Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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September 29, 2020

Writing An Individual Positionality Statement to Support Anti-Racism In Classrooms and Museums

By Noël Bella Merriam

We are sometimes unaware of just how much our individual positionality impacts our daily interactions with those we work with and teach.  This may in turn lead us to overlook the myriad of factors that shape how we communicate, receive, and shape information.  In our work as art educators, reflecting on our positionality is essential for us to move forward in being more equitable and inclusive as we work to advance social justice and anti-racism in art classrooms and museums.

As I prepared to write a positionality statement in order to better reflect on the DEAI work I’m leading for my museum at this moment, I did a bit of research.  Positionality statements are written by researchers from many fields in order to acknowledge the conscious and sometimes subconscious power of our identity on the work we do.  As a cis-gender female Latina artist and educator, I found the process both revealing and helpful.  My positionality shapes the stories I tell about my work, and it has shaped the priorities I’ve focused on in my career.

When writing your positionality statement, it is important to review your race, ethnic/cultural background, gender, class, social status, and abilities. Reflecting on our positionality and taking the time to write a statement allows each of us to explore the context of our personal histories, and how these shape our teaching approach.  It can also reveal implicit bias and help us to identify areas for personal growth.

What are the factors that converge to produce our positionality? I found this diagram from the Weingarten Learning Resources Center at the University of Pennsylvania to be a helpful starting point.

Writing a positionality statement for yourself at the beginning of the school year can also be helpful in framing where you are and where you would like to go in your personal development towards social justice and anti-racism for the upcoming year.  Furthermore, having a current understanding of your positionality will help you to be more empathetic with your students in their positionality, whether it is expressed or unspoken.  White culture often presents itself in a structured and linear fashion, while other communities have different ways of knowing and communicating information and ideas.

To more fully understand your students and your school or museum, spend some time exploring the history of your community.  What socio-political forces determined the structure of neighborhoods, school districts, and political boundaries?  Events that took place long ago can continue to influence the distribution of resources in communities.  History also affects how your school or museum is perceived within the community.

Discussing your positionality with your students will help them to understand better who you are and why you may frame things in certain ways.  It will also establish an atmosphere of open communication that encourages your students to share with you, either verbally or through their art. Race and Pedagogy is a website with many helpful resources that can guide you in understanding your own identity as a racialized individual and the assumptions your students make about you that influence your teaching and how it is received by them.

What I’m doing now is constantly re-evaluating.  I want to hear the BIPOC voices of the students, families, and the community my museum serves amplified and integrated into the work we do.  I want them to be the center of our work and my efforts.  It’s a journey that is bringing others with me, and I know we will stumble along the way but we will keep moving upward.

I share this last blog post with in the hope that you will take a moment to reflect on your positionality and that of those you teach in your classroom or serve in your community. How does your positionality impact the work you do each day? As we move towards an anti-racist curriculum in art and museum education, we must stay cognizant of who is talking, who is listening, and what space they occupy when they speak.

Thank you for sharing this space with me this month – it’s been an honor.

-NBM

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