There Is Work to Be Done!

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Friends — The mood in our country during the last weeks has varied from anxiety to outrage to anger to solidarity, from hate to support, depending on who and where you are. One month ago today George Floyd died. I find that interest peaks right after horrific events like these, but then many people move on with their lives, so I specifically waited to create this post.

This post is dedicated to all those readers who feel unsure of how they can make a difference. I have friends who are afraid to ask: “What can I do?” They are afraid to ask: “Why do people say Black Lives Matter?” They are confused about the term “white privilege” because they didn’t grow up wealthy. They are taken aback when they are told that being “colorblind” is not a good thing – or even a thing at all. They are people who do not consider themselves racist but worry, “What if I am?” If I had to guess, they are people who probably identify as white and probably grew up in a setting where most people were just like them.

People – believe me when I say: we have work to do.

We have work to do to understand white privilege – what it is and how it has affected us and others. We have work to do to understand institutional racism and also implicit bias. We have work to do to understand how we can create a difference and work towards equity and inclusion. Know that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” or even “I used to think differently”. As a white cisgender middle class woman I can tell you that my experience has been that the more I learn, the more that I find out I don’t know!

For this post I wanted to share books that I read that made a difference for me in educating myself and growing my awareness of white privilege, racism, hidden biases, and how these relate to my job as a teacher (and as a white teacher of children of color). THIS IS NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST! I’m sure there are many other wonderful books out there and please feel free to share them in the comments.

This list is dedicated to those who don’t know, but want to try to do better.

Peggy McIntosh’s article on the “invisible knapsack” of white privilege was eye-opening for me when I first read it in the 1990’s. Here is an excerpt based on it:

Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race was a book that I really related to. When your world is white, you sometimes don’t even think of yourself as having a race. I read this two years ago but I’m listening to it again on audio with my teenage daughter.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji is a fascinating read, focusing on “good people” who can have biases hidden deep within themselves, and Banaji’s research on this. I love this title and focus on the fact that these are people who would say “I’m not a racist”. We tend to think of “racists” as loud-mouthed, cruel, and ignorant. Banaji shows that even the best of us can carry biases within.

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo is our faculty read this year. The focus is on open and honest conversations and race and racism. I’m reading it now.

Whistling Vivaldi: How Sterotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele is all about understanding stereotypes, especially in America. I read this last summer for our faculty read and will never forget where this title comes from. The author found that some people reacted to him with fear as they passed him on the street, especially at night, for no other reason than he was a Black male. So he started whistling Vivaldi.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Di Angelo and Michael Eric Dyson. I read this several years ago. Again, eye opening and easy to read and informative.

So, if you read me, I’m guessing you’re a reader, but maybe you like TED talks, too. I know I do! Here’s a whole list of TED talks that they have compiled to inform about racism:

If you teach, you may like:

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniels Tatum. It’s a classic and I believe it has a new foreward to it.

The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys by Ali Michael, Eddie Moore, et al. I received this book after attending a diversity conference. I’ve spent 30 years teaching in independent schools and can say that, in my opinion and experience (which is shared by many), Black boys are our most at-risk students.

If you are on Facebook, I follow former colleague Jenna Chandler Ward’s Teaching While White. I believe it is also a podcast.

This summer my kids, who are both in high school, have summer reading of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. My own students are reading (as they always do) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I look foward to reading her newer books as well.

So — these are a sampling of books for those of us who know that we don’t know everything about racism and white privilege. It’s a start. But it’s also a start that has no ending in sight. We owe it to our Black and Brown friends, to all our friends, to educate ourselves and to strive to make a better tomorrow.

If you have resources to share, please do so in the comments. Please also know that every comment has to be vetted and approved by me before it will show publicly.

Happy Reading!

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