Ijeoma Oluo was interviewed by School Library Journal on confronting racism in schools.
“I encounter more resistance from educators than just about any other sector when it comes to talking about race,” Oluo says. “I don’t think teachers want to be a part of the problem. Teachers are underappreciated, often very selfless people working very, very hard for children. To then have someone say, ‘You know you’re probably perpetuating some racist things in your classrooms? Do you know you’re also probably contributing to the oppression of students of color?’ That doesn’t sit well with people who genuinely love children.”
When faced with denial or defensiveness, Oluo presents the facts, citing statistics such as the racial gap in test scores, the rate of suspensions of black preschoolers, and the number of arrests of students of color in high school which are not correlated to the amount of violence, drugs or truancy in schools but to the number of black and brown students in schools, she says.Oluo wrote So You Want to Talk About Race, which has a chapter on the school-to-prison pipeline and race in schools. Note what she says is the first thing white teachers should do in schools:
I need educators to be less afraid of acknowledging race. You start by acknowledging the students of color. [For example], even if you don’t have Asian students, but especially if you have Asian students, you need to be looking at your lessons and finding examples of Asian Americans doing great things in society. Then you need to say, ‘This was an Asian American.’ And the look of shock on their face—‘Wait a minute, you want me to just say Asian American? ‘
Yes, actually say it. They’re stunned. In fact, a college professor actually guffawed at me the other day when I said he needed to acknowledge great black people in his field when talking to students. ‘You want me to just say black? I would get written up. I would get in trouble.’
Because white people think noting someone’s race is racist.
Yes. But what people, especially teachers, don’t realize is white is the default in this country. Just because you don’t have to say white, doesn’t mean you’re not saying white.…We have to understand when we’re teaching our students and we’re not acknowledging race, we’re saying white all the time.
Also this week: this Atlantic interview with Margaret Hagerman, author of White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America, which has connections even to our advocacy at the state level:
I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.Read the interviews; read the books.