“I’m worried that my kids are going to end up being racist.” I’ve heard this sentiment more times than I can count. It is the first response I typically receive on the blog posts I write about racism. Why do so many of us feel this way? I think it’s because we’ve all been socialized to believe that racism is an individual problem. We mistakenly believe that racism is the result of one person being bad. The truth is racism is a systemic problem, and it’s a collective responsibility to help our children recognize and reject it. Then we can prepare them to combat it as adults.
In a recent Facebook post, a parent of a student in the school district of the city I live in described an incident that happened in a classroom: a white student asked a black student why his hair was in a “Afro” hairstyle. When the black student replied that his hair is naturally in that style, the white student responded that only “black people” have that hairstyle. The parent of the black student asked for the teacher to intervene, but the teacher’s response was that it was not her place to do so, and that “it was not a big deal”. The student said that he felt like he had been “triggered,” and that it was “painful” to hear someone talk about his hair in
The 6th. In January, as the angry mob stormed the Capitol, I was teaching my 7th grade English class. Course on the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, organized by the Free African Society. As the notifications on my phone beeped, I tried to continue teaching. My students were not paying attention to what was happening, but I was really scared. I was scared because it had already happened during the Wilmington uprising in 1898. I was scared because I saw America slipping into a dystopia.
The next day my students had many questions about the events that had taken place. Why did they attack the Capitol, what made them so angry? Why didn’t the police take the case seriously? What was his motive?
I planned to teach a class comparing the Wilmington uprising to current events, focusing on the idea of black and diverse leadership being threatened by white supremacists. There were parallels, but the result was different.
- In November 1898, a group of white supremacists violently overthrew a diverse and duly elected government in Wilmington, North Carolina.
- In January 2021, 123 years later, the American people duly elected a diverse political party with the first black vice president and the first woman from Southeast Asia and the first black senator from Georgia. The crowd that waved the Confederate flag and drew a noose on the horizon did not win.
My students were surprised that something like this could still happen in 2021, but history teaches us otherwise. To protect our democracy and ensure that history does not repeat itself, we must educate in a racially sensitive manner. With my knowledge of history and my understanding of power and privilege, I opened the eyes of my students to a full historical account of American life after the Civil War and up to the present.
My students need to understand how history relates to the present, and that requires teachers like me to study America’s racial history. If we are to do the anti-racist work of freeing our children from this horrible racist reality, all educators must speak openly about the systematic and overt racism in our society. Our students will face racist situations, and in order to prepare them to fight this phenomenon, we must tell the whole story of our country from the point of view of the oppressed. We must initiate a conversation about race while condemning racism if we want our students to appreciate different perspectives and honor different cultures.
History is not just about the past. This month, the Georgia legislature passed new laws that will likely have a major negative impact on black voters. Teachers who have a full historical understanding of America’s racist past will understand how such laws disproportionately suppress the voting rights of people of color, just as they did during the Jim Crow era in the South. If we want to combat and reject racism and develop students into critical thinkers and agents of change, we have a responsibility as educators to teach in a racially sensitive manner.
In my class, my students drew conclusions about current events and related them to history. They began to ask important questions and draw important conclusions.
Racism still exists and the legal system is not always fair. Yesterday’s events showed that white people are privileged, and it seems that when Trump said Make America Great Again, he didn’t mean people of color.
I can conclude that white privilege exists in the modern world. It’s frustrating that Trump supporters behave this way and that some even say nasty things about people of color on social media.
I might conclude that blacks are treated unfairly because of their skin color and that it is white supremacists who are racist against them.
We cannot prevent our students from encountering racism, but we can prepare them to fight it and reject it. To do this, we must commit to being racially conscious educators.
Photo: rob z, Adobe stock-licensed.