What’s Your Stance on Racism?

This can be a difficult question for some folks to really answer. Of course, most people can answer quickly, and perhaps glibly, that they are against racism. However, when it gets down to it, far too many people declare themselves to be “race neutral,” or color blind, and it’s important to understand that these are not the same thing as being against racism.

The issues of racism in this country go back many centuries. It is obvious to nearly everyone that slavery was America’s holocaust and was at the heart of many terrible, terrible things. Less obvious to many people are the ways in which society has perpetuated racism and institutionalized a hierarchical citizenry based on race. Most people know about Jim Crow Laws in the aftermath of abolition, fewer people know about red-lining, the federal policies that prevented black families from buying homes and entering into the wealth accumulating cycle that property ownership affords. Still fewer people are aware the effects of redlining are alive and well more than 50 years after it was outlawed.

The manipulation of housing patterns and land ownership is nothing short of a system designed to keep a race of people in a state of need and dependency. As educators, we need to recognize that every child who walks through the schoolhouse door is affected by that system. Some have been privileged by it, without even knowing it exists. Others have been brutally damaged by it, and see it everywhere they look.

Any attempt to be neutral regarding this system, especially in an institution that affects every child from every walk of life in the community, is simply reinforcing an existing system of oppression. Educators cannot afford to be race-neutral or color blind. Any attempt to do so is racist in that it reinforces that racist structure.

Teachers and educational leaders may not be able to undo what has happened, but we can do several things to help fix things.

Educate. The primary purpose of school is to educate. Every educator and leader can take efforts to understand the role that bias and racism has played in the creation of old curriculum, apocryphal stories, and school structures and then work to create new, inclusive curricula, narratives, and systems. This is difficult work and you wont get any of it 100% right the first time out. Don’t let that keep you from trying. Adopt your humble mindset, learn, read, and when you know better, do better.

Step in. As you begin to know more, you will undoubtedly begin to recognize subtle signs of racism in systems when you previously had not seen any before. With this new knowledge comes new responsibility. When you see something, say something. Don’t let racist practices persist, even if they seem small. Micro-aggressions may be micro, but that does not mean that the effects are not real or hurtful to those that suffer them.

Be Public. When leaders make their commitment to a value known, it shapes the landscape of an organization. Being public about being anti-racist sends messages about what is acceptable and not acceptable in your school. It tells staff what is ok and what is not. It also tells students whether they are a guest in your school, or if the school is really there for them.

What is your stance on racism? If you are not ready to say that you are anti-racist, it is time for you to consider how you are able to serve the children you are entrusted with.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

ceo@16thstreetconsulting.com is dedicated to improving organizational effectiveness through equity, focusing on education, health care, and government.