By Tosha Woodard, Minding My Bs&Qs
A few years back, I learned of an incident at a private school in McLean where a teen student who identifies as white shared a picture on a group chat headlined “Black Lives Matter” Olympics. The events depicted in the image showed individuals engaged in criminal activities and an obvious smear of the social justice movement. Another student, who identifies as black, on the same chat thankfully, spoke out and acknowledged that he found both the picture and sender to be “racist or, at minimum, of a racist nature.”
But here’s the twist: The following day, the parents of the sender of the offending image, feeling their son didn’t deserve to be so closely linked to racism, insisted something be done to reprimand the black student. And what just about beats all is that the school obliged the parents—stressing to the black student the need to choose his words wisely. The white student was shown that he was the priority in the building and would be protected at practically any cost. The black student built a more protective wall and learned to rely on those in the building whom he could actually trust. Less space and fewer options.
What I know: There are classrooms and learning environments where rigor, rich social-supports and reciprocal learning are thriving with the help of teachers and leadership who are aware, engaged … and evolving. But individual experiences are most telling and experiences like that above show us that not all environments and not everyone claiming to welcome all students actually do. And, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, it’s not always inadvertent. There are those whose priority is to preserve our defunct systems—often in the most creative and disingenuous ways—by relying on deflections, coded-language (i.e., grit, and other forms of “character” education) and all sorts of savvy to completely disregard the substance of the matter. And we see an absurd and compartmentalized focus on the victim–often drawing on ignorant stereotypes to undermine substance or attempting to discredit him or her. But these attempts to preserve the status quo should serve as the call to the rest of us to move beyond our own fragility to conversations and solutions that count—serving not only as abolitionists in education but as listening collaborators, here for more than just the self-serving agenda.
The start of the new school year brings new challenges and questions, but it is as much an opportunity for a year’s worth of growth—for all players. And, while trainings on diversity and inclusion and equity may be helpful in some instances, trainings won’t undo a lifetime of micro-inequities, micro-aggressions and racist ideologies.
But introspection work may … and the commitment to social change through collaboration, humility, and accountable can reengineer a building. We can’t have conversation on achievement gaps, disciplinary gaps, excellence gaps, etc. without first examining and attacking the teacher-education gap. So, I make the call to all collaborators—those who recognize the competencies, experiences, and perspectives of others as attributes. Come, we need you. You’re our most reliable and trusted experts and will secure the most progress.
Let’s make this year a great one.
[Tosha Woodard is the director of Loudoun Diversity, mom to five square pegs in round holes, educator’s wife, law grad, courageous conversationalist and impassioned advocate in pursuit of social justice and the next challenge—of purpose. You can follow Minding My Bs&Qs on Facebook and Twitter @BsandQs.]