I can't write this week without addressing the horrific killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. I understand that as a principal I care for a community within which there are diverse political opinions, but I can't soften what I need to say. As a public educator and citizen these racist killings horrify and traumatize me. Cell phones and social media allow us to bear witness, but as a history teacher I know Black Americans have been subjected to this violence for all of our history. This violence is traumatic to me as a mother, educator and human being. It's traumatic to my Black friends, colleagues and Arrowhead families. I need to be clear that in our school, we are doing what we can to grow citizens who see the content of a person's character and not just the color of their skin. We are educating children that systemic racism can be exposed and confronted, and we are teaching them to be part of the solution.
We know Gregory and Travis McMichael and Derek Chauvin didn't just wake up one day and think a Black life was worth less than a white life. They felt justified in killing Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd because they'd been taught their whole lives that doing so would make their white world a better place. We don't want that for our students. We want our students to live comfortably in a diverse society - to know the worth of human life and importance of civil rights. I know that if Derek Chauvin arrested me, he would not kneel on my neck until I died. I know that if I was jogging in Glynn County, I would not be shot by men in a pickup truck who claimed I looked like a thief. It's not circumstantial, it's racism, and as an educator and human being I am committed to changing things.
At Arrowhead we help our students learn about racial and cultural bias in developmentally-appropriate ways. In the primary grades we teach them about identity, diversity, and fairness. In the upper grades, as they learn about American history, we build on their understanding of identity and fairness by teaching them how to recognize and confront prejudice, injustice, and systemic racism. We hope that by doing this we are preparing them for the more difficult social justice curriculum and activism they will encounter in middle and high school. The following graphic should be read clockwise from top left to show you our K-5 development of a child's understanding of bias and discrimination.
As an educator I always ask myself, "How do I want my students to live in this world, and what kind of world do I want them to live in?" I want them to live in peace, free from fear and discrimination and free from the crushing burden of hate. I want them to understand what truly makes America great, and to reap the benefits of everything our amazing country promises. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing less.
Stay safe, stay strong and hang onto hope.
Some of you have reached out to me for guidance or resources on effecting change and increasing awareness and understanding around systemic racism. I want to share a resource called The Root of Us , which offers a variety of services to support you and/or your organization. The blog contains thoughtful, courageous commentary on what's happening in our corner of the country and helps answer the question so many white people are asking right now, which is, "What can we do?"
As a white woman I've benefited from systemic racism my whole life. I've been socialized to support white structures of power since I was in pre-school, and even though my intentions have been anti-racist since I was a young girl, I know I am still an unintentional part of systemic racism. I am part of this, and I have to work very hard - and have been working very hard - to become literate in the deeply entrenched economic, structural and cultural systems that continue to oppress Black Americans so that I can change myself and change the bigger power structure. It's not enough to want to. I need to educate myself so that I am successful in breaking down the structures that continue to oppress people, so I understand the unintentional ways I am still supporting racist systems and behaving in racially hurtful ways, and so I can effectively take care of the lives, bodies and futures of people I love.
Years ago I read Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's Racism Without Racists. If you are looking for a powerful explanation of why racism didn't end with the Civil Rights Act, I recommend it. It's written for white people because, let's face it, this is our problem.
I also recommend So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Being passionate about race and equity but growing up, as so often happens in the United States, in segregated white communities means well-intentioned white people are awkward and ignorant about how to talk about race. So many white women wish they had a Black girlfriend who could train them. Please don't ask the Black women you know to train you. Buy Ijeoma's book and read it and you will learn so much.
Recently, I've been working through Layla F. Saad's Me and White Supremacy. It's more of a course, with a different learning each day, and it is difficult. This is difficult work, because I feel like "I'm there! I'm an anti-racist!" but then I dive deeper into the issues and I realize I have so far to go.
This is work I must do to be, as Saad says, "A good ancestor." I want to be a good ancestor, and I want to be better at taking care of the people I love who are suffering right now.
If you are a parent who wants to join me on this journey - and I need to say Saad's book is for those of us who benefit from white privilege, because this is work we need to do - I welcome you to reach out via email and join me. If there is one of you we can work through this together as a community of two. If there are more, we can explore it as a group.
If those of us who benefit from systems of racism simply because of the color of our skin want to change things for the people we love, we need to work tirelessly to do it. And, as with everything, we learn better and are more powerful agents of change when we work together.
Submitted: Dec 29, 2020