Hello Educators. Happy Sunday to you. I hope you are hanging in there and managing the ongoing complexity of this time well enough. It is always interesting to determine how to start each of these posts. When I just started writing this blog several months back, each started with an exclamation of greeting and talking through the challenges of education from a linear standpoint. These days, if there is an exclamation, it rests on the reality of yet another issue or challenge that calls us to reckon with the truth of life that faces us unapologetically, demanding a response.
Over the past week, I heard the story of Governor Raimondo of Rhode Island signing an executive order to move the state forward with changing its official name, the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, due to its ties to slavery. The executive order would change the name to just “Rhode Island” on state documents, state agency websites, etc. Some may find it shocking that the word, plantation, could ever be a part of a state’s name while others may still wonder where the issue lies. In this country, we have almost romanticized the plantation in the media with the antebellum homes and idolized the lives of slave owners and the "normalcy" of their family stories while hiding the horror of the fields that surrounded the homes and the back houses where slaves resided.
Many longtime residents of Rhode Island commented that in all of their years in the state and for even those who received their education there, they recalled no mention of the full name of Rhode Island and what it meant. It is important to note that in 1989 a measure was brought forward for a vote to change the state name for the same reason and it failed by over 70%. Ten years later, we are in a different space where many have acquired knowledge and insight previously missing and it has informed a shift in attitude and perspective.
This is a time for deep learning and aligned action. In the quest to be an antiracist and to be active in dismantling systems and ideologies that threaten our collective wellbeing, ignorance is not bliss, it is dangerous. As a black female, I have accepted the reality of my own miseducation and have decided that it is my responsibility to become informed on my identity as it is in reality and not as the dominant culture would have me believe it is. It is on me to understand subjects such as: the full historical context of slavery (back then and now), cultural subjugation, black and brown indigenous people groups in the Americas before the settlers arrived, systemic oppression and institutional racism that guarantees a natural pecking order that favors white people, just to name a few. Not only is it on me, but it is also my charge as a parent to ensure that my son never walks around with a faulty understanding of who he is as a black man, where he comes from, what he is capable of, and how the world would want him to view himself and others who look like him. As educators, we cannot adequately support our students without knowing them beyond the current context which seeks to minimize who they are as individuals.
This week, my son and I started reading the book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Dr. Ibram Kendi. It is the young adult version of his book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Only two chapters in and we have been able to make the connections of how Africans were portrayed as violent and savage people with a need to be subdued and controlled to our educational system where black and brown students are made to walk in lines with their hands behind their backs. Different system, same message. In any district, you can drive across town to a predominantly white school, and the need for lines to optimize order and instructional time, seems to disappear. Even at young ages, there seems to be a trust of white students that they will figure out how to manage their bodies without significant interference from adults. This simply doesn’t exist for students of color and this reality tears away at their identities. It leaves them with a false sense that in this world, only control can foster a sense of safety and wellbeing.
If you are wondering, where do I start with all of this learning? What is it that I need to know right now? I’d like to ask a few questions for you to consider. When you think of your students or certain groups of races or ethnicities, for whom do you find it most difficult to exercise empathy? By empathy, I mean, the ability to understand or sense someone’s emotions coupled with the ability to imagine and hold the space of what that person might be thinking or feeling. With whom do you find yourself the most dismissive and impatient? Look through your social media feeds and scroll through your contacts. Whose lens are you currently missing? I ask because whoever that person or those people are, it is likely that you are lacking some perspective into their story. Without a broader perspective, your ability to know how to help, where to push, and what might be racist and more of the same is drastically limited. If we really want to bring about change, we must be willing to shine a light on our ignorance and take the time to build our capacity. And with all the learning, please…no sympathy…only empathy leading to advocacy. If you're wondering about which books to start reading, check out one of my recent blog posts, How Do You Raise a Racist? and you'll find a few options.
As always, if you would like to stay a part of this conversation; be sure to subscribe by clicking this link and submitting your email address on our page where it says…” never miss a thread.” You’ll receive an email notification anytime I publish a new post. If this post resonates with you, be sure to like it and certainly leave a comment. I appreciate hearing from you and learning how this blog is possibly supporting your journey. Also, feel free to share with anyone who you believe might benefit from this content. I hope that by engaging folks in the conversation and providing practical ways for them to plug in, we will work together to create a groundswell of change that starts within. Next week I’ll be pausing the blog but will return with a new post on July 12th. Until then…pass it on and…take good care.
In Solidarity and Love,