Becoming Anti-Racist

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work Book Poster Image

One of my students gave me a book This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewel and illustrated by Aurelia Durand, published by Scholastic.

It was a winter holiday gift (December 2020) and it’s taken me until the end of February 2021 to read through it. It contains 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work.

Before I go further, I identify as white with Metis heritage. I grew up in a “mixed race” family of half siblings who had ancestry that included Black heritage (i.e., slaves imported from the Congo) and East Asian heritage (i.e., indentured workers from Sri Lanka). Even though our childhood was “white washed”, there were regular occurrences of other people pointing out skin colour differences within the family. My mother was once asked why she was nursing a “brown baby.” My younger sisters were asked if they indeed were full sisters due to their different skin colouring. With this experience, I thought I had done “The Work” but I realized from reading this book that I have so much more work to do!

Each page of the book brings more light to my anti-racist stance. Page 31 defines racism as a “personal prejudice and bias and the systemic misuse and abuse of power by institutions.” It discusses how institutions and ideas of norms enforced racism such as preferences for straight hair and light skin colour. It highlights the impact history has on reinforcing racism and the need to define people by asking “Where were you born?” Page 59 includes the ancestral trauma of chattel slavery and how “The history we carry with us is in our DNA and the stories we were never told.” The book encourages people to tell their families’ stories and how to set a path to take action by “Calling in and Calling Out” (page 112.)

I have not used this resource in class yet, as I was waiting for our return to the physical classroom. I know my approach to the lessons in this book will be to start with the book’s lesson and then see where my students will take the lesson further. There are some interesting activities that include starting a notebook to promote change. Within this notebook, students can:

  • List their identities p. 14
  • Create their identity map p. 15
  • Create a list of social identity categories p. 23
  • Reflect on their own race and ethnicity p. 29
  • Create an “I AM -AND I AM” chart p. 35
  • Identifying Microaggressions p. 51
  • Identifying their history beyond their family

I’ll stop here as this book is full of ways to engage students in learning about anti-racism! This book would be great to use with students in grades 5 and up. School staff would also benefit in using this book to explore their own journey towards anti-racism.

Please post any resources that you’ve used in class along with the appropriate student age/grade.

With this book, I hope to build my role as an ally and as a person who will “spend my privilege” through building awareness, support, and amplifying change.

Still working on “Doing The Work”,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work – Book Review

This Book Is Anti-Racist Educator Guide Written by Tiffany Jewell

Great Courses: America’s Long Struggle against Slavery via Prime Video

The Uncomfortable Truth

Africa’s Great Civilizations


Equity or Anti-Racism

Equity vs Anti-racism

As part of my advocacy for students, I’m on a school-based committee to address systemic equity issues within my school board. These board wide equity issues deal specifically with documented Black racism.

Within our committees’ discussions, a debate launched into what our committee should be called. Some members wanted the title, Equity Committee. Others preferred, Anti-Black Racism Committee. A third group of voices discussed a blend of both, Anti-Black Racism Equity Committee.


Equity is defined as “justice according to natural law or right specifically freedom from bias or favoritism” or “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality: something that is fair and just.” The idea of equity does not address the systemic issues that people face. Making all things equal does not compensate for the underlying challenges faced by groups such as oppression and socio-economic factors. Equity does not always invoke the action needed to overcome deeply rooted systemic cultural issues.


Anti-racism “is a form of action against racism and the systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. Being antiracist is based on the conscious efforts and actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level.”

In order for anti-racism action to be effective, all people involved must take a conscious approach to face their own privilege by acting against acts of racial discrimination and changing personal biases.

Does equity work, really work?

Over my various careers as a Geologist, Marketing Manager, and now Teacher, I seen many equity committees come and go. Well meaning participants discussed the importance of promoting equity in organizations but in the end, they failed to meet their goals as the initiatives merely scratched the surface. These committees also did not address organizational cultures that support systemic barriers and prevent the implementing of real change.

Equity for Women’s Rights

As a Geologist, over 30 years ago, I faced many systemic walls and gatekeepers that discouraged me from moving forward in my career because I was a woman. I lost track of how many times I was told that I should “just get married and have babies.” My colleagues were mostly White privileged men with wives who did the unpaid work of managing family and home. These men had the privilege of devoting all their time to their work. They rarely faced barriers.

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

As a Marketing Manager for a Canadian corporation, I was part of an “equity” committee. Here we discussed ways to give more equity to women. During an “Equal Pay for Equal Work” program, my corporation rated my job title to a job title in their warehouse; it probably had more to do with what I was getting paid instead of my level of responsibility. I did not get a raise in pay.

More Workplace Equity for Women

The equity committee discussed surface level approaches to support more equity for women in the workplace. But the managers and directors of the company were all men with White privilege. I felt I was treated equally to men most of the time, until I had children. Having children unearthed the many inequities faced by all working mothers. Besides finding good daycare, I had challenges staying home with my children when they were sick. Their father refused to take time off as it was a “career limiting move.”

I started talking with women parenting while working and suggested creating a support lunch group called “MAW – Mothers At Work.” This was quickly shut down by my supervisor as the gatekeepers were not comfortable with the existence of this group. I knew then that starting a daycare at the corporation was not going to happen!

The most significant memory I have of this time was when a meeting went over time and I told my supervisor that I had to leave to go home and feed my child. I could not get home late; I was breastfeeding at the time and had an hour’s commute to Burlington. My boss told me that if I left the meeting, it would be a “career limiting move.”

The corporations’ gatekeepers pushed for the equity committee, not to promote equity, but to give the impression of promoting equity as they were comfortable in the systemic culture that kept them firmly in place.

Systemic Organizational Barriers Against Anti-racism

I cite the above personal experiences as examples of how untargeted equity work is ineffective in making real change for those who need it. Real change means unearthing barriers to equity. This means that gatekeepers can either change their ways, or be replaced. In order to effect change, this means that people, who identify as racialized, must see people like themselves in leadership roles. Having a token person who identifies as racialized does not cut it.

Parents without their Voice Being Hears

As a teacher, I attended a school board meeting where a group of parents were advocating for special education support for their children. These parents had already asked teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board trustees for support for their children and this was their next step.  Listening to their stories, I wondered why these parents had to go to such lengths to get this support. In order to support these students, resources would need to be found. It became clear to me that the school board did not want to pay for the psychoeducational assessments needed to unearth these students’ specific special education needs. The board probably noted that if these parents got this support, then it would open the flood gates of more board paid psychoeducational assessments. Providing more opportunities for board paid students assessments would be very costly. These students were Black and lived in low social-economic households.

Lack of Resources to Support Students

In my role as a teacher, I’ve witnessed Black students not getting the support they needed to be academically and socially successful. Many reasons exist. Students may be on long waiting lists for psychoeducational assessments that are paid by school boards; note that resourced parents don’t wait for these assessments and pay for them privately. A lack of funding for extra supports, such as social work, could also be an issue in getting students’ support. Additional issues could be that students’ significant socio-economic issues distract from getting to the root of academic challenges. In the end, these students still move from grade to grade without the supports they need, falling further behind.

Targeting historic, systemic legacy of racism

Here, the heart of Black racism starts with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As early as the year 1503, the Black Slave Trade devastated African countries, making many Europeans and North Americans very rich. To what is now Canada and the United States, the Slave Trade shipped millions of people, forced into bondage into a lifetime of work in fields, households, and mills. It is estimated up to 12 million Africans were captured and forced into the slave trade as human property. Unfortunately, more that a million people never set foot on North American soil as they died on the journey.

In Upper Canada, now Ontario, a former slave, Peter Martin, brought the mistreatment of Black slaves to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.  Simcoe pushed for the legislation of 1793 Act Against Slavery. The Upper Canada elected executive council members, “who were merchants or farmers who depended on slave labour, saw no need for emancipation”. The Assembly did pass an Act Against Slavery that legislated the gradual abolition of slavery. This meant “no slaves could be imported; slaves already in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves would be slaves but must be freed at age 25”. It took until another forty years, in 1833, for Britain to abolish the slavery of Black people.

Enslaving Black Africans and African Americans would not end until after the American Civil War on December 18th, 1862 (only 158 years ago). This resulted in many freed slaves becoming poorly paid sharecroppers and workers. White supremacy movements and Black Codes were launched, a year after, in 1877.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement achieved political and social gains. This would still be not enough as the Black Lives Matter movement would rise in 2013.

A legacy 360 years of social and economic systemic oppression

The 360 years of slavery would leave a legacy of social and economic systemic oppression for all people who identify as Black.

As Dunia Nur, the president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC), states

Will Anti-racism work to overcome systemic bias?

For me, the push for equity for all is not enough. There are documented issues of racism against Black students within school boards in Ontario. It is time to dig deeper into challenging the systemic racist structures within school systems in order to give our students, who identify as Black, a chance to overcome their own barriers to social and academic success. As educators, we must take this difficult task of challenging our own biases towards those who identify as Black. Teachers work to promote the best opportunities for all students’ futures. We have more work to do.

I write this blog as a White woman with economic and educational privilege. I live my life carrying my White Backpack of privilege, never worrying about being carded or being asked to see a receipt when I leave a store. When my students, who identify as Black, complain about police bothering their families, I acknowledge that this happens and we talk about the roots of racism. When my students note that books have “all White kids” in illustrations, we talk about why this is the case and how it should change.

I will work towards Anti Black racism on an Anti-Racism committee as I unpack my White backpack …  as it is a life long task.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Anti-Black Racism in Education

Over this past year, The Peel District School Board has undergone a review specifically looking at systemic discrimination against our Black students and staff. The review clearly displays that anti-Black racism exists in the Peel District School Board and that there will need to be outcome driven action taken to reduce disproportionately and disparity in the board in many areas. In the report, data was shared that  would be helpful for all educators, administrators and school boards to review as they self reflect on their role in perpetuating anti-Black racism in their class and school board. After I read the review, some questions that I am reflecting upon are:

Student Discipline

Are Black students being suspended at a disproportionate rate?

In Peel, the answer is yes. “Black students are only 10.2% of the secondary school population, but approximately 22.5% of students receiving suspensions.”

How often is the OTH-Other code being used in suspensions?

For those like me, that didn’t know the codes for suspensions as set out by the Ministry of Education, they are:


You will notice at the bottom of the list that there is a code OTH-other. In Peel, this code was used “approximately 78% of the time in secondary suspensions and 40% of the time elementary suspensions”. These are problematic statistics that provoke questions about reasons that students are being suspended.

What board wide or school wide de-escalation protocols are implemented to reduce the number of suspensions?

In the report, there is clearly no board wide strategy that has been implemented to reduce suspensions. One school’s de-escalation strategy that was outlined was to remove oneself from the situation and ask “What is the type of incident? What are the assumptions being made about the student and student’s behaviour? And after walking through the version of events from the teacher’s perspective and student’s perspective, what makes sense?” This simple protocol reduced suspensions in this particular family of schools. Does your school have a process in place that is consistently implemented? Is it communicated well to all staff so that they know how to follow it? Does your board have a de-escalation process in place?

What steps have been taken to reduce implicit bias in staff at your school or in your board?

“Research supports the view that the increased rates of suspension may be the result of implicit biases amongst PDSB faculty who, participants (in the review) told us, viewed Black youths as prone to misbehaviour.”

Pathways and programming Choices

As an intermediate educator, guidance counselor and administrator, are you empowering Black youth and parents to ensure that students are appropriately streamed into high school so that the students can reach their full potential?

Many anecdotal examples were given in the report to indicate concerns about streaming Black students. One Math teacher stated: Do parents and students understand that it may be “better to receive a 60% in academic math than a 90% in applied math because the student’s options for future educational pathways are greater with academic credits”?

Are Black students disproportionately streamed into applied and locally developed courses?

In Peel the answer is yes. “In grade 9 and 10, Black students make up approximately 10.1% of the student population” but they are represented in the courses as follows: “in academic 7.7%, in applied 21.7% and in locally developed credit courses 25.4%.

Are black students disproportionately represented in specialized or regional programs?

Remembering that in Peel, the Black student population is about 10%, this is the representation in our specialized programs:


Does your school or board, embed Black history throughout the entire school year or wait until February?

This was consistently raised as an issue in the report and concerns about content knowledge among teachers was deemed to be part of the problem.

Is the primary focus of Black History taught in your school or classroom American?

I have personally sat through a lot of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks presentations in my teaching career and the review confirmed my experiences.

Are achievements of Black Canadians visibly highlighted in the school?

The examples outlined in the report indicates that this is not happening in schools consistently across the board.

Discriminatory Comments and Conduct

Is it policy in your board and school, that both the parents of the child who made the discriminatory comment and the parents of the child who had comments made against them are informed of the incident?

Examples of only the child who made the comment’s family being contacted were presented in the review. The family of the child who had discriminatory comments made against them were often never contacted.

What protocol do you have to address micro-aggressions in your classroom and school?

How do you address the n-word in your classroom and school?

In the review, students shared that the n-word was used often in their classrooms by students and that they often experienced inaction on the part of their teachers.

So I’ve read the Review, now what?

In light of this review and the events of recent months that clearly indicate profound systemic problems in relation to anti-Black racism in Canada, many educators are pushing themselves to be better. A better teacher, A better administrator, A better Canadian, A better colleague, A better friend. They are reading incessantly about white privilege, policing Black bodies, white supremacy and white fragility which is a great start to being self reflective.

To build on this reading, the Kojo Institute’s fall education series might be just be what you are looking for. In the fall, Kike Ojo-Thompson will be leading a three-part session about moving beyond awareness to strategic action that will aim to produce more equitable outcomes for Black students and educators.  The link for registration is here .


My local has worked with Kike Ojo-Thompson to develop a strategic plan going forward. I look forward to sharing my learning throughout this process as we begin to implement action in our local and in our board. I hope to report by this time next year, how we addressed some of the questions listed above and I am sure that as we go deeper, I will have a whole list of new questions.