Every Single Educator Has to Stand Up and Recognize Racism in This Country

How many men and women of color have to die for White educators of goodwill to help eradicate bias in our schools and nation? Like many, I have been horrified to learn of the deaths of a growing list of my fellow citizens like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile. These deaths compel me to recognize that we live in a nation that skews our perception to see Black and Brown people as “other” and “bad.” It was comfortable for me to imagine that we were living in a post-racial America where we could all just get along. My own family had diversified, giving me the gift of biracial grandchildren and Latino relatives. After all, aren’t these relationships proof that we have come far in our nation’s journey towards racial wholeness? And most especially, doesn’t it show the world that I am a good, non-racist who means the best? As a White woman living in a diverse world, it would be easy for me to bask in the glow of my own imagined goodness. After all, I walk around in a protective shield that allows me to live without anyone questioning why I exist, drive, study, present, win awards or speak. When I push back on issues, I am not accused of complaining or playing “the race card.” People listen and they don’t have to get past my skin color to open up their hearts and minds to what I have to say. When I am quiet about racial injustice and I don’t open my mouth when racist perceptions and bias flow through conversations in my many White worlds, I can live at peace. The price of this peace, however, is to sit back and watch somebody’s former students, colleagues, sons or brothers die. Those children whose hands we hold as they create finger paints or learn to read, will one day be inside or outside of cars at police stops. When we are silent, we allow the knee jerk perceptions of police officers that we once had in our classrooms to sometimes lead to the wrong choice. Why didn’t we help them to understand how one’s perceptions of “threat” are connected to how we see people? Was our own discomfort a barrier to helping our students learn and grow? Here are five ways for White educators to begin to eradicate bias in their schools, communities and minds:
  1. Recognize that nobody is colorblind. Just one look at most neighborhoods and we can see that people are still living in segregated zones. Even if our best friend is Black and our parents were activists, we see race. Stop lying by saying that we don’t.
  2.  Get over the guilt fast. We really don’t have time for too many White tears about how guilty we feel about persistent racism. Our tears and guilt have the effect of putting people of color in a position where they are supposed to comfort us. This conversation is not about helping White people feel better or nobler. We don’t have time for that. We need to recognize, with our colleagues of color, that serious work needs to be done.
  3. Become sensitive to ways that you or your colleagues privilege White students. Civil Rights data collections have seen how disproportionately Black students are suspended compared to White students. Why not get together to examine our own school data on punishment and suspensions, and work together to find ways to improve the school culture.
  4. Expand your world and grow your conversations. Dare to discuss race with colleagues of every race. Get free resources from organizations like Teaching Tolerance to facilitate simple conversations. Create professional learning communities that address cultural and racial differences and read books and make plans with people who don’t look like you.
  5. Recognize that anti-racism work is everybody’s work. The time has come when every single educator has to stand up to recognize racism in this nation and the ways that it affects the students we serve and our communities. We must learn and act.
I believe that hope is around the corner and that together, we can create a nation where each student we send out into the world, leaves us in safety, justice and power. For this to happen, as White educators, we have to shift our perspective to recognize that we have benefitted from privilege, but that we want to work together to create a future where people of all races and backgrounds can thrive.
Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Gifted and Talented specialist in New Jersey and has been teaching for 38 years. She is also the 2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, the winner of the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Award, a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, an America Achieves Fellow (2011-2015), a member of both the Board of Directors of the National Education Association ...

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