Teachers, Find Your Fellowship to Fight White Supremacy

In a society that is built upon white supremacy, where we all play a role in upholding its grasp, and so many of us benefit from it, how can we commit, together, to seeing it destroyed?

I recently rewatched the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (yes, I’m a nerd and an English teacher), and for some reason, this time, I could not stop thinking about the Fellowship of the Ring. A few hobbits, a wizard, a dwarf, an elf, and two humans all sign up to do the impossible. They traverse Middle Earth together, against all odds, nearly dying time and time again. They argue. They fight each other and then turn around and fight the enemy, all for one purposeto destroy the ring.

The Battle of Helm’s Deep is probably my favorite fight scene in all of cinema. When those ladders of Orcs rise against the fortress walls, and the camera spans over the thousands and thousands of Orcs lined up, ready to die for their cause, it feels so dire. Mindless soldiers fighting for Sauron. So impossible. And yet, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are like, “Screw it. All or nothing. We might as well fight to our last breath next to our brother.”

As I rewatched, my mind wandered. How do such different people commit to one purpose? In our world, which is increasingly divided politically and socially, is it even possible anymore to find someone willing to share a common burden? We can’t even agree on banning assault rifles. We can’t get universal health care. In many states, we can’t even say anything that appears remotely related to race...or history...or racial history.

In a society that is built upon white supremacy, where we all play a role in upholding its grasp, and so many of us benefit from it, how can we commit, together, to seeing it destroyed?

At the risk of sounding trite, I think we have to recommit to taking a stand. Every single one of us has some sort of unique positioning in our schools and our communities. We have to do something real.


Fellow White Folks, It’s Time for Us to Stand Up to Injustice

Speaking specifically to my white colleagues—your positionality allows you to take some risks. Challenge your colleague’s thinly veiled racist comments about “those kids.” Speak up in your department meetings about assessment policies that are rooted in implicit bias. Have conversations with your administration about the ways students are marginalized in your school.

If this feels dangerous to you, remember that your non-white colleagues are at even greater risk when they speak out.

Even more importantly, remember it’s not all about you. Don’t try to be a white savior. Many times, you can stand up to injustice by passing the microphone to someone else whose voice needs to be amplified.

And, of course, don’t do this alone. Just like the members of the Fellowship, you need to be in partnership with others who see the world a little differently. I know not everyone is lucky enough to have a cohort of colleagues you can trust, but I promise there is at least one more person at your school who is sick and tired of the nonsense.

Find that person. Then, find a second. Commit to joining forces, keeping each other accountable, and hoping to push back the fear.

We might not have mithril armor or the Horn of Gondor, but we do have social media and group chats. If you are struggling to find your Fellowship, I recommend conspiring with these folks.

  • The Center for Anti-Racist Educationthe academic director, Dr. Val Brown, is one of my favorite people I’ve never met in real life. She’s informed so many of my ideas about how to be a better ally and teacher.

  • ASCD is a membership organization with local chapters in many states who meet and regularly discuss relevant concerns in the profession.

  • Justice Caucuses within your unions, such as the WEA-LGBTQ Caucus or MEA FIRE

  • Rethinking Schools is a foundational source and community that shaped my pedagogy.

  • Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colorif you are abroad, this is a rich community of knowledge and expertise. White allies are welcomed.

  • Diversity Collaborative is another organization for international educators. Their purpose is to create and sustain a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just international school community through our focus on leadership.

Hope Teague-Bowling is an English teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington. She thinks and writes and speaks about faith, social justice, education policy and other things for her blog, An Educated Guess. She also co-hosts the "Interchangeable White Ladies" podcast.