Does a soul have a colour?Unbound by the pulse of individuality,The bones of family,The muscles of culture?
Later, Chelsea wrote:
This is the first poem I wrote after our introduction to Transformative Inquiry. The rumblings of my fear around being a racialized person teaching in predominantly white spaces, were just beginning to percolate . . . It is revealing of the initial upheaval going on in my mind as I wrestle through questions about race that are not easily spoken.
Chelsea also articulated her process of arriving at her inquiry question in her first Winter Count.
This [image] depicts my trepidation as a visible minority entering classrooms dominated by Caucasian students, teachers and administration. My initial thought was to do an inquiry . . . centering on brain-based learning, brain gym, and the like. However, after further discussion in class I began to realize that was not the “path with heart” for me. As I began to turn my gaze inward to what moved me as an emerging teacher, my mind was inundated with thoughts around being a visible minority in predominantly white spaces.
Chelsea described entering her first mentoring session worried and uncertain; finding it difficult to voice questions about race and identity. She believed that poetry was a way for her to delve into the margins, but was uncertain if this was an acceptable way of proceeding. She also expressed feeling “a spasm of shame,” because she felt she had a limited understanding around what it meant to be a biracial person, despite it being her lived reality. Her inquiry journey to this point was awkward, as she asked important and difficult questions:
What does it mean to be a visual minority in a position of leadership? How will discrimination affect my practice? How does being biracial influence my relationships with students, colleagues, and administrators?
Chelsea’s mentor assured her that her topic was valid and appropriate for the context of TI; describing a resonance with the concept “we teach who we are” (Palmer, 1998). She also encouraged Chelsea to use her poetry as a vehicle for her journey and spoke to how poetry might help us touch the essence of our experiences. Through the mentor session, Chelsea’s gaze continued to shift, and a more authentic inquiry journey emerged. Eventually, she articulated her central question:
What does it mean to be a racialized teacher teaching in predominantly white spaces?
Later, Chelsea continued to unearth the complexity of her topic in this poem about the notion of hybridity:
Diaspora FruitI feel the strange skinof the Hybrid.That some scientists madewearing gloves in Japan.Plum shape, buttery smoothrippled with a sunset.In whose image were you made?With the kiss of a test tube orThe caress of the Other?Is the flesh beneath colourless?To which tree will youcling and know?I leave the exotic childperplexed in a binoverflowing with its siblings.They are strange among the countriesnestled snuggly inhomogenous piles.A man toys with a sign,hesitating with what to labelthe Diaspora fruit.
This poem was inspired after an article I read called “Mixed-Race Women and Epistemologies of Belonging” by Silvia Cristina Bettez. Bettez states that in many ways the questions raised by hybrid women deconstruct racial categories and challenge “epistemologies of belonging” (2010, p. 162). This poem explores the shaky identity of hybrid people operating in a world where race is a key factor in identity. I explore a question of identity, but do not answer it. I felt it would be untruthful to create an answer at the end of this poem, because at this stage of my inquiry I am living in the question of what hybridity means to my identity and what it will mean to be a “Eurasian” teaching a class full of Caucasian students. Primarily though, this poem explores what it means to be a hybrid person at all. The final stanza is of particular importance in regards to the label. Society is most comfortable with categories, but hybridity resists the stability labeling creates.
As the term progressed, Chelsea felt that she was in danger of solidifying an “us and them” mentality and started to reconceptualize her notions of prejudice. She consciously worked to shift and rupture her binary constructions of race. Through her poetry she began to tease apart the layers of prejudice that she believed were “embedded in almost every human heart” writing:
Its rocky edifice sits enshrinedwhile a tide of rallies scream, “Change!” but can barely morphits stone prejudice.I wave the flag, shout for change and beat my autumn fits on the status quo.As I pound against the stoneI see my smirk there and know – I live in the tide and the stone.
In her final Winter Count, Chelsea slowly began to grapple with new way of thinking about prejudice and expressed a view that was mindful of larger contexts and comfortable with uncertainty around her topic:
My inquiry has led me to a place beyond the prejudice that once stifled me and into a realization about the human spirit. There will be intolerance and injustice slinking around in every place in the world, but that is not because of place, but because of mindsets. Prejudice and hate have never been exterminated because until we can eradicate those aspects from ourselves, the problems will persist . . . There is no clear answer or formula of how to make things right or better, but what is imbedded in this winter count is my conviction in compassion. To suffer with people, to not be afraid to enter into those dark places both with others and in myself. This is what I take into my teaching: the practice of compassion begins not in legislature or in ethical codes, but within.
At the end of the course, Chelsea summarized the movement she made in her journey:
I began on shaky ground, uncertain of where I stood in the mess of racialization as a biracial woman in a profession dominated by Caucasian females. This . . . was by no means a firm realization of where I stood, it was more of a meditation . . . of the state of the world and the state of my heart. [Now, my] desire . . . is a movement from guilt to conviction. Guilt keeps me focused on the “other” who has hurt me or the shame I feel inside. Conviction leads me forward in my teaching practice.
Chelsea’s need to find an impressive topic was eventually replaced by an increased ability to follow her own questions and trust more fully her path with heart as an educator. She became more willing to sit with uncertainly and attend to difficult topics that bordered on the taboo.
I was once told by a professor, that a good question should lead to yet a better question. This, in many ways, was the goal of my inquiry. I began with wondering about being a racialized teacher in white spaces and moved to questioning what it means to walk in the world as a hybrid person. This then turned into pondering the divide between the “us and them” mentality and if that boundary really exists or if I create it to feel safe from the reality of my own prejudice. [Finally, I moved towards a] need to enter into suffering, to engage with the problematic state of this world and to create change and be changed by whatever experiences lie therein.