“One either endorses the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist,” Kendi writes, adding that it isn’t possible to be simply “not racist.”
from New Yorker Magazine article Aug 18, 2019
It’s not enough to say, “I am not racist,” and I feel that it is time for us all to join in the battle against anti-black racism and racists. Recent events and tragedies in the news are too numerous to mention (Arbury, Taylor, and Floyd). They have left my mind spinning, and I want to do something supportive and meaningful with the privilege I have as a blogger for ETFO.
I am a white, middle-aged, cisgendered male who has watched from the sidelines, trying to mind my manners and my business for far too long. I have become uncomfortable with the skin I am privileged to be born in without becoming part of the solution to overthrow the overt and ignorant racist actions of my predecessors, contempories, and self. I want to use my next two posts to encourage all educators to join me on a journey that leads to our collective allyship in the fight against racism.
Educators find themselves on the frontlines of many socially volatile spaces. It is impossible not to be in the middle of things that impact our world because we are responsible for teaching critical thinking skills as part of our work with students. More importantly, our students are directly affected whether it is by witnessing daily violence and oppression in media or because of way they are made to feel by existing systems because of the colour of their skin. They need to see their teachers standing up for them. We have fought for good working conditions. Now it’s time for another fight against anti-black racism.
This means asking questions, listening for understanding, and allowing for ideas to be shared that lead to growth and change – especially during times of great unrest in the news. This also means being uncomfortable when answers to questions cannot be found at the back of a textbook or anywhere else for that matter.
To be sure, teachers are dealing with torrents of important issues right now and we must prioritize one above the others if we haven’t done so already – that is racism. First, we need to know where we each stand before any of us can commit to overcoming the central issue of the day, week, month, year, and history of humanity around racism? So where do you stand as an educator? Are you trying to keep your head down, your nose to the grind stone, and avoiding making any waves on the calm waters of your practice? Admittedly, there can be a lot of peace and safety by being a witness to someone else’s battle.
But that safety is not a privilege that everyone has, there is something bigger at stake than our comfort in all of this. It is the entire fabric of our existence as educators to be the ones who foster change and encourage potential in our students. We are also really good at taking a stand along side of the oppressed in order to make something good out of bad situations. It’s time we weave a new and stronger layer.
In some places we witness systems, employers, and staff working together and taking stands against racism in solidarity. I know school boards have been embroiled in significant issues to do with anti-black racism in the past years. Some have been making slow progress to correct their past mistakes and lead forward. Breaking down Structural/systemic racism is crucial, but it must happen at the same time as we identify the signs of individual racism. Check out the 9 slides on this post from @theconsciouskid:
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Racism is not limited to the individual choices of "bad people". It is structural and embedded into all aspects of society—this includes laws, dominant cultural norms, and our very own consciousness. The actions of Amy Cooper and the police officers in Minneapolis occur within contexts and histories of power and privilege. While social and professional consequences for their individual behaviors are absolutely essential, we also need to understand how individual acts of racism are a reflection of systemic (structural) racism. We hope this breakdown of individual vs. structural racism is useful. #AmyCooper #GeorgeFloyd #Antiracism #Antiracist #BlackLivesMatter
In know that there are countless educators already learning and working together educate themselves and others in order to move from allies to activists through social and academic spaces.
Consider the wisdom in this quote from Ijeoma Oluo
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
There is so much being done already to equip hearts and minds for this battle. Yet, it seems that ideological differences continue to be amplified in the media, and allowed to build up until the pressure below the surface of a once capped/dormant social volcano rises up. A volcano has erupted somewhere else. Now, those lying dormant in our own backyards are experiencing significant seismic activity. So are you going to be standing at the bottom when the lava flows? Probably not, because like me, our privilege has us miles away watching out of harm’s way.
I understand that not everyone is capable of standing in the streets to demand justice and change, but of each of us can use the privilege of our voices to show support, demand change, and to state unwaiveringly, “I am anti-racist!” Once you’ve said it, it’s time for action.
This is a much bigger commitment than saying, “I am not racist,” because it is not enough to say that you are not something. The time for neutrality is over. Saying, “I am anti-racist!” means you are standing up against anti-black racism, and are willing to take action. It means that you are going to help others get out of danger when the volcano explodes.
Your turn. “I am anti-racist!”
If you said those words, most likely, you are already taking the steps to move from acknowledgement that racism is an issue that plagues our world. It means you are working as an anti-racist ally. As teachers, we are used to taking on challenges in the face of adversity. Now how can the tragedy of recent events north and south of the border be used to support our students in and out of the classroom so that something positive can come from recent tragic events? It’s our turn to ask how we can help?
In Saying, “I am not racist” is not enough part 2 I will continue this thought stream and will share what I plan to do in my own life to grow into allyship and activism. For now, let’s say it together, “We are anti-racist”.