I have always felt I had a leaning towards social justice, towards equity, towards those things intertwined in my own practice as an educator. This spring it was made clear to me that I’ve missed a lot of things based on my white privilege, based on my own education. And I knew I needed to learn more in a variety of ways. Now this post IS NOT a look at me, look at how far I’ve come, pat myself on the back… instead it’s a reflection on where I wasn’t and an invitation to my white friends and educators to this learning and conversation about what equity and social justice actually is.
One of my students last year said to me that I couldn’t be helping when I worked within the system. He even wrote it on the board.
It took my breath away. It made my stomach flip. And man, it made my ego flair. I tried to convince him of HOW I was working to dismantle things within the system: giving him examples of how I talked openly about race and equity with my students; how I offered choice within my teaching that empowers students to own their education; how I work hard at empowering students to dismantle the system. Or so I thought. Later that day I revisited this experience with my partner. I asked him to reaffirm what I thought I was doing, the work I believed I was doing.
There is so much that is wrong about this. I know this now. I definitely didn’t know then. First thing, I didn’t stop and really listen to what my student had to say. What his opinion and thoughts were about what he had written especially in regards to me. Even if I did “listen” I wasn’t listening to understand, I was listening to disagree, to state my own case. Second thing, I quickly went to my partner to affirm my own thoughts, to make myself feel better. This should not have happened and I am apologetic for doing this. The work of reflecting and working on this is my own. I cannot and should not depend on BIPOC to do the heavy lifting of my own equity work.
I think about the work that I’m being paid to do.
Then, any additional time that I have to spend:
➡️Correcting mistakes associated with people’s blind spots/bias
is time that I would not have to spend if I were white…
— Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor) July 29, 2018
So here’s my invitation to all of you. Let’s start doing the work so our friends of color don’t have to. However that looks for you. Is it reading anti-racist literature and engaging in hard conversations? Is it joining an anti-racist group like SURJ in your community? Is it listening to understand when BIPOC speak about their experiences? Is it sitting in the uncomfortable and figuring out why it’s uncomfortable? Is it researching the history that’s not white in this country and around the world to have a complete picture of racism? Whatever it is, I am here doing that work too. I am here to have difficult fumbling conversations while we understand things that our privilege has allowed us to ignore. I am here to push your current work past your bias and privilege. I am here to ask the hard questions, Who are we missing when we design curriculum? When we choose artists? When we discuss history? I am also here fumbling, misstepping, and apologizing a lot – not out of guilt – but out of my own understanding and reflection of making mistakes.
Where can you start? Here’s some resources that I’ve been engaging in – this list is not even a little comprehensive and I have loads more. But these are some ways to begin.
Zarretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: This book is a must read for every teacher. This really helps push the understanding of what culture is and isn’t and it’s impact on the brain.
Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood: Another must read for teachers, not just ones who “work in the hood”. This has some actionable ways to shift your practice.
Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race: This is clearly and frankly written about specific ways to discuss and reflect on your own thoughts and biases.
Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: This is a must read. It is uncomfortable and necessary. It shifts the conversation about race only being about non-whites but reveals the culture regarding not talking about race in regards to being white. I will be re-reading this a few times to keep myself uncomfortable.
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States: This text along with a student version (that I keep in my classroom) gives the rest of the story behind the United States, you’ll wonder why this isn’t taught in schools.
James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: This is another great read in terms of understanding what students (and I) was not told. This author analyzes common textbooks to find the lies and then tells the history that has been omitted.
If you’ve read all these and are an educator and unsure of how to begin the work in your classroom, here are some resources:
Teaching Tolerance Website – This entire website is incredible with resources about everything. I particularly love the Teaching Hard History Podcast and the incredible resources that have been curated to help this work in the classroom.
Maybe you think I don’t teach history, how can I disrupt things?
Here’s some math disruptions:
Here’s some ELA/Literacy disruptions:
Here’s some non-content specific disruptions:
Here’s some context in how to be present and reflective when you a mirror is held up and it’s uncomfortable:
So what else am I going to do:
Here’s the work I’m actively engaging in and constantly reflecting on:
I am practicing listening to understand, not to speak or share. I want to hear other people’s experiences, I want to hear other people’s opinions, I want to know how to actually change and shift.
I am going to call out the casual racist comment – because although it’s “casual” it’s still racist. And I’m not going to leave it at the racist comment, also the sexist, the homphobic, and any other hate. Sometimes that calling out, may be a question to create some reflection back to the person, sometimes it won’t be gentle but will be strong – “that’s racist.”
I am going to assume capacity in all my students and all their families. I am not there to save anyone. I am there to support and teach. Students and their families come with their own brilliance and I am ready to embrace all of it.
What have I missed here? Where are the holes? How do I include more people? How can I support you in this work?
I must share that many of these resources, advice, and tips have come from the many many BIPOC that I follow on twitter: Dulce Maria Flecha , Val Brown, Kelly Wickham Hurst, Shana White, Cornelius Minor, Julia Torres, Jose Vilson, and so many many more. Follow the hashtag #educolor and #cleartheair and #disrupttexts and #hiphoped to join in the conversation virtually.