On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, two days after honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we will inaugurate our 46th President of the United States, Mr. Joseph R. Biden. President-Elect Biden’s inauguration continues a long-standing tradition dating back to 1789 with the first President, George Washington, taking office. The inauguration ceremony is met with a great deal of grandeur and celebration. There are, of course, intense security precautions to protect those in attendance, but more importantly, to protect the incoming president. This year, however, the security measures are even greater due to the weeks leading up to this momentous occasion that touted lies of election fraud and culminated with an insurrection that occurred on January 6, 2021. The Insurrection. Who’s culpable in this insurrection? I think and pull up The Impasse of Race Relations, a speech given to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who when referencing the “ghetto outbreaks”, quoted poet and author, Victor Hugo. Hugo said, “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Again, I pose the question, who is culpable? The White Supremacists or the ones who enabled their actions?
Before I proceed, let me preface this by saying that I will make every effort to craft a message that sets aside my personal political affiliations and instead, share why tomorrow is a crucial turning point for America and more importantly share resources you may turn to as you help ease potential fears and anxiety gripping our nation. For school district leaders wrestling with what to write to members of your community and/or staff members, I imagine you are not alone. Politics are most always aligned to one’s beliefs and values. Therefore, tempering your words as not to alienate and offend the losing party is probably a delicate balance. Yet, there is an opportunity to address your community and staff with a written statement, followed by explicit actions, that align to your personal convictions. Convictions that I strongly hope indicate your immense desire to undo a legacy of long-standing ill practices that have stood to harm communities of Color and Black girls and women, more specifically.
Back to a crucial turning point. This presidential election revealed the deep political and racial divide in America from the events in Charlottesville, Virginia to the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. When staff and students return to school, they will undoubtedly have mixed emotions. Those who voted for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris and those who did not will have very different emotions. What’s important is how those feelings show up in front of students. Therefore, I suggest we use the outcome of the 2020 election as a moment to explicitly acknowledge the racial divide in our country and how race and gender intersected before, during, and even after this election outcome.
My children know the work I engage in is specific to addressing inequities, so I think about two questions when I talk to them about the election and its subsequent outcome: What policies and/or practices are Mr. Biden committing to employing to eradicate racial injustices? What prejudices and obstacles did Ms. Kamala Harris have to overcome to stand as the first woman of Color to serve as the Vice-President? I am intentional with engaging my children in these conversations about race and racism because I want them to have an awareness when they see it and the tools to counter it when the effects run counter to how they are being raised. Our district and school leaders’ as well as teachers’ approach might look different from the conversations around race in our home, but the goal should still be the same. Be honest; be kind; and leave space for reflection and dialogue.
There are a few organizations that provide suggestions for how we might engage in these conversations in the classroom. I particularly appreciate how lessons on the website, Facing History and Ourselves asks teachers to provide space for students to reflect on questions that are three-pronged; each question should have responses that poke at the head, heart, and conscience. We would do ourselves a favor if we engage in the same practice. Consider the questions below when thinking about the events leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration before walking into the district office, school, or classroom:
- Head: What led to the election of President-Elect, Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect, Kamala Harris? What additional facts or information would you like to have?
- Heart: How do you feel about their inauguration? Are there specific events or images that resonate strongly for you?
- Conscience: What do you believe was at stake if the presidential election had a different outcome? Would the students you teach agree with your assertion?
Below are just a few of the sites staff might consider when thinking about how to create and embed race conscious lessons in the classroom include:
If you are still struggling with what to say, think of the message you send when you say nothing. As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.” Lorde, in speaking of revolution, also said, “…it is not a one time event. It is becoming always vigilant for the smallest opportunity to make a genuine change…” Considering both of these quotes, I contend that if you are learning to become an anti-racist and you genuinely want to see America change for the better, then start by using your existing platform to create spaces for students and staff to reflect on experiences from the head, heart, and conscious.
Lead boldly; we are all watching.