White Folks Facing Race: Open Discussions of Race and History Must Continue in Our Schools
[This is part of my White Folks Facing Race series, originally written on July 11, 2021 to an email group created for community members in the Washington, DC area.]
I hope you’re all enjoying the summer so far! This is my last update from Arlington before I relocate to Denver, and it’s an important one.
I imagine you have heard about the angst being expressed against critical race theory and that some states have passed legislation limiting how/whether racism can be discussed in schools. Primary and secondary school curricula nationwide are already very whitewashed, so this move to further deny historical and present truths about slavery and racism is alarming.
This backlash is happening in Arlington. Conservative individuals and groups have submitted FOIA requests to APS staff members, questioning their efforts to be more inclusive and equitable in their work. Teachers have been intimidated and attacked for teaching about race and history. These white supremacist efforts serve to distract and divert time and energy away from anti-racist work.
Your voices are needed. The voices that seek to maintain the status quo or to preserve a racist society are not the majority, but they are loud and constant and growing. Anti-racist voices must be raised to remind our community and its leaders that we value the truth, we value an education for our children that helps them understand the world as it is, and that creates future adults who know how to work and live with anyone who is different from them.
Teaching children about racism does not mean making White children feel bad for being White. Criticism about critical race theory has been present since it began in the 1970s. The current backlash isn’t really about critical race theory itself, but is an example of White fragility, guilt and shame. It is a rejection of the reality of systemic racism.
My question becomes, if a person doesn’t believe in systemic racism, in which we are all indoctrinated into a culture of white supremacy by the systems around us, making each of us a victim of this ideology, then are they saying they would rather believe that only individual racism exists? In which case, they become personally responsible for every racist thing they do? (I know, it’s not that easy. Obviously, these people are GOOD people and don’t have a racist bone in their body.)
Our education system is one of the major ways we can address ignorance about racism, the truths of our history, and also how we empower our children and ourselves to take hold of the influence we have, accept that our country and our society have failings, and work together to address them. We must speak up to support the systemic changes needed in our education system (and elsewhere) so that we can rise to this challenge and so our community and leadership respond to our voices and not to voices of hate and fear and ignorance.
This need is not limited to responding to the critical race theory panic. The pandemic highlighted many of the other systemic challenges our education system faces, including student access to resources such as wi-fi at home and microaggressions and racism in schools. Some families and students saw significant benefits to keeping their students out of physical schools, unrelated to concerns about getting sick. The education system must see these realities and address them openly and consistently.
Please speak up, early and often. Thank people who you see taking steps to change the culture at APS into a more inclusive and equitable system. Reach out with encouragement and support to teachers and principals as well as administrative staff. It is not enough to only do the self-work of anti-racism. Wherever you are connected to Arlington’s schools, speak up, reach out, provide support, ask questions. Continue to show up or speak at School Board meetings. Listen to community members of color and amplify their priorities and goals. Make your voice heard.
Our voices have already made a difference. Don’t stop now.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.