Monday, July 6, 2015

The Time for Anti-Racism Is Now

The news about the legalization of marriage for all hit me by surprise and with an overwhelming sense of relief. It’s about time that we extended the basic right to marry to all humans. How in the hell did we let it take so long?

More than 20 years ago as a teenager, I remember developing a social conscious and thinking about how ignorant we were going to seem as a society through the lens of time. I considered gay rights to be the most urgent civil rights issue of our time.

And then I started working at schools in low-income communities with primarily children of color and I realized that the work we have to do with regard to civil rights is actually much broader and deeper and impacts an even larger segment of our population.

In the United States, the zip code you’re born into is highly likely to determine your success (or lack thereof). Racism is built into nearly every institution,

Two weekends ago I was at a conference sponsored by Montessori for Social Justice. We were specifically talking about how to create anti-racist schools that work to dismantle the persistent existence of racism in the United States. And even at that conference, racism reared its ugly head. I don’t think it’s productive to call out those people in this forum, so instead I will share an anecdote of how I exemplified white privilege. Because here’s the thing about racism: it’s not about being a bigot with explicit prejudices; it’s about recognizing that our country affords certain people more power, more privilege, more opportunity, more respect, and even more safety (as it has become increasingly evident to white people lately) based on the color of their skin.

The first night I arrived at the conference, I found my people. The educators at City Garden Montessori public school are among the most thoughtful educators I have ever met when it comes to educating for social justice. I stayed up well past my bedtime in order to learn as much as possible from them and others and push myself as a white person to continue to understand my privilege and the persistent, systemic racism that still plagues our country.

The next day, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a session about anti-biased, anti-racist education, which I enjoyed immensely.

After the session, I was in the process of selecting my next session when one of my colleagues asked if I was going to go to the session about culturally responsive teaching. I said, “I’m getting tired of talking about this; I think I’m going to go to the session about classroom management.”

Later, one of my colleagues of color illuminated for me how that comment was, in fact, part of the problem. The fact that I could feel “tired” of talking about racism and step out of that space stems from the fact that I am white and the color of my skin affords me an incredible amount of privilege and immunity. My colleagues of color can never step out of that space because they face racism on A DAILY BASIS. For example, my colleagues of color have to teach their teenage sons two lessons about driving: 1) how to drive and 2) how to drive while being black. The latter lesson entails how to take extra measures not to give a white police officer any reason to shoot you. This involves asking for permission to even reach for your insurance card.

I will not have to teach my sons these same lessons because my sons are white males. If they are heterosexual, they will be at the top of the hierarchy. They will be at the pinnacle of power within the United States.

As a white person with a commitment to “liberty and justice for all”, I have so much work to do. I need to continue to understand my own biases, my own prejudices, my own upbringing.

I need to continue to analyze and unpack my white privilege and to research and learn about the ways in which racism continues to create an unjust world for people of color.

I need to listen more to people of color when they share about their experiences, and I need to partner with them to find my place in this work.

I need to have the courage to confront injustice and to be open to feedback when I am explicitly part of the problem.

I need to figure out how to teach my sons (and the children and families at the public Montessori schools we open) how to recognize and dismantle 400 years of racial injustice in the United States.

As much as I want to take a moment to celebrate our major step forward as a country when it comes to gay rights, I also want to stay focused on the struggle that continues for people of color and for white people who continue to live within a dominator-dominated structure that prevents all of us from living our fullest lives.

This struggle has been too long for too many people. The time to change it is now.


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Kelsey said...

I appreciate you posting about this! I'm so appalled by the racially-motivated violence and discrimination in our country but sometimes don't even know how to talk about it online. I recognize that I come from a position of white privilege and so then question whether and how to say things. I admire your candor and willingness to speak up in a very public way. As a country we have a long way to go but it starts at the individual level with being aware of our own actions and being willing to have a dialogue. But also yes, HOORAH and FINALLY to marriage equality!

Erin F said...

In case you don't already know about it, Southern Poverty Law Center has an educators wing -- Teaching Tolerance -- with curriculum and conversations among educators that is pretty great. It can be found at

I also really appreciate Kelly Wickham's blog and other writings --

These conversations are so important and so hard and we HAVE to keep having them.

Olivia said...

I remember the first time I realized that "getting tired of" talking about racism was a position of extreme privilege. That has really stuck with me.

But the main reason I wanted to comment was because I just saw this video about privilege on Buzzfeed, and it struck me as something you might find useful or interesting.

(I've been reading and loving your blog for years but have never said hi, so: hello!)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kelsey! Yes, it's a lot easier to talk about meal planning! Way less controversial and easier not to say the wrong thing. But if we are going to start to dismantle racism, white people have to start talking about racism!

Thanks so much, Erin! I love Teaching Tolerance but have not yet discovered Kelly Wickham. Looking forward to it!

Nice to "meet" you, Olivia!

mamaschlick said...

I agree that saying that you're tired of talking about racism in a personal context or conversation with friends et al is racist and privileged. But weren't you saying it in a professional context? As in, I'm tired of going to training on this topic, I'd like to focus on others? If so, I don't see the racism in that. It's a conference and most people try to cover a variety of topics to attend. Couldn't your colleagues of color feel the same way about the sessions? Couldn't someone say they were tired of attending sessions on how to incorporate issues within the gay community without being anti gay? Acknowledging and understanding racism and privilege is crucial but "white guilt" is also annoying and condescending to people of color. I think in this professional context there was nothing wrong with what you said and if someone wanted to label you as racist because of it, it would be genuine to say, I didn't mean it like that- I didn't mean I'm tired of learning or discussing it but rather I'm tired of only focusing on it in terms of this conference and my professional goals and knowledge. I also think the comment to the pilot was fine. There's no right or wrong way. Trying to talk about racism the "right" way leads to inauthenticity. And the point of all of it is discussion and you could always discuss what you meant and share ideas rather than let someone tell you it's wrong. I think it's great you are committed to this topic, among others, and you should approach it the way you would other topics, and obviously be open to others' experiences and viewpoints, which you are. Thanks for sharing.

mamaschlick said...
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mamaschlick said...

Sorry! My comment published multiple times for some reason!

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