Articulating Liberatory Design: Who is education for?

Navigating my academic journey at a predominantly White institution in the United States has been an enlightening one. People often express that “we are all human” and “we breathe the same air.” Increasingly, I have noticed this response from White folks when challenged with assumptions about race. Although I can put a label on that experience as color-evasive racism, I continue to wrestle with this notion of “equal humanity”. I’m sorry, I hate to break it to you. We don’t breathe the same air!

The air I breathe is one full of toxins, trying to choke me to death. My air is one of pain, trauma, and suffering. Intergenerational. This is the same air my ancestors breathed. What l inhale every day is debilitating. I live with the tremors of genocide. I wake up to the deafening music of microaggressions. I am drowning in the waters of White supremacy. This is the life designed for me by the oppressors and the colonizers. I am not living alone in this reality and false humanity. This is what it’s like to be multiply marginalized. Being at college, there have been countless instances when I have experienced “imposter syndrome” and an uneasy feeling of not belonging. After much introspection, I wonder whether I truly belong here or not. The answer to that question is no. No, I do not belong here!

This is me asking myself a critical question: who is education for? Obviously, the answer to that isn’t something that can fully be expressed or understood. There is a longstanding history of oppression and genocide tied to educational institutions for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Were these academic institutions built for folks that share similar struggles? Are they committed to educational justice and dismantling White supremacy? How do they center the experiences of minoritized communities?

I think about the transformative work of my ancestors in standing up to oppressive systems and fighting for freedom. I wonder about the struggle and sacrifices that led to students like me being able to attend elite, White institutions in the guise of “equal opportunity” and “access to quality education”. I recognize that I am not welcome here. Education, as we know it, was not designed for me. It is a privilege that has been controlled by historic power relations. Yet, my presence is a radical act of resistance.

I dream of a future where education sets us free. I envision a world where we are no longer bound by false truths. I imagine an “education” that recognizes our humanity and affirms our identity. I see us as unbound and liberated.

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