With what we've collectively experienced in 2020 - all of the discussions we’ve held in our homes, work spaces, and classrooms; all of the personal reflection; all of the protesting and demands we’ve made of ourselves and each other, now is not the time to forget our commitment to anti-racism. After witnessing white nationalists, their compatriots, and sympathizers invade the Capitol Building in an attempted coup, those of us watching in shock have a responsibility to see this for what it is; a blip in a long history of entitlement afforded to people, specifically white people, who believe this country and its privileges are available to a select few and not everyone.
The same energy behind the Capitol Hill Riots is the same energy behind the Jim Crow era laws enacted by local and state legislatures to promote segregation and prevent access to Black people and other non-black people of color, and in some cases, even Jewish people. The same energy behind the Capitol Hill Riots is the same energy that fueled lynching throughout the south normalizing the terrorism of mob rule and the county sanctioned torture of Black men, women, and even children. The same energy behind the Capitol Hill Riots is the same energy that denies the Holocaust, believes in Manifest Destiny, and supports the mass genocide and land grabbing from Indigenous people.
But this same energy behind the Capitol Hill Riots, lives everywhere. It shows up in our inadequate and partially truthful textbooks; it lives in the people that do not intend to share county resources to ensure that all kids in their districts have a quality education; it shows up in racist memes sent in group chats between our middle and high schoolers; it shows up in our technology; it's in our boardrooms, on our playgrounds, and in our places of worship. This energy permeates everything we do and right now, we have a choice to make.
But... Are we ready to grow, for real? Are we so worn down, so tired, that we just want to be "normal" again? Do we just wish to lazily revert back to the "nice", non-invasive yet cancerous racism that is invisibly ingrained within our system? The normal that leaves a heavy burden on Black and non-black people of color to figure out whether they're experiencing unfairness or inequity because of something other than who they are? Are we excited to return to a time when Black, non-black people of color, and their allies are doing all of the heavy lifting, the internal processing work required of each of us when it comes to building a better system? Is that what we want? Because when I hear, "I can't wait for things to get back to normal", that's where my mind goes.
Now is the time to tap in. Tap into our shared, horrifying history. Tap into our shared love of freedom and liberty. Tap into the struggles we are facing within ourselves, in our homes, in our communities, and across this nation. Because when we tap out, when we choose to self soothe on fake news and conspiracy theory; when we choose to write off family members as "crazy"; when we choose to separate ourselves and hoard resources in the name of a fair and free market; we are self-sabotaging. We are begging to implode.
The framers of our constitutional democracy were imperfect, wealthy, land-owning, white men that had great ideas. But if we continue failing to realize that our greatest strength is our diversity, those democratic ideals and values will eventually go away. It's not just about teaching people about how this country works. It's about ensuring that when people want to do the work, want to lead, want to learn, want to build, want to be safe... there are no REAL or invisible barriers to their self actualization. When communities build themselves up, there aren't other communities coming in to burn it down, like in Tulsa in 1921.
At our core, we need to do the ugly work of rectifying how we came to be standing on this soil, with this economy, with whatever expectations we have, living today in the 21st century. Some of us were brought against our will. Some of us survived genocides on our own land. Some of us fled genocides in other places to seek refuge here. Some of us chose to come here and make this place their home. We did not arrive here equally but here we are all equal. That's what's missing from the American story.
Understanding the hypocrisy of justice unrealized is a skill that can be developed in classrooms if we allow students the space to think critically. Recognizing that cis, straight, Christian, white normative cultural expectations are oppressive to most communities in this country is not a shameful affirmation if we are all doing the truthful hard work required to create more equitable norms. Balancing the notion of the individual with the collective is challenging. That is the e pluribus unum we should be grappling with every single day. It is an ongoing growth and evolutionary process to recognize our responsibility to not lose ourselves in the group while also respecting the individuality of another and their right to exist. If another person is not experiencing the full breadth of what the Constitution has to offer, then my rights are not worth much at all... Democracy is fragile and it is only as apparent as the individual experiencing the most injustice.
How will you integrate anti-racism work as a personal growth pillar for 2021?
We are foolishly searching for sweeping grand gestures to save us when this work requires us to do the daily, intentional, soul saving work ourselves. Each anti-racist action must become a brick in a series of bricks that make up our life's work toward anti-racism. And when we combine our bricks with other people's anti-racist bricks, we begin to build a better foundation for a more equitable future... A future where none of us will reap the rewards. How can we find solace in this when we are so enamored by instant gratification?
We all exist with a range of privileges and disadvantages based on how we show up in the world, or rather, how we rub up against social norms and social expectations. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism, etc. impact us all. Period. For the sake of my charge for 2021, I'm addressing racism and have provided reminders, strategies and a few resources to help you jumpstart your thinking for 2021.
This is ongoing work and therefore it is exhausting to engage. I would suggest a bit of courage as you unlearn about the glasshouse of fantasy that so many of us live in. It's also ok to be totally bummed out when you realize that what we've believed for so many years needs a heavy facelift to match the hype. And it's quite alright to be lost in where to start. But don't succumb to paralysis, dig into the more immediate actions:
Lastly, you will run into people who aggressively, passive-aggressively, and indignantly pushback against anti-racism. That doesn't mean you bend over or stop moving forward on your journey... even if that person is in your own home, next door, in your school, or work community. Everyone has their own journey to take and hopefully the nay-sayers, those throwing around "woke" like a slur, and those disinterested in challenging the status quo will one day come around. It's a process.
Reminders and Strategies to Challenge Ourselves:
Here are a few resources to keep reading and re-reading to understand what’s at stake and to encourage you to find your piece of making it better:
Name it and call it what it is. Familiarize yourself with terms that you may have heard in the news or read in books. When we are all speaking the same language it increases our chances of solving problems in our communities and across the country. The Racial Equity Tools Glossary is a comprehensive, updated glossary of terms.
Of the 922 most powerful people in the media, entertainment, politics, the military, etc. only 180 of them self-identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, even as our nation grows more diverse. Learn more in this New York Times Faces of Power interactive.
Non-white school districts receive $23 Billion less than white school districts even when they serve the same number of students. This quick interactive EdBuild 23 Billion Report paints a clear picture of the inequitable way we fund schools and how parent advocacy serves to perpetuate that inequity and divide in who gets school funding and who does not.
White normative experiences are still standard benchmarks for living, learning, and working. It will take some time to build a more inclusive historical narrative, more inclusive and accepting social practices, more inclusive beauty standards, more inclusive approaches to safety and belonging, etc. For now, we have to be honest with where we are. Read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.
The 2020 election results provided some with a heavy sigh of relief, but for many, the return to “normal” means a return to the microaggressions, covert racism, and institutional racism that we’ve all grown accustomed to accepting. Read Stop Acting Like Racism Ends With This Election to help put this in perspective and to get inspired for the work ahead.
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I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.