Dismantling Racism: Working from the Inside Out

In the first of our Pass the Mic series, Ayanna Cooper provides resources that support anti-racism, equity, and access in the U.S.

America is crying everyone’s tears. Crying because of all she stands for—the freedom, liberty, and opportunity that has not been genuinely extended to all. The recent senseless killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, by police officers, one by a retired officer, have stoked the flames of protests and calls for immediate action.

The world watched as protesters flooded the streets in various cities across the U.S. and in other countries. I remember in 2015 when Freddie Gray died while in police custody, which also led to civil unrest and protest in Baltimore, Maryland. The following year, my colleagues and I presented at the TESOL International Association Convention a session entitled All Lives Matter: The Language of Oppression, Resistance, and Recovery, not only as a way to acknowledge the horrific event but also as an attempt to put language to what often leaves us speechless with sadness, frustration, and justifiable rage.

As educators, how do we make sense of the inhumanity? How can we teach lessons about equity and justice for all when the actions of society are in stark contrast to these ideals? How are we best preparing ourselves to model healthy citizenry for future generations? There is no single path or step-by-step guide with all of the answers. It will take a multipronged approach.Fundamentally, we must start with ourselves before we can teach and authentically engage others in this necessary work. Similar to the directions explained by flight attendants, should the cabin lose air pressure, please place the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. This article serves as an extension to support several conversations that have been had for decades, conversations centered around not only why racism and other -isms continue to exist but also how to eradicate them.Just as Gholdy Muhammad’s article “Rethinking What Matters: Incorporating Anti-Racism into Teaching” (Language Magazine, May 2020) affirmed, “If we are sincere in our desire to create a better world for all and help youth become empathic, humanizing beings, we must focus on identity and sociopolitical consciousness in schools.” We must start with ourselves and our spheres of influence.

The following is a list of just a few resources and organizations that can help to elevate our own understanding of how to dismantle racism while at the same time moving the work forward. This is by no means an exhaustive nor prescriptive list but one that highlights some of the voices from the movement in which we all must take part:

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. From a therapist’s perspective, Menakem examines the effects of systemic racism in the U.S. Its effect on our bodies and psychology is not isolated to Black and White relations. He also offers an alternative perspective for what we can do to bridge the racial divide.

Equity Literacy Institute, www.equityliteracy.org, offers services in professional learning, equity coaching and leadership support, and equity strategic planning.

Black Lives Matter, https://blacklivesmatter.com, was founded in 2013 in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Color of Change, https://colorofchange.org, is an online racial justice organization that has been in existence for ten years. This organization works to support and empower Black communities while holding corporate and elected officials accountable. Some of the reforms they advocate for include criminal justice, voter rights, an end to White nationalism, and economic justice.

Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton. This book, designed to facilitate candid conversations about race between educators, has served as a support for over two decades. Explanations are offered as to why students are disengaged and why achievement gaps persist. Additional learning opportunities are offered throughout the year, such as an Annual National Summit for Courageous Conversation and a Latinx Summit, both planned for fall of 2020.

Teaching Tolerance, www.tolerance.org, provides resources for K–12 educators geared toward supplementing curriculum that supports civil and inclusive communities. In addition to classroom resources, they offer professional development, publications, webinars, and podcasts. Of particular interest is the framework they offer for teaching “hard history” in grades K–5.

Take it Down!, https://takeitdown.org, supports the removal of Confederate statues. These statues are symbols of White supremacy and are funded by and preserved by public tax dollars. In recent events, statues of Confederate soldiers and Christopher Columbus have been defaced, beheaded, and torn down. Helping students understand the historic relevance and preservation of such artifacts from U.S. history is a part of building the future and inclusive communities we aspire to create.

UndocuBlack Network, http://undocublack.org. Founded in 2016, 65 Black undocumented people participated in the first Undocumented and Black Convening, which spearheaded the development of the UndocuBlack Network. This national organization with regional chapters in Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, and Washington, DC, advocates for the development of stronger communities, immigration protection policies, racial justice, and access to resources for Black immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, living in the U.S.

Also noteworthy are these books:

  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo 
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 
  • Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education by Paul C. Gorski and Seema G. Pothini
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
  • Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy by April Bell-Baker
  • Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris 

Last month, we witnessed a widespread interest, from large and small corporations, cities, and states across the U.S., in the observance of Juneteenth (June 19). Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they were, in fact, free—two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War, and two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (tolerance.org).

Juneteenth has long been celebrated in Black communities by spending time with friends and family, cookouts, parades, and the like. It embodies themes of the culture of resistance, deeply understanding emancipation, and American ideals around freedom and liberation.

What it has not been is typically taught as part of standard school curriculum. What will be interesting is how this acknowledgement of freedom for all will be further understood, highlighted, and celebrated as part of U.S. history.
Like the lyrics sung by Sade Adu, “Somewhere in my sadness, I know I won’t fall apart completely,” I am optimistic that we will rise, recognize, strategize, and mobilize as part of rebuilding the communities we were meant to be. Only if we do the work from inside out. The world is watching.

Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is an advocate, writer, and owner of A. Cooper Consulting. She is author of And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools (Corwin). She is a frequent contributor to Language Magazine and highlights experiences of traditionally marginalized educators and the students they serve.

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