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An Anti-Racism Journey, Part 2

Part 1 is here. I feel like this could be as many parts as I had time to write, and I really hope that people offer some feedback.

After I started teaching Black and brown kids, I quickly realized the work I needed to do, and in fact that all white educators need to do. Realizing that we have work to do, however, is a lot easier than doing the work.

If you've never thought about it, take a minute to consider how public school systems are entrenched in white culture. The hand-raising instead of calling out, looking adults in the eye, lectures, sitting still... many of these are not necessarily best practices and are not what many non-white people do at home, but we force kids to adapt to this mold. I remember when I first thought to question this. I was a student teacher in Sacramento and didn't think twice about asking a child to "look me in the eye" to show respect. A Hmong parent gently pointed out that, in their culture, it was extremely rude for a child to look an adult in the eye, and that her daughter was being polite by averting her gaze.

Oh. I had no idea.

Later, when I was a classroom teacher, a Black mom told me that part of why sitting still and raising a hand was so hard for her son was because they went to a church with call and response, and it comes naturally to him to just call out an answer. He wasn't trying to be rude; he was trying to be helpful! And, as a young white teacher, I just thought that calling out answers was rude, because it was not how you do it in school!

White people, myself included, can feel extremely defensive when we're called on things like this. "Of course we're not racist!" we want to say! "Of course our school system isn't racist!" But that simply isn't true. I hope that most of us are never intentionally racist. But we need to look at our biases and what we consider "the right way" and who that hurts.

So, I suppose the first step in anti-racism is to drop the defensiveness and start listening. When someone says, "a racist system," it's not helpful for us to bristle and say, "But I'm not racist!" We need to pause, take a breath, and listen. And REALLY listen.

Then, we have to act. The time for talk has passed. It is no longer enough to just "not be racist." We need to actively be anti-racist.

Racism is a public health crisis. We cannot sit by and watch.

I'd like more ideas on this, because this is the part of the journey I am on. I have some ideas, and will work on writing them up, but if you have any, please let me know!


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