Peter is a middle school English teacher in Virginia. Throughout his adult life, he’s always been aware of racial issues and even took a class on racial justice in college. However, it wasn’t until white nationalists marched on Charlottesville in 2017 that he realized how much he had to learn.
“I remember seeing posts from people of color on social media that said ‘Hey, if you’re a white person and surprised or in disbelief that this could happen in America, you’re a part of the problem and have so much left to learn. That was a real kick-in-the-teeth moment of realization,” says Peter. “Because I was surprised. My social media feeds were filled with fellow white people expressing shock at what had happened. That’s really what pushed me to educate myself more.”
From then on, Peter began a journey of listening and learning. “My love language has always been words and ideas,” he says, “I got hooked on this idea and started doing research on my own.” He began reading books on race, started following influential authors, musicians, and activists of color online, engaged in discussions with people of color in his community, and tried to incorporate what he learned into his everyday life.
“This has changed the way I teach. It has opened me up to teaching my students about race and masculinity. It’s changed the way I plan to raise my newborn, and encouraged me to raise her using race conscious parenting. It’s also highlighted the importance of being uncomfortable. Doing this work means being uncomfortable and messing up. In order to make progress and fight hate in this country, we need to recognize and actively take action to fight the forms of oppression we see in our daily lives.”
Perhaps most of all, it’s given Peter a newfound appreciation for community. “Everything has changed for the better, he says. “It’s harder, but it’s really not that hard if you put it in perspective, and it’s the first thing that has ever made me value the idea of community.” Peter says that listening to other voices and perspectives has helped him value real, human relationships. “Society has taught us to be fearful of people who are different from us, and this fear makes it easy to forget our humanity. When we examine our biases, we begin the real work of seeing and affirming who we are and who we can be.”
“Now, I feel so much more comfortable doing simple things like wanting to say hi to my neighbors or wanting to get to know the humans around me. It’s exposed me to the raw power and strength that exists from creating human bonds and relationships.”