I haven’t read the article yet, but I appreciated the challenge in the title of an op-ed a friend shared yesterday: “When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.”
I think there’s something true about that. More than anything else, what I’m seeing online right now as a response to this 400-year emergency is the creation of lots and lots of reading lists and the commitment to reading all the books. And these are great lists with great books that will probably–hopefully–be life-changing for readers. I know from personal experience how much reading and reflection matter in having epiphanies, deepening understanding, and making internal shifts–all the learning and unlearning–that is part of an anti-racist journey.
But I hope we can also keep in mind that this is an emergency, and we have to take action now. We don’t have the leisure to spend the summer reading books and reflecting without also making plans for the actions we will take in the fall.
There are many good articles online about taking action in terms of donating, protesting, supporting Black-owned businesses (bookstores are a good place to start!), and voting.
We happen to work for one of the most complicit and oppressive institutions when it comes to racism and inequity. School funding is designed on purpose to create and exacerbate inequity. School policies, especially discipline policies, are designed on purpose to push out Black, Indigenous and students of color. School curriculum is designed on purpose to center whiteness. School testing was designed on purpose to be biased and to lead to the exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and students of color from institutions of higher ed that wanted to remain white. Racism is baked into every aspect of American schooling.
If we are serious about dismantling racism, we couldn’t pick a better place to focus than school–and that happens to be our sphere of influence (sphere of influence is a concept I first saw applied to teaching in Elena Aguilar’s book, Onward). The image above, created by Ramon San Vicente (follow him @RamonSanVicent2 on Twitter), identifies many racist school policies and practices that we need to disrupt and dismantle. Everyone should be able to find immediately actionable items on his list.
I intended to write my whole slice about my big news today, but then decided I wanted to write about taking action instead. My big news is that after 12 years as a teacher educator, I am leaving my position and returning to the high school classroom this fall. I’ve accepted a position at a high school in Detroit, where my family and I are moving.
In addition to all the packing and moving, I’m spending the summer making plans for what I will do to take action, especially in the areas that are most within my immediate sphere of influence–curriculum, pedagogical practices, and management/discipline policies in my classroom. Culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum and pedagogy and collaborative problem-solving and restorative practices based in strong relationships are central to my vision of my classroom. I am working to improve the opportunities students will have for positive racial identity development using ideas in Dr. April Baker-Bell’s book, Linguistic Justice, and in Dr. Christopher Emdin’s book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. Given the trauma that my students will have experienced this year and this summer, I am also working to learn more about healing-centered practices. I am trying to arm myself while I still have time and leisure to do research deep dives with more evidence about what makes standardized testing practices and dress codes discriminatory and racist, because I know I will want to be able to speak out and advocate for change in those areas. I want to look at schools that have already made changes so I can learn from the actions that others have taken.
Granted, part of this work still sounds like I’m joining a book club. But the books are very much part of developing and implementing the action plan.
Within your sphere of influence, what actions will you be taking this fall?