There has been a LOT going on since my last post. I’m venturing into an area that I’ve written on before, but it’s one that I can’t seem to leave behind – the concept of equity.
For the past few years, I have been on a journey of learning about the systems and structures that are in place in our society today, and how those systems have impacted many of the colleagues, friends, students, and the families I serve. That learning began long ago but was really brought home during my participation in the Undoing Racism training that all district administrators from my school district participated in during the summer of 2017. The learning has included multiple meetings and conversations with colleagues in our district as well as outside of it. It has included presentations from outside voices in the equity space (just in the past year that includes Kelly Wickham Hurst, Cornelius Minor, Dr. Paul Gorski, and Sarah-SoonLing, just to name a few). And much of my continued learning has come from books that help me to not only understand more about my own privilege but also about the oppression that I can never fully understand because it isn’t my lived experience. The stories of Amaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd just to name a few recent examples have reminded me yet again of the privilege I have and the oppression that some feel.
In the district that I work, we have defined equity as the concept of giving each individual what is needed to succeed within our global society. With that as a mission, the recent events of our world have left me feeling that I cannot remain silent. I needed to do something.
So today I sat down at my computer and I typed an email to my staff, sharing with them much of what appears above. I wanted them to know that I support them and the work that they do, whatever it may be that they are going through. I know that there are some on my staff that have to deal with the type of oppression that has led to racially motivated violence all over our country. I also know that there are some on my staff who are still working to come to grips with the privilege that we have, and the potential guilt that may be felt as a result of that. And I also know that there may be some who have not yet been able to examine the place of privilege that we live in, and want/need to learn more.
In my current position, I recognize my own power and privilege. I want to take advantage of the platform that I have. So as I was thinking about how to help be a part of the solution to tearing down the systems that oppress others, I shared with my staff a list of books that I thought might help them on their own path. I’ll share that list with you here. In order to support my staff in their learning, I also let them know that they were free to pick any of the books below, or any other book on equity that they wanted, and forward me the invoice so that I could buy it for them. I challenge my fellow administrators to seek ways that they may be able to use their budgets to support the continued learning of our collective staff. The education system is one that was built on inequities, and the only way to change it is for those of us inside the system to fight for better systems.
Just like my staff, I encourage you to look over the list of books below and select one or more of them to read so that you may also learn and grow at this time. I believe strongly in the role that white allies will play in making a difference moving forward. Hopefully, these titles will help you identify some potential opportunities for your own learning.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. This book is actually considered a Young Adult Nonfiction piece. It breaks down the history of our country and helps us to better understand why we are where we are now. The writing style of this book feels almost conversational.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Many people believe that in order to be a racist, you have to be a bad person. What this book taught me is that good people can have racist ideas and actions. This belief about racist = bad leads to a lack of meaningful dialogue between the races.
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. As a white male, I don’t think I recognized the role race played in my life until fairly recently. Debbie Irving, the author of this book had her own “aha” moment. This is a story of one white person’s journey in learning about how race has impacted her own life.
How to be an Antiracist. This is the one book on this list that I have not yet read, so I can’t give a meaningful background of the book, but I am planning to participate in a book study with some of my former colleagues this summer and look forward to learning more from Dr. Kendi.
You should know that with the exception of Waking Up White, the books on this list may be on backorder because of the number of people recommending them. I also encouraged my staff to look in multiple places for these books, starting with https://bookshop.org/ because it supports local and independent book shops, and as an added bonus, currently the prices for these books seem to be better than the prices on Amazon.
Finally, I shared with my staff that we will have a lot of work to do this fall. We will need to build a community back up that has been torn apart by a global pandemic, and one that has been hurt by the racially motivated violence that has been going on for a long time but has become so visible this week. We don’t know how long either of those things will continue to influence our lives or the lives of our students. I encouraged my staff to be thinking about what we can do to make sure that each one of us feels safe and accepted for who we are, as well as what we need to do to create identity-safe spaces for each child who walks through our doors.
I’m curious to hear what titles you might add to this list? What books am I missing? What other ideas do you have about how we might change the system, or prepare for a return to some kind of normalcy in the fall. I know I have much more to learn and would appreciate your thoughts and ideas.