I have been reflecting on recent events and feel obligated to share my thoughts and what it will mean for my teaching and culture of my classroom moving forward. I have found three quotes especially helpful in navigating my journey forward and share them with you here.
“We don’t know who discovered water, but we’re certain it wasn’t a fish.” John Culkin
The recent events have made it abundantly clear that racism is a persistent evil that impacts us all in every aspect of our daily lives. I have come to the humble realization that by thinking that being hopeful, thoughtful people we are doing our part as non-racist members of society. It is now clear that doing this only makes us complicit in a system that perpetuates the oppression of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Thinking that eliminating systemic racism is someone else’s responsibility and believing that it doesn’t exist in our own communities is only slightly different than participating in the acts of violence that we despise. Every day I recognize new situations where simply being a white person gives me privilege that all people do not have.
“While white people are learning Black people are dying.” Chenjerai Kumanyika
For years I have been learning about social justice, a consumer of diverse literature, and made an effort to include these into my teaching practice. I am ashamed that it has taken the recent brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, at the hands of police, for me to come to the realization that what I have been doing is not sufficient. It is time for white educators to listen to Black communities, to re-examine how we honor Black lives in our curricula, classrooms, and communities.
“There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.” Paulo Freire
I promise to be actively anti-racist and ensure that the policies that I follow do not diminish cultural differences but rather recognize, elevate, and value the beautiful diversity of our community while I continue to learn better ways to model leadership, tolerance, and appreciation. I will be cognizant of the disadvantages of our community members due to race, gender, class, and language and of the role school plays in challenging these inequalities. I will name and condemn racist policies and acts and call them out. I will continue to invest time in building a classroom culture of acceptance while respecting the benefit of the diverse cultures that students bring to my classroom.
Dismantling systemic racism will require sustained effort beyond the current crescendo of awareness. I maintain hope that with our combined voices we will fight for racial justice and usher in change.
Bonnie Nieves, M.Ed.