A Few Reflections for White Teachers Newly Committed to Equity, Justice, and Antiracism #sol20

First, welcome. I am so glad you are here. There is a lot of work for us to do.

I hope you can build your stamina and capacity for anti-racist work. In case you’re just discovering it this week, this is an emergency. And it has been an emergency for awhile. For lifetimes. We don’t have time to take the day off. This isn’t work we get to put down when we’re tired or we don’t feel like doing it anymore. This isn’t work we should avoid because we’re feeling uncomfortable or unsure (and that’s a reminder for myself too). The energy you feel right now needs to be the energy you feel every day.

For those of us in education, critical voices–our colleagues, our students, the authors of the books we love–have been telling us for years that there is a problem, that it is an urgent problem, that lives are literally at stake. If we haven’t been listening to them, we need to do some work to figure out why that is. If you are only now asking for anti-racist resources, you need to ask yourself why you weren’t looking for them before. If you have unfollowed educators who speak out about race, you need to ask yourself why you didn’t think you needed to hear their words and questions. If you blocked educators who questioned you about your classroom policies or your curriculum, you need to ask yourself why you thought your policies or your curriculum were above critique, above questioning.

I don’t say this to shame but to remind all of us that it is going to take some effort to uncover and address the biases that prevented us from digging into this work last month or last year or five years ago or ten years ago or…. We have to figure out what is getting in the way of our hearing and believing and understanding and acting–so that we can do better.

Our first inclination when told we’ve done harm may be to feel shame and then to become defensive, to retreat, to justify, to block, to blame, to argue, or to “not all.” It never feels good to realize that we’ve done harm or that we’ve made a mistake or that we don’t yet know what we feel like we should already know, but with practice, we can get better at the part that needs to come after–the listening, the apologizing, the learning, the self-reflecting, the growing, the acting.

It has helped me to learn that perfectionism and defensiveness are both traits of white supremacy culture (you’ll want to read Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture document, available at Dismantling Racism), and when I work to be present, to silence my defensiveness, to listen, to accept that I will make mistakes, and to speak out even when I’m not sure of my words, I am doing the work that helps me put my commitments into action.

A great place to start with the vital identity and consciousness work we need to do is Layla F. Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy.

This book and many others remind us that white supremacy and racism aren’t out there. They’re in here, within us. Where do I find white supremacy in me? Well, in my privilege to speak up only when I want to, when I’m comfortable, when I feel safe, for one.

As a teacher, I find it in the texts I choose to teach, in my beliefs and practices around discipline policies, in the expectations I have for my students, in the ways I talk about students, in the ways I am silent when others talk about students, in the policies I implement without understanding their harm, in the policies I implement fully understanding their harm, in the moments I know I ought to interrupt but do not, in whose voices I amplify, in whose voices I ignore or silence, in who I’m learning from, in whose books I purchase, in which stores I support with my dollars when I buy those books, in the professional development I seek, in my behavior when challenged, in my pedagogy, in every decision I make during a school day, in the way my classroom is organized and arranged, in the colleagues I seek for support, in the ways I seek growth, in the educational movements that resonate with me, in the educational movements I reject, in the language I use in my own mind to think about students, teaching, and learning, in the ways I know, in the ways I frame my knowledge. And I could keep going.

As teachers, we have incredible power to interrupt and disrupt when it comes to one of the most oppressive and racist institutions in our society: school. It can be painful to realize just how oppressive and damaging school is for some of our students. It can be very hard to face the violence and harm that we perpetrate and perpetuate through our discipline policies, grading policies, dress code, budget decisions, curriculum, testing industrial complex, narratives about resilience and grit, and so much more.

But those are things within our spheres of control and influence. (Spheres of control and influence are concepts I learned from Elena Aguilar’s work.)

Dr. Bettina Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom is beautiful, powerful, enraging, and exactly the book to read right now to understand what is at stake and why we must change.

For today, we need to protest; we need to donate; we need to organize our reading lists because we’re teachers and we like to read to learn; we need to support Black-owned businesses (including bookstores); we need to text and call our representatives; among many other things.

We need to do the research to figure out what we need to be doing right now. My Twitter feed is full of lists of actions we can take, books we can read, Black-owned businesses we can support, places we can donate. If your social media is not filled with that information, I would suggest finding different educators and activists to follow, first of all. And please note: There is no reason to request more labor from Black colleagues and friends to help us figure out how to learn right now. That’s on us. Much of what we seek we can find through an online search, by following anti-racist educators on Twitter, or by asking white allies and accountability partners who can point us in the right direction.

But we cannot stop with a donation, a reading list, and some social media posts. We also need to do the research to figure out what we need to be doing going forward. We need to dedicate ourselves to the ongoing identity work that is essential to becoming anti-bias, anti-racist educators. We need to dedicate ourselves to the ongoing work of dismantling racism in one sphere that we can control and influence: school.

I decided to keep the recommended resources extra light in this post, but I do highly recommend the books I’ve linked to here. I retweet a lot of resources related to anti-racism on Twitter, so that’s one place to find more if you’re looking today.

11 thoughts on “A Few Reflections for White Teachers Newly Committed to Equity, Justice, and Antiracism #sol20

  1. Thank you for these recommendations. The resources and information at Dismantling Racism are profound.

  2. Thank you for the resources. I know that what is happening in US is not only US matter, it’s a global issue.

  3. “We need to dedicate ourselves to the ongoing work of dismantling racism in one sphere that we can control and influence: school.”
    Yes. Thank you for articulating that.
    Kevin

  4. In 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical South Pacific. The lyrics from one song tell us:
    “You’ve got to be taught
    To be
    Afraid
    Of people
    Who’s eyes are oddly made
    And people who’s skin is a different shade
    You’ve got to
    Be carefuly
    Taught”

    Unfortunately, some people are still being taught. We need to combat this this teaching. Thanks for the resources.

  5. when I work to be present, to silence my defensiveness, to listen, to ..”accept that I will make mistakes, and to speak out even when I’m not sure of my words, I am doing the work that helps me put my commitments into action.”
    This is our work, I am profoundly grateful to do it together.

  6. Great resources! We have a book club of 40 reading Me and White Supremacy this summer, and you make so many important points here. I’m going to need to revisit this post again.

  7. Wow. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I will be following up with those books and a deeper dive into your Twitter page. Your insight is valuable, and I am definitely feeling inspired.

  8. Pingback: The Week in Reading #imwayr 6/8/20 | the dirigible plum

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