Racist stop Incidents & Learning Series

Angela Ward
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
10 Minute Read
September 29, 2020

Race is a social, political construction with very real impacts on a person’s ability to access the freedom promised to every citizen of the United States of America. Race does not care if you are white or black, it supports dissention and dehumanization when unchecked. Race forms the foundation for the structures and processes that elevate racism to its current state. Our schools are a microcosm of the society within which we all live. We operate schools at the political whim of school boards, state boards, legislators, and political administrations.

The United States of America have been in racial turmoil for centuries. The year 2008 we began to see a shift in overt racist discourse, dehumanization and a rise in racist hate crimes. The students who enter our high school campuses as 9th graders this year were 2 and 3 years old in 2008. What have they seen over their lifespan from the adults who are tasked with their education, their protection, their identity safety, in their homes, in society and in our public schools?

In this series I will share thoughts on the following questions:

Who is harmed when racist incidents occur in a school?

Who is impacted most? Least?

How does a school return from the harm caused by racist incidents? How does the campus community build or rebuild trust?

What can adults do to build trust with students harmed by racist incidents? What about staff who are harmed by racist incidents?

Why might a school leader not want to address racist issues?

What are we teaching and learning when it comes to race?

#AntiRacistEd Reflection/Action: Take stock of what exists in your school, school district, on your college campus to address racist incidents that stop teaching and learning. In schools we have go to protocols, processes and even policy to address bullying and harassment. Yet, when the bullying or harassment involves race educators do not engage these clearly established protocols, processes or policy designed to support in the moment decision making. In 2016 following the last presidential election schools across the US saw a rise in racist incidents. We are approaching election day again. Are you personally prepared to address incidents in your role? Is your school, school district, college campus prepared to address racist incidents? What steps will you take to prepare?

Week 2

What are we teaching and learning when it comes to race?

We are all subjected to the law. In our current reality the law is in jeopardy of being overturned on so many fronts. Not everyone considers the fact that educational institutions are run by administrators and governed by laws that are reinforced by legislators to make sure we do what is expected. What is expected is that we, educators, erase the true history of race in the United States of America. If we face the truth of race in this country we have to own that all throughout history citizens and non-citizens have resisted, protested, and fought back against much of the same issues we see people fighting today.

What are we teaching and learning when it comes to race? The 9th grade students entering schools across this country during twin pandemics are being taught a history that glosses over race, if race is addressed at all. Part of the ugly racial history of the USA centers on the slave trade. We cannot teach students in elementary school about civic responsibility without teaching them about the foundation of this country and all the structures that govern it. In some states textbooks teach that slaves were happy, content workers whose owners were good to them. Textbooks erase the indigenous roots of the United States glossing over the fact that the US border crossed Mexico and treaties were broken to steal land for expansion. I choose to use US or USA because the word “America” is used as a stand in for The United States of America erasing the rest of the continent the 50 states are connected to. 🧐

The USA was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and stolen from indigenous peoples who to this day fight the US government over rights to protect the land from destruction for capital gain. In elementary schools across the country, in our most vulnerable communities, social studies, and therefore civic engagement is not taught because teachers are forced to teach students to pass a test that has no bearing on their ability to be successful after their preK-12 education.

A practical history of race and racism might center on helping students understand all the ways schools are funded and how the law allows for certain protections based on the history of race in the USA. Title VI (six) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. It is this law as well as Title IX (nine), that form the foundation of anti-bias, anti-bullying, anti-harassment policies in schools and the need for #AntiRacistEd.

#AntiRacistEd Reflection/Action: When is the last time you reviewed Title VI & IX? Was it in undergrad? Graduate school? If you do not have these laws readily available for review you are not prepared to address racist incidents head on when they occur in your school, school district or higher education institution. I challenge you to read the laws and understand how they impact your ability to support the identity safety of all students in your care in PreK-20 schools.

Week 3

Who is harmed when racist incidents occur in a school?

Who is impacted most? Least?

What is a racist incident? It can come in many forms. Gestures, jokes, omissions, discrimination, bias. A racist incident can take the form of a video posted to social media that highlights racial stereotypes and dehumanizing words, phrases or gestures. A t-shirt worn on campus targeting a group of people with a dehumanizing image, word or phrase can harm the identity safety of a group of students or staff.

I chose to write this newsletter series because of those who are most impacted when racist incidents go unchecked in schools and workplaces. Racist incidents, in my experience, that shut down the efficient functioning of the school day are directed at those races of people who are historically marginalized. That would be people who do not personally identify and are not socially identified as white. It is racist to use the n-word. PERIOD. Especially if you are a white person using it because your black friend told you it was ok. What your black friend failed to share, and might be unaware, is that not all black people think alike, and not all think that word is a stand in for the word friend, pal, buddy or colleague. The word has a nasty sordid history that eliminates its ability to go mainstream and be accepted universally. How do I know? I’ve dealt with the fallout after that word has caused black high school students to openly resist and call for the expulsion of white students for use of the word. I’ve also dealt with the fallout of anti-Semitic language impacting the identity safety of students in a school, not to mention hijabs being snatched off the heads of young ladies as a joke.

Last week I reminded some and introduced to others Title VI & IX that protect people from racist behaviors, bullying, and hate-based issues. I will reiterate, it is imperative that we know and understand Title VI & IX if we want to change the impact of race and racism in schools.

When I addressed the black students about the use of the n-word I asked them how they can validate walking through the halls uttering the word as a stand in for friend or a salutation, but not expect their white classmates to see the word as acceptable. Speaking with the black students made it crystal clear to me that the word is offensive, even to them, in the “right” context. The students understand the dehumanizing history of the word and want to stop the pain of hearing the word in a derogatory way. I also learned from the black staff that in dealing with the fallout of racist incidents directed at black people it was as if a band aid was ripped off a partially healed wound. Who is harmed when racist incidents occur in a school? Nonwhite teachers, students, families and school leaders. It is dehumanizing to be an adult on a campus whose role is to support and protect students from racist incidents when you too are directly impacted by the same incidents.

#AntiRacistEd Reflection/Action: When racists incidents happen at school what policy is followed? How can policy be used to lessen the harm after a racist incident has occurred? How can policy be used to eliminate racist incidents from occurring and at the same time create an identity-safe school environment? We need to find ways to coexist, to freely speak, yet we have to understand the impact of our words and actions on people who think, feel and have different lived experiences than us. Sesame Street is providing us with strategies to do just that.

Week 4

What can adults do to build trust with students harmed by racist incidents?

What about staff who are harmed by racist incidents?

The answer is…

This question: What relationship did you have prior to the racist incident happening?

I direct a focus on restorative practices in schools and what I know from decades of engaging students and working with adults is the relationship is the most important component of restorative practices. When fights happen in schools administrators know what consequence to apply, it’s in the discipline code, manual, practices, procedures (whatever your district labels the code of conduct). Unfortunately, in some school districts restorative isn’t a consideration when it comes to fights because zero tolerance takes over. Yep, I said it. Schools should not be the place where “bad” students are shipped off to juvenile detention and alternative placements. Schools should be a place where educated, well informed adults look at the antecedents to the behavior and make a student-centered determination about how to get the student, ALL students, back to community (restore).

When charged to support students harmed by racist incidents it is important for campus leadership to look at the antecedents to the racist incident. Leaders need to reflect on the students who engaged in the racist behavior and develop an understanding of who they “think” the students are. Who have the students consistently shown themselves to be? The leaders should endeavor to understand the history of behavior coupled with the racist incident. Leaders also need to look honestly at their response to past behaviors that may have been left unchecked where the student is concerned. If no leader on the campus knows the student, your school has some serious relational capacity to build with the student moving forward. This understanding helps the leaders think about the relationships to the students and staff harmed and the possible perceptions of the students and staff harmed by the racist incident.

Language Pause: Let’s take a pause here regarding my language choice. It is easy to take on the language of the criminal justice system in issues dealing with conflict in schools. I hear it every day. Victim and offender are not student-centered terms and do not encourage adults charged with their care to take an objective focus or to make human-centered decisions. The language one uses drives the actions that follow. I choose to use human-centered language to aid my thoughts, words and deeds as I support students, staff, families and the community at large.

If the students who engaged in the racist behavior are known for negative behaviors the leaders have to ask themselves what interventions have been put in place prior to the racist incident? If no interventions have been put in place now is the time. What if the students are seniors in high school?? This dilemma should be considered before racist incidents happen. The decisions leaders make in the moment when they are fielding phone calls, media requests and the daily fallout on the campus are not necessarily the decisions that are best for the situation, nor are those decisions always human-centered. The students who are harmed and vocal will let leaders know exactly what they think should happen to the students who exhibited the harmful behavior. It is better to be prepared in advance, than to wait until pressed to make decisions on top of all the regular duties a school leader is faced with in a regular day of work in a school. Ask yourself whose voice should be included as you develop your proactive strategy to address racist incidents on the campus? AND, you do not need a “Task Force” that sits together 6 months to a year to pontificate “lead by” someone who has never engaged in critical self-reflection on their own racial identity. Decide, don’t subject AntiRacist educators to this mind-numbing exercise! Up to three months of critical love of your campus systems will suffice. You know what needs to change, develop the collective courage to change it.

What can adults do to build trust with students harmed by racist incidents? What about staff who are harmed by racist incidents? Relationships with students and staff are key to the trust building needed to heal from the fallout of a racist incident on a school campus. Adults refers to all adults, not just the university leader, principal or assistant principal(s), yet they are the ones with the decision-making authority to apply a consequence for the behavior. And please know, the students, staff and their families have the leader under a microscope when these incidents happen. Why? It’s not about you the leader, it’s about the societal impacts on the harmed racial group. Good person status does not apply here.

#AntiRacistEd Reflection/Action: Unless you have been under a rock you notice the rise in racist and racial incidents across the United States of America. You are aware of the federal confrontation focused on eliminating educational opportunities to support your understanding of race, racism and institutional racism. You are also hyper aware of the impending national election and are actively reflecting on the racial impacts following the 2016 national election. Are you prepared for the next few months of school? As a leader of a school one has to care for the social, emotional well-being of students and staff who engage in racist behaviors and the students and staff harmed by the racist behaviors. What personal work have you done to understand your racial identity? Have you considered how you formed the beliefs you hold? Have you considered why certain things/issues conflict with your beliefs about the world and what is important to your daily existence? As an AntiRacist educator I consider these things daily. I know dysconsciousness is a threat to supporting the needs of the students, families and staff in my care. Your racial identity and the conscious engagement with it impacts your ability to be objective and make human-centered decisions when dealing with racist incidents in schools. An AntiRacist Educator understands their own racial identity. Who you are is a result of the years you have behind you, birth to present day. Your history is in you, a part of you and sits with you, often unconsciously. Challenge yourself to practice consciously noticing how your beliefs conflict with and enhance the beliefs of others to prepare for #AntiRacistEd action needed to prepare to address racist incidents in your school.

Week 5

Why might a school leader not want to address racist issues?

This week I've provided a series of ideas for your reflection.

School leaders…

  • were prepared in their college and university educational leadership programs to manage bodies.
  • are not taught in these college and university programs to attend to the affective nature of schools, yet they are held accountable when the culture and climate of the school is not safe welcoming, or inclusive.

Fear of…

  • inadequacy to engage in the dialogue required to address the issue.
  • upsetting families and constituents who identify as black, brown or indigenous.

Dealing with racist incidents...

  • is not explicitly outlined in the curriculum.
  • and conflict is not explicitly addressed in the professional learning offered to school leaders.

School leader meetings

  • are all about data, not necessarily about the root cause that leads to racial disparity in the data.
  • are not about the conflict that occurs through the regular duties of the job. If a school leader is lucky they have a mentor who helps them problem solve and process through conflict that occurs on a daily basis. Yet even the most skilled mentor is not necessarily prepared to address racist incidents.

#AntiRacistEd Reflection/Action: What #AntiRacistEd action exists to support the school leader to be proactive, not reactive? As you reflect on the ideas shared consider how well school leaders are prepared to address racist issues head on when they occur. Who (a collective, not one person or department) supports school leaders to problem solve, process and wade through the various decision-making points to get the school back to community after racist incidents have occurred?

#AntiRacistEd #CiteBlackWomen

Angela Ward, “ Racist stop Incidents & Learning Series”, As originally published on 2ward Equity Blog, September 9, 2020.‍

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