Imagining Justice

I apologize for the super last minute notice about this, but if you are in the Oakland area tomorrow, December 20th, I will be speaking at Heart & Soul Center of Light.

Wednesday nights at Heart & Soul are entitled, Imagining Justice, and the month of December is themed,  Unleashing the Prophetic Voice of Creative Expression.  Each week highlights a different creative expression and I have been given the honor of bringing my Dissecting Whiteness work into the space.

If you are around, here is the information:

Heart & Soul Center of Light (heartsoulcenter.org), 1001 42nd St., 1st Floor, Oakland CA 94608

6:15-6:30 Meditation

6:30-8:00 Program

If you are able, come and be with me, be with us.

 

As always, I hope all is well in your world.

 

 

 

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White Discipline

I work in the world of restorative justice, so the conversation about discipline is prevalent.  I also dissect whiteness, white culture and white norms, which requires a lot of reflective perceptions.  I do an exercise in many of my trainings that asks everyone to think about white culture and all the ways it shows up in the world.  Discipline is a part of culture and one of the questions I ask is how do white people discipline.  If you are white and are around communities of color and their conversation on how white people discipline their kids, you would definitely hear an earful about how white people let their kids run all around with no containment.  You would probably hear about how we are often seen as being soft on our kids and not holding strong boundaries, that we let our kids be disrespectful and talk to us and other adults in ways that would never be allowed in their homes.

In my reflections about my own discipline growing up and what I notice all around me, I am definitely in agreement that white people generally have much less discipline with their children and themselves than with most people of color.  A society rooted in white supremacy has made it unsafe for people of color to be running around all over the place with no containment.  Speaking disrespectfully to the wrong person could equal harm and even death.  The strong disciplinary practices in most families of color are coming from generations and generations of being hard at home in order to protect their children and themselves from the even harsher realities of the outside world.  White families, on the other hand, don’t have the same harsh realities of the outside world.  White privilege protects us from harsh treatment and so there hasn’t been any real need to have strict discipline at home.  We don’t need to protect our kids in the same way because white privilege protects them.

White culture is also the underlying culture of all the major institutions in this country, including the criminal system and our educational system.  Interestingly, in both of these systems, they advocate for strong punitive discipline.   So, what’s the difference?  The difference is the people who are getting the discipline.  When it comes to white people and our own families, we have a tendency to have a high tolerance for breaking rules and often give out softer punishment.  When it comes to disciplining Black and Brown youth and adults, there is harsh punishment, mandatory minimums, no tolerance policies, 3 strikes, etc.  In schools, the discipline has proven over and over to be more focused on Black and Brown students.  Read HERE for an article going into this in more detail.

And case after case has shown us that even when white people end up committing crimes, they are seen by the media and the judge or lawyers as “making a mistake” or “just doing what boys do” or other similar softening of the behavior to reduce the ultimate discipline afflicted on them.  Which, as a strong advocate of restorative justice, I believe this is the direction we should be taking things.  People make mistakes and the system shouldn’t ruin someone’s life because of it.  There should be consequences and accountability, but options that are actually in alignment to someone’s actual rehabilitation.  Unfortunately, the “justice” system too often gives a pass for mistakes to white people, while criminalizing and putting harsh sentences on their counterparts of color.

A prime example of this was with Brock Turner (a 19 year old white college student) and Cory Batey (a 19 year old Black college student) who were both convicted of raping unconscious women.  Both situations had ample evidence to prove the rapes happened.  They happened in different places, but were equally disturbing cases of young men assaulting and violating unconsenting women.  What were the sentences?  Turner (the white young male) was given 6 months jail time and could be released in 3 months with good behavior. He also wouldn’t have to go to prison and could stay at the local jail for his sentence.   Batey (the young black male) was sentenced to a 15-20 year minimum mandatory sentence in a prison.  The only clear difference between these two cases is the race of the young men.  This is one example of many to highlight what I am talking about.  To read more, click HERE

White culture has two personalities when it comes to dealing with discipline.  One side is forgiving and soft and not wanting to hurt people with too much punishment.  This is more often than not, reserved for people who are white.  On the other side, there is a belief that people must pay for their mistakes and learn hard lessons with harsh consequences.  This is reserved for people who are not white.  I believe this comes out of generational and historical beliefs of internalized superiority and subconsciously (and consciously, for some) needing to control people whose tenacity and fierceness through centuries of oppression has not been demolished. Deep down, I think white people fear people of color because we ultimately know in our spirits that what has been done to people of color is so bad that if there was actual righteous retaliation, we would deserve to be put through extreme, harsh conditions.  So white people have needed to manipulate and control people of color out of fear of that retaliation.   This is a theory that will be broken down further in future commentaries.

In closing, I wanted to share another training coming up in January that I am a part of:

Using a Culturally Responsive Lens to Build Community: A 3-day Restorative Justice Training

In this training, we will be breaking down culture and discipline and a lot of what I talked about in this blog post.  If you are in education and in the Bay Area, check it out.  If you aren’t but you know others who are, pass the information along.  The training is going to be amazing and it is being facilitated by a group of gifted and truly talented people, including myself.

 

To Love Whiteness

I have been thinking a lot about self love.  About loving all of who I am in order to love another.  There’s a song that’s been in my head for the last two days that I first heard being sung at the spiritual center/church I go to.  It’s simple, 4 lines:

I love myself so much,
So I can love you so much,
So you can love you so much,
So you can start loving me.

I had the song stuck in my head last night and then woke up this morning singing it too.  While singing it on repeat for a while, it struck me how challenging over the years it has been to love my whiteness.  It has been the missing link for me in my work towards loving every part of who I am.

When I was younger I felt like loving my whiteness would make me racist because loving my culture meant to love white privilege.  I didn’t understand the difference because nobody talked to me about it.  And to love the recognition that my life is treated as more important than another’s due to the color of my skin was and is disturbing to say the least.  I also didn’t have any context to what white culture really was outside of the historical legacy that I was deeply ashamed to be connected to.  My mom was from England and didn’t hold the same historical context in her ancestry than my dad did, but England has it’s own colonial and white supremacist history.  But it was with my mom that I felt much more connected to a cultural identity outside of the bland and confusing white culture that I had been born into. In my confusion, I decided to just focus on loving myself as the person I am inside my skin like my compassion, my humor, my intelligence, my wit, my depth, my joy, my emotions etc.  And this has worked for a while…. but it doesn’t cover my fullness.  There are aspects of myself that are missing.  And there are parts of who I am that are very culturally connected and I am grateful for.  Loving these parts of myself does not mean I love white supremacy, and this is the love I am working on expanding.

I have said in my writings before that I am often in spaces with a very strong Black presence.  Many of my closest friends, comrades, co-workers, students, etc are Black.  Many of them have a strong love for their culture, their people and their Blackness.  It is inspiring and beautiful.  I am often in awe of what that would feel like.  I don’t just see this cultural love with friends of African descent, but of all racial and cultural backgrounds, except my white friends. I have thought many times that this lack of pride I had for my people was just one of the consequences of a history of white supremacy.  That in exchange for white privilege, we unconsciously gave up this possibility, this ability to have deep pride for our people.

Some of the reasons for this comes from my understanding of how “Black” and “white” culture has been formed.   A lot of “Black” culture comes from the ways people have survived and developed a culture of resilience in the face of severe abuse and oppression, control and attempted genocide.  The depth of connection and valuing community and family in the face of so much societal hate and fear. “Black” culture is the beauty of the rose that has been forced to grow between the cracks of the concrete.    Before “Black” culture, African people’s culture was connected to location, land, village/ tribe, family, etc.  Before “white” culture, European people’s culture was connected to location, land, village/ tribe, family, etc.  From the unfolding of this country, there has emerged cultures based on skin color, and specifically with people of African and European ancestry, neither group has any connection to ancestral land.  One group having had choice, with the other group having been forced.  From this history, Black and white culture emerges. White culture begins to emerge from an identity with irrational and false superiority, domination and violence.

But my yearning for a feeling of deep and full self love, I am brought to question whether the lack of love white people have for our culture is a major obstacle to transforming and healing the racial wounds we experience (this concept of white people having wounds from racism may be a new idea for some.  It’s the idea that there is a cost to racism that white people experience.  Whenever there is a harm, it is not just the person or people being harmed who get hurt.  But the person or people causing the harm are also hurt by it). If white people could find more love for ourselves, for our whiteness (the parts that are not about oppression, privilege and supremacy), would we be more available to love others in their fullness and not take aspects of other people’s culture in order to feel connected to something?  White culture is infamous (among POC communities) for being cultural appropriators.  Although this is frustrating and problematic, I understand where it comes from.  I have written previous blogs about this phenomena so I’m not going to go into detail about it now but I believe this is a result of not knowing how to love a culture that is so rooted in superiority, dominance and violence.

When two people meet from different cultures and both people have love for themselves, they are able to share in each other’s greatness without any jealousy, any need to diminish the other person’s fullness.  In these connections, there is true cultural appreciation and sharing and space for both people to express themselves in their full cultural selves without shame or hiding.  I am in a high school and I am constantly aware of how students of color get shut down and even penalized for being in their full cultural selves.  Our educational structures, and many of the people who work in them, are based in white culture and this culture becomes seen and held as the norm and people who don’t fit into it are pushed out or shut down.  This topic is  broken down in more depth and fullness in my upcoming training, “Dissecting Whiteness in Urban Education,”

https://facingwhiteness-urbaneducation.eventbrite.com

So what is white culture outside of white supremacy?  And what can I love about it?  What parts of myself that clearly come from my cultural upbringing can I whole heartedly love?  I thought about doing another facebook series of 100 days of loving my whiteness…. which not only felt weird due to the language of it, but I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to find 100 things….

Will the deepening of my self love, which includes love for my whiteness, allow me to have deeper relationships with people of color in my life.  I think it will.  I think it will for all of us.  I think, as the song says, if “I love myself so much so that I can love you so much so that you can love you so much so that you can start loving me.”

So, I start here.  And just to be clear, saying these cultural aspects are rooted in white culture, does not mean other cultures don’t also hold these values.

  1.  I love my culture for teaching me to love nature and the natural environment.
  2. I love my culture for teaching me to love salads and raw fruits and vegetables.
  3. I love my culture for teaching me to value traveling.

I’m still working on it…. I would love to hear from anyone reading this about what you love and appreciate about white culture…..

 

 

 

Dissecting Whiteness in Urban Education

Hello everyone, I am doing a 2-day workshop January 4-5 in Oakland and I would love to see some of you there!!!  Or share this information with educators in the Bay Area who would be interested and who would benefit from this workshop!!

Click below for the eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dissecting-whiteness-in-urban-education-tickets-39682016981

And for the link to the flyer:

DIssectingWhiteness-UrbanEducationFinal

Love and gratitude to each of you for continuing to follow me in my writing, my learning and teaching!!

Las Vegas- White male dysfunction

Prayers are sent up for the families of the killed and injured in Las Vegas.  It is a tragedy as heart breaking as Puerto Rico and Mexico and Houston.  The depth of pain and trauma being experienced right now feels overwhelming, to say the least.

As prayers are offered, I am caught reading all about the tragedy and my critical eye is tuned up as I watch and read.  The overt and subtle racism that permeates most of it is not surprising, though still infuriating.

I have read many articles over the last 15 hours about the tragedy and the only news outlet that has shown a picture of the killer has been the BBC news, which is not based in the United States.  Every other media outlet continues to show the picture of his supposed girlfriend, who is a brown-skinned Asian woman, but the white man continues to be protected.  If the shooter was someone of any other race, I guarantee the picture will definitely be readily available for everyone to see.  It happens every time!

Another disturbing part of it is how white people aren’t racially identified.  After reading several stories, none of them including a picture of the guy, I had to only assume he was a white man based on the fact that his race was not disclosed.  This undisclosure often means the white people writing the story, producing the story and/ or anchoring the story all agree that white is the “norm,” and doesn’t need to be identified.  This is deeply racist and problematic thinking and continues to teach the subliminal messages of internalized white superiority.

Then, I was watching an ABC news piece video and the white male anchor, in describing the shooter (we still have yet to be shown a picture), he says he is “a 64 year old white male, hardly the classic description of what we would call an Isis Terrorist.”  As if the only people who have caused terror in this country are people affiliated with Isis or Islam.  In fact, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC, called New America, put out a study that showed between 2001-2015, right-wing American extremists killed more Americans than by Islamist terrorists.

I have actually witnessed this reality over my lifetime.  The mass shooting phenomena seems to be steadily increasing and along with it, the realization that the majority of them are committed by white men.  Yet the media has not ever (that I remember) made reference to there being a problem with white males.  There haven’t been references to this particular demographic of people being suspect and problematic or laws being written to make sure our society as a whole stays safe from “these people”. When it comes to white crimes, they are thought of as solitary incidences and the perpetrators as bad apples in a country of red delicious beauties. The same thing happened with this case.  Within hours, news media were reporting that Stephen Paddock (the shooter) acted alone and was not connected to any outside group.

Yet, when there is crime committed by Black people or Arab people, there seems to be a direct or subtle reference to a larger body of people or a cultural connection to their community as a whole.  This fuels racist views because it not only demonizes the shooter(s) but demonizes the entire community that they are from.

In conversations I have had with Black and Arab people in my life, they have shared that when a high profile crime involving a Black or Arab person or people happens, there is usually a feeling that the crime will be a reflection of their people as a whole.  They brace themselves for the backlash they could feel or be subjected to because of this ignorant and racist way of thinking.

On the flip side, if you ask white people about this same thing, none of us feel personally reflected or stereotyped due to the behavior of the perpetrator (as in the situation with Dylann Roof or Adam Lanza or James Holmes or Jared Loughner or Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, etc.).  All of these men are white and responsible for mass killings in the United States, yet their crimes have never been referenced in any type of large media outlet as a white issue or a problem with white behavior or white cultural problems.  White men have yet to be stereotyped as being prone to irrational or violent behavior, even though a ride through the actual history of the United States would show a very different picture.

It’s this type of reflection that, for me, begs the question, “what is wrong with white men? What types of things are happening to them to cause this type of behavior?”  I truly believe the answer lies in the unhealed internalized and generational pain of racism.  In situations of traumatic harm, both the people who are harmed and the people causing harm, have long-term impact.  White people, my people, in this country, are deeply wounded by racism.  Our ancestors and family members have been the perpetrators of generations of violence and this wounding causes deep issues.  Issues so deep, they can cause people to snap and kill a whole bunch of people without any understandable reason.

Puerto Rico, the racism of “othering”

The worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years has devastated the island.  Hurricane Maria left the island without power, almost all of the roads and homes destroyed or with serious damage and the vegetation torn up from the storm.   Most of the people on the island still don’t have drinking water, 11 days since the hurricane hit, and they are subsisting outside in the heat and the elements, dehydrated and starving.

All this while the U.S. government reluctantly and slowly offers help to the island.  5 days after the hurricane hit, the president of the US tweets, “Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”   He clearly believes having financial debt downgrades the humanity of the people who live there, people who are literally dying because of lack of basic needs that the government had the ability to provide.   The New York magazine reported that, at the same time of his insensitive and inhumane commentary, the people of Puerto Rico were still “waiting for a formal disaster request from the Trump administration.”  The underlying message is that Puerto Ricans are “other”, not like “us”, people not worthy of being helped.  This sentiment is felt by a bunch of other Americans too.  At least 54% of them, don’t even know that Puerto Ricans are US Citizens. Of these 54%, only 44% thought the US should send aid to Puerto.  In this same poll,  published in the New York Times, they found that, of the people who actually knew that Puerto Ricans were US citizens, 81% of them agreed that the US should send aid.

This seems to show an agreed upon sentiment that if people can “relate” to someone in crisis, they are worthy of help but when they are “other,” then there is reluctance to spend “our” resources trying to offer help.  This is a clear message that continues to not only fuel ignorance, it is rooted in racism and classism.  Puerto Rico is a nation of people with melenated skin, mostly rooted in the African diaspora.  I would argue, even the white Puerto Ricans, due to the culture and language, are often still looked upon as being different, “other” and not “real” US citizens.

Watching what is going on has been re-triggering my previous horror at the lack of care and support that the people of New Orleans received during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  It is not a coincidence that it was also overwhelmingly (economically) poor, melenated people who were the most impacted during and after Hurricane Katrina.  For the people who remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we remember the slow response of the government to help, the inhumane treatment of the people of New Orleans by flat out not moving fast enough to save them directly after the storm, to “characterizing” the people who died or suffered as ignorant for not leaving.  This ignorance is ridiculous when it only makes sense that people’s ability to get out is directly connected to the access of vehicles and finances, which is disproportionately low for the the majority Black neighborhoods most devastated by Katrina.   On top of this was further “othering” to the incarcerated people in New Orleans who were left in their locked cells in chest high water, while prison guards and police officers bailed to save themselves.  When they were finally evacuated out of the prisons, they were brought to a freeway overpass and, at times, chained to the sides of it like livestock, as the waters in New Orleans rose.  Many went without food or water for days and losing consciousness from the lack of food and water.  To add insult to injury,  the racist media portrayal of black people as looters and thiefs, while white people “struggled to get food to eat”, contributed to the “othering” of the melenated people of New Orleans.

It’s not surprising that, twelve years later, the people of Puerto Rico are being treated in a similarly inhumane and “othering” way.  The Black communities of New Orleans were economically under-resourced and practically blamed for the tragedy of their devastation during and after Hurricane Katrina.  Even when many people fled to Houston for safety, the evacuees were quickly blamed for an increase in crime and were targeted for a supposed crime surge in the area.  People even demanded a cut off of support and demanded the mayor to “ship them back to New Orleans”. Sean Varano, a criminologist, authored a 2010 study that debunked the Katrina crime myth.  This didn’t stop the media from continually throwing the victims of Katrina under the bus and stereotyping them further into “other” as a focus of blame.

The US president’s commentary shows that the sentiment is the same for the people living in Puerto Rico, who have to basically plead with the media and the government to get treated like human beings by insisting their status as US citizens.  Many are coming to the understanding that, like Katrina, the government will do whatever it can to not pay for humanitarian crisis for people who the government doesn’t seem to relate to, but will easily increase it’s military budget to prove to the world it is a military superpower.  Two days before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and in the midst of Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath in Houston, the Senate passed the $700 billion defense policy bill, which far exceeded the amount of money the US president has originally asked for.

 

It’s the power of the people who will, once again, be the real humanitarians dealing with the day to day crisis clean-up, showing up for each other and struggling to survive and help each other the best way possible.

If we keep waiting on the US government to care…. It’s probably gonna be a while.  The people of Puerto Rico need support. What are you able to offer?

Support MariaFund.org

In support of both Puerto Rican and Mexican rehabilitation:

http://www.americasforconservation.org/mx-pr-resilience-fund

White discomfort in Black space

I work at a very racially diverse high school, the most racially diverse high school in Oakland.  It is also likely the most segregated high school in Oakland. 15 years ago, it had a strong majority of African American students and over the past 10 years the demographics have shifted dramatically.  As the white population of students increases, the African American population has been going down, the Asian population increased a little and the Latino population stayed relatively the same.  Many of the new white students are coming from private schools and their parents have decided this school is good enough to choose over other private high school options.  They are often coming because of a few academically elite programs at the school.  These programs, which ethnically look more like private schools than they do like the school’s overall student body, have brought up conversations about equity and the lack of diversity on many occasions.  I have blogged about this in my 100 days of white privilege, day 92 & 93.

In these posts, I shared about an event that a group of students from my after school program put on.  It was a facilitated discussion of a group of people, called a fishbowl discussion.  The fishbowl was led by a group of African American students to offer a space for students of color, specifically African American students, to come together and share their experiences being in classes where there is a white majority and very few other students who look like them.  The students in the fishbowl shared times when they were marginalized, tokenized, felt outside of the culture and not included in the unspoken cultural norms instilled in these spaces.  There were tears shed, pain revealed and ultimately the circle was a healing space for these students to talk about the pains of racism and cultural exclusion they have been through.

Many students both in the fishbowl and ones who came to observe felt like they have little or no room to express their discomfort in these spaces and instead, it is expected of them to fit in, to find a way to conform to the established culture already present.  These students did what they needed to do in order to be successful in these spaces.  They contained themselves at times when they wanted to scream.  They swallowed their opinions and thoughts about certain things in order to not be perceived as angry or controversial.  They code switched.  They were in Rome and did what the Romans did in order to receive the benefits of these programs.

After the fishbowl happened, the reaction from many white students, parents and teachers was interesting.  They felt attacked and then shared how they now felt “unsafe” around the school.  I talked more thoroughly about this situation in the blog posts so I don’t want to go into it too much here.  My main point is to contrast this situation with another one.

I have been teaching a civic engagement and social movements class for the last four years.  The first couple of years, the class was very racially diverse and over the last two years, there has been an increase in African American students.  In the same two years, I have had 3-4 white students enroll in the class and by the end of the first week, they have all dropped out, while all the other students stayed in the class.  This year I had a conversation with one of the white students who dropped out and found out my assumptions were on point.  He was uncomfortable because of the amount of Black people in the room. He didn’t say that exactly, but through my conversation with him, it was clear what he was talking about.  He felt like he was being made fun of by two boys in the room and didn’t feel like he could handle the culture of the space.  Judging by the other white student’s body language during their time in the class, I strongly believe this sentiment was felt with them as well.  It was a culture clash, and the white students didn’t feel comfortable enough to participate, so they left.

 

I was disappointed and frustrated.  I had been excited for them to join in and bring more depth into the discussions, add a wider range of perspectives and engage in cross racial dialogue that many of their other classes don’t offer.  I was excited for the possibility of these white students getting to deepen their understanding of race and ultimately push them to widen their perspectives and do the necessary work to end cycles of racism.

Robin DiAngelo, in her amazing work on White Fragility, discusses white people’s feelings of entitlement to racial comfort, which this is a clear example of.  She explains that white people are so used to being in racial comfort and are rarely forced to be in spaces or conversations in which racial discomfort is felt so when they do feel this discomfort, they act out.  They blame the people or event that “caused” the discomfort (usually a person or people of color) and then penalize, or retaliate or just disengage and leave the situation.   The situation from my class perfectly flows with DiAngelo’s point.  These white students felt racial discomfort.  They didn’t want to engage because they didn’t have experiences where this level of racial discomfort was felt.  Their skin was not thick enough, calloused enough.

On the flip side, in the elite programs I referenced earlier, there is a majority of white students and the overall program culture is white.  Black and Brown students who come into the space often feel uncomfortable.  Students shared in the fishbowl about what they had to go through and still they stayed.  They code switched, they learned the culture of the space in order to navigate it.  They swallowed their discomfort and found a way to make it work.

People of color are often in spaces of racial discomfort.  To be not white in a socially, politically and economically white dominated world, it is impossible to not navigate racial discomfort.  It is a part of life.   White people, on the other hand, are rarely forced to feel racial discomfort and so when we do, it is quite literally a culture shock.  If we stay in the shock long enough to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, we can learn.  If we run away, we miss out on the potential to grow.

One of the many things I have learned in my time on this planet is that the more comfortable I can be in spaces where I likely don’t know what’s going on and I can admit that I don’t know what’s going on, I grow.  To sit in discomfort and find a place of comfort in it, I expand.

These young students were uncomfortable and got scared of being in another culture.  They were in shock and instead of facing in and sitting in their discomfort, they left and ultimately miss out on the depth of beauty and joy and love that the black community brings.  Yes, it can be hard.  We (white people) are raised to be emotionally fragile. We have to build up emotional callouses in order to take the sometimes hard joking, the strong play fighting with words, the straightforward honesty, the seemingly teasing behavior that is a part of many Black communities.   It is a part of the culture, it is not meant to offend.  It is meant to build each other up so strong that the hateful white world can’t take their sense of self away.  It is strengthening.

White people don’t often get raised in communities and spaces where we have had to build up our emotional callouses.  We can be fragile, particularly in regards to race.  It takes time to build up the stamina, learning how to take blows with humor and without letting it break down our internal self worth.  I won’t ever say that being a white woman in often times mostly black spaces, has been easy.  AND, beyond measure, it has been worth it. I stayed past the culture shock and have been exposed to people and community that have challenged me and helped to transform me.  I have deepened my sense of self, strengthened my ability to deal with challenges, learned to grow flowers out of cemented pain and learned to laugh from my hair follicles to my toe nails.  I am deeply grateful for all the times I sit in the uncomfortable in order to learn what I don’t know.