Black Lives Matter in Education: Starting to Teach Racial Equity

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Author: Brittany Roa
Education Thought Leader

There is no doubt that the world is a different place than it was 20 years ago. Technology has rampantly grown and continues to affect our society, in good and bad ways. One such way that is of benefit is the documentation of racism in law enforcement. This has sparked many filmmakers to shine light on the injustices seen, now and from the past, creating Black Lives Matter movies.

One such movie that was able to recount past injustices and show them to the world is “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” This movie unveils blatant racism that occurred during this high-profile trial in 1968—racism that was brought to the limelight thanks to Aaron Sorkin, the film’s writer and director, realizing the opportunity he had to bring attention to the parallel injustices back then and the ones today:

“What I did was add quick cuts to crime scene stills [from Fred Hampton’s killing], police stills, black-and-white photographs of the bullet holes in the wall, of a blood-stained mattress, of five police officers almost smiling standing there, and adding the sound effect of a camera shutter…now in the world of Rashard Brooks and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, having those shots and having one of them be police officers obviously resonates today.”

Other examples of Black Lives Matter movies or TV shows that were released before 2020 but gained traction during last year’s momentum are:

While the Black Lives Matter Movement took center stage in 2020, co-starring alongside COVID-19, the momentum has dropped almost half a year into 2021. Last year the United States was able to excavate centuries of trauma of white people against black people, and help in the healing process through the Black Lives Matter Movement and a big surge of allyship.

However, the injustices against BIPOC remain ever-present and black lives still matter. Therefore, there is still a need for awareness and action. 

Understanding Racism

I had a lot of resistance when I started my anti-racist journey. Not only do I always try to be a good person who treats others with kindness, but I’m also half-Asian. Therefore, I didn’t think I was racist; however, I learned otherwise. 

An incredibly important lesson I gained through this process was that just because someone is a good person doesn’t mean they’re not racist. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo helped me to greatly understand this sentiment, and I highly suggest it with those struggling with racism from the white perspective.

Racism is so embedded in American culture that to be a white-passing American—or white-passing in a country where the majority of the population is white—means that person is probably racist. Not because they dislike others of different backgrounds, but because racism is an institution that oppresses the non-white people. 

People with white privilege can educate themselves by starting an anti-racism journey—reading books, watching movies, self-reflection—so that we can educate ourselves and then teach our children. And as teachers, we also have the opportunity to teach our students how to fight for an equal world. 

As teaching race is being brought into more curricula there are certain ways we as educators can approach the topic with sensitivity.

A Great Tool When Teaching Racial Equity

Science has already proven that self-reflection and journaling have extreme benefits for your mental health. And when it comes to teaching about race it can be very vulnerable, both for BIPOC and white students. Having a safe space to explore these difficult topics and examine themselves without fear of external judgment is essential for students to really dissect and gain insight into their beliefs. 

By using a self-reflection journal, students will have the opportunity to really dive deep into difficult questions about race. This journal should only be for them, meaning that it won’t be graded or even shared with the teacher. However it will give students the safe space to investigate stressful feelings and will provide potential subject matter for class discussions. 

Some recommended questions from Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice by Amie Thurber, M. Brielle Harbin, and Joe Bandy are:

  • What/how did you first learn about race?
  • When did you first learn that you were a member of a racial group? What/how did you learn about your racial group?
  • When did you first learn that there were racial groups other than your own? What/how did you learn about this/these groups?
  • How do you perceive your own race, and how is your race perceived by others?
  • Select a significant institution in your life (ie. educational, religious, media/cultural, etc.). What have you learned from this institution about race? How might this have impacted relationships and identity?
  • Scan your relationships with people who have been socialized into a different racial group than yourself. Thinking back to your childhood, what has been the nature of these relationships (i.e. friends, family, teachers, service providers, mentors/coaches, charity recipients, etc.)? Have the types changed over time? What do you notice about the relationships in your life today?

Depending on where you’re teaching, you could have a lot of diversity in your school and classroom, or very little. Every teacher needs to be sensitive and aware of potential difficulties. This could include students not knowing anything about racism, students being blatantly racist, students resistant to admit their part in racism, as well as heated arguments between students of color and white students. 

Knowing your students and preparing for potential conflicts will help give you authority in stressful times, helping students to feel safe, and also preventing any major crises from evolving in your classroom. 

Education for all

Empowering the younger generations—no matter their race—to fight for equity and for themselves, will create a better future for those who come after us. Because at the end of the day, we are all human and education will better the lives of all.

__________

Here are some anti-racism resources for teachers:

Anti-Racism Tools

A Guide to Equity and Antiracism for Educators

Anti-Racism Resources for Teachers


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