I recently read Kiese Laymon’s book Heavy. I can’t stop talking about it. It was powerful, raw, beautiful, impactful, and heavy. (Pun intended!) One of the moments he narrates is about an incident that happened to him as a college professor. He was the only Black male professor in a predominantly white institution. He pushed back on certain problematic situations and policies and was met with hesitation and outright racism. Needless to say, he struggled.
That section of the book, and an #EduColor Twitter chat I participated in last month, led me to want to think more about what steps schools need to make in order to make Black, Brown, Indigenous, multiracial, and Asian/Asian American people feel welcomed and included. We want to feel valued at our insitutitions and feel as though our presence is integral. While those are common needs that most people have, it’s important to note that schools were never designed for us. Therefore, this experience becomes racialized. The work to include us and bring us in, needs to be deliberate.
We need leadership that knows and understands Tema Okun’s work on the Traits of White Supremacy Culture. This includes a list of traits that makes elements of the culture identifiable and easier to address. We need leaders working to dismantle that in its school design and teacher practice. This is key.
We need leadership that uses Okun’s framework to revise their policies and use it to shape their initiatives. They use it to revisit their uniform policies, their professional handbooks, and when thinking about future school-wide events. This is one way to be proactive about blind spots instead of reactive after the damage is done. If your organization has an anti-racist framework and motivation, it will show. We’ll see it. We’ll feel it. We feel it when you don’t.
Feeling valued, means that our professional development includes anti-racism and an emphasis on Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies. It’s not a one-time add-on ‘diversity and inclusivity’ training, but an ongoing part of our school’s mission and approach. Leadership understands the history of U.S. schooling and uses professional development to restore the relationship between school and historically oppressed communities.
I’ll know the school wants me there when it has systems in place to protect me from white fragility and the ways that whiteness shows up to discredit and harm me. I’ll know this school is serious when white comfort isn’t privileged over anti-racist work; when talking about racist incidents isn’t considered divisive versus the acutal racist incident that needs immediate attention. No one gets to call me aggressive, loud, angry, unprofessional, abrupt, insensitive, and/or emotional (without pushback) when I’m saying something true that they don’t want to hear or when they want to silence me.
Schools that value teachers of color also value students of color, thereby structurally supporting them. When they do that, the expectation to care for them doesn’t fall on me because we share the same skin color. That’s always added emotional labor and it’s free. We don’t get paid for being that/those students’ counselors, tutors, advocates, and intermediaries with families. We love them. We’re there for them. That will never change. But a school needs to be set up to support them, too, not just expect I’m going to do it. Message received: you don’t care about us.
And lastly, a school that wants me there will have a Human Resources (HR) Director that knows all of these things. Maybe this falls under the structured support point, but I wanted to highlight the importance of HR Directors that know their stuff. These are folks that understand all of the above and can soundly advise leadership on these matters. They design protocols to protect us. They take action.
These points aren’t exhaustive. Lord knows there’s more, but I’ll tell you this: if a school and its leadership can (at least) get that list right, they’ll get us. They won’t have to go out doing extra jumps and dances to recruit us. We’ll know we’re welcomed and we’ll walk right in.