I must confess that over the years I have been gravely disappointed with the White Moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not … the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension”
Martin Luther King Jr.
A great many people have begun the process of unhinging their previously held beliefs about race and privilege as the BLM global movement has gained momentum in recent weeks. If you’re one of these people, you have probably found it to be pretty unsettling work. I have recently pivoted back (since my grad school days) to devouring literature written by black men and women. I have been hearing them on social media, reposting their work and shedding a few tears at the injustice of this whole damn history and, as MLK Jr. puts it, “a grave disappointment with the white moderate,” of which I have admittedly been part of.
I have been thinking a lot about this concept of the ‘white moderate’ and about complacency. This is the work that I and others in my circles must do. I must interrupt my own complacency, push governments and young people to do the same, give up my affinity for order and instead examine that order, my place in it, and what I can do to help upend it. I am running into the concept quite a bit in my reading; it is the problem and changing the ideologies (and ultimately, the actions) of this group will be a massive part of the solution (if a solution is even a thing). “The great undoing” I will call it. Part of the great undoing for people like myself, is to think about what it looks like in the circles we interact with; our work, our philanthropy choices, our friendship groups.
This week I have been thinking about systematic change in schools as a way forward to impart real, lasting action; a movement for a group that will eventually grow, blossom, evolve and become something that shifts the trajectory of how we talk about race and privilege around the world; schools are a pretty key place to do this. They are spaces where the next generation learns how to form opinions about the world, where they find their voice (hopefully) and where they can learn how to ally. So, how can we begin to approach the great undoing in our schools, then?
As always, I will preface, I am a white woman, born into privilege and I have accomplished many of my goals in life. Mostly, I was born into my accomplishments and I have received intentional luck throughout the years because of the colour of my skin. My grandparents did not attend residential schools, my ancestors were not slaves, I did not live in neighbourhoods that were redlined, and therefore, generations of my family have had the great comfort of not having to think about race as a barrier to their success or the safety of their bodies. Therefore, anything I share with you in this series of posts, is not my own thinking but the thinking of those who have had to think about their skin colour as a barrier to their success and safety. I am only the delivery person here and this movement is not so much interested in my fairly newfound rage, but rather, what I am going to DO with it as an ally. So, here are their thoughts on creating lasting change in our schools as educators.
Get comfortable with discomfort – perhaps for most of your life, if you are white, you have thought, “I am a good person who believes in what is right with respect to equality and racial violence,” and you are probably very honest in that. But we have been told that this is not enough, and that fact can be very uncomfortable because we know it to be true. Glennon Doyle, in her book Untamed, compared her ‘unbecoming’ to getting sober after addiction; “uncomfortable as the truth agitated my comfortable numbness.” Coming off an addiction to ignorance is hard, and this is what is meant when we hear that this really is hard work. It will break your heart; Ta-Neishi Coates letter to his teenage son about the realities of living in a black body in America will break your heart; it’s supposed to. So, settle into this discomfort as the start to your great undoing. School leaders (I hope) are currently doing the same.
Why is your school doing this? What drives you? Rachel Cargle is a brilliant writer, academic and educator. One of her posts recently stayed with me (well, they all do), but this one stung; “anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people.” This one stung for 2 reasons, I think; 1. perhaps a tinge of white fragility was at work on my part (undoing is a continuous process and isn’t perfect) and 2. because I know it is so something white people would do, as we tend to become obsessed with self-improvement, especially in the upper classes. All of my research has focused on self-improvement to the point of micro-managing one’s body, food and mind. It is not surprising to me in the least that we might take on this task through an education in self-improvement about race. From my research, though, I have learned that this self-improvement to educate oneself is a great entry point into the real work that actually creates change for people of colour; it helps you become the person you need to be to ally with the cause. You must become that person before you can really help and talk about this effectively, but it’s not the end game.
Insist on real change – To become a real change-making school, that school community must move beyond research and content sharing, though this is a good start. Long-lasting and impactful change occurs in the boardroom and in the classrooms. It must trickle down from the big decision-makers and then live in every department and it must be part of every lesson beyond Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement. Teachers must retell stories beyond the ethnocentric texts in which they are given by the government; they should invite people of colour to tell these stories as they actually occurred. We will watch our students have a hard time with those stories because they are supposed to as part of their great undoing.
These actions, while all significant, are only occurring within the walls of the school at this point. While this work is substantial and important to create allyship, we are currently being reminded by the black community and activists that we must extend beyond the walls of our community to impose real change for those who have struggled.
Ally with those who are already doing the good work – As we all know, the BLM movement is not new; it has just come to the global forefront recently. So, of course there are well established and grassroots organizations that have been working tirelessly on the fight against systemic racism for years. Really, we are being summoned to join in this movement with those who have already been fighting. We are not really doing anything new, even if it feels new to us. This is how we can channel our newfound rage; through partnering with these organizations that have been doing the work. We can do this as part of our schools; we can raise money and awareness for these groups and we can support their initiatives and take them on in our own organizations and lives.We can invite individuals from these organization to speak to our students and then tell them how they can become involved. I have listed some of these organizations below, with an Ontario and wellbeing focus. This is really just a start in my research about creating real change and I will continue to share as I continue to learn.
So, I hope that as you begin to think about going back to work with your students in the fall (fingers crossed, in person) no matter your role, that you take these suggestions from those who have been fighting this fight for some time and use them to inform real, authentic change as a way to avoid complacency.
I also hope that you take some time to get outside, eat a Freezie with a kid and breathe in the summer air. We all need a bit of that right now, too.
Black Lives Matter Toronto – https://blacklivesmatter.ca
Black Youth Helpline – https://blackyouth.ca//services/#how-to-access-our-services
Black Legal Action Centre – https://www.blacklegalactioncentre.ca/
Black Health Alliance – http://blackhealthalliance.ca/
Black Women in Motion – https://blackwomeninmotion.org/