How Teachable Moments are Used to Perpetuate White Supremacy

Teachable moments don’t happen in the ways we expect. Institutions of education have trained us to create expectations around learning that are discriminatory in nature. What if I told you the expectations that we place on teachable moments are biased and can perpetuate cultural norms of White supremacy. For example, the idea that there is only “one right way” a person can and should receive information is a prime example of lingual discrimination. It is a perpetuation of language discrimination through the use of preconditioned expectations that build systems of oppression. To add an additional layer, we also believe that it must be done through certain acts of communication (which are also rooted in bias due to human interpretation). There are 5 things that come to mind when I think of how we as humanity have created raced based expectations and interpretations on teachable moments:

  1. Love — The interpretation of teaching with love has been rooted in bias that is based on cultural superiority, heterosexism, racism, traditionalism, and all of the things. We believe that love should look and be communicated a certain way. We have created a common belief that teachable moments should be rooted in a certain kind of love. This is wrong. Teachable moments here can perpetuate White supremacy’s cultural norms through the “right to comfort.” We believe that love should look and feel a certain way, even self love! The one commonality we have from love is the way we feel when we receive it. The importance of the differentiation of love and where bias falls into interpretation is the way in which it is communicated based on acts of self care and even selfishness (which can be a good or bad thing). An act of self love could be to get someone all the way together in order to protect yourself from their harm.
  2. Kindness — Kindness is cultural. Acts of showing kindness vary based on our cultural expectations. In moments of educating someone and making it a teachable moment we can perpetuate White supremacy through the “either or way of thinking.” Either you say it like this, or communicate like this or it is wrong, even interpreted as unkind. The issue here is the belief of the messenger and the sender and the crossing of the lines of communication based on cultural interpretation.
  3. Patience — Patience is what you do while you wait. Yet, we perpetuate it through an over justification of acts of wrongness through “objectivity.” How often do you hear that Black people should be more objective in the face of racism or that immigrants need to see both sides of the immigration argument? We ask people to be objective in order to receive a teachable moment even when they are the victims of heinous acts. We find ways to grant excuses for harmful acts by expecting objectivity to create some common ground, where the only commonalities we find are within the identities of the victims of oppression.
  4. Good Intentions — Good intent is another perpetuation of objectivity. We believe that a teachable moment happens when the person doing the teaching first assumes good intent on behalf of the person receiving the lesson. This is not always the case! A community of people protesting a heinous act and have been victimized by your behavior don’t have to care about your good intent. Especially if even through your acts of good intent, the result creates victims of the unintended harm. They can take a moment to verbally hand you your ass and say to hell with the intention and it could still be a teachable moment.
  5. Good Communication — Good communication is a perpetuation of perfectionism. The idea that a person has to be a certain amount of articulate is not only racist, sexist, xenophobic, and ableist (among many of the -ism things) requires a necessary counterstory. We even have created systems that reward the way people communicate in the workplace based on the expectations of White supremacy. We expect people to communicate a certain way, especially verbally even when they are upset. For example, if a woman is crying at work due to an issue of discrimination we shun her! She should remain “poised” and “professional” in order to communicate her feelings. Whatever the fuck that means! We have been so trained on the idea of emotional intelligence looking a certain way that it becomes our oppressive default. Teachable moments are expected to be done calmly and that is not always the case. To meet someone where they are is a part of a teachable moment for the receiver, knowing when to leave them there is a teachable moment for the messenger. It is the receiver’s responsibility to understand that people don’t always communicate like you. To meet the messenger where they are is an act of equity.

The definition of a teachable moment is a moment in which you learn something that you can put into practice moving forward. Whether you receive the lesson from someone or something, it is a moment in which you receive information and decide to act. It is not this romanticized idea of learning from a person and then becoming their best damn friend or their boo thang after it happens! In fact a teachable moment might even lead to a separation of a relationship/friendship.

A Teachable vs. a Traumatic Moment

The one thing I believe is that teachable moments shouldn’t put someone in danger of being harmed or traumatized. Although in all honesty trauma can teach us many things about ourselves and others, that often takes time. A teachable moment is different from a traumatic moment in that a teachable moment results in an immediate lesson. A traumatic moment, while it can be teachable, requires a process of recovery. A traumatic moment can end up being a lesson but it is not learned in the moment, the lesson comes during and/or after the recovery process. Teachable moments, happens in a moment of interaction and can come in many different forms and they can and do look like this:

  1. A person calling you out on your racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic (and the list goes on) behavior during an interaction is a teachable moment.
  2. Your elders bluntly telling you about yourself is a teachable moment.
  3. When you bump your funny bone in a damn doorway and you learn not to move your funny bone in that doorway again, that is a teachable moment.
  4. A person quitting their job abruptly and telling their manager to fuck off because they have mistreated them is a teachable moment.
  5. A person bluntly telling you about an act that you perpetuated that harmed them while they’re in the midst of that harm is a teachable moment.
  6. Running a red light and receiving a ticket is a teachable moment.
  7. A teachable moment is when a man interrupts a woman while she is speaking and she immediately corrects his actions and he listens!

This list could go on!

A teachable moment might hurt your feelings, pride, and ego. The deciding factor in determining a teachable moment is: Can you take the immediate lesson and put it into practice moving forward without needing to engage in a recovery process? If so, then you have been taught well. You’re welcome.

Comment below and share with me some examples of teachable moments.

Dr. Cheryl Ingram aka Dr. CI, is a very successful entrepreneur, blogger, content creator and expert of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

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