Recent events have shaken me to my core, and the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd suggest that people across the country are similarly shaken. These are dark times, but if there’s anything that seems like a glimmer of light to me at the moment, it’s the fact that so many teachers are reflecting on how to fight racism:
- “I’m a White educator, where do I start?”
- “How can I help?”
- “What if I get it wrong?”
For me, a Black educator and mother to a Black 16-year-old who has reached the appearance if not the legal age of manhood, these questions stir hope. Folks who don’t look like me are embracing the idea that the fight for equity has to be everyone’s fight. But fighting racism is a big job, and when the fires of outrage cool, we teachers will be confronted with the reality of planning deadlines, testing schedules, and another hundred things that are all in a day’s work. The difficult work of equity may become just another item on a desk crowded with to-do lists.
What Can Teachers Do?
The answer, an old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course—and achieving equity is no different. Take small bites that can have big impact and don’t worry about getting it wrong sometimes, as you inevitably will. If you keep going, you can do something that brings about change.
Reading: Even if you only have 10 minutes, you can learn something to help you create a more equitable classroom. Websites like Teaching Tolerance, the NEA’s EdJustice, and KQED’s Mindshift feature resources for lesson planning as well as lessons for you as a teacher. Teaching Tolerance is the perfect place to start, whether you want to use bias-free language to teach tolerance through reading with young learners or plan a social action campaign with high school students.
In addition to a rich collection of K–12 classroom resources, the website features self-guided PD, on-demand webinars, and podcasts that may enable you to earn a certificate—check with your administration first. Those can easily be broken up into small chunks of time. And note that many of the site’s feature articles list recommended actions at the bottom.
If your goal is to understand the Black community better, sites designed for Black audiences like The Root, The Undefeated, and Huffington Post’s Black Voices are good places to start. These non-mainstream media outlets feature content by minority and minority-supporting journalists. You’ll find content on topics not covered in mainstream media, like coverage of historically Black colleges and universities, news about Black brands and influencers, and stories like this one on MIT’s first Black female student body president in its 159-year history. If you’re teaching Black children who are generally inundated by media that does not reflect them, these are priceless ways you can enrich your current events and show-and-tell circles.
Watching: You can improve your cultural competence and learn about Black Lives Matter by watching “4 Black Lives Matter Myths Debunked” on YouTube, which will answer quite a few questions on social justice issues, probably including some you didn’t even know you had. And if you want help in having real discussions on complex issues with young children, the YouTube show LivingRoomProtest will lead you through conversations on being Black, politics, pride, and even death and the afterlife—try the episode “Education Is a Human Right” for starters.
If you want entertainment with a cultural component, Netflix has a host of shows that cater to a Black audience, as well as original content that regularly features diverse character lineups. Hulu has not only a small curated selection of Black Stories but also six seasons of the binge-worthy, socially conscious Black-ish and its spin-off prequel Mixed-ish. While Black-ish might be a little campy, it tackles real issues surrounding racism, bias, and social justice issues that arise within the Black community.
Scrolling through social media: This can also be a high-yield way to learn more about Black culture, antiracist strategies, and teaching through a socially conscious lens. Following organizations like EduColor and hashtags like #BlackTeachersMatter and #Equity will yield content from educators who either teach people of color, are people of color, or both. And consider visiting a Black church, which you can do even now online: The Potter’s House of Fort Worth’s Pastor Patrick E. Winfield II, for example, is an educator who regularly addresses social issues. Even if religion isn’t your thing, the Black church is a good place to go to gain culturally relevant perspectives.
Taking action: For the civic-minded, the Kellogg Foundation has put together a website that lets you create your own personal plan to support, donate, or volunteer in the way you find most relevant. This site can help you focus your attention on one or two civic tasks with broader impact.
Social action is also a great way to involve students, which multiplies your impact. You can teach students how to write emails or letters by asking them to write to your local government in favor of policy changes banning the eight most deadly policing strategies listed at 8 Can’t Wait, which has ideas on how to call or email your government yourself—there’s a script you can use or adapt.
Looking within: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take inventory of your feelings. It’s normal to be most comfortable around people who are like you. It’s just not good when that makes you and those like you an “us” and those who aren’t like you a “them.” Use a journal to sort through your personal feelings on racism or read books that provide perspective on systemic inequities and bias. These long-haul strategies will produce change in you while you take more immediate action in other ways.
The devastating events of the last days have left me shaken. I have felt anger, fear, grief—so many emotions. But I have also felt buoyed by the great outpouring of support from my less melanated colleagues who want to listen, learn, and find out how to do better. So many of them are already doing amazing things with diverse students. This piece is dedicated to them. They give me hope that this time, we will fight racism together and bring about lasting change.
Don’t stop now. How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time.