Some Thoughts on Antiracist Teaching: Slice of Life 5/31 #sol20

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.

24 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Antiracist Teaching: Slice of Life 5/31 #sol20

  1. I read How to Be an Anti Racist last fall. It’s on of the few books I characterize as a must read. I haven’t read Stamped yet but will soon. I love Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. I need to get Lorena’s book, too. Even in retirement I see myself as someone who can push anti-racist teaching into the world. I recently wrote about a book challenge a former colleague is dealing with and cited Kendi in the letter I wrote to my friend’s district since the book on the chopping block is The Round House. Also, love those questions you’re posing for yourself. This is such an important conversation, and white teachers must do more even as we’re learning.

    • Of all books to be on the chopping block! I am so glad you’re championing inclusive texts and antiracist teaching. I don’t write or share very much about my work in this area, because I do not want to center myself and take attention away from the teachers and scholars I learn from. But at the same time, if white teachers don’t share about their work in this area, we are missing an important opportunity to keep learning ourselves and to share vital resources with others.

  2. It is easy to sit back and say we will let those who know more and have a better understanding lead the way, but if we all thought that way nothing would be done. As we learn we need to share what we learn and reexamine ourselves to see where we need to grow. You are doing exactly that.

    • Soooo very easy to sit back and wait when we have the privilege to do so. I am trying to be more committed to sharing what I’m learning, showing how I continue to examine myself and invite feedback to try to grow.

  3. Wow, Elisabeth, you are going all in! And I am with you as much as I can be. I’m glad to be reading Kendi’s work alongside you. He is stretching my thinking on nearly every page. I’m also having to re-examine my assumptions as a Black middle aged woman who thought she knew the difference between not racist and antiracist (I clearly didn’t); who thought that Black folks can’t hold racist beliefs (they can), who believed that integration was a naturally good thing (not necessarily). All these insights and reconstruction of my mental models is daunting and challenging. As much as I would love to think that my act of showing up every day in my nearly all white school constitutes my antiracist practice, that’s simply not it, I’m learning. I have more to do, along with all of my colleagues. We don’t all have the same work but none of us is finished so I salute you on this multiple stage journey.

    • Oh my goodness yes, integration! Mind blown when I started reading discussions by Black scholars about that and learning that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing for Black students and it certainly wasn’t a good thing for the tens of thousands of Black teachers and administrators who lost their jobs. It certainly is daunting to keep challenging and reconstructing those mental models that we thought were secure and settled. But it helps to have good companions on the journey who will learn with us and teach us and call us in and encourage us to keep growing.

  4. I haven’t read any of these books (yet). However, I am impressed that you are doing the work and making a different. Bravo. We need more professionals like you teaching our teachers.

  5. Thank you for this post. I’ve gone ahead and purchased the workbook you recommended – in fact, I was just perusing it when I realized that I need to comment on some blogs! I’m working away at How to Be Anti-Racist and am nearly done listening to Stamped (Jason Reynolds’ narration is amazing). I share with you that sense of urgency coupled with a desire to wait until I feel more secure – but my work with my students, especially in the Black Student Association at our school – has pushed me towards action whether I feel ready or not.

    • Isn’t his narration wonderful? Stamped is everything–infuriating, horrifying, and often also deeply hilarious. I am surprised by how often I have laughed out loud at a particular turn of phrase or at Reynolds’s sharp irony. I am so glad I get to listen to it on audio. Your posts push me to say more and be more open about what I’m doing.

  6. I feel like we have been reading in parallel worlds and after an online book group discussing Kendi’s book, I’ve grown so much and realize how incredibly far I have to go; it is moment by moment work. I’m in the middle of Stamped and the book that I want to return to again is “White Fragility”.

    I am going to take some of your practice metnioned here and blog about it: “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?”

    “What am I doing?” is the most important question as the learning is taking place.
    Thank you for such a thoughtful post!

    • I love that we have these parallel reading worlds! My mom and I just finished a book club of two read of White Fragility–partly a reread for me, though I’d never made it all the way through to the end. Definitely worth a revisit, especially the early chapters.

  7. What a wonderfully thoughtful piece! I am so impressed by your journey. I love those questions that Melanie took from your blog. I was in an anti-racism group and it was eye-opening. We formed a book group and read The Warmth of Other Suns and Beloved and others. I do hope to read the books you recommended here. I really like Jason Reynolds and plan on getting Stamped. Thanks for this important post!

    • His adaptation of Stamped is excellent and also a very quick read, which I cannot say about Dr. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning (also excellent; not remotely quick!). Really an important book for understanding current events too, I think. I still need to read Warmth of Other Suns!

  8. I’m so glad to see so many folks on the same path! I fully identified with this paragraph:

    “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.“

    And appreciated how specific you were with the steps you’re taking every day. Thanks for putting it out there! You’ve inspired me.

    • I think we all do. That’s one reason I love my Twitter–after years of calibration, I’ve finally got it to be just the right mix for my own professional development as I learn about so many important books, articles, and get thought-provoking takes on current issues from those I follow.

  9. So much of this post resonates with me. The not knowing what I don’t know, the fear of speaking the more I realize I don’t know, and the privilege to say all of it. Thank you for sharing the reading list and your journey. I am off to buy a few titles.

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