We are a mother and daughter pair, educator and student, both struggling to survive two different pandemics: racism and Covid-19. We’re not doing well. We have the sinking feeling that “anti-racism” is increasingly becoming the latest trend in student performative activism and teacher educational lingo. Teachers and students alike are becoming progressively, intentionally, and possibly unintentionally more complicit in turning the action-oriented term “anti-racism” into another fashion trend, theatrical production, and the latest in edu-speak. For the sake of long overdue racial justice, the bastardization of the word “anti-racism” must end, and the abusive use of Black Lives Matter as a fashion accessory must cease, so that the much needed work of building an anti-racist society can continue or, in many cases, finally begin.
On December 4, 2020, Casey Goodson Jr. was murdered by police in Ohio. On December 9, 2020, Joshua Feast was shot in the back and murdered in Texas at the hands of a police officer. On December 22, 2020, Andre Maurcie Hill was murdered by a police officer—once again, in Ohio. By the time this piece is published, how many more Black people, mostly Black men, will die at the hands of police officers?
I Can’t Breathe
I no longer see righteous indignation from the social media platforms I frequented. The outrage seems to have dissipated from my peers, as well as from influencers I admired. It’s as though the movement for the betterment of Black lives—my brothers’ lives, my Dad’s life, my life—only entered their thoughts and received their empathy when it was in vogue to use social media platforms as a stage on which to perform their commitment to racial justice. Lights! Camera! Action! Shoot!
Posting support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement for fear of losing friends or as a virtual badge of honor claiming “I am not racist” is performative activism. Posting for the sole purpose of maintaining your social standing with those around you is performative activism.
Toting the BLM badge while showing indifference to the plight of other marginalized groups is performative activism at its worst. How do you post the BLM logo and intentionally ignore the vandalism of the Anne Frank memorial? How do you show callous indifference to the the genocide against Muslims in China, all while chanting Black Lives Matter?
What It Feels Like When the Trend Passes
“I stand with you. I hear you. I support you.” Those were all words told to me consistently after the murder of George Floyd. The protests in cities and towns across the world were the backdrop for Black Lives Matter. The marches were the curtains. When the marches stopped, it was as if the curtains dropped. So did the support. The show was over and it was time to move on. I—no, we—were abandoned.
There are no Grammys or Oscars awarded for performing your commitment to racial justice. Just pain. The pain of wondering and fearing: What’s next? Who’s next? Me?! Because as a young Black woman, I am the victim of anti-Blackness day in and day out.
I don’t need performances. I need support and change. I need an accomplice or, at a minimum, allyship. If you want to be a real ally, I need you to take the charade out of your activism.
- Educate yourself: Do you even know what racism really is? What about white privilege and white supremacy?
- Don’t be a closet hypocrite! What do you say and do when you are not in my presence v.s. when you are with a different friend group?
- Speak up! Challenge your friends and family members on their racist statements and actions.
- Ask questions. Ask yourself: Have I mourned the loss of another brown or black life today? Did I educate myself on topics such as police brutality, the death penalty, or injustice surrounding race? Am I only advocating for certain groups that I deem more important? Which ones? Why am I advocating?
It’s important to be transparent with yourself, so you can become a better ally, advocate, and activist who genuinely cares about the lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPoC). This requires participating in active allyship, keeping yourself accountable, and staying both educated and informed.
Ibram X. Kendi, an internationally known expert on racism, defines an anti-racist as, “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an anti-racist idea.” In other words, it’s both an active and an ongoing process of disrupting and dismantling racist practices and policies.
The time is long overdue to move beyond the sentiment, the fear, the shame, the anger, and all the sadness the word emotes. It’s time to whole-heartedly recognize, embrace, and engage in the ongoing work to secure an anti-racist future—for all of us. That means we all have to do more.
The Difficult, Personal Work of Anti-Racism
My beautiful and unapologetically black children deserve to have a better schooling experience and better world than I inherited. My fear is that it won’t happen. Unless, of course, we make it happen.
Creating anti-racist practices and policies are vital to the survival of BIPoC students. Our collective failure to strive toward becoming anti-racist will continue to destroy the hopes, dreams, lives, and communities of my people —BIPoC people.
Dena Simmons, an author, educator, and activist, writes that the arduous work of anti-racism includes the following five actions:
- Engage in vigilant self-awareness
- Acknowledge racism and the ideology of white supremacy
- Study and teach representative history
- Talk about race with students
- When you see racism, do something
Make no mistake: These are actions, not sequential steps that can be checked off once “accomplished.” As educators, we will never secure an anti-racist future if we fail to recognize the importance of every single one of the five actions. Ignoring, avoiding, or postponing any of them will stagnate growth in developing and implementing anti-racist ideas, actions, and much needed advocacy.
The Stakes Couldn’t Be Greater
We know that educator bias is associated with racial disparities in student achievement and discipline. According to Jordan G. Starck, Travis Riddle, Stacey Sinclair, and Natasha Warikoo, “These biases matter. Other research shows that teachers’ implicit racial/ethnic biases are associated with lower expectations of students, worse instruction quality and pedagogical choices, and less concern for fostering mutually respectful classroom environments. These factors negatively impact the academic achievement of minority students. There is also evidence suggesting bias contributes to the documented disparities in how minority students are disciplined.”
We are failing ourselves, our students, and our children if we don’t learn and teach about structural racism. This is often not addressed in implicit bias sessions. Until this happens, nothing will change. History has a terrible way of repeating itself. When will we learn?
Making Real Change
Implicit training sessions can be useful in helping educators understand the root cause of the racial microaggressions they inflict on their students and colleagues of color, but research shows that, “. . . simply being aware of the possibility of implicit biases while making decisions—have all so far failed to show benefits that last even a day or two.” In other words, attempts to train bias out of teachers may be pointless.
Self-reflection may be a great place to start, but it is just part of the journey. You can’t confront, disrupt, or dismantle racism that you are unwilling to see. Repeated use of the word “anti-racism” will not change the racist practices that have been in place in ourselves or in schools for centuries. If we want to transform our schools, our lives, and our society, it’s time to experience the discomfort of fully engaging in each and every one of the five actions described by Dena Simmons.
Resources for Schools
The following is a list of actions, attitudes, and strategies (or indicators) that school communities might take when fighting inequity.
The resources included here are specifically targeted to the development of racial affinity groups for educators of color where such groups can provide participants support to survive the racial isolation that exists in many schools and institutions.
From The Anti-Racist Educator: "I initially designed this test as a starting point for a guided discussion about white privilege with a senior form class, but it is a valuable tool that could be used in many contexts. Suitable for people of all racial identities, this exercise is a great tool for adults to raise their own racial consciousness (as a personal and professional development exercise)..."
A magazine feature from Learning for Justice: "Institutional racism can be hard to spot. Try our strategies for sniffing it out."