Tag Archives: 21-day racial equity challenge


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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 ©.

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 ©.

Boston Globe Hosts Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on Juneteenth

I am not sure if the Boston Globe will publish this video elsewhere, but if you missed their discussion with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, they have posted it on Facebook. I tweeted observations as I watched, so I will embed those tweets below rather than attempt a recap.

As a follow-up to my post yesterday, as of right now, no family members, aside from my husband, have reacted to my invitation to join the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.  Ten people have liked or loved the post (my husband “loved” it). My brother-in-law is on Facebook but left a kind comment on LinkedIn. I left a comment, especially given the large number of people who reacted to my other post about being close to finishing my coursework in my doctoral program. The silence on the post inviting friends and family to join me in the challenge was pretty loud in comparison to the reactions to my other post. As Dr. Ibram suggests, I’m calling you in out of love.

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

Allyship and Me: A Tale of Two Social Media Accounts

I tend to be two different people depending on whether I’m on Twitter or Facebook. On Twitter, I am more myself. While I maintain professionalism, as I first established my Twitter account for professional reasons, I am much more open about my personal political beliefs there than I am on Facebook.

My family is a big reason why.

I suspect the same may be true for many White people, no matter where their families are from. I regret not speaking my mind when hearing racist remarks from family members. It was a big deal for me to share the post in the screenshot above on Facebook, just as it was a big deal when, a few years ago, I “came out” on Facebook as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

It was interesting and informative to see who “liked” and responded to that post. It will be interesting to see who “likes” and responds to this post.

The invitation is there.

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

The Haudenosaunee Influence on the U. S. Constitution

Something I never really learned in school whenever I studied the United States government was the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) influence on the U. S. Constitution. In fact, I don’t think I learned about this until I was a high school English teacher, teaching American literature. I am fairly certain the Prentice-Hall textbook I was using had excerpts from the Iroquois Constitution in it. And that was my first exposure to the notion that the U. S. Constitution wasn’t born fully formed from the heads of our Founding Fathers, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

The [Haudenosaunee] constitution, also commemorated on Wampum (beads fashioned from the shells of whelks and quahog clams), included more than a few familiar concepts: a restriction on holding dual offices, processes to remove leaders within the confederacy, a bicameral legislature with procedures in place for passing laws, a delineation of power to declare war, and a creation of a balance of power between the Iroquois Confederacy and individual tribes, according to later transcriptions. Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin were in regular contact with the Iroquois Confederacy, and Great Council leaders were invited to address the Continental Congress in 1776. (Wali)

You can read the Constitution here, along with commentary by Gerald Murphy, who remarks, “You will find it very difficult to keep in mind that it survives after some 500 or 600 years, and was originated by people that our ancestors mistakenly considered as ‘savages.'” PBS also has an article about how the Haudenosaunee Constitution influenced the U. S. Constitution.

We have even used the ideas of Native people against them. We really don’t learn enough about what our country’s founders thought about Native people or what their dealings with Native people were like.  Take, for example, the myth of the first Thanksgiving, which has become enshrined in our curricula for elementary school. I asked my students this year how many of them played the parts of Pilgrims and Indians in a school play. Most of them did. Most of them had learned the story that Native people helped the Pilgrims, and everyone was so friendly that they sat down for a meal together in commemoration of their gratitude.

I dressed up like an Indian for a play in fourth grade called How the West was Really Won. My grandmother made my costume, and I remember going barefoot because of my lack of education about Native people. The costume was made out some kind of felt, but it was meant to look like animal hide and had fringe meant to mimic Native dress (read: a White person’s notion of Native dress). In fact, it didn’t look too different from this outfit, which you can purchase for $19.99 from Party City.

Can someone please explain to me why it’s okay to dress up like this in 2020? This is so racist.

In the play, I had a solo in a song called “The Iron Horse,” and the lyrics were essentially about how the White man was coming to destroy the Native way of life. None of this was seen as problematic.

The United States has perpetrated a genocide against Native people. The erasure is compounded by the fact that we do not bother to teach the truth about Native people and Native history in our schools. I highly recommend Rebecca Nagle’s podcast This Land, which is available in a variety of formats linked on their website. Also, David Treuer’s book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (reviewed on my other blog) and Tommy Orange’s There ThereThere are so many amazing passages, but this metaphor for systemic racism stands out in light of the subject of this post.

This is the thing: If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff. Then someone from up on the yacht says, “It’s too bad those people down there are lazy, and not as smart and able as we are up here, we who have built these strong, large, stylish boats ourselves, we who float the seven seas like kings.” And then someone else on board says something like, “But your father gave you this yacht, and these are his servants who brought the hors d’oeuvres.” At which point that person gets tossed overboard by a group of hired thugs who’d been hired by the father who owned the yacht, hired for the express purpose of removing any and all agitators on the yacht to keep them from making unnecessary waves, or even referencing the father or the yacht itself. Meanwhile, the man thrown overboard begs for his life, and the people on the small inflatable rafts can’t get to him soon enough, or they don’t even try, and the yacht’s speed and weight cause an undertow. Then in whispers, while the agitator gets sucked under the yacht, private agreements are made, precautions are measured out, and everyone quietly agrees to keep on quietly agreeing to the implied rule of law and to not think about what just happened. Soon, the father, who put these things in place, is only spoken of in the form of lore, stories told to children at night, under the stars, at which point there are suddenly several fathers, noble, wise forefathers. And the boat sails on unfettered.

I do not think the fact that people are toppling statues of Columbus at the same time as Confederate Monuments are coming down is happenstance or coincidence. Both are symbols of White supremacy and the erasure of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). It is our responsibility to uncover whose voices we are missing in our education and listen to those voices.

In one of the most stunning passages of Yaa Gyasi’s phenomenal novel Homegoing, her character Yaw, a teacher, says the following to his class:

So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

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

How Does Racism Affect Your Health?

Some of my fellow Worcester Academy teachers are engaging in Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©. Each day, you learn a little bit in a variety of modes and track what you do and reflect on what you learn. For example, one day you might read an article. The next you might listen to a podcast. Then you might watch a video. To hold myself accountable for my learning both to my colleagues and to myself, I decided to blog my reflections in the open. I am learning, so I’m bound to make mistakes and display my ignorance. My revelations will likely not be any such thing to some readers.

I elected to listen to a podcast featuring Mary Bassett for my first day.: How does Racism Affect Your Health? In spite of the fact that we live in a country that has good medical care, access to that medical care is a persistent problem because we don’t see it as a human right. After I listened to the podcast, I sought out Dr. Bassett’s TED Talk, mentioned in the podcast. You can find the TED Talk embedded above.

I was really drawn to Dr. Bassett’s conclusion in her TED Talk: “We don’t have to have all the answers to call for change. We just need courage.” Not only can this advice be applied to education but also to all facets of our society. I think what stops me, and perhaps others, from using my voice more is precisely that I can’t fix it. Racism is systematic and structural, and it cannot simply be fixed. I was really interested to hear Dr. Bassett’s comment about how “epidemics emerge along the fissures of our society,” given that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic that is hitting our country very hard, and just as we have done with racism, many people are pretending it is not happening. A distant cousin of mine posted an item on Facebook contending the pandemic was some sort of liberal conspiracy—that it simply wasn’t happening. I did not confront her. I didn’t even report her post because my experience with Facebook is that they do not care much what is posted on their site (as evidenced by Zuckerberg’s cravenness and Facebook employees’ recent walkout). No, I unfriended her. So I didn’t have to see that nonsense. That was silence on my part, and I assume she is still spreading misinformation. I don’t know any longer. There is a balance between taking care of yourself by removing toxic individuals from your life and speaking out when people spread lies. I am still trying to figure out what it is. I know I didn’t use my voice in that instance because I believed I wouldn’t be able to change my cousin’s mind. So I didn’t try.

I wonder: did we decide as a country not to have some form of Medicare for all, some form of socialized medicine or at least more equitable access to medicine because we actually want to see certain groups suffer, because we want them to die? I don’t know how we can resolve issues of access to medical care. Lack of access to medicine is compounded by systemic racism. I, too, have experienced problems accessing medical care. But I have never lived in a food desert, and I have always had access to food, even during his pandemic. I have access to clean water (unlike the residents of Flint, MI). If a hurricane hit my community, I could be assured people would care and try to help (unlike Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico). The fact that I am White and live in a predominantly White neighborhood is a factor in all three.