Teaching to Resist: White Supremacy Edition

Content Warning: Racial Violence. 

I wrote here a few months back about the struggle a few of my colleagues and I had discussed around teaching in 2017:

“How do I model coping with a world like this for my students when I am at an utter loss myself?” one of my colleagues asked.

“What can we do or say, especially in subject areas that aren’t directly related to current events, oppressive structures, or political goings on?” wondered another.

There is a line, we agreed, between acknowledging the panic that comes with witnessing preposterous cruelty on such a grand scale as the new government has sought to impose on the most vulnerable members of its society – from LGBTQ+ kids’ rights, to safe schools, to green card holders and visiting scholars turned away at borders, to hate crimes erupting in the light of day echoing the new administration’s language, ideology, and intent – and modelling hope and perseverance for our young charges.

But while those first few months of the Trump presidency may have caused more anxiety for what may have lay ahead, these weeks at the end of summer have spawned a practical reality that is as terrifying as any scenario that doomsayers could have predicted. It seems clear now that we are in a struggle against the forces of hatred and violence that mere months ago were dismissed as alarmist ravings. Nazis and white supremacists have been emboldened and given license by President Trump, and now march confidently in the streets; they drive cars into crowds of demonstrators; where opposed, the leaders of the alternative right claim their own victimhood, and accuse those who take issue with their racism of their own fascism. The leader of the country presides over it all as the Victim in Chief, complaining of the biased media, cultural Marxists, and violent progressives who see him as a degrading force upon the country.

In Canada, we are hardly immune. Conservative media outlets such as the Rebel have spent years forging alliances with the same Nazis and white supremacists leading the violent outbursts and marches south of the border; editorialists in the nation’s foremost papers write about the genocide of indigenous peoples as though it were a storm cloud neutrally passing over the prairie landscape; in public schools and universities across the country, the systems of inequality which uphold white supremacy and racism are replicated unto the next generation. While we may believe ourselves to be in some way superior to the forces of discrimination and hatred broiling south of the border, our history is no less fraught with exclusion and racial violence.

It is time, both in Canada and America, as well as elsewhere, for educators and citizens alike to engage in a conversation about – and confrontation with – white supremacy and how it continues to shape and draw our society. For this to happen, white people, settler people, those who constitute the oppressive classes in an unequal system, need to understand their own privileges. Need to understand whiteness and what they can do to dismantle white supremacy and racialized violence.

Audrey Watters points out that we need to understand history, to this end:

We must teach history – and teach with an eye toward de-colonization, anti-racism, and justice. For everyone who expressed shock about Charlottesville and insisted that “this isn’t America,” it’s pretty clear that your history classes failed you. Because this is America. We have to fundamentally alter how we teach history – and that means teaching about hate, not just love. It means teaching about American evils, not just American exceptionalism. It means teaching about resistance too, not just oppression. And it means rethinking all the practices tied up in our educational institutions – systemic and interpersonal practices that perpetuate this weekend’s violence.

The link in Audrey’s closing paragraph there takes us to Xian Franzinger Barrett‘s piece in Alternet offering 7 Ways Teachers can Respond to the Evil of Charlottesville, Starting Now:

As teachers, our job is not solely to pour mathematics, science, language arts or any other knowledge into the heads of our students. It is our duty to our profession, to our society and to the students to lovingly teach them to learn and grow as complete humans. The fact that the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville moved through dozens of classrooms that taught English, social studies, math, science and other subjects while nurturing or enhancing their white supremacist ideals is an indictment of our daily practice. It says that their institutions may have effectively served math facts or essay writing, but it was with a side of white supremacy.

Deconstructing this latent white supremacy will require a critical reflection of white/settler educators on their own narratives of history and society, as we must begin to acknowledge the water that we indeed swim in. Deconstructing our own perspectives and learning to do so for our students is the first step toward undoing the inertia that history has given us. “To redesign social systems,” Peggy McIntosh reminds us, “We need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.

Fortunately, the last week has seen many scholars and educators sharing resources and thoughts about how this might occur, among them this rich Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism – from Ferguson to Charleston compiled by Jon Greenberg at CitizenshipAndSocialJustice.com. It is an epic collection of readings and resources organized into open letters addressing whiteness in America, essays and explainers on Privilege, Micro-aggressions, and histories of discrimination,  links to help join groups that fight oppression, as well as introductions to raising racially sensitive children.

There is much to unpack, much work to do, and many voices which need to be raised up in our national conversations on race and justice. Many thanks to teachers and learners like who have shared links, readings, and thoughts at the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum hashtag, as well as those, along with Xian, who contribute to #EduColor.

Featured image courtesy of NY Daily News