White folks, we have some work to do
“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’… One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.” Ibram X Kendi
Following this past spring and the #BlackLivesMatter protests, marches, and vigils honouring those killed by police brutality, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion about myself and those who look like me: White folks, we have some work to do. And the work starts with ourselves.
We cannot speak about systematic racism, we cannot hold an intelligent conversation about racism, we cannot actively fight against racism, we cannot educate our students, our children, and our family on how to be anti-racist if we don’t have a basic knowledge of racism and the history of systematic racism in North America.
Learn from the experts. Start with Black educators and activists who have been doing this work for decades. If you are not sure where to start, here are four Black educators that I am currently listening to and learning from:
Dena Simmons has served as educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator and curriculum developer, and is the director of implementation at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Her article, “How to be an Antiracist Educator” is an excellent resource to begin.
Cornelius Minor is a Lead Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and a former taught middle school English Language Arts at The Brooklyn School for Global Studies in Brooklyn, NY. His article on systematic racism, “Why #BlackLivesMatter in Your Classroom Too,” is a must-read not only for educators but for those wanting to learn more about systematic racism.
Dr. Kim Parker is a former high school English teacher, Heinemann Fellow, and is currently a teacher developer. She is a co-creator of #31DaysIBPOC, a month-long movement that features the voices of 31 indigenous and teachers of colour as writers and scholars. It is a great read for educators and those wanting to hear perspectives of diverse educators. I recommend that you start with Dr. Parker’s post.
Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding director of the antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. I would consider his book, “How To Be An Antiracist” essential reading for those wanting to learn about racism.
2. Self Awareness:
“We come to understand who we are, by understanding who we are not.” writes academic, educator, and author, Robin DeAngelo. Many of us are listening to a single White narrative that permeates what we read, what we watch, and who we listen to. It shapes the way we teach, parent, write, work, and think. In order for us to delve beyond the surface of racism, we need to spend some time in vigilant self-awareness.
Ask yourself: How aware am I of the stories and opinions of Black scholars, educators, writers, artists, historians, and advocates? How open am I to hearing the voices of Black women and men in my daily life?
Books: Find the last five books that you have read. Pick them up (or search for them online) and look on at the author. Does she or he look just like you? Make a commitment to yourself the next 5 books you read will be written by Black authors and continue to read Black authors.
Movies/Series: What are the last five movies or series that you have watched recently? Who wrote them? Directed them? Produced them? Were these movies written by, directed by, or financed by, people who look different than you? Make a commitment that the next 5 things that you watch will be created by Black writers and directors and funded by Black producers. Continue to watch content made by Black creators.
News: Who wrote the last five news articles that you read? Are you receiving your news from White journalists who work for media stations owned by White individuals? Start listening to the stories of Black journalists, Black historians, and Black academics.
Social Media: Go online and look at the last 20 people that you followed or became friends with on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Do they all look like you? Find Black women or men who have spent their careers studying and educating others on racism. Follow them. Learn from them. Listen. Even when what is said makes you uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of growth (hence my next point).
Dena Simmons writes, “We cannot afford to wallow in our discomfort regarding issues of race and equity.”
Writing this post is highly uncomfortable. I can hear two decades of conditioning clearly in my head, “It is not polite to discuss politics in public.”
Due to our White privilege, we can afford to say nothing at all. We can afford to be polite and comfortable. Because in North America, our laws, our education system, our justice system, our voting system favours White supremacy. If you are surprised by this, or question this, read “How To Be An Antiracist”. It contains extensive documentation and primary sources citing the history of systematic racism.
Journalist Mona Eltahawy writes, “Racism and bigotry are not polite, and I refuse to be polite in my fight against them.” As White people, we have to get uncomfortable. We have to shed our self-serving silence.
We must accept that to be anti-racist you must be political. You must be divisive. You must get uncomfortable. You must push yourself past your personal comfort zones.
So far, the previous three steps can take place without us ever having to get up off our couch. This is problematic.
The four officers involved in George Floyd’s murder are not facing charges because people sat at home becoming self-aware. They are facing charges because people organized, marched, protested, spoke, wrote, donated, supported, called, and boycotted.
We, as white individuals, need to do all of that.
I would like to close with some words by comedian and activist, Adora Nwofor, one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter vigil that took place in Calgary on June 6th:
“Taking action is going to be uncomfortable. There is going to be a very steep learning for many, many people. Go and find out. Go and do your research. Listen. Use humility when you are speaking with someone that you may have more privilege than. Support Black businesses. Talk to your Black friends and tell them that your emotions are not the most important part; their experience is so much more important.”
Finally, please note that this is not a 7-day call to action or a 90-day challenge. This process will take a while (specifically, the rest of your life).
Lisa Bush is a writer, educator, and author of the book Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms. She is the creator of the Working Mom Wellness Podcast.