I grew up in Northern Alberta, for those who read my blog and are from communities made up of diverse cultures and people, my home town was not one of these places. I had a few first nations friends at school growing up and one black friend through junior high and high school. This was not some intentional slight. My junior high friend was the first black person I met in my town and her family was the only black family in our town. We went to Disneyland as kids and I recall my dad telling some people that we were rudely staring at that he was sorry but we (kids) had never seen anyone like them other than in movies. This was true. As I got older I moved to a larger place and made more friends but my social groups largely consisted of University friends and I was in Education so… yup mostly white people in Alberta Canada. Now I am an adult living in a rural Alberta and you, I am sure, can imagine the demographics of my community. My school is around 95% white. My students seem to get most of their ideas around race from the media much like I did as a kid and that frankly is dangerous. So I started wondering how I as an educator raised in a mostly all white community, learning in a program that never exposed me to other cultures and then being hired to be a teacher in more largely white communities how I could prepare my students for a world that does not look like where we are raised. To have not just empathy but respect for all other races and cultures. I wanted my students to understand what racism really is and I wanted to know what I could do to be a better teacher for not just the small number of students I had that were members of the Global majority but also for my white students because if the work I was doing was not helping them become Antiracist then the problems of racism would not be addressed.
I went to Twitter to learn because it was a place that I could find experts who had experiences that were completely different than mine that were completely based in whiteness and my white experience. I wanted to learn because I wanted to better myself not just as a teacher but also as a person. I was that person when I started my Twitter journey who used the “not all white people” line when I felt attacked. I came across discussions led by the group #DisruptTexts, Dr.Kim Parker, Lorena Germán, Tricia Ebarvia and Julia Torres. Those discussions around simply questioning the texts that I was using in my class gave me a starting point but I needed to learn more. So I learned to listen. I followed different discussions, read the books that were recommended and brought them to my class. But that was never going to be enough.
Putting books on the shelf was a start but it seemed to me those books on the shelf and the pat on the back I gave myself for having that diverse library was not doing anything to actually help my students understand race, not being an ally to the few students of colour in my classes was damaging in ways I had never known and they never would have told me about. I only learned those things again through looking at the work of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, People of Colour) educators. Last year was the first round of #31DaysIBPOC an essay project organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia. 31 essays from different members of the IBPOC communities telling their stories. Some of those stories addressed the very issue some of my students were going through but never voiced. The tokenization in Social Studies class of FNMI students when we ask them about “their” culture without understanding that there are thousands of different communities in Canadian First Nations alone with unique cultural practices. My textbook never taught me that and when you see “Plains Native” in a text book you whitely assume their cultures would be the same. And in making that assumption with other our students even more. Reading the words of educators who grew up facing that kind of othering really opened my uneducated eyes. The writers of the first #31DaysIBPOC project will likely never know the impact their words had on my teaching and in extension my students but they started me on a path to be better for my students and I am grateful for it and this years edition that wrapped up today has just emphasized the important more.
So last week I was watching a Webinar by Dr.Dustin Louise who spoke about the important of decolonizing our education system. I started planning how I was going to change how I approached my new courses with this decolonizing lens. How I was going to help my students see that Whiteness has shaped our history and why we need to question that and challenge it because if we do not we are accepting it as fact and erasing the stories of so many others. History has largely been built on colonization, the erasure of others cultures and stories and so if we are asked to examine world view how can we not examine that without challenging whose worldview we are starting from? So that is where I am going next.
In the End
After watching the events of this last week with protests and riots in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police office and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet being investigated here in Canada I know that just having my students read books like All American Boys, or Dear Martin is not and will never be enough. I know that we have to not only have conversations but we must critically evaluate our practices and materials. We have to challenge our co-workers who make racists comments, we have to challenge the narratives our students bring to the classroom that cause harm to members of our classroom or community.
In the end, AFTER THE BOOKS we must ask what is next. Then we must take steps because as it has been said a lot this week, The trauma that is inflicted by whiteness and white supremacy on our students of colour that goes unchecked and uncorrected, becomes the trauma that spreads harm to our communities when our students reach adulthood.
As teachers and especially white teachers we must do the work to be Antiracist because if we are not we are doing the work of racists.
I again express my gratitude to the educators who have helped me along this journey. As I go forward I would ask my friends starting this journey towards being and Antiracist educator to read, learn and act.
We can’t wait any longer.