“[M]y silence is not benign because it protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it.” — Robin DiAngelo
Conversations about race in America are hard. It’s easy to offend, or to be offended, in these discussions; we quickly and sometimes unknowingly reveal our ignorance, our limits, and our biases. And yet, these conversations are also essential. As the 1619 Project laid out last fall, racism and its legacy has shaped the history of this country for the past 400 years in profound ways. If we are to guide our children towards creating a more just and equitable world, then those of us who are white must think critically about the dominant narratives of society, wrestle with uncomfortable facts about systemic racism, and begin to acknowledge how our racial privilege has unfairly functioned to our benefit.
This summer, our faculty and staff read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and we have slowly been re-reading it and discussing the ideas it contains. We have had to learn a new definition of racism that incorporates a structural dimension to society, rather than simply blaming individual bad actors. We have had to grapple with the fact that we are not exempt from the forces of racial socialization, and to confront the idea of white solidarity, or wanting to save face in front of others. We have had to recognize that we need to have an authentic interest in the perspectives of people of color, because the voice and experience of white people dominates national discourse. And we have had to lean into the fact, sometimes painfully, that our good intentions matter much less than the impact our words and actions have had on people of color.
Here are some of the questions with which we have been grappling:
- What made a school good? Who went to good schools? Who went to bad schools? If the schools in your area were racially segregated, why didn’t you attend school together? Were “their” schools considered equal to, better than, or worse than, yours? If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors/AP classes and the lower track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
- Colorblindness (saying you don’t see race or that race has no meaning) is a form of racism. How do you see/have you seen color-blind ideology in your own life and teaching practice? How does color blindness show up in school and how does it impact students of color? What evidence do you have that color-blind policies are not leading to more equitable outcomes for students of color?
- How does racial belonging play out in school? Do students of color feel they belong? How do you know? How is the burden of race a reality for students of color? What are some examples of how they would feel burdened by race?
Last year our school celebrated Kind is Cool awards, which were given out at our First Friday assemblies to recognize students who had embodied our school value of kindness. There’s no doubt in my mind that kindness continues to be important to children and adults alike, but as Robin DiAngelo points out in this short video, kindness will not end racism; what will make a difference is justice. So that’s where we’re headed.
Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20th, is the United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice. Gateway School’s definition of citizenship explicitly calls for teachers to help students operate on multiple levels, from the personal and local to the national and global through curriculum that is real, topical, sensitive, and moral. We invite you, as parents and caregivers, to similarly engage with your children on the topic of social justice; you may be surprised at their deep understanding of this idea. And perhaps you’d enjoy thinking together about what you can do to improve the lives of people in other parts of the world, as children are often eager to get involved in supporting entrepreneurship through micro-lending websites, supporting health and nutrition programs, and establishing connections with rural schools.
Teaching our children that they have the power to promote justice — now that is a transformational education.
Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School