a really good song and mental pep talk. It’s worth the difficult phone calls home and the lessons that bomb and the times you say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It’s worth it because there will be times you call home to tell a parent that their child did something awesome, and they will be so grateful. There will be lessons that don’t just go as you’ve planned, but become great shining moments of TV movie-worthy classroom interactions. There will be times when you have the right words at the right time and you will get to speak life into a student’s soul.

So take this upcoming break and do the things that make you feel human. Eat good food and spend time with family and enjoy your friends. Come back to your classroom in January looking to the future with hope because a day is coming when you will stop and look around and realize that you are finally able to be a teacher and a human at the same time without even having to think about it.

And when that day comes, you will look back on this day, and you will know that it was worth it.

You, my dear colleague and fellow warrior, are in my prayers. If I can be of help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.

With all my love <3

Why I Love Being a “Veteran” Teacher

I am almost half-way through my 5th year of teaching, and it’s totally amazing (although how sad is it that making it to my 5th year somehow makes me a veteran? Only in education…).

This year has been such a blessing in so many ways. I’m teaching 9th grade for the third year in a row, so planning is much easier. I have a resident from MTR who is awesome and has brought new ideas into my classroom to help keep things fresh (she has also cut my grading in half, which is so wonderful). I have gotten the chance to have both formal and informal conversations with new teachers which has allowed me to share wisdom I have learned, both within the classroom and also about how to be emotionally and psychologically healthy while trying to figure out this whole crazy teaching gig. I am teaching my students for the second year in a row, which has given me the opportunity to really deepen relationships with many of them.

It is that last part that I think I am the most thankful for. Because I have known my students for a year and half now, I am able to notice patterns and changes that are more than just typical teenagery things. I was able to pull one girl aside after school and speak the truth of the gospel into her life for what may have been the first time. She has been taught a gospel of fear – she has spent most of her life believing that she will be sent to hell for doing or wanting to do wrong things. I was able to tell her the truth about Jesus’s finished work on the cross and the assurance that comes with His promise of salvation.

In another student, I was able to notice the signs of depression where it would have been easy to just see apathy. I talked with him and the counselor talked with him and we are now working to find a way to connect him with an outside counselor. This is a daunting task for a number of familial and cultural reasons, but he at least knows that there are people who see him and care about him and want to help him.

I don’t tell these stories to try to paint myself as some kind of super teacher – I am not. I still have bad lessons and I still say the wrong thing in class and I still have a lot to learn. But I finally feel like I am able to do the things I wanted to do when I decided to become a teacher. I am not just teaching my students about reading books and writing essays (although we still do plenty of that, of course). Now I am able to take advantage of opportune moments and teach them about life and truth and the beauty of the gospel. We talk about the power stories have to teach us empathy and then inspire us to do something with that empathy. We discuss how understanding the characters in a novel can help us improve our relationships with our families and friends.

I am reading a book right now that talks about God moving mountains through His people working to move one stone at a time, one after another, after another. The world is full of injustice and inequality and the education reform movement is full of flaws and insufficiencies and I often feel that my abilities are inadequate for the problems we are facing. But I am finally starting to see some of those stones move. I will keep moving the stones that God has placed in front of me, and trust that He has people at work in other parts of the mountain; if we are faithful, soon that mountain will have moved itself into the sea and we will be witnesses to a miracle.

Why I Am Sorry

I am a loud person. I have always been a loud person. I have spent most of my life being told I didn’t need to yell because the people I was talking to were right there. I am still told that at times.

I’m pretty sure you couldn’t grow up in my house and not be a loud person. Altsmans have thoughts. Lots of them. And we like to share those thoughts. And often, we like to share our thoughts at the same time as one of the other Altsmans is sharing their thoughts. So we interrupt. We talk over each other. We start sentences that never get finished. In our family, if you wait for a pause in the conversation, you will never get to talk.

When we’re sharing funny stories and everything is nice and light, this is fine. It makes things lively. We look like those families in commercials who are laughing and talking and enjoying a great holiday meal.

When we’re talking about things that are serious, though, it can become…tense. At some point, someone will yell “Just let me talk without interrupting me!” and we will all remember that we love each other and that it is better to listen to the person talking than to start planning your response before they even finish.

I say all of this to point out that when I feel unheard, I tend to just get louder. We all want, possibly even need, to feel heard. This is why humans drew on caves and told stories and created social media; we want others to witness our lives and hear our thoughts to reassure us that we do, in fact, exist.

Think about The Sixth Sense. How did some people know that Bruce Willis was dead before the final twist? Because no one else heard him. He was talking and feeling and doing, but no one was responding to him. He was dead. When people feel like they are not being hard, they have a lot of different ways they express that frustration. I express that frustration by getting louder, especially if I’m talking about something I’m passionate about.

Over the past few years, I have learned and changed a lot. I am a very different person than I was 5 years ago. And a lot of the things I have learned seem so obvious to me now that I cannot believe I didn’t see them before. Add to that being a teacher, and I find myself desperately wanting to explain the things that I’ve learned to other people.

Unfortunately, I do not always do that well. I thoroughly enjoy social media and honestly feel like the people I’m friends with on Facebook and follow on Twitter have taught me so much and greatly enrich my life. So I post a lot of things on Facebook.

But as the things I’ve posted have become a bit more controversial, I have gotten increasingly frustrated. Overwhelmingly, the people who respond to those posts already agree with me. Which is nice, and I like hearing their thoughts, but I very rarely get responses from people who disagree. When I do, I often feel like they are either not responding to what I’m actually saying, but rather to their own impression of what they think I’m saying, or dismissing it completely.

In short, I feel unheard. The things I’m posting about are important to me. They are ideas I want to spread, ideas that I feel need to be spread, ideas that I feel could change the world for the better. So when I feel like the ideas are not getting across, I get frustrated and angry. But this post is not titled “Why I Feel Unheard”; it’s titled “Why I Am Sorry.”

So here’s my confession: I have not handled this feeling of being unheard very well. I have believed the lie that I will be heard more if I shout. I have allowed my increasing anger and frustration to begin to turn to bitterness and to cause me to speak harshly.

I’m sorry.

I will not stop speaking. I will not be silent. But I will endeavor, through the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak with more gentleness and respect.

Please forgive me. Please be patient with me. Please show me grace.

Why I’m Not Sure About Joss Whedon’s Recent Speech

I love Joss Whedon. I think women are human beings who should be treated equally. Therefore, this video of Joss Whedon’s recent speech at Make Equality Reality is relevant to my interests:

For the most part, I like this video. I find Whedon funny and entertaining, so I find this speech funny and entertaining. His self-deprecating humor is right up my alley and his obsession with words appeals to the English teacher/reader nerd inside of me. But while I think his other speech at the same event from 2006 is near perfection, I had a couple of issues with this one.

First, I get the point he’s making about the “racism” the word contextualizing the conversation about race, but for most of the video it seems like he’s saying racism is a problem we have moved past. While I think the end of the speech makes it clear that this wasn’t his intent, it is problematic to me. In an effort to put my money where my mouth is and check my own privilege, I have started reading African American blogs and one of the issues I see consistently addressed is that women of color are being marginalized within the feminist community. People to try to separate the issues of race and gender, which leaves women of color underrepresented and the unique issues they face unaddressed.

Again, I love Whedon and I would be more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this, especially considering the last minute or so of the speech where he talks about continually fighting this fight, except he has a history of diversity issues in his projects. While Buffy and Angel and Firefly and even The Avengers included excellent and diverse roles for women (and in part LGBT people as well), there is a serious lack of people of color. This becomes especially clear when you look at Much Ado About Nothing, a movie that was admittedly Whedon and a bunch of his friends hanging out and having fun – if these are his friends, he doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of racial diversity in his life. All this together, plus the speech, gives the impression that racism is a problem that has mostly been solved, so let’s focus on ending genderism (to use his new word). Again, I’m hoping that’s not what he intended, but that impression is still there.

Another thing that kind of irks me about the speech is that as good as it is and as much as I love Whedon, it’s strange that the only two speeches I’ve seen shared extensively from Make Equality Reality feature the same white man. I’m glad that Whedon writes women as people and views women as people and advocates for women as people, but it seems like we’re pointing to him and saying, “See! He agrees with us! We’re people! Do you believe us now?” It’s almost as if a man saying it makes the statement more valid.

It reminds of when a friend of mine in college pointed out the oddity of women being “given” the right to vote by the men in power in our government. The language implies that rights are something bestowed on others by the people already in power, rather than something that actually exists and is being violated when it goes unacknowledged (that sentence is poorly worded, but I’m hoping my point gets across anyway). It just seems a bit incongruous to send the message of women as people by pointing to speeches given by men.

All this to say, it’s still a good speech. It’s still a message that needs to be spread, regardless of who is behind the microphone. I still (and will probably always) love Joss Whedon. I just noticed some things that I didn’t want to leave unsaid.

Why I Am Taking My Own Advice

You can probably just ignore this whole post. Mostly, I need to process and I am completely incapable of processing without some type of audience (and Lucy doesn’t really count).

I teach teenagers. In case you didn’t know, teenagers frequently have EMOTIONS. As adults, we know this, but I think we can often forget just how it feels to be a teenager. We have emotions, but we have repressed what it is like to have EMOTIONS (probably so that we can actually function day-to-day without exploding). I try to remember this because when I do, it makes it much easier to deal with my students and their EMOTIONS.

I feel like I’m pretty good at helping my students deal with this, probably because I still frequently deal with EMOTIONS rather than just emotions. Here’s the rather useful three-step method I have developed to help students who are crying because they got an 88 on a math test or who honestly feel like a bad grade on one essay is going to destroy all of their future goals:

Step 1: Identify what you are feeling. The feeling exists for a reason; pretending it doesn’t exist will not make things better.
Step 2: Identify what you know to be true about the situation. Remind yourself of the rational statements that you know are true, even though they may not feel true at the moment.
Step 3: Create an action plan to help stabilize the EMOTIONS so you can then make decisions based on reason.

Well, today I need to take my own advice. I have one class that is particularly challenging this year (really, this is an every year thing…there’s always one) and while things have been going pretty well, today’s lesson just bombed. Hard. My students were so unresponsive it was like I was teaching zombies. And for some reason, this particular lesson on this particular day triggered my EMOTIONS. I have already put some of my action plan into actual action, but I still felt the need to put this down on paper (or rather, the interweb version of paper). So here goes:

What I am feeling: frustrated, annoyed, ineffective, too busy to deal with this right now
What I know to be true: teenagers have bad days; teenagers are not always going to love everything we read; it is still valuable for teenagers to read those things; I am a good teacher; striving to be a better teacher is a worthwhile endeavor; taking the time to deal with my emotions is a priority
Plan of action: vent to someone who will listen, but also help me problem solve (done); leave school (done); eat a delicious dinner, taking my time and savoring it; read something completely unrelated to school; when emotions feel stable, choose ONE idea from earlier problem solving to implement tomorrow and prepare to implement it

I am also adding one thing I need to not do: beat myself up if my lesson plans do not get perfectly completed. I have a topic and objective for each day next week and at this point, getting my EMOTIONS in check is a higher priority than being a perfect employee. Being a functional, reflective human being does more in the long run to make me a better teacher than getting my lesson plans in on time.

So there we go. Already my EMOTIONS are feeling more like just Emotions. Hopefully once I eat and read for a bit, they will be back to just emotions and I can get done what I need to get done.

Why You Are Amazing

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Statistically, at least one person you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness. Considering the national number is estimated to be 1 in 4 adults, probably more than 1 person you know. Maybe it’s you.

I know it’s been me. I’m in a good place right now. It’s been hard work over the past couple of years, but right now I’m winning that struggle. So let me tell you some things that I’ve learned, that are true whether you are the 1 in 4 or not.

God loves you RIGHT NOW. Not the future, happier version of you. Not the future, less anxious version of you. Not the ideal you set for yourself of what you SHOULD be. He loves YOU, right now, with all of the power that spoke the universe into being and all of the might that calmed storms and all of the love that sacrificed His only Son. You are beautiful and wonderful not because of what the world says is beautiful and wonderful, but because He made you.

Think of everything that has to happen in your body for you to keep living. Think of all the systems working together just to allow you to read these words and understand them. Those things were not stamped out by some cosmic assembly line. They were intricately crafted by a master craftsman who looks at His work and says “It is good.”

If you’re anything like me, that voice in your head has already piped up: “But I’m a sinner. I’m not good. I do this wrong and this wrong and I fail in this area and I’ve messed up this relationship.” And yes, true. But none of that changes the fact that the God of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sees you and loves you and made the ultimate sacrifice for you. You have not surprised Him. He is not sitting in the clouds somewhere, shaking His head at how silly and messed up you are. He loves you desperately and passionately, just as he loved Moses, the murderer, David, the adulterer, Rahab, the prostitute, Peter, the doofus, and Saul, the Pharisee. That voice that’s telling you this doesn’t apply to you? That is shame talking and it is lying.

Depression lies. Anxiety lies. Mental illness lies. They will tell you that you are worthless. That no one cares about you. That the world would be better without you in it. That you are not good enough and you will never be good enough. It is all lies.

The world will tell you that the answer is to try harder. To pull yourself up by your boot-straps. To fake it until you make it. These are also lies.

Here’s the deal: admitting you’re not okay is strength, not weakness. Getting help is strength, not weakness. Taking medication is strength, not weakness. Curling up into the fetal position after work because you know that’s the only way you’ll make it to tomorrow is strength, not weakness – you made it to the next day.

If you need help, ask for it. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s easy; it is beyond difficult sometimes. And maybe asking for help today doesn’t look like making an appointment or calling a hotline; maybe today it’s just admitting to yourself that at some point soon you are going to ask for help. That counts. Consider it a victory, and then get ready for the next baby step.

But never forget: you are not alone. Ever. You have people around you who care about you, even if you can’t see it. And even more than that, you have the all-powerful, all-seeing God who was lifted up so that we could be called sons and daughters. If you are His, you are free. Take one small step today towards living in that freedom.

If you or someone you know is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a phone number (1-800-273-TALK) and an online chat. The lifeline can also provide information for you if someone you know needs help and you need advice on how to help them.

Why I Haven’t Accomplished Anything Today

Ok, there has been some really great stuff circulating the internet this week. This is the kind of stuff I normally just share on Facebook, but there’s too much of it and I don’t want to be that annoying person who shares 12 links in a row. So instead I’ll just put all of them here and share this :)

I Hate Strong Female Characters from Cultural Capital
Ok, this one I did post on Facebook, but it’s so awesome I’m just going to link to it again.

Literary T-shirts from Litographs
I kind of want all of them…

Craig Ferguson being awesome, via Upworthy

Ashton Kutcher being awesome (who saw that coming?)

Race And Hate: America, I Can’t Learn Your History For You from Mama Pop
For those who want/need more background information on race in America.

You don’t hate me. You hate my brand. by Rachel Held Evans
“Perhaps the most radical thing we followers of Jesus can do in the information age is treat each other like humans—not heroes, not villains, not avatars, not statuses, not Republicans, not Democrats, not Calvinists, not Emergents—just humans. This wouldn’t mean we would stop disagreeing, but I think it would mean we would disagree well.”

Stephen Colbert’s Best Segment Ever


Why I Will Keep Talking About Privilege

Confession: for a very, very long time, I had absolutely zero idea just how privileged I am.

Oh, I knew I was fortunate. I knew that I was blessed. I knew that I had been given things that many other people had not been given. My parents made sure that I saw enough of the world around me to know how truly lucky I was to live the life I was living. But I didn’t realize that the privileges I had were more than just parents who loved each other and had good jobs that could provide for everything we needed and most of what we wanted.

It was not until I joined Teach for America that I really began to understand privilege in the sense that seems to be so controversial these days (white privilege) and even beyond (Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc.). Looking back, I don’t even know exactly when the shift happened. Maybe if I did it would be easier to explain, but the truth is that somewhere in those two years I became aware of all the privileges I receive on a daily basis through no merit of my own.

I distinctly remember a conversation during Institute where a group I was working with was extremely surprised to find out that no one had ever questioned my abilities in math or science because I was female. The other women in the group told multiple stories of times that teachers talked down to them or professors assumed they were in the wrong class or people told them there was no way they were really smart enough for upper level science courses. Even the men in the group told stories of things they had seen happen to the women they knew.

I was floored. I had never experienced anything like that. I was never very into science, but no one in my life batted an eye when I took AP Calculus and my parents frequently told me I could have been a rocket scientist if I wanted to be. After that conversation, I began to wonder if maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention (I did frequently have my nose in a book and my head in the clouds). It wasn’t that I started looking for prejudice under every rock, I just became aware that it was something that existed, so I started noticing it. It’s like when you learn a new word and then it shows up in the book you’re reading and on a tv show you’re watching and then in a conversation with a friend. It was probably always there, it just never really meant anything to you before.

Over the next two years, I became more and more aware of just how privileged I was, but it didn’t come from reading articles or listening to public radio. It came from attending a church where black men talked honestly from the pulpit about their life experiences.

It came from being friends with Ian, who not only introduced me to the fabulous world of Joss Whedon (for which I will be forever thankful), but also shared what it was like to be gay in the South.

It came from being friends with Carmen, who shared her experiences as not only a Latina, but one who was constantly being forced to navigate and defend all the varying aspects of her racial and cultural identity, while frequently being told that she was too white or too Latina or too whatever.

It came from my friend Samantha, who is still so patient to point out to me when I’m assuming things about my students based on my middle class background rather than the more difficult circumstances she and they experienced.

It came from my friends adopting the most beautiful African-American girl and sharing with me the struggles and blessings that has brought to their family. It came from looking at that little girl and wanting so desperately for her to know that while she is absolutely adorable, that is not what makes her worthwhile or valuable or loved.

And it came, of course, from my students. My amazing, wonderful, brilliant students who get pulled over for no reason and are forced to empty their pockets in convenience stores and have the n-word yelled at them when they walk down the street and are called thugs and criminals by cowards commenting on online newspaper articles and who want so desperately to make this world more than it is and better than it is and are so rarely given the resources or opportunities or trust to do so.

And while as little as five years ago I probably would have argued that white privilege didn’t really exist or wasn’t really that big a deal, now I feel like a fish who has finally figured out what water is. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case I see other people who don’t see the privilege or can’t see it or don’t want to see it and I find myself trying to explain it to them and my words fall short.

But I keep trying to explain because it feels so important. Because I look back on the naive girl that I was and wish that I had known so I wouldn’t have said and done some of the callous things I did. Because there are still times when I catch my own bias and my own prejudice and I wonder how it is possible that I have learned so much and still know so little.

The truth is that I have no idea how to explain these things to people. I realize that I just sound like another ridiculous bleeding heart liberal feminazi to some people. But I will keep telling the stories that others have told me in the hopes that maybe it will help someone else learn what I have learned too. And then maybe someday our country can be what I believed it was in high school – a land of equality and fairness and justice.


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