Category Archives: Social Justice

Intergroup Anxiety

This video about intergroup anxiety was really interesting to me. I have found myself in the position described in the video of trying so hard to be fair that I overcompensate by acting weird. Once when I was at a conference, I was so awkward when placed in a discussion group with two women I didn’t know, I had trouble looking at one of the women. I couldn’t figure out why, and I am still not sure. She called me on it, and I felt awful for days. (I have since learned this is a typical White fragility reaction.) I usually bank on people ignoring my awkwardness. She definitely thought it had to do with her race, but I have reflected on this incident now for some six years, and I don’t think that it was race, but she was right that there was something else about her that did make me anxious, and I don’t know what it was. The only thing I congratulate myself on when I think about it is at least I didn’t cry and make it about my feelings. And I did try harder after that. Maybe too hard, in order to overcompensate.

By the way, I know that avoiding eye-contact isn’t always anxiety. I recently spoke to a teenager on the autism spectrum who said he can either focus on what someone is saying, or he can look them in the eye, but he cannot do both because it takes too much concentration to do both. I have seen this at times in my own daughter, who is also on the autism spectrum.

One of the biggest issues I have with anybody when I’m feeling awkward is maintaining culturally appropriate eye contact, and then I start to become anxious about realizing I’m not maintaining eye contact. I sort of go outside my body and start criticizing myself for being so awkward that I find it even harder to be present in the conversation.

That was a bit of a tangent, but an important one. It isn’t that I disagree with the video’s argument that having difficulty with eye contact can be a sign of intergroup anxiety, but it could also be something else, and we should keep that in mind when reading body language. I don’t think we can assume that everyone naturally feels comfortable in social situations and knows what behaviors are expected. Not that I’m on the “assume good intentions” train because we can’t discount the impact, but maybe we shouldn’t assume bad intentions (although I do understand that impulse, particularly if you have bad experiences). At the end of the video, L. Song Richardson says she likes to give people “more of an opportunity to demonstrate who they are.”

As a follow-up to my last post about implicit bias, I suspect that if you seize opportunities to interact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, you might come to feel much more comfortable around people who are not like you. This is critical work for teachers, just as understanding implicit bias is. As Richardson says, you might wind up doing harm to your students’ learning.

Understanding Implicit Bias

I watched Verna Myers’s TED Talk this evening.

Have you taken the Implicit Bias Test? If you do, be forewarned that you may discover things about yourself that you are not ready to deal with.

What I found really refreshing in Myers’s talk is that she offers a way to combat implicit bias: simply expose yourself more “awesome Black people” to “dissociate the association that happens automatically in [your] brain.” This actually works!

What tends to happen, however, is people reinforce negative biases by confirming their stereotypes. Myers says, “Biases are the stories we make up about people before we actually know who they are.” This is true in part because we do not have “authentic relationships” with people who are different from us.

Myers’s last piece of advice for changing our biases is “when we see something, we have to have the courage to say something, even to the people we love.” This last one is really hard for me personally, as I have written about previously, because I have a deep-seated fear of confrontation. I am, however, working aggressively to overcome this fear. Myers is right. I have replayed so many conversations I should have had in my head over the last few weeks.

If you’re interested in learning more about your biases, you can take the Implicit Bias Tests. There are several different ones. They are well worth your time for learning more about your own biases so that you can begin the work of combatting them. This is important work. I have been having a conversation over on LinkedIn with Jeannette Lee Parikh, who said today that the “teacher needs to be anti-racist. If you are a teacher, you need to get to work on understanding and combatting your biases because a wealth of research demonstrates the myriad ways that bias harms children.

Whiteness Has Meaning: Intersectionality and Double Consciousness

White Bred from Ross Tierney on Vimeo.

Today, I want to offer a few sources and a story that I think might help White people understand the meaning that being White has. I think a lot of White people tend to group people of other races together and not to see them as individuals. W. E. B. Du Bois refers to this tendency in his book The Souls of Black Folk, which had a profound impact on me when I read it in college nearly 30 years ago. In this book, Du Bois describes a feeling of “double consciousness” that he carries with him. On the one hand, he sees himself as he is, the individual he knows himself to be; however, he also always sees himself as others, specifically White people see him. He explains in an article for The Atlantic Monthly (now just The Atlantic) what this feels like:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.

This video does a good job of unpacking how this idea manifests itself in racism:


Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” introduces the concept of White privilege. If you think about the ways in which the list of privileges is NOT true for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), then you can begin to have an understanding of double consciousness.

White privilege can sometimes be hard to understand for people who experience hardship due to some other part of their identity. For example, this article unpacks understanding White privilege and poverty. I will share a true story here in order to unpack what I mean.

This happened when my son Dylan was a baby, so it was about sixteen years ago. We were barely hanging on financially because we both had to commute from our home in Gainesville to jobs in the Atlanta-area. We had one car that worked at any given time. We couldn’t afford to move, but we also couldn’t afford the 40-mile commute each day, either. One of the bills that didn’t get paid was auto insurance. One morning after I dropped off my younger children at their child care center, I was pulled over by a White police officer for some reason that I forget. He naturally found out that I didn’t have insurance when he ran my information. He impounded my car and gave me a ticket that I would have to pay off in installments over the course of many months. He told me point blank that if I hadn’t had my child in the car with me (my oldest daughter), he would have arrested me.

Obviously, this story is pretty embarrassing. I don’t like sharing it here because it still makes me feel shame, even though my biggest crime was not being able to afford to pay for auto insurance. The whole thing would have been different if I had money at the time. That’s a lack of privilege. But if I had been Black? Well, I am certain that he would have arrested me, even though I had my daughter with me.  And she would have gone into the custody of the Department of Family and Children’s Services. I am not sure what I would have done from there because if I couldn’t afford a ticket, I also couldn’t have afforded bail. Given that my oldest was in my custody after a divorce, I might even have lost custody of her. I might even have died.

A lot of assumptions would have been made about me because of my race. As ashamed as I was about being in that position of poverty, and considering how I internalized feeling like a failure, I can only imagine how much worse I would have felt if my race had been a factor. I have no way of knowing, actually, because I’m White. I don’t even like to think about it because as bad as that incident was, it could have been so much worse. That’s White privilege.

Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the layers of oppression that exist when multiple traditionally marginalized identities converge in one person. Crenshaw explains the term in the TED Talk below. Please watch it until the end. I promise it’s worth the 19 minutes.

Intersectionality is why I say that my experience being pulled over would have had a different result if I had been Black. If I had been Black, the racism road would have intersected with the gender road and the poverty road to create a wreck that might have changed the trajectory of my life. I’m not trying to make an excuse for not having auto insurance. Yes, I should have had it. But I don’t think I should have been arrested or lost my life for it. To be clear, I hadn’t caused anyone harm as a result of being uninsured (aside from myself)—I was not pulled over because I had caused an accident. It’s been a while ago, but I don’t think I was doing anything unsafe, though it is true that I did use to drive a little too fast when I was late. I don’t think I should even have been punished as severely as I was—what if, instead of giving me a ticket that would result in a fine I could not pay, that officer had shown compassion and directed me to some social services that could have helped me secure the insurance I needed?

But I know that the punishment I would have received would have been much greater if I had been Black. At best, I would have gone to jail. At worst, I could be dead.

As Kimberlé Crenshaw says, “If we can’t see a problem, we can’t fix a problem.”

See it.


An Apology to My Students

I didn’t post yesterday for the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge © because I needed to sit with something and think about it. Then I needed to decide what to do. Actually, I knew what to do, but I also knew it would be difficult, and I needed to figure out how to say what I needed to say.

I have taught books by White writers that include the n-word in their books in the past, specifically To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both of which I mistakenly believed were antiracist. However, what both books have in common is that the Black characters serve as plot devices for White characters to learn about racism and injustice. Both of these books were in the curriculum I taught. I wasn’t made to teach either book and had the power to remove both of them and chose not to. I really regret those choices. I could have been teaching actual antiracist texts.

Another choice I regret is how I handled the language in both books. Some time back, my argument wouldn’t have been too much different from the argument cited here by Cait Hutsell, although, to be fair to my former self, I would have justified it by its inclusion in the text rather than some idea that I was “ban[ning] words from human discourse”:

Cait is right, of course. It was Cait’s tweet that prompted me to sit and think about my actions. Cait’s tweet was retweeted by several other people I follow who added their thoughts to the tweet, and they helped me figure out what I needed to do. Mary Worrell’s tweet in response to a thread by shea martin on failed allyship of another kind helped me figure out what I needed to do.

So, I am here to acknowledge publicly that I believe my actions in how I taught these novels were harmful. I explained to students that the word would appear in the novel. In my early years, I justified reading the word aloud because it was in the text. Later on, I confronted the word head-on at the beginning of our text study. We read the poem “Incident” by Countee Cullen and Gloria Naylor’s essay “The Meaning of a Word.” We also watched news clips about Huckleberry Finn‘s place in the curriculum. While this frontloading centered the voices of Black writers and their experience with the word, my next step was in the wrong direction. I asked the students how they wanted to handle the word when we read passages aloud. It’s wrong to put that on students, and it’s something I recognized because, in more recent years, I have simply said we are not going to say the word—I don’t care if it’s in the text.

I wish I could say I reached this understanding many years ago, but I didn’t, and my ignorance caused harm. Even if it’s true that I have not used that word outside of reading it in a text, I shouldn’t have even done that. I apologize to my former students. I’m sorry that my Black students experienced the racial trauma of hearing the word. I’m sorry that my White students took away from my lessons that using that word as long as it was in a text was okay.

I want to thank all the Twitter educators for making me reflect seriously on this harmful practice. You have my promise that I have changed my approach to texts entirely—actually to the point that I will no longer teach White writers who use that word in their writing (we can have arguments about realism all you want; you know why they used it).

I would urge my fellow White teachers to contemplate their practice on reading this word aloud, too. If you’re doing it, stop.


As a side note, on Thursday, this blog turned 15 years old, and I let the day pass by without remarking on it. Thanks to those of you who choose to read and engage.


looking photo
Photo by timlewisnm

One of Dr. Eddie Moore’s challenges is to notice the world around you. Ask yourself why you don’t see certain things. A metaphor I heard recently is that for white people, racism is like being a fish in water. You don’t realize you’re swimming in it. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, and I haven’t really watched TV today, but here are the answers to a few of the suggested questions Dr. Moore poses.

What are the last five books you read? What is the racial mix of the authors?

I’m currently reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Black author) and Notes from a Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi (audio) (Black author).

To be honest, what I read and who I read is something I reflect on quite a lot, and if we were not in the midst of a pandemic, I would have chosen a different question for reflection, but I haven’t left the house all day, so I have not interacted in person with many people. I did check in virtually with the Safe Homes crew this evening, and most of the attendees to the virtual drop-in tonight identify as White while two identify as Black.

What are you reading? What were your last five books? Tell me in the comments.

What is the racial mix of people pictured in the photos and artwork in your home? In your friend, family, and colleagues’ homes?

This is easy because I don’t have a lot on my walls, but what I do have are family photographs and one of my own watercolors, so everyone is White. I am not sure about friends’ homes (I haven’t been to many friends’ homes in a while). Family would be the same. Even family who have more art and photographs on the wall, I can just about guarantee no art by Black artists, and no photographs of Black people. I know some friends and colleagues whose homes are different, and those colleagues and friends identify as Black. Honestly, I do love a lot of African-American art, and I have wanted to do more to enliven the walls. Thinking about this has inspired me to do something about it when I get the chance. Feel free to drop some recommendations in the comments.

Notice how much of your day you are speaking about racism. Who are you engaging with on these issues? Who are you not? Why do you think this is?

These days, I am spending a lot of time on Twitter engaging in these issues and talking with my husband. Honestly, I stopped discussing these issues with most family and certain connections (friends might be too strong a word) a long time ago. Why? I sensed nothing would change their minds. I have learned that I really cannot control how others will respond to what I say. It’s possible they won’t change their minds. I can’t control that. What I can control is whether or not I’m silent. I have been working really hard on not being silent over the last couple of years. It is a learned response to trauma. It’s what I did to protect myself. It’s not an excuse so much as an explanation. There is not the same level of threat involved in engaging with people I know agree with me, but it does feel threatening to engage with others. I am working on it. I am making myself respond more. A good case in point is the other day when a person I have known since second grade posted what she thought was a joke on Twitter. I won’t call her out here since I already did it on Facebook, but I didn’t get a response to my comment that her post was interesting and I was curious about her thinking on the topic. But she didn’t unfriend me, so that’s a start, I suppose. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t have engaged at all. I struggle to figure out how to engage, and the best advice I have received so far is to sound curious. Why do you say that? What do you mean by that? Why do you think so? etc. Invite people to explain.

Who are your ten closest friends? What is the racial mix in this group?

This is a weird question for me because I’m not sure if the feelings are mutual. People I might number among my closest friends—would they say I’m one of theirs?

It reminds me of Nellie Bertram from The Office when she says she thinks that she is Jo’s best friend but that Jo is not her best friend.

However, I will be fair and say that among the people I might consider my closest friends—whether they reciprocate those feelings for not—those people are predominantly White, and that is largely because my occupation is predominantly White (and female) and so is the place where I live, though it is more diverse than many nearby towns. I tend to find my friends at work. Aside from work, the only real socializing I do is with Safe Homes.

If I think back to childhood, most of my friends were White. When I was in middle school, I actually remember there was a racial split. We said it was about the kind of music we liked, but it was hard not to notice that most of the kids on one side of the divide were White, while most of the kids on the other were Black.

Obviously, noticing is the first step. After we pay attention and notice things we tend to overlook, we need to take action. I am going to think about my answers to these questions and what I need to change.

What about you?

This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.

The Tragedy of Native American Boarding Schools

This evening I listened in on a webinar with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), The Conversation Ignored for Too Long: Race and Racism in Education and Society with a remarkable panel including José Vilson, Liza Talusan, Cinnamon Kills First, and Tia Brown McNair.  I joined late and my internet cut out partway into the webinar, so I missed a fair amount, but the webinar ended with a Lakota blessing sung by Cinnamon Kills First (who is Northern Cheyenne).

I decided to watch the embedded documentary called In the White Man’s Image about the Native American boarding schools. It pains me as an educator how often education is used as a colonizing weapon. When I think of all we have lost as a country to our individualistic culture, it makes me so frustrated and sad. At one moment in the documentary, Sid Byrd tells the story of returning home from his boarding school and finding he has lost his language and cannot communicate with the people he loves. He also explains that

In the Lakota way, you are responsible not to yourself but to the Oyate, to the group. Whereas in the school, you say you have to be your own person, you have to acquire an education, and you had to do that by yourself. You could not be responsible to the group. You are responsible, so you take care of number one, and you get to the top at the expense of others.

This statement struck me. If I could pinpoint one thing that gets in our way the most in this society, it’s that we take care of number one at the expense of others. We feel no responsibility to the group. Everything from climate change to not wearing masks during a pandemic (and mocking those who do as “sheep”) to racism to misogyny to school shootings stems from the fact that White American culture celebrates, maybe even worships individualism. It is one reason why we dehumanize certain groups of people. It is one reason why we scapegoat people. It is also at the heart of assimilationism. When we ask people to assimilate, we’re saying that their culture and background are unworthy and they should adopt a colonizing culture.

My students in Social Justice watched a documentary from PBS that was part of the series The American Experience. It’s a 3-DVD set called We Shall Remain. We watched the episode titled “Wounded Knee” about the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the occupation of Wounded Knee in the 1970s. My students found it all very interesting, and many of them were particularly struck by the stories of Native people made to attend boarding schools. This is a clip from that episode (PBS doesn’t offer embed code).  Please click over and watch it. The whole series is well worth the investment to watch, and I highly recommend it.

Contemplate what we have all lost at the altar of individualism.

This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.

Diagramming White Supremacy

In this excellent TED Talk, Baratunde Thurston masterfully uses sentence structure to discuss racism using headlines many of us are familiar with. I am definitely planning to use it in my English classes. Thurston strikes a balance between humor and seriousness. He masterfully draws the line between lynching to calling the police on Black people simply trying to live their lives.

I have a friend who is a police officer. She is Worcester Police Department’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer. Her story is not mine to tell (though it’s pretty amazing),  but as this article indicates, she is involved in the LGBTQ community.  She visited my Social Justice class in January to talk about her experiences. My students loved her and later said her visit was one of their favorite lessons of the year. One of my students asked her a great question. He asked her what she did if she had to enforce laws she didn’t agree with. Sharon talked about discretion. As a police officer, if she is doing traffic detail, she has discretion over whether or not to issue a ticket or a warning. If she stops someone for speeding, for example, she takes into account the situation, the relative danger of the person’s speed, the location (school zone or not), and many other factors. And she also has the discretion not to pull someone over at all for something trivial. So she doesn’t.

My big takeaway from both Thurston’s TED Talk and from my friend Sharon is discretion. Thurston says we have the choice of “minding [our] own damn business.” We can use our discretion for good or for ill, but the actions we choose have consequences, and those consequences are not the same for all people. This is because of structural, system inequities due to deep-seated racism.

I love how Thurston asks us to flip the script near the end. What if we changed the action from “calling the police” to something that makes more sense in the circumstances? I connect this idea to listening to someone’s story. Each of the headlines Thurston shares tells someone’s story. I know some people might think it’s a cliché, but I think it’s hard to hate someone once you know their story.  In fact, learning someone’s story might change your entire understanding, maybe even your entire life.

If we saw each other simply as fellow human beings just trying to live our lives, what could change? When we dehumanize others, it’s easier to discard their lives. We do it a lot in this country. It needs to stop. We can contribute if we use our discretion and maybe listen to each other’s stories. I’m grateful to Baratunde Thurston for sharing his in this TED Talk.

This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.

Anti-Bias Toolkit for K-1st

Last quarter I took a wonderful Early Childhood Education course with Dr. Wendy Crocker as part of my graduate school program at Northeastern. My favorite assignment was creating an anti-bias toolkit for educators working with young children. I selected a target age of kindergarten through first grade for mine, but I think these tools could be used with younger or older children.

I am making it freely available here to you. I was inspired after going to Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s webinar with NCTE today. I’d definitely add Antiracist Baby to the kit! It’s a PDF, so you should be able to download and view the file on any device. Just click the link below.

Anti-Bias Toolkit, K-1

A Long-Running Scam

Some of my family stories are sad. My grandfather was given up for adoption by his mother after his father committed suicide. The story has become muddled over time. I actually only know my great-grandfather committed suicide because I ordered a copy of his death certificate. The story his children were told is that he was murdered but no one ever did anything about it. I’m not sure why my great-grandmother told that story. There are rumors of my great-grandfather’s violence. I have reason to believe he was a boxer and that he also abused his children physically.

My grandmother’s mother gave birth to her out of wedlock in 1929. They lived in a tiny town called Quicksand in Breathitt County, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia. My great-grandfather was in prison when my grandmother was born. As far as I know, she never knew him. Again, I only know this because I ordered my grandmother’s birth certificate. Her baby brother, born after her mother married her stepfather in the midst of the Great Depression, died of dysentery and malnutrition as an infant. Again, I have seen his death certificate, which is how I know.

As far as I can tell, access to money and education was somewhat scarce in my family. In “How White People Got Made,” Quinn Norton wrote, “To this day poor whites are the most intransigent racists—left by an exploitative and violent system without education, access to food and medical care, or even the basic necessities of life in the developed world.”

I can’t help but see some of my family in this description.

The concept of Whiteness, Norton explains, is an invention. Biology tells us that race is a social construct, and my DNA may be more similar to someone considered to be of a different race than it may be to that of other White people. In the top highlight from the article, Norton writes

The Virginians legislated a new class of people into existence: the whites. They gave the whites certain rights, and took other rights from blacks. White, as a language of race, appears in Virginia around the 1680s, and seems to first appear in Virginia law in 1691. And thus whiteness, and to a degree as well blackness, was born in the mind of America.

I had read some of the background covered in this article elsewhere, but I’m not sure where. It was in this prior reading that I learned about the story of John Punch, who ran away from his indentured servitude in Virginia along with two other indentured servants, both of whom were what we would call White. The two White men were given more time in their indenture as a punishment, but Punch was sentenced to slavery.

if you think about Norton’s argument, it should make you angry. A little bit of power is an awful narcotic. It has numbed generations of people into accepting racism so that they can perceive themselves as better than others rather than directing their anger at the rich and powerful who don’t care about them.

I am, perhaps not terribly coincidentally, reading a YA novel set partly during the French Revolution right now. One of the novel’s messages is the way that history works on people, the way it repeats, the way it is never resolved.

I was really struck by this 1899 cartoon from Harper’s Weekly that is included in the article.

You might have guessed without my saying that I have Irish ancestry. My first honest reaction to the picture is that Irish people don’t look like that! Only second did I think that no one looks like these stereotypes, which is because of racism. I recognize I have work to do on my own racism.

Then, I started digging around and found things like this.

If you see the caption, it reads “The King of A-Shantee.” This is clearly supposed to sound like “Ashanti,” and is therefore meant to denigrate the poor Irish, also known as the “Shanty Irish.” I had never heard this term until today, probably because the Irish eventually became White, so it’s not something I have heard directed at me or my family. However, it’s hard not to read the description of “Shanty Irish” without recognizing it’s describing my family.

I’m not here trying to make some argument about my ancestors being treated poorly therefore White privilege isn’t a thing. I believe quite the opposite. In fact, I’ve been a beneficiary. But I know also that my ancestors probably suffered a great deal from the harm that their racism did to them.

Norton says in her article

White exceptionalism runs to both negatives and positives. Whether whites are seen as intellectually and spiritually superior or morally abhorrent, the argument that whites are intrinsically different from the rest of humanity has all the same flaws as any such argument. There are no intrinsically innocent and wise peoples of the earth, we are all the same wonderful and terrible creatures. Every community produces gentle geniuses and violent monsters. If we accept the normality of white people—and this proposition has in its favor overwhelming evidence: circumstance, (the arbitrariness of whiteness) history, (the universality of both human crimes and genius) and physiology (the genetic difference among “white” is pretty much the same as any group of white and non-whites)—this leaves us looking to social systems and systems of power for the sources of our social problems, which seems pretty sensible, when you think about it.

Just as American exceptionalism has been used to prevent sensible change—“Americans have the best healthcare in the world! We must retain the present system to keep that!” (Hint: America does not, in fact, have the best healthcare in the world)—white exceptionalism has been used to keep whites and non-whites from asking why society doesn’t work in obviously more sensible ways.

It’s hard to see the message recycled yet again. And to see it work yet again. This long-running scam has us all getting in our own way when we could be making some positive changes for the good of all of us. But as long as we are distracted into scapegoating people and buying into the notion that they are inferior, we are going to remain victims of this scam.

This post feels rambly, and I don’t think I’ve really got much coherence to offer other than it did help me figure out why racism is so entrenched in families like mine. It’s hard to resist the allure of feeling superior to someone when you are in the lowest of circumstances. This is no excuse. Just an insight.

This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Me

I am reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In the book, Dr. Kendi mentions To Kill a Mockingbird. I captured the screen from my Kindle book and sent the following tweet:

I didn’t start my day thinking I was going to get involved in a massive Twitter discussion about TKAM. I have mostly been silent about the debate I’ve seen online as I thought about my own experience with the novel. Reading Dr. Kendi’s words, however, helped me figure out what I wanted to say about the book.

In the accompanying Twitter thread, I talked about how I devoured this book when I read it in high school. I actually read ahead of the required reading homework, which I really never did. I was a huge reader, but I didn’t like much of anything my teachers asked me to read in school. Sometimes I didn’t read and faked my way through. But that was not true of To Kill a Mockingbird.

When I had my own classroom, my first year as a teacher, I asked for a class set of TKAM. My students were predominantly Black, and I could tell they didn’t love the book. I taught the book for several years, however. I thought it was antiracist. It is not.

I cringe so often thinking of my early years as a teacher. I want to apologize to those students every day. Not that I’m finished growing, but when I think of all I didn’t know and the harm I did in ignorance, I have so many regrets. However, I need to be honest and say that my teacher preparation program, while it was amazing in many ways, was seriously lacking in teaching social justice. Lisa Delpit and Beverly Daniel Tatum were writing when I was in undergrad. So were bell hooks and Geneva Gay. We were not exposed to any of their writing. I went into a classroom with no idea what I was doing in terms of culturally responsive teaching, and yes, I blame my English education program for that. They must have known we needed this background. It should have been woven through our entire curriculum.

In the Twitter thread, I explained that I would not teach the book again.

Electing not to teach a book is not the same thing as banning it.

I have been thinking about this book for a little while. I haven’t read it in years, but it kept cropping up in discussions online. This seems to be the book that teachers, especially White teachers, really get upset about when someone suggests maybe we move on and teach something else.

If you have to teach it, you really need to interrogate it. The Black characters in the book are props for White children to learn about racism. They are not centered. They are silenced. We can do better. If someone is making you teach it, share your concerns. Open a conversation. And definitely disrupt it (thanks #DisruptTexts!)

Think about your purpose. If you are teaching TKAM in order to teach about racism, this book is not helping you reach that goal. In fact, it’s getting in your way.

I have been recommending Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy instead. Bryan Stevenson is actually a real lawyer doing some amazing work. If you’re teaching TKAM to middle schoolers, then you might see if the version for young people suits your student population better.

There are so many options before you! What about Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give? Samira Ahmed’s Internment? Jason Reynolds’s books? Ibi Zoboi’s books? We have so many options, and if our goal in teaching a book is to discuss a text about racism, we need to center the voices of people who actually have experienced it.

This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.