I wrote this piece before hearing about the unjustified shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. When will it end?
You may have seen this scale before. It helps to analyze where you are in your unlearning of racism through your actions and words. My question to you regarding the graphic is not where you are, it’s where have you moved FROM.
Where were you when you heard about Tamir Rice? Where were you on the scale when they started removing Confederate statues?
And with Breonna Taylor? Ahmaud Arberry? George Floyd? And now Jacob Blake?
Do you consistently have to “wait for the details” to know whether or not you feel the shooting of an unarmed individual was just? Does it require the end of human life for you to move or is there a way to have you move against racism without the consequence of death to so many Black lives?
Reflect on where you were and where you want to be, and the COST it has taken to move you so far. Realize that the cost to move you on this scale is HIGH, and yet, we need you to move in order for “justice for all” to be attainable.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arberry, the world banned together to address the injustice of their murders at the hands of members associated with law enforcement. Thousands of human beings joined in solidarity to demand justice for their deaths, while also showing that the system that allowed these deaths to occur needs to be disrupted, dismantled, and redesigned. For many people, this moment caused an awakening to how systems have been built to support racial injustice, oppressing the many while privileging the few. In the aftermath, I have listened to educators wonder about how they could understand the injustices often sustained by such systems, how they impact their classroom and practice, and where to begin.
Understanding systems requires historical knowledge to understand the foundations upon which systems were created and who they were created to serve. For many Americans, this requires significant unlearning, as our K-12 schools often teach a palatable history in exchange for a truthful one. Look no further than the Twitter response to the first episode of Watchmen in which thousands of Americans first learned about the Tulsa massacre of 1921, or this summer when Twitter exploded when it realized that Juneteenth was about more than just a family cookout. It was as if people had an eye exam and could finally see clearly that there were reasons for why they never learned about either of those historical events in their K-12 education.
Unlearning false history requires real work and real time. For one, unlearning false history requires the decentering of one’s own experiences to realize that, well frankly, you’re not the only one on the planet and that people’s experiences vary. Our opinions and beliefs are built from what we know, and what we know is largely shaped by our experiences. The vision to be able to see past one’s personal experiences to understand how existing systems are at work requires practice, especially when you benefit from the system remaining in place.
With everything going on these days between the opening of school during a pandemic to the natural disasters happening across the continent, we are all doing a lot of cognitive juggling. Recalling the way you felt in May or June may be difficult, but it is important that you try. Those that benefit when the system remains in place are banking on you forgetting how you felt in May, on the conversations you had with fellow educators, and the questions you asked then. Those in power are counting on your amnesia and the current distractions of the daily job so that the system will remain intact, unquestioned, untroubled. I invite you to a moment of pause and reflection, to practice the work of seeing systems as you begin the year.
Here are a few questions to guide your reflection:
- How are systems based on race, gender, and/or class evident in my classroom? My school? My district? My state?
- Who benefits from those systems being in place?
- Who is oppressed by the continuation of those systems?