When the Milwaukee Bucks, a NBA playoff team, refused to take the court after the Jacob Blake shooting in August, that act of solidarity elicited responses that already aligned with people’s core belief systems. However, people quickly dispersed to their political teams. That act also produced a domino effect that cascaded throughout the sports world. The WNBA, MLS, some NFL teams and the rest of the NBA effectively took a knee. Interestingly enough, this was almost four years to the day Colin Kapernick first expressed his constitutional right to protest police brutality.
Scores of pundits and people bewailed the notion that athletes should not protest during their work time and if they did such an act, they would not have a job. “If not now, when?” has been asked by people who believe in the importance of anti racist work. Black and Latino people have long been under the cloak of making sure White people were comfortable when discussions of race surfaced. Courageous Conversations About Race by Glenn Singleton is the title of a well regarded book in education circles. We used it to frame difficult discussions that were needed at the time in my school building. It provided a necessary framework to speak courageously then. However, today’s climate is different. Recently, my friend and colleague John Howard asked “Courageous for whom”? Black and Latino people typically do not have a difficult time talking about race. We don’t need to be courageous to discuss race because we live it everyday. Black and Latino people can not take their skin off or change their ethnicity after a long day teaching or after another police killing of an unarmed Black person. It is everyday work and that is the courageous part. Everyday Black and Latino people work through the traumas and our emotions of oppressive racist policies and practices in their professional and personal lives.
Subscribing to the flawed belief that one group of people are inherently more dangerous than other groups of people, is supporting racist policies. This is where the work gets uncomfortable.
When anti racist work is discussed, most educators, myself included, would immediately say “ I’m not a racist” and that sentiment would be true. What also would be true is most of us have at one time or another supported a racist policy and did not even see it at the time. Again, myself included. In “Behavior” (Chapter 8 -page 80) of Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist , ” Kendi says “There is no such thing as a dangerous racial group. But there are dangerous individuals”.
This far reaching impact that is leveled against our Black and Latino students everyday is often the first turn in the school to prison pipeline. Too often, our Black and Latino students have been broad brushed with racist generalizations before they have taken their seats in a new classroom. You might hear their former teacher say something like “Oh, I remember Miguel, he’s a behavior problem”. Or something similar like “Well, Asians are good at math, so of course Jenny aced that test”. Both statements are derived from racist ideas and generalizations that were set forth generations ago.
I have said and subscribed to similar statements in the past without knowing the racist damage I inflicted in those conversations. On page 23, Kendi also says “Being an antiracist requires persistent self awareness, constant self criticism and regular self examination”. No one wants to be called a racist. The word racist has become a pejorative. When someone utters the word racist at an individual, all civil discourse stops in mid sentence. Defense mechanisms sprout up and people enter a fight or flight mode. The word racist has been thrown around with such reckless abandon that it has lost it’s original edge. It has been co-opted and misused to dispel any contrary point of view with a somewhat dulled edge.
Educators must learn to become aware of their own support of racist policies and practices, especially educators who teach our Black and Latino boys. Too often, our Black and Latino boys suffer the blunt trauma of racist policies and practices everyday they walk into school. Some scholars have called them micro aggressions. Others have called them daily assaults. I hear both sides and think back to The BOND Project’s theory in action.
If schools were a better place for boys of color, then maybe more of them would want to be teachers. If school was a better place for male educators of color, then maybe more of them would stay in the profession.
It is not sufficient enough to not be racist anymore or neutral. Neutrality and silence is complacency. In order to effectively combat racist policies, one must be anti racist in their everyday personal and professional lives. Educators must be courageous to engage in persistent awareness and self examination of their own pedagogical practices and biases. Educators must also be courageous to call out racist policies and biases in their building and their colleagues. This courage does not spring forth overnight or even after one completes a course or finishes a book. It comes from an everyday commitment to being an antiracist. I am not advocating for educators to wave a copy of Kendi’s book at colleagues as the final authority on this work. His work is one view point. There are a myriad of scholars that have also been involved in this work. Racist policies were birthed centuries ago and continue today wrapped in nationalistic rhetoric. It is a complex machine. This is truly everyday work to dislodge the knee that choked George Floyd to death on a street this past summer. It is everyday work to see The BOND Project’s theory in action begin to increase the paltry two percent of male educators of color nationwide in our schools.
Athletes have long championed causes outside of their chosen profession. Educators are just as passionate about our professions as well. We are not going to sit out and not teach students. Our methods will have to be different from professional athletes. Most educators have worked through equity training and study groups with a variance of success. Engaging in anti racist work is new for most, including myself. I am not an expert but a curious learner. Educators across school districts have started this work in earnest. Staff at my school, New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system, started an Anti Racist Educators club after the George Floyd murder. Teacher leaders Heather Holmes and Sara Kopf jump started this grassroots effort to learn about and amplify the work with our staff. Another friend and colleague, Daman Harris, principal at Wheaton Woods Elementary School in MCPS, wrote this recent article outlining his vision and leadership for what anti racist work looks like in his school. These are but two examples of educators leading from their heart and with their curious minds to enact real change.
We are professional educators. We teach children. Educators are well versed in reflecting after they teach a lesson and are equipped to do so in this work. Pirette McKamey writes in her article What Anti Racist Teachers Do Differently, “Teachers need to insist on using their own power to consistently reveal and examine their practice, and seek input from black stakeholders; they must invite black parents to the table, listen to their concerns and ideas, and act on them”. McKamey writes about Black students, but this also extends to Latino students as well. Our national teaching force is mostly a middle class, White female staff. Reaching out to families from a different cultural background can help facilitate genuine relationships that are needed for Black and Latino students to have a positive school experience. McKamey also writes that school administrators “must clearly and consistently communicate the anti-racist vision for their school, create professional development opportunities for staff, recognize teachers who successfully teach all of their students, and intervene when they see problems”. There are some who ascribe to the notion that educators have enough to teach already and adding something “new” would be time consuming and questionable. Anti racist school leaders know it is imperative to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It should be our everyday work to be anti racist in our pedagogical practices and to engage in daily reflections on our work so we may effectively make school a better place for all children. This is especially true for our Black and Latino children who too often have not had the benefits of anti racist pedagogical teaching.
The NFL and college football seasons are upon us. School has started for students across our landscape, virtually and in person. Professional athletes will continue to speak out against racial injustices while still dribbling. Professional educators will continue to learn how to identify racist policies and incorporate anti racist pedagogical practices in their teaching. Our commitment to this work will bolster our capacity to disrupt the cacophony of racism in our personal and professional lives. Our students are counting on us to teach them how.