My reading life is all Dr. Kendi all the time right now. My mother and I are doing a slow read of How to Be an Antiracist for our mother-daughter book club of two.
On my commute to work, I’m listening to the audiobook of Jason Reynolds’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a brilliant adaptation of Dr. Kendi’s brilliant history of racist ideas in America, Stamped from the Beginning.
After I listen to a section in Reynolds’s book, I then read the relevant chapters in Stamped from the Beginning. I am a slow reader (really!) and an even slower thinker, and so all of this takes time.
I have a huge stack of articles and books on race, racism, antiracism, culturally sustaining pedagogy, antiracist pedagogy, whiteness, intersectionality, and I want to have it all read and digested yesterday so that I can already today be acting on all of the things I will learn and unlearn and unpack and discover and understand for the first time and understand better and understand in new ways.
For years, I was comfortable as “not racist.” Partly that’s because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but white supremacy culture has always benefited me, and so I didn’t look very hard to discover what else I needed to know and to do. I thought then that I was doing my best if I became aware of my own racist thinking and tried to do no harm. I thought then that the best I could do as a teacher was practice culturally responsive teaching and design inclusive curriculum. I was proud of all of the ways that I disrupted texts in my classes, not realizing that disrupting texts, as important as that work is, does not in and of itself disrupt systems of oppression that lead to inequity and injustice.
Now that I am finally beginning to see the scope of the action required to dismantle the systems that lead to inequitable and unjust schools, thanks to all of the teachers, scholars, and activists I learn from, I feel the urgency to take action TODAY.
Even though I feel the urgency, I confess that I often want to put off the doing until I am more secure in my foundation of knowing. I often tell myself I’m not ready to write or talk about this work because I’m not yet secure enough in my language. I’m not there yet. Let me just read a little more, learn a little more, then I’ll be ready.
But that is my privilege speaking yet again. And so I try to push myself out of that comfort zone of waiting for some feeling of mastery before I take action.
This semester, I am learning to make several questions a daily part of my thinking and reflection: What is explicitly antiracist about my teaching today? How does this lesson plan directly challenge inequity and injustice? What am I doing today to dismantle white supremacy culture?
Often, my answer still has to do with content and curriculum. But slowly, I am beginning to learn how the policies, practices, and assumptions of my classroom and my teaching uphold white supremacy culture. Once I recognize those practices, I can work actively to deconstruct them.
One resource that I keep returning to for guidance and support is Lorena German’s The Antiracist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook. In just 30 pages, German describes seven traits of white supremacy culture that are present in our reading classrooms, locates those traits as they likely manifest in classroom practices, presents reflective questions we can ask ourselves and our students to begin this work, and identifies explicitly antiracist practices for reading instruction.
The book is available for purchase at The Multicultural Classroom’s website and it’s well worth the cost.
Dr. Kendi emphasizes that “striving to be antiracist is an ongoing journey.” It’s not a destination. I am never going to arrive. This work requires ongoing, consistent, intentional effort. I fear that I will never know enough. But I also know that I don’t want fear to stop me from trying to do this vital and urgent work.
Edited to add: To learn more about the #Disrupttexts movement, follow Dr. Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible), Julia Torres (@juliaerin80), Tricia Ebarvia (@TriciaEbarvia), and Lorena German (@nagerman) on Twitter. You might also be interested in reading this article How the #DisruptTexts Movement Can Help English Teacher Be More Inclusive.