If you have a modicum of human decency and empathy - and you have not been living under a rock - your thoughts and emotions, like mine, have been going a mile a minute as stories of three more Black Bodies being murdered have made national news over the last couple months - and to make it worse, we're all still following Safer At Home or shelter-in-place or self-quarantine orders, which for me has just caused my mind and brain to run even faster!
And, of course, as always, my thoughts go to my students - especially those who are Black and minoritized - and what I can do to support them... as a cis White male teacher educator, I know I have a significant amount of privilege at my disposal and I know I need to find ways to use this power for good.
It is not enough to post on social media.
It is not enough to complain to my friends and family.
It is not enough to just say Black Lives Matter.
Writing this blog is not enough. I need to do more.
To my fellow White educators: we need to remember why we decided to enter the field of education in the first place. [If your answer is 'summer vacations,' please leave your career now and make room for folks who are led to be the teacher they had or always needed when they were in school.] We need to support all of our students while being aware that none of our students are alike. We need to find all the ways to create a fair, equitable, and liberating learning community for EVERY student we come in contact with. This is not easy.
This is also not enough. While the "equity" side of the above image is much better than the "equality" side, we can - and should - do more. It is not enough to just give our students a view over the fence of what they've been missing. In this example, they're still not a part of the game. They are still only spectators - and in this image, it still feels like they are not welcome...
Let's be clear: Whiteness is not only the foundation on which all things in American culture has been built, but it is also imbedded in the entire structure. It is not an exaggeration to say that the field of education exists because of White Supremacy. Schools were created for White people. Education has separated White folks from everyone else for generations. There was a reason slave masters didn't want their human property to learn how to read. They knew then just as we know now that knowledge is power and education is a liberating experience. Also, there is not a spectrum of racism. Being "not racist" isn't a thing - just as being racist is an action, the opposite must also an action. We must be anti-racist.
We need to aim for this:
Yeah okay Doc - how are we supposed to do that in education? There are all kinds of barriers in school for our students. That's just the way it is. We can't do anything about that. But we can show our students how to navigate the world so they can be successful. That's the best we can do.
Nope. That is not good enough.
First of all, in my opinion, "that's the way it is" is not a phrase teachers should be using. The words we use are important and when we model the inability to change the status quo by using language like this, our students believe it to be true and it isn't. By de-centering Whiteness and the status quo in our classrooms, we provide a more liberating view of education.
Second, it is not the job of a teacher to show our students how to navigate their world. Our job is to support the choices they make. We are not fighting for our lives; they are. We can offer to put ourselves between them and the barrier they are facing, but we should only do so with permission - we should not take it upon ourselves to intervene in this way.
Additionally, the more our students read/hear the voices of traditionally marginalized people in our curricula, the more empowered they will become. We can also model being critical of typically privileged voices as ways to question the status quo and allow our students to discover ways to chip away at the power structure.
Learning never stops. And that should go for teachers just as much as anyone else. And in the world in which we live, White educators need to continue to learn.* This can take many forms - being intentionally reflective in our teaching, forming a book club with other White educators to read and engage with work by Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC), talk about race with our students no matter how difficult or uncomfortable those conversations may be, or choosing to be silent to provide space for minoritized voices to be heard. But one thing we should not do is be silent when we see racism - especially institutional racism. SILENCE IS VIOLENCE.
*: and no, that doesn't mean asking Black folks to do extra work and taking on more emotional labor by teaching us.
This is hard work and this is work that never stops. But is there any work that's more important?