It has been three years since George Floyd was murdered. Three years since we demanded educators teach differently due to what we witnessed in the summer of 2020. Three years since schools started to think about what they could do to make schools safer. I thought that long-lasting change had come, yet, what happened was an extreme backlash that often comes with any progress. I, and many who have dedicated themselves to eradicating racism, are still trying to heal from the trauma of being asked by multiple organizations, associates, and educational institutions during the summer of 2020 to “help” them figure out how to reconcile with racism, only to have our labor weaponized against us and accused of being racists simply for trying to teach others how to be anti-racist.
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress,” Frederick Douglass taught us, but how do we continue to show up when faced with so much opposition?
In the summer of 2020, I was approached to develop culturally affirming books to help young readers understand what was happening in the world around them. I was excited. The process and passion that went into the design of those books were a work of heart and art. *The Racial Justice In America series launched in February 2021, just in time for Black History Month. This series explained to children topics like the Black Lives Matter Movement, what it means to defund the police, and what their rights were as students. The second installment of these books explained the history of Black people in America that they would not find in their school curriculum, and the final installment of books celebrated the excellence and achievement of Black people from the arts, to STEM, to HBCUs, and Black wealth in America to show students that Blackness is not just about struggle and trauma. These books were placed in libraries, schools, and homes nationwide and overseas—they were necessary to dismantle systemic racism through a lack of knowledge.
In July 2022, I learned that some of the books in the series were being widely banned, I was disheartened. It has happened to countless other authors as well. Amanda Gorman was the latest author to have a work banned in schools—and she will not be the last. Make no mistake, the backlash that you are witnessing has absolutely nothing to do with protecting children, concerns about content, or anything else that the people behind these actions claim—this oppressive tactic all comes down to those in power wanting to uphold the system of supremacy by any means necessary. We should not be surprised at all when these things happen. We must expect them and prepare for them in three ways:
- Organization: "We are not outnumbered, we are out-organized." - Malcolm X: We must begin to connect and collaborate with other people who are dedicated to the work of anti-oppression. Following sites like Ed Post can allow you to find resources and support to continue to show up for this work. Organizations like The Education Civil Rights Alliance equips educators with the tools necessary to come against those who accuse equity-focused educators of teaching CRT in elementary and secondary schools. We need to recognize and realize that there is power in our collective action.
- Education: We need to educate ourselves on what all of these forms of backlash actually even mean. It is easy to get upset, frustrated, and to feel offended by these attacks, but being able to assess the larger picture and realize that this is not new, but a part of a cycle that occurs is how we empower ourselves to continue to show up.
- Restoration: Take your rest when necessary. One thing I often say when it comes to the work of equity is, I am doing this work, but not at my expense. We give so much to all we do, whether it be education, taking care of others, or just trying to live in an unjust and unequal world, so knowing when to take rest is vital to continue to give and restore. Breathe, take rest, in whatever ways that means, so that you can show up whole to all the parts of this work.
Kendrick Lamar (aka K. Dot) has a song called Mortal Man where he asks the listener, "when things hit the fan, are you still a fan?" We saw many people take to the streets, demanding better treatment, equity, and basic human rights, and as a response to those demands, we are now living in a time of sanctioned erasure.
You must understand that if you are going to be about the work of equity and justice, you must accept the fact that things have hit the fan, and you have to ask yourself, are you still a fan of the work?
This means if you write books, they may get banned. If you speak about anti-racism, you may get accused of being a racist. If you are a leader in the name of justice, you may have your character assassinated. This work brings about accolades and accusations, praise and criticism, progress and backlash. And, in the words of K. Dot, are you still a fan? Because this, too, is a part of the work, but it is the work that will change a mind, a heart, and a system.
These past few years have been exhausting, to say the least, when it comes to the lengths that people have taken to erase our stories, our leaders, and our history, but the work is worth it. It is worth the bans, the attacks, the scrutiny, and all the other things that come with it—because, along the way, progress is made.
So we press on; we move forward with our heads up, chins up, and hopes up through organization, education, and restoration! George Floyd’s life, and his death, meant something—it gave us the courage to speak up, speak out, and go out into the streets in the middle of a global pandemic and have the audacity to believe that all people deserved to be treated as humans—these attacks are par for the course—tough times don’t last long, but tough people certainly do.