Critical race theory, a concept that racism occurred and continue to persist in both historical and current contexts, is being challenged in increasingly numbers of states on the account of it causing “disruption” and “discomfort” in public schools and universities. Yet at the same time, books about racism and anti-racism, such as How To Be An Anti-Racist, White Fragility, So You Want to Talk About Race, and even Stamped (For Kids) have climbed to the top of bestseller lists. Many parents and educators are seeking a diversity of children’s books as well. So many of us want to counter racism with anti-racism on both personal and systemic levels, and to uplift the diversity and humanity in all of us.
I was heartened when listening to a panel of three distinguished scholars, Dr. Christopher Emdin, Dr. H. Richard Milner, and Dr. Ernest Morrell, wrapping up a long school year (during the pandemic!) of culturally responsive teaching at Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Among numerous shining quotes that came out of their banter, the following struck me the most:
Discourse that lead to banning critical race theory IS discourse.
Social action is the highest form of curriculum transformation.
This is a moment of grace.
Stay steadfast and committed.
In other words, don’t run for the hills!
Indeed, discussing race and racism can get intense. Especially for people who do not think much about racism as they go throughout their daily lives. Or for people who staunchly prescribe to colorblindness and meritocracy. No one wants to feel ambushed as they willingly or reluctantly explore concepts of race and racism along with strong feelings, especially after reading what may feel like “controversial” books. Certainly, structures, such as Glen Singleton’s Four Agreements, can be put in place before beginning a restorative literacies circle.
In a literacies circle, we can ask:
How can we talk about the books we read?
Could we talk about the entire book? A chapter? A page? Or perhaps just a quote to start?
How can we trust our young voices in all their authenticity?
How do we stay with our discomfort? How do we reassure others?
What is race? Racism? Anti-racism?
How do we isolate race from other factors, such as poverty or disabilities?
Where did racism come from?
How does racism continue today?
Who is impacted by it?
And how do we listen to and fully hear the multiple lens on books we read?
How do we listen to and fully hear the lived experiences of those are on the margins?
How do we spot and disrupt racism?
(And in my case, have we heard about critical disability theory? That’s for next week.)