I write this post, speaking directly to my fellow white educators.
Over the past few days, I have seen many white educators express anger. Anger about racism, anger about the murder of innocent Black humans at the hands of the police, anger about our president. There has been so much anger.
And while I am grateful that people are raising their voices, I worry that these voices are being raised by white people right now because right now anger feels comfortable for as white people. It feels comfortable to express anger when murder is captured on video and goes viral. It feels comfortable to express anger when the country feels that anger along with you and expresses it vocally and across every social media platform that exists. It feels comfortable to express anger when you are expressing it alongside of athletes and CEOs and even alongside of Taylor Swift. Right now, expressing anger feels comfortable.
And we white people, we are so comfortable with being comfortable.
But what I know is this. Murder at the hands of a police officer, does not come from no where. There are so many things to be angry about that lead to the existence of the many racist systems that allow for incidents like the ones with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Racism does not begin with murder. Murder is the result of a combination of the many racist systems that our country is built upon. And our school system is one of those racist systems. And we educators, we make up that racist school system. And, we white educators have traditionally been terrible at expressing our anger about that.
So now that you might be feeling this anger, I ask that you hold on to it. Remember it when it feels less comfortable to express anger. Because when there isn’t a current viral murder to get angry about, there is still so much work to be done. It is the work that we can do that can prevent the murders from happening. Not in one day, not in one year, not, perhaps even in one decade, but we have more power then we realize, we just have to learn to see it and use it. And that comes from the long, hard, slow work that begins within us. It begins with learning about the racist systems we perpetuate, about seeing the ways we allow for white supremacy in our schools and then for speaking up when those racist systems are at play.
And in those moments, it won’t feel comfortable. It is not comfortable to be the singular voice raising issues of race and equity when all those around you remain silent. Right now, it is easy because there is a collective yell going out. But it is harder to be the single voice amongst the silence. But, for us white folks, this is our work. We cannot continue to stay silent. We cannot continue to leave this work on the shoulders of Black educators who are already bearing the weight of our racism. If we mean what we say when we ask, “What can we do?” Then we need to do something, even, and especially, when it doesn’t feel as comfortable.
So remember your anger.
Remember your anger when you are sitting in a meeting writing curriculum and you see your coworkers focused on a narrow, biased, white-washed version of history and of voices to teach to students.
Remember your anger when you are writing policies on behavior and consequences and you see that the behaviors being privileged are only those that match white social norms.
Remember your anger when you witness a coworker responding more harshly to the behavior of a Black student than they would to the same behavior coming from a white student.
Remember your anger when a Black educator speaks out against racism and you see white educators bristle and whisper that this issue is not about race.
Remember your anger when you are interviewing candidates for open positions and you are only presented with white candidates.
Remember your anger when a reading list is being built and you know that there are not enough Black voices represented in the texts being selected and an argument breaks out on the necessity of Shakespeare.
Remember your anger when a colleague suggests that hanging a Black Lives Matter sign in your classroom is controversial and suggests that you should take it down.
Remember your anger when, yet again, coworkers insist on celebrating Dr. Seuss Day when you know that Dr. Seuss’s racism has been shown in countless ways.
Remember your anger when you are sitting in yet another meeting where decisions are being made about children based solely on the standardized testing data that you know is biased and does not reflect the whole child that is being discussed.
Remember your anger when you see the data that shows you that your Black students are over represented in special ed and under represented in gifted and talented programs.
Because in these moments, that is when you need this anger. Allow this anger to give you the courage to speak up. Speak up even when those around you will roll their eyes. Speak up even when people tell you this is not about race. Speak up even when people say, “There she goes again,” or “We don’t need this conversation in OUR district.” Speak up when it is NOT comfortable.
Because that is when our kids need us. We don’t prevent murders by expressing our anger AFTER they occur. We prevent murders by disrupting the systems we are a part of that create the murderers and create those who perpetuate the systems that allow for the murders. And if that is feeling comfortable, then you are doing something wrong. Because you don’t get to ask, “What can I do?” If you are only willing to do the work that feels safe and comfortable.
For many of us, our school years are ending or are already over. August is a long way away. This August, in particular, feels a million miles away because there is so much we do not know. And that means, that the anger that we are feeling today, it is going to feel so far away by the time we go back to school. So we have to hold on to it now. We have to use it to motivate us to read all the books that all the lists are telling us to read and we have to start looking NOW for the ways we can use our position in our own system to create change. That is the work. And it is only going to happen if we are willing to remember our anger and be willing to express it when anger feels a whole lot less comfortable.