Anti-racism in your school: 5 books to help you navigate what’s next

Anti-racism in your school: 5 books to help you navigate what’s next

What a month, huh? Protests in all 50 states and in cities around the world demanding equal justice, protection, and support of black lives.

As an educator, you are likely cognizant of the fact that you’re living in a pivotal moment in history. As a lifelong learner, you see this as an opportunity to challenge your own misconceptions, rethink what’s possible, and do your part to dismantle the stranglehold white supremacy has on every institution in this country. Welcome to the fight. We’ve been expecting you.

Reading is just the beginning

You’ve likely seen lists of books and resources to read during this transformational shift from not racist to actively anti-racist. The lists are numerous and detailed, often covering the history of whiteness, policing, and more. I won’t try to duplicate those lists here, as they are plentiful. Here are links to some of the lists that I have found most helpful.

[Y]ou’re living in a pivotal moment in history. […] Welcome to the fight. We’ve been expecting you.”

But here’s the thing: Reading about racism and whiteness isn’t enough. If all it took was a maxed-out library card and a few new boots on the ground at your local march, we would’ve done it by now. No, racism is so engrained, so entrenched in everything we do and experience, that reading about it is only the first step. We have so much to learn and unlearn. So many conversations to start and ideas to share. So I created a list of a different variety.

Since this is a blog for educators, I wanted to add a few things to your personal summer syllabus. These materials may not explicitly cover the topic of white supremacy, black lives, or anti-racism, but they present ideas, frameworks, and new strategies to help you have challenging conversations; build community; create inclusive environments; and navigate where we go from here. This is a list of resources to help you build on your anti-racism work and begin to lead from your classroom.

1. The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

This is a book about defining your own needs and learning how to take care of yourself so that you can be fully present and supportive of your friends and community.

Doing the work, like really doing the work, requires some serious introspection. It’s hard and challenging and forces you to see the not-so-great parts of yourself, your community, your country. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s supposed to be. Do it anyway. And do it with gusto. You don’t have to have all the answers or know if you’re “doing it right.” Just show up and be there for black lives.

2. Just Schools: Building Equitable Collaborations with Families and Communities (Multicultural Education Series) by Ann Ishimaru, edited by James Banks

While a lot of this work starts with you and your personal journey, it should continue in your classroom and school. Building an inclusive, welcoming, anti-racist school community is a group effort. This book tackles how to navigate relationships with families of color and build lasting relationships and collaborations rooted in different cultures, resources, and traditions.

3. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly

Are you angry? If you’re not, you’re probably not paying much attention to the news.

Women have been conditioned to believe that anger is counterproductive and unladylike. Black women can’t raise their voices without being considered “crazy” or “wild.” Isn’t that convenient for men in power trying to keep us quiet? Not anymore.

Reading about racism and whiteness isn’t enough. […] [R]acism is so engrained, so entrenched in everything we do and experience, that reading about it is only the first step.”

This book encourages women to embrace their rage as the powerful resource it is—to harness it and use it against oppression. Ladies, with our powers combined? Imagine the possibilities.

4. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success in Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott

Once you acknowledge how powerful and egregious white supremacy is in this country, it is difficult to see it the same way again. Explaining this to family, friends, or colleagues who haven’t made the leap can be difficult.

This book offers great tips and approaches for how to break down some of the barriers that prevent meaningful conversations. It goes further to discuss how to navigate strong emotions and improve relationships through challenging dialogue. Yes, it’s possible. And to move forward, it’s necessary.

5. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy

Tweet: Anti-racism in your school: 5 books to help you navigate what’s next #edchat #education #reading

When the uprising after the murder of George Floyd began, my social feeds were littered with well-meaning people saying, “I’m listening.” Listening is a great place to start, but only if you’re doing it right. And let’s face it, we’re probably not.

Murphy takes a look at the neuroscience, psychology, and sociology of listening and talks to people who are literally and figuratively professional listeners (think bartenders, radio hosts, moderators) to learn from the best. It’s got tons of advice and great tips for how you can be a better listener and truly use that power to empower others.

It’s a lot. All of this is a lot. Remember what you’re doing it for.

I can tell you from lived experience: Being black is awesome. It’s the racism that’s exhausting, oppressive, and limiting. Our stories are often told in the context of our suffering, from the Middle Passage and Jim Crow to mass incarceration, state-sponsored violence, and the countless murders of trans black women. While our heartache is ever-present, so is joy. There is joy here and those stories matter, too. That’s what we’re fighting for.

Black people can’t do this on our own. We need help from people who get it. And when educators get it and lead from their classrooms, they can make a world of difference. Watch this video of Betsy Wright, an educator in New York, about how she’s doing the work and why it matters.


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